The New York Jets host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in a matchup of green teams. As most of you know, the Jets have never beaten the Eagles. The Jets will be looking to snap an 11 game losing streak against their opponents from down the Turnpike. Previewing this matchup, Brandon Lee Gowton, Manager of Bleeding Green Nation, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Eagles and help break down Sunday’s matchup. Many thanks to Brandon for taking the time to provide his insights.
1. For every team without a superstar quarterback, the eternal question is, can our current guy become a top quarterback in the NFL? So what do you think about Jalen Hurts? What are his chances of being the long term answer at quarterback for the Eagles? If the answer is probably not, then what do you think the Eagles should do to address the quarterback position going forward?
Brandon Lee Gowton:
I like Jalen Hurts. That might come off patronizing but I genuinely do. There are a number of factors that make him a rootable player. He’s tough. He’s a good leader. He’s accountable. He’s one of the best running quarterbacks in the league.
One of the things he is not, however, is one of the best throwers in the NFL. And, at the end of the day, that’s a big problem. This isn’t to suggest that Hurts is totally hopeless and can’t develop into a better version of himself. But the ceiling on his upside is likely capped at a certain point.
Hurts hasn’t consistently demonstrated the ability to lead the Eagles to victory with his arm. The Eagles’ biggest stretch of success came when Philly limited his attempts and leaned very heavily on their rushing attack. The Eagles logged 19.5 throws per game in their 3-1 run before losing to the friggin New York Giants last weekend. Such extremely low passing volume doesn’t seem like a sustainable way of winning over an extended period of time.
And so I think the Eagles will be seriously exploring quarterback options this offseason. It doesn’t mean they’ll find one that they prefer over sticking with Hurts. It’s quite possible that the cost to trade for a veteran (see: Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson) is too prohibitive or they feel like an older guy doesn’t fit their timeline. It’s quite possible that the Eagles don’t love the quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft or aren’t in a position to get the guy they want despite having three first-round picks.
Due to the potential lack of alternatives, there’s a realistic scenario where the Eagles run it back with Hurts while also trying to maintain future flexibility. I could see the team trading down in this year’s draft to acquire at least one extra first-round pick in 2023.
My preference? I can’t help but feel like riding with Hurts for another season might just be a waste of time. I don’t know what we’re really going to learn about him that we don’t already know. I recognize he’s young but I think we have a good idea of who he is at this point. It’s not like he’s this incredibly raw prospect.
I think the Eagles should seriously be looking into acquiring Russell Wilson. I know he’s struggling right now but he was still playing well before his injury. And the whole situation in Seattle is just off and I don’t think that’s only his fault. Wilson isn’t necessarily the perfect fit from an age perspective but I’d bet he still has at least a good three-to-five year run left in him. Having an elite quarterback makes a big difference and I think Wilson would have the Eagles back in championship contention.
2. Starting five games back the Eagles have been on an insane pace with the running game. They have averaged a ridiculous 215+ yards rushing over the last 5 games. Is this kind of production from the running game anything close to sustainable over the long term? And assuming the Eagles remain an offense heavily skewed towards the running game, is that a viable path to long term success in a league where the rules favor the passing game more and more as time goes by?
Brandon Lee Gowton:
Haha, well, I already gave away my answer to this in my first response.
I *do* think it’s a sustainable way to win in the short term considering the Eagles have a really easy schedule and, well, no one has really been able to shut down their rushing attack. Not even the Saints’ No. 1 ranked run defense. The combination of Hurts’ mobility, the Eagles’ backfield talent, and arguably the league’s best run-blocking offense line is a force to be reckoned with.
But I can’t help but come back to how Hurts was only throwing the ball 19.5 times per game in that stretch where the Eagles went 3-1. That’s a crazy low number of attempts. For perspective, the team with the fewest pass attempts per game this year is currently the Bears at 28.2. The average team is at about 35 attempts per game. You can’t hide your starting quarterback en route to winning championships. Eventually you have to be able to rely on your passer to win with his arm.
3. Despite a 5-7 record the Eagles are just a half game back in the NFC playoff race. How do you feel about the Eagles’ playoff chances? Do you think they are likely to get in as a wild card?
Brandon Lee Gowton:
I sure felt a lot better about their playoff chances before they lost to the Giants. They actually had a real chance to make a run at the top spot in the NFC East with the Cowboys losing on Thanksgiving. Alas, the Birds basically blew any hopes of winning the division.
The Eagles currently have a 28.5% chance of making the playoffs, according to Football Outsiders. They have a 22.3% chance of making a wild card spot. Those odds might be a little low considering the ease of their remaining schedule.
I envision the Eagles beating the Jets and Giants and splitting with Washington in their next four games. That would put them at 8-8 entering a Week 18 home game against Dallas. It’s possible the Cowboys could be resting their starters at that point … but that much remains to be seen. Assuming the Cowboys DO have something to play for, I’ll take the Birds to lose that one and drop to 8-9. That record probably wouldn’t be good enough to qualify for the postseason, though it could be if the 49ers and/or Vikings falter down the stretch.
So, I wouldn’t say it’s “likely” at this point. But it is pretty possible. Not impossible that they could win four out of their last five games. Maybe even run the table, especially if the Cowboys send out their backups in the finale.
4. If you were coaching an opposing team, how would you attack the Eagles on offense and on defense?
Brandon Lee Gowton:
The best way to attack the Eagles’ defense this year has been by having a really good quarterback. Simple enough, right? Seriously, though, the Eagles have been absolutely obliterated by the league’s better passers this year. They allowed five quarterbacks (Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Derek Carr, Justin Herbert) to complete over 80% of their passes against them. That’s pretty insane when you consider the Eagles only allowed six total passers to complete over 80% against them in the SEVENTY YEARS BEFORE THIS SEASON.
Why were those quarterbacks able to thrive? Well, the Eagles were playing an incredibly soft defense that allowed the offense to basically take whatever they wanted. Jonathan Gannon took an obsession with ‘stopping the big play’ to an extreme.
The Eagles have made adjustments in recent weeks to not make life so easy on opposing quarterbacks. They’re blitzing more often and mixing up coverages instead of merely sitting back in their soft shell Cover 2.
Of course, it also helps that the Eagles have been playing lesser quarterbacks. They’ve dominated guys in that category this season. Passers outside of that aforementioned group of five are averaging just 14.6 points against the Eagles.
Zach Wilson clearly isn’t one of the league’s better quarterbacks (at this point in his career, at least) so I don’t love his chances against this defense. His best bet could be avoiding Darius Slay, trying to take advantage of the Eagles’ linebackers in coverage, and not try to force the big play. He might just need to take what the defense is giving him and execute on that over and over.
When it comes to attacking the Eagles’ offense, I’d be looking to sell out to stop the run and make Hurts beat the Jets by passing. I’d also be interested to see where Hurts is at as a runner with this ankle injury he’s playing through. Maybe dare him to run early on and see how that goes. There’s more opportunity to play man coverage if his mobility is limited.
I’d also recommend the Jets trying to make someone other than Dallas Goedert and DeVonta Smith beat them.
5. Who are the guys Eagles fans may know about but outside fans might not be too familiar with that might have a big impact on the game on Sunday? If possible, tell us about one guy on offense and one on defense.
Brandon Lee Gowton:
Kenneth Gainwell could be a guy to watch on offense. The rookie running back’s role has decreased after originally starting the season as RB2. But with Miles Sanders playing through an ankle injury, Jordan Howard likely out, and Boston Scott missing two days of practice due to illness … perhaps the Eagles will look to him more often in this week’s game.
Not to mention there’s a precedent of Gainwell having some success against the Jets! Two of Kenny G’s best training camp practices came when the Eagles were visiting Florham Park back in August. Gainwell also had five carries for 32 yards (6.4 average) and one rushing touchdown to go with four receptions for 27 yards against the Jets in the preseason finale.
The guy to watch on defense is Avonte Maddox. He’s not exactly flying completely under-the-radar from a national perspective since he recently signed a contract extension. But I’m not going to assume that all Jets fans know who Philly’s slot cornerback is. Maddox is playing a high level right now and he nearly intercepted Daniel Jones last week. I’m going to call my shot here and say that Maddox logs a pick six in MetLife Stadium this time around.