What is going on with the Philadelphia Eagles? The defending NFC champs, who started the season 10-1, have lost three straight. We checked in with Brandon Lee Gowton of SB Nation’s Bleeding Green Nation to find out what the deal is with the New York Giants’ Christmas Day opponent.
Below, this week’s ‘5 questions’ segment.
Ed: Three straight losses? What has gone wrong and how worried are you about the Eagles’ ability to make a deep playoff run?
BLG: I don’t want to let the Eagles off the hook with excuse-making since they deserve criticism. But it is true that they were in a tough spot with their schedule. They faced the 49ers, who clearly look like the best team in the NFL, when San Francisco was coming off a mini-bye. Then the Eagles faced the Cowboys coming off a mini-bye. All in the middle of a six-game gauntlet that began with battles against Dallas, Kansas City, and Buffalo. Expecting them to go 6-0 was never realistic.
4-2 was a reasonable expectation. So, I was willing to give the Eagles some benefit of the doubt after losing two straight because they would’ve been there with a win over the Seahawks.
But then they went out and only managed 17 points against a bad and injured Seahawks defense that was allowing 24.5 offensive points per game. The Eagles’ offense has been a disappointment relative to high expectations this season. Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has taken a lot of heat and I’m not here to say he’s not part of the problem … but he’s received a disproportionate amount of blame relative to Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts. The operation simply hasn’t been good enough. Play design (Sirianni), play-calling (Johnson), and play execution (Hurts) is all lacking.
Against the Seahawks, the offense needed to pick up just one more first down to effectively end the game. We’ve seen the Eagles be so good in those end of game situations before, even as recently as earlier this season.Instead, they had to punt then ball away and that led to a 92-yard game-winning touchdown drive by Drew Lock. So much for demoting Sean Desai and promoting Matt Patricia (of all people)!The vibes around this Eagles team are bad. They didn’t need to be. They didn’t need to panic after the Cowboys loss. They had a real opportunity to right the ship against the Seahawks. They blew it.
The Eagles might very well win out down the stretch with games against the Giants, Cardinals, and Giants again. But I’d like to see them win a single game again before I merely assume they’re winning out.
How they finish will impact how I feel about this team in the playoffs. It’s not like beating bad teams means they can definitely beat much better teams in the postseason. But it will be encouraging nonetheless to see them play a more competent, functional brand of football.
Ultimately, it’s hard to envision them getting past the 49ers. Frankly, it’s hard to envision anyone beating the 49ers right now. They’re in their own tier as the best team in the NFL. Until something changes, they deserve the most benefit of the doubt.
Ed: Matt Patricia is now running Philly’s defense instead of Sean Desai. Did we perhaps underestimate the impact of the Eagles losing both coordinators — Shane Steichen on offense and Jonathan Gannon on defense?
BLG: When it comes to Steichen, I’m pretty uninterested in lamenting the Eagles losing him. I’m not trying to discredit him; he seems to be doing a good job in Indy and Philly’s offense has certainly gotten worse since his departure. But it’s not like the Eagles could’ve done much to retain him once the Colts wanted him to be their head coach. Also, as previously noted regarding Brian Johnson, the play-calling is not the only issue with this offense. Play design is a big issue. It’s ultimately Nick Sirianni’s offense. And we haven’t seen enough evolution or innovation. I don’t think it’s as simple as bringing Steichen back (obviously not realistic) fixes everything. It could help. But there are other issues beyond the OC.
As for Gannon, let me direct you to this video from August 30:
Getting ahead of an Eagles take I don’t want to hear this season. pic.twitter.com/pB5LTdhIbL— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) August 30, 2023
Ed: If you could take any Giants player and put him into Philadelphia’s lineup, who would it be? Why?
BLG: Gotta go with Dexter Lawrence. The Eagles’ pass rush has been lacking lately. And that’s in part because the defense has played an unusually high number of snaps. I think that unit is looking tired. Adding Lawrence allows for a more heavy rotation. He ranks second among all interior defenders in pressures generated this year, only behind Aaron Donald. Lawrence, Fletcher Cox, Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis, and Milton Williams combine to make a pretty intimidating group.
I’d also pick Lawrence because the Eagles might be starting two backup guards in this game. Cam Jurgens missed Week 15 due to a pectoral injury and it’s unclear if he’ll be back in Week 16. Landon Dickerson had surgery on his thumb and will miss at least Week 16, if not longer.
Ed: If anything has surprised me about the Eagles this year, it has been that they haven’t been nearly as good on defense as I anticipated. Or as the names on their jerseys indicate they should be. Has that been about Desai? Or something else?
BLG: “They were always due to regress” is a fitting title for the entire 2023 Eagles yearbook but it especially applies to the defense, as Sheil Kapadia outlined in the preceding embedded video.
Desai has to wear some of the blame considering the extent of their third down failures. But it’s also true that there have been personnel issues. The off-ball linebackers have been picked on at times. The aging cornerbacks have not aged well. The pass rush looks gassed right now in part due to not rotating as heavily as they have in the past.
Ed: As I type this, DraftKings Sportsbook still has the Eagles as 10.5-point favorites. If you were betting, would you be OK taking the Eagles and giving that many points? This feels like a ‘get right’ game for Philly, but if the Giants have a path to an upset what is it?
BLG: At the time of me answering this question, the line has moved to the Eagles being favored by 13.5. That’s pretty wild considering the Birds have lost three straight games. Also, consider that the Eagles’ largest margin of victory this season is 14 points.
Then again, it seems to me like the Giants are pretty bad considering they rank 32nd in both DVOA and point differential. And the’ Eagles dried up pass rush might actually be able to come back to life against a unit that’s allowed the most sacks in the NFL.That being said, the Eagles don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to winning easy. It’s just not something they’ve really done this year. I’ll take the Eagles to win but I’ll take the Giants to cover, 24 to 13.