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Birdfeed: Vol. 22.12; Even in Victory, Doubt Increases

The Eagles don’t feel like the NFL’s best team. In fact, questions increase each week.  I think if you polled Eagles fans today, ~84% of us would express some doubt about the Eagles reaching the Super Bowl. About half would second-guess an NFC title, and maybe quarter would express doubt about even winning a playoff game. I’m among that third group. How could I possibly think a 10-1 team destined for home field advantage and the NFC’s top seed is going one-and-done in the postseason? Here’s how…

First, the Eagles are stumbling right now. Stumbling hard. The defense is a mess. They can’t stop the run. Their top safety just went down with a lacerated kidney. The offense isn’t perfect either. The Eagles have lost at least one fumble in each of their last four games, and almost all of them have been sloppy, inexcusable, backbreaking fumbles. They’ve found a way to survive and win all but one game over that stretch, but playing with fire is not a recipe for success. The 2017 Eagles started slow, battled out some wins and then took off. This team took off, continues to battle out wins and seems destined for disaster.

Second, the schedule toughens up from here on out. Sure, the Bears and Saints are mixed in there, but the Eagles didn’t look great against the Texans, nearly lost to the Colts and needed all 60 minutes to put away the Packers, so I’m going to refrain from guaranteeing wins at this point. More importantly, the playoff schedule is no friend to the Eagles. With a likely first round bye, the Eagles will host the lowest seed coming out of Wildcard Weekend. Upsets up and down the playoff slate are certainly possible, but there’s a very real chance the Dallas Cowboys come to town in the Divisional Round. Pass rush and a running game; that’s the recipe to win on the road in the postseason. Dallas does both at an elite level. In fact, their sack percentage is 2.20 points higher than the 2nd place team. Not sure I can think of a NFC team I’d rather face less than the Cowboys, and that includes the 49ers.

Third, I can’t decide if Jalen Hurts is the invincible armor protecting this team or the Achilles heel that will expose it in January. Are you seriously casting doubt about the guy that just rushed for 150 yards and is one of the NFL’s top MVP candidates? Yeh, and I hate how I feel. I don’t want it to be this way. I want to love Jalen Hurts. I want to believe he’s the franchise cornerstone for the next decade and that he’ll carry us through all the tough games. However, I simply cannot get over how quickly he drops his eyes in the pocket. It’s going to be a problem at some point. The NFL figured out Michael Vick. The league solved Lamar Jackson. Are both of those guys still great players? Absolutely, but neither did or has done anything of significance in the postseason. That opening playoff game in January is going to be against the Cowboys or Buccaneers. Both rank in the top three in sack percentage and sacks per game. The Buccaneers already have a win over Hurts in the postseason. If I trusted Nick Sirianni to pound the ground game for 60 minutes I would feel more confident, but we all know he’s going to drop Hurts back to pass, perhaps more than he should.

And let’s be honest, it’s kind of understandable. The Eagles have elite talent on the outside. It makes sense to use those weapons because AJ Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert will win against man coverage more often than not. Unfortunately, Hurts doesn’t always give them the time to do so. He too often looks at his one read and if it’s not there right away, he drops his eyes and abandons the pocket. Too many times he’s fleeing a pocket when he doesn’t have to. I know I sound stupid because Hurts has crushed opponents all year with his legs, but Lamar Jackson is a perfect case study on this. He’s a mess in the playoffs because defenses make him win with his eyes and his arm. They are going to do the same with Hurts. I want him to be up to the task. I just don’t think I believe it, at least not yet.

*****

Thursday Night Pick; Bills -5

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