As the Eagles return from their late Week 14 bye, they have a legitimate shot to make it to the playoffs.
The Eagles are sitting at 6-7, just out of a wild card spot.
We already looked at their playoff chances and what would need to happen for the Eagles to get into the postseason. But they have to worry about winning first.
Here are five things the Eagles need to go on a run:
Get steady play from Jalen Hurts
The Eagles picked up a win over the Jets before the bye week with Gardner Minshew as their starting quarterback. But Nick Sirianni was quick to name Hurts the Eagles’ quarterback moving forward, an attempt to thwart Minshew Mania before it got out of hand.
Hurts deserves to be the starter but the Eagles need consistent play from him down the stretch if they’re going to get into the postseason. The last time we saw Hurts, he was stinking it up against the Giants. In that loss, Hurts threw three interceptions and had his worst game to date as a professional. So the timing doesn’t make things look good: Hurts has an awful game, the Eagles lose and he injures his ankle. Then Minshew comes in, plays great and the Eagles head into the bye week with a win, leading to two weeks of speculation.
While Hurts is still the Eagles’ starter, it is fair to wonder if his leash is any shorter now than it was a couple weeks ago. That might be unfair; heck, Hurts probably would have torn up the Jets too. But now that we’ve seen Minshew be effective in Sirianni’s offense, what happens if Hurts gets off to a horrendous start in one of these last four games? Would the Eagles go to Minshew in an attempt to win a game? Or would they stick with Hurts and continue that evaluation?
The Eagles seemed to find a formula that was working since the Lions game. They can run the ball and make Hurts more of a role player, allowing him to make a few key plays here and there and simply run the offense. For that to work, Hurts can’t make mistakes and throw picks. He needs to be more accurate and make better decisions.
Continue to run effectively
Speaking of that formula, the Eagles need to stick with it. That’s not to say they can’t ever pass the ball, but the strength of their offense over the last month has been allowing their talented offensive line to lead the way for their stable of backs.
The Eagles have rushed for 175+ yards in six straight games, which is absolutely insane, especially because they didn’t hit that mark in any of their first seven games. They have completely flipped what they thought their identity was going to be and they’ve been 4-2 in those last six games. The Eagles are the first team to rush for 175+ in six straight games since the ’85 Bears. They had Walter Payton.
And it’ll help that the Eagles expect to be pretty heathy in the backfield. Miles Sanders tweaked his ankle again in the win over the Jets but he’ll have a couple weeks to heal up. And the Eagles are presumably expecting to have Jordan Howard back after the bye too; Howard has a knee injury but wasn’t put on IR. All this means the Eagles will have four healthy and talented running backs: Sanders, Howard, Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell. It’ll be up to Sirianni to figure out how to use them all, but no matter what, they need to stick with what has been working for them.
Goedert, Smith are top targets
As much as running the ball has become the Eagles’ identity, they can’t avoid passing the ball either. And they have two top tier targets who need to be heavily involved in the game plan each and every week. Dallas Goedert and DeVonta Smith are clearly the two players the Eagles need to target most.
In that loss to the Giants, neither played a big role. And then Goedert had a career game against the Jets.
I get that there’s a fine line between making a concerted effort to get the ball to your playmakers and forcing it to them, which can lead to mistakes. But against the Giants, Jalen Reagor had as many targets as Goedert and Smith combined. I know that wasn’t the plan, but it simply can’t happen, not when the Eagles aren’t getting a decent level of production out their other targets. Every week, the Eagles need to go into games figuring out ways to get the ball to 88 and 6.
The pass rush gets home
In the second half of the season, the Eagles defense has looked better. That has a lot to do with facing lesser competition but it also has plenty to do with Jonathan Gannon’s added level of comfort with his players. Sure, Darius Slay still needs to play like an All-Pro and the linebackers need to at least hold up and make plays with T.J. Edwards leading the way. But the success of the defense still hinges on the success of the Eagles’ defensive line.
This is a unit with Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, Milton Williams and more. The Eagles have put a ton of resources into this line, athough they have clearly missed Brandon Graham since his Achilles injury earlier in the season. But even without Graham, this line ought to be talented enough to take over games and it has done it too infrequently this season.
Overall, the Eagles’ defensive line has 19 1/2 sacks and the team has a total of 21. The Eagles have gotten decent pressure at times this season but it has been inconsistent. It’ll be really important for them to get after the QB in the last few weeks.
Jake Elliott stays hot
After the worst season of his career in 2020, Elliott has really turned it around in 2021. Through 13 games, he has made 22 of 24 field goal attempts, including 3 of 3 from 50+ and he’s also made all 33 of his extra point attempts. Elliott missed a 46-yarder against the Bucs and got 47-yarder blocked against the 49ers. Those are his only two misses of the season. Heading into the bye week, Elliott had made 15 straight field goals.
We bring that up because there’s a good chance at least some of these final four games are tight and Elliott can be an X-factor for the Eagles. If they’re in tight games, games with minimal margin for error, they need their kicker to continue to be pretty much automatic.