A huge priority Saturday night, expectations of Jalen Hurts, an unforgettable play from a postseason game nearly 20 years ago and a franchise record that needs to be broken.
Eagles-Giants is finally here. The Eagles are 5-0 at home in franchise history in the conference semifinal (or “divisional”) round, and they’ll try to make it 6-0 Saturday night at the Linc.
Here’s our 10 Random Eagles Playoff Observations leading up to what promises to be a wild night in South Philly.
1. One thing that’s imperative for the Eagles Saturday night is to take advantage when they have takeaway opportunities. The Giants rarely turn the ball over. Just 16 all year – second-fewest in the league. Only five in their last eight games. They might not be the most talented team in the league, but they’re smart, they’re well-coached and they don’t beat themselves. Once upon a time the Eagles were best in the league in takeaways, giveaways and turnover margin. Through eight games, they were plus-15 in turnover ratio, they had committed just three turnovers and they had 18 takeaways. Since then? Minus-7 in takeaway margin, 16 turnovers and just nine takeaways. They’ve had plenty of chances. They’ve just been a step late getting to fumbles and they’ve dropped more than their share of interceptions. When the Eagles are plus-one or better in turnover ratio this year they’re 10-0 (and they’ve won 16 straight going back to the Chiefs loss last October). When they’re plus-zero or worse this year, they’re 4-3 (and 7-11 under Nick Sirianni). And they’re 2-13 in 15 playoff games over the last 50 years when they’re minus-1 or worse and 12-4 when they’re plus-one or better. The Giants can’t beat the Eagles straight up. But if the Eagles continue to turn the ball over and fail to generate takeaways, this will be a ballgame in the fourth quarter. When the opportunities are there, the Eagles have to pounce.
2. The first 13 weeks of the season, Jalen Hurts’ average game was: 20-for-30, 243 passing yards, 1.7 passing TDs, 0.2 interceptions, a 108.4 passer rating, 53 rushing yards, 0.8 rushing TDs. That’s the Jalen Hurts I expect to see Saturday night. He’ll have no restrictions. Everything is in play. Shane Steichen doesn’t need to protect him or go vanilla or hold back. This is the no. 3 offense in the NFL vs. the no. 25 defense in the NFL, and I expect big things Saturday night from Hurts.
3. Here’s a remarkable stat: Daniel Jones ran 120 times this year and 57 of those rushing attempts – 48 percent – went for first downs. That’s incredible efficiency. He’s a scary runner because he only takes off when he’s got a real advantage and he rarely takes a big hit. He’s faster than he looks because at 6-foot-5 he gobbles up a lot of ground with those long strides. He ran a pedestrian 4.81 at the Combine – Sam Bradford ran faster and he averaged 42 rushing yards per season. Jones averaged 44 yards per game this year. Jones is just smart about when he runs. The Giants don’t have a lot of ways to hurt you. But when Jones and Saquon Barkley are getting chunk yards, they can be tough to stop. The Eagles’ run defense has been leaky – they finished 24th in the league allowing 4.6 yards per carry – fifth-worst in franchise history. They’re going to have to get numbers to the ball, finish tackles and keep Jones and Barkley from getting to the second level. Because the Giants are going to keep hammering it on the ground until the Eagles prove they can stop it.
4. And if the Giants can establish the run, that removes the Eagles’ biggest strength – their world-class pass rush. The Eagles finished the season with an absurd 37 sacks in their last seven games, most in NFL history by a team over the last seven games of a season and third-most in history over any seven-game span (thank you, brand-new Stathead Team Spanfinder!). From Week 11 through Week 18, seven NFL players had eight or more sacks. Three of them were Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham. And Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave had four each. If the Eagles can get the Giants in known pass and unleash their pass rushers, they’ve got an enormous advantage.
5. I’ll go as far as saying this: I’ll be surprised if the Eagles don’t at least tie the franchise record for sacks in a postseason game. It’s four three times – vs. Tampa in 2000 (Hugh Douglas 2, Mike Caldwell, Hollis Thomas), Falcons in 2004 (Derrick Burgess 2, Jevon Kearse 1, Hollis Thomas 1) and last year in Tampa (Ryan Kerrigan 1 1/2, Alex Singleton 1/2, Javon Hargrace 1, Derek Barnett 1/2). The Eagles’ streak of 35 consecutive playoff games without more than four sacks is the longest in NFL history. That needs to end Saturday night.
6. I give Lane Johnson so much credit for what he’s trying to do. I don’t know what kind of Lane Johnson we’ll see Saturday night. I don’t think anyone knows, including Lane. I do know if it’s a matter of pain tolerance, he’ll be fine. Nobody is tougher. But if his core muscle injury prevents him from anchoring, prevents him from generating power to punch, it could be a problem. Jack Driscoll is a high-effort backup, and he’ll be ready, but even if the Eagles get an 80 percent Lane Johnson, he’s still better than most of the right tackles in the NFL.
7. This Eagles roster is loaded with stars. Jalen Hurts. AJ Brown. DeVonta Smith. Miles Sanders. Jason Kelce. Lane Johnson. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Darius Slay. James Bradberry. Haasson Reddick. TJ Edwards. Brandon Graham. Fletcher Cox. Josh Sweat. Jake Elliott. Landon Dickerson. Pro Bowlers. All-pros. Players of the Week. Players of the Month. Howie Roseman did his job. He built one of the best rosters in the NFL. Top to bottom, maybe the best. The coaches did their job. They got these guys ready. Now it’s time for the stars to play like stars. That’s what the postseason is all about.
8. I still can’t believe Brett Favre threw that pass in overtime in the 4th-and-26 game. Worst pass in history by a Hall of Fame quarterback? A couple under-rated things about that play: 1) Awesome blitz by I think Clinton Hart forced Favre to throw much faster than he wanted, 2) Lito Sheppard could also have picked off the pass but smartly got out of Dawk’s way and blocked Javon Walker out of the play, 3) Incredible 35-yard return by Dawk all the way down to the Packers’ 34-yard-line, 4) Big 11-yard Duce Staley run on a 2nd-and-13 down to the 14 made it a much shorter game-winning field goal for David Akers.
9. Crazy that there will only be 13 guys on the field for the Eagles Saturday who played in the Eagles’ last home playoff game, just three years ago: Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, Miles Sanders, Dallas Goedert, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham , Jake Elliott, Boston Scott, Marcus Epps, Rick Lovato, TJ Edwards, Andre Dillard and Josh Sweat. And nine of those 13 aren’t signed beyond this year (all but Goedert, Elliott, Edwards and Sweat).
10A. It’s easy to think of AJ Brown as WR1 and DeVonta Smith as WR2, but I’ll tell you what, from what I’ve seen this year, they are definitely co-WR1’s. Brown made a Pro Bowl, second-team all-pro and broke Mike Quick’s single-season receiving record. He’s an incredible player. But what Smith did down the stretch this year really elevated him in my mind to Brown’s equal. From Week 11 through Week 18, with the Eagles battling for the No. 1 seed, Brown had the most receiving yards in the NFL (96 per game) and after Justin Jefferson (94) and Davante Adams (92), Smith was fourth with 89. Smith finished with 1,196 yards in his second season, a figure Brown didn’t reach until this year, his fourth season. His 2,112 yards are the most ever by an Eagle in his first two years (46 more than DeSean Jackson). Brown is incredible. Smith is incredible. Both have tremendous chemistry with Jalen Hurts. Either one can take a game over at any time. And the Eagles control both their contracts for three more years. I’m not going to put one ahead of the other. And that’s certainly not a knock on Brown. It’s just how impressed I’ve been with Smith.
10B. Imagine if there was sports talk radio, social media and internet message boards when the Eagles had one winning season from 1962 through 1977? During that 16-year span, the Eagles won an NFL-worst 4.5 games per year and did not come close to the postseason. They were the worst team in the NFL for a nearly two-decade span. They had seven coaches in 18 years and went 18 seasons without winning a playoff game.