The Carolina Panthers hope to return to their league leading defensive form against a seemingly hapless Philadelphia Eagles squad today. The Panthers are fresh off a truly convincing loss against the Dallas Cowboys while the Eagles haven’t had much fresh to show this season. Here to give us the fan perspective from the other side of this game is Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation.
1. At 1-3, are the Eagles a bad team or just a bad luck team so far?
Ever hear of the acronym “JAG” to describe a player? Just A Guy. An average player. Nothing awful, nothing special. Well, I think the Eagles are Just A Team (JAT) at best. They’re a flawed group not without merits.
The Eagles impressed everybody with a blowout win over a bad Falcons team in Week 1. Missed opportunities cost them at home against the 49ers in Week 2. They got absolutely blown out by the Cowboys in Week 3. Missed opportunities arose again in Week 4 with Philly allowing 40+ points for the second game in a row.
I definitely don’t like to describe them as unlucky because that too easily lets culpable parties off the hook. I do think it’s more nuanced than saying they’re merely bad. They’re not an overly inspiring team right now, no. But, again, they have some things going for them. And specifically in this week’s matchup when it comes to their defensive line (or maybe just Javon Hargrave?) against a vulnerable Panthers offensive line.
Then again, the Eagles’ coaching staff is a big concern. Nick Sirianni has been overmatched thus far. Jonathan Gannon hasn’t had any answers the past two weeks. It’s not great when you’re going into a game with questions at not only head coach but quarterback as well. Which brings us to your next question …
2. Is Jalen Hurts the answer in the years-long search for Donovan McNabb’s replacement?
He might be. Has he erased all doubt in that regard? Hardly.
There have been some encouraging signs. Hurts is completing 66.7% of his passes for 8 yards per attempt, seven touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 101.1 passer rating. He also leads the Eagles in rushing with 226 yards and one score. Hurts is Pro Football Focus’s 13th-highest graded quarterback. Football Outsiders has him ranked 14th in DYAR and 16th in DVOA.
Hurts is only 23 and he only has eight career starts under his belt. It’s possible he’ll continue to get better with time. His development over the course of this season will be interesting to monitor.
I think we’ve seen enough from Hurts to know he’s not flat out bad. He can starts game in the NFL. But is he really going to be a quarterback of a championship-contending team? That very much remains to be seen.
The feeling here is that Hurts has not yet done enough to clear the very high bar that the Eagles are likely measuring him against. He still has issues when it comes to holding on to the ball too long (5th slowest average time to throw). There are times when you see his arm talent is limited and he can’t zip it in there with the best of them. He’s struggled as a deep passer so far this year and he hasn’t been able to consistently work the middle of the field.
It’s possible that, with time, Hurts can improve in some of these areas. But the Eagles might not want to be patient with him if they feel like his ceiling is only so high. Especially when they might be able to acquire an upgrade considering they currently own three top nine picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
3. How does Hurts respond to pressure? i.e. does he make the first mistake available to him, does he scramble to make plays down the field, or does he run for first downs?
Anecdotally, Hurts doesn’t seem to get rattled by pressure. He’s pretty composed out there.
The numbers back that up. Hurts is tied with Russell Wilson for the fourth-best passer rating (103.6) in the NFL while under pressure, according to PFF.
Hurts doesn’t have a penchant for forcing things, though he did have a bad dropped pick against the Chiefs last week. If anything, he might break the pocket too early.
The feeling here is that Hurts’ mistakes don’t manifest in glaring mistakes (i.e. turnovers) as much as they do in opportunity cost. Hurts has been guilty of leaving some big plays on the field through four weeks. Especially in the red zone, which hurts. No pun intended.
4. Javon Hargrave leads the Eagles with five sacks. Four other players have combined for three sacks on the year. Meanwhile, the Panthers offensive line is an injury ridden shambles (or so it seemed last week). Who, besides Hargrave, should Sam Darnold be keeping his eye on in the Philly defense?
Yeah, Hargrave is a beast. He’s probably going to get a sack or two this week.
Outside of him … well, it sure would be nice if Fletcher Cox showed up. The Eagles’ highest-paid player has just ONE sack in his last eight games. He finished last week’s game against the Chiefs with no stats at all.
Cox has taken a lot of heat this week. Perhaps he’ll be fueled by everyone saying he doesn’t have it anymore. The Eagles really need him to step up.
5. Almost half of the Eagles’ rushing production is currently coming out of the quarterback position. Is that an intentional, sustainable strategy or will the team be looking to use this week to get the running backs on track for the season?
It’s not like the Eagles are going all-in on quarterback runs and totally designing an offense around Hurts like the Ravens have with Lamar Jackson. Hurts’ rushing numbers have resulted in part because the Eagles are dropping back to pass so often, giving him opportunities to take off rushing.
It feels like we could see the running backs get more involved this week since Miles Sanders has been used relatively sparsely so far. It feels like his touches have to go up at some point here. And why not against a Panthers defense that allowed 245 yards on the ground (7.2 average)?
Keep an eye on Kenny Gainwell as well. The rookie shined against the Chiefs last week and he was more efficient than Sanders with his touches. Gainwell is like a poor man’s Chritsian McCaffrey as a dual-threat player to either do damage as a runner or a pass-catcher.