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Cowboys vs. Eagles: “Jalen Hurts is probably only going to get the 2021 season to prove [himself]”

Get the lowdown on the Eagles from an expert.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Eagles Week. As such, we talk to Bleeding Green Nation to get the latest about those birds from Philly. Check it out.

Blogging The Boys: Now that you’ve seen a little more of Jalen Hurts, how are you feeling about him? What does he do well and what needs to be improved?

Bleeding Green Nation: I’m feeling OK about Hurts. Not great, not terrible.

There have been some encouraging signs. He looked really good executing the offense in Week 1. He was hardly asked to carry the team; he had the lowest average intended air yards from Week 1. Still, he was mostly accurate (league-leading 90% adjusted completion) and he picked the right spots to use his mobility to extend drives.

Hurts obviously wasn’t as good in Week 2. It was interesting because the Eagles’ coaching staff really flipped the script. He went from having the lowest average intended air yards against the Falcons to the highest against the 49ers. Hurts underthrew DeVonta Smith on multiple deep attempts, leaving some really big plays on the field. Perhaps that’s a timing issue that needs to be worked out because it’s not like Hurts lacks deep ball ability. He’s actually demonstrated good touch in that regard. And we saw as much when he hit Quez Watkins for a 91-yard gain and Jalen Reagor for a touchdown that got called back because the wide receiver stepped out of bounds en route to the end zone.

One thing that really stands out about Hurts’ career thus far is his inability to work the middle of the field. A heat map of his targets shows he’s never really targeting that area. That’s probably going to have to change.

There’s a lot of pressure on Hurts this year. He’s probably only going to get the 2021 season to prove whether he’s the franchise quarterback or not. So far, he hasn’t disqualified himself from being that guy. But he’s hardly done enough to stop Philly from looking for an upgrade down the road.

BTB: Tell us all we need to know about new head coach Nick Sirianni.

BGN: Well, I’m sure Cowboys fans noticed the “Beat Dallas” shirt that he wore during Thursday’s press conference. To his credit, Sirianni has done a great job of pandering to Philly fans. He’s won a lot of people over with his energetic passion and emphasis on coaching to his players’ strengths as opposed to stubbornly shoe-horning them in to a specific scheme.

On that latter point, Sirianni did a really good job in Week 1. Sirianni looked sharp in his play-calling debut with the Falcons having no answers for what he was drawing up. Sirianni kept things simple for Hurts and the quarterback was able to execute like a point guard, getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers. Philly balanced 35 pass attempts with 31 runs.

The Eagles also played with a lot of energy from the jump, which speaks to Sirianni’s motivation ability. By contrast, the Eagles were guilty of coming out flat too often under Doug Pederson.

The energy was present again in Week 2 but there were play-calling issues. The biggest problem was the Eagles’ inability to convert on 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Instead of doing the simple thing and trying a sneak or two, the Eagles ran a few plays that were easily defended by the 49ers. Sirianni then took pandering to a new level by calling a modified version of the Philly Special on fourth down that resulted in Greg Ward overthrowing a covered Hurts in the back corner of the end zone. That series ended up being a huge turning point with San Fran then going on a 97-yard touchdown drive to make the score 3-7 instead of 10-0.

Such a sequence served as a reminder that Sirianni is very much new to his current role and there could be some growing pains.

BTB: After two games into the season, how are you feeling about the team in general? What are your expectations based on the two games?

BGN: I’m feeling like the Eagles are a flawed team not without merits. Prior to the season, I had them finishing the season around 8-9. The excitement from the blowout win over the Falcons had me wondering if they might even be better than expected. The loss to the 49ers was a reminder that they can’t win a game where they waste too many opportunities. By contrast, an elite team like the Chiefs or Bucs might be able to survive those mistakes.

Perhaps for an exception or two, the Eagles should be a pretty competitive team week in and week out. If they can at least tread water in the first half of the season, there’s potential for them to go on a run by winning their NFC East games down the stretch. And they might be a more fully formed team at that point with Sirianni and Hurts and other young players growing as the season goes along.

BTB: What significant players will be out on Monday and who will replace them? How much will that affect the game?

BGN: Rodney McLeod - Guessing the Eagles will once again be without their starting safety and defensive captain considering he’s still limited in practice. K’Von Wallace could start in his place, which is a downgrade. Wallace hasn’t been getting routinely killed but he’s made some mistakes.

Brandon Brooks - The Eagles placed their starting right guard on injured reserve. 2021 second-round pick Landon Dickerson will start in his place. Dickerson really struggled in his NFL debut, getting pancaked on his first snap. He allowed five pressures on just 20 pass block snaps, according to PFF. In fairness, Dickerson missed all of training camp while recovering from his December 2020 ACL injury. He wasn’t a full participant in practice until leading up to Week 2. Dickerson might be better this week having time to prep with the starters. Going up against a depleted Dallas defensive line could also help. But he has much to prove.

Brandon Graham - The Eagles’ Super Bowl LII hero is out for the season due to an Achilles tear. It really stinks because Graham is a positive force both on and off the field. It remains to be seen exactly how the Eagles will replace BG. Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, and Ryan Kerrigan could all see some increased playing time. The Eagles might also kick rookie defensive tackle Milton Williams out to the edge since they were playing him there in the preseason. Graham’s absence is something to watch when it comes to the Eagles stopping the run, since he’s a strong presence in that regard.

BTB: What’s the strongest piece of the Eagles roster, and what is the weakest?

BGN: The strongest piece is their lines, though the injuries to Brooks and Graham obviously hurt. The Eagles should still have enough to be able to win in the trenches. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave is off to a really strong start and could be an All-Pro player at his current pace. Expect him to create some interior disruption against Dallas. Fletcher Cox hasn’t been on a hot streak for some time but there’s always potential he shows up in a big way as well. Assuming Dickerson isn’t a disaster, the Eagles should be able to give Hurts enough time to throw in addition to creating some lanes for the running backs.

The weakest is their linebacker corps. Eric Wilson saw a demotion in playing time after being the top guy in Week 1. Wilson is tied for the fourth most missed tackles in the NFL with four. One of the players that ranks ahead of him is his teammate Alex Singleton, who has missed five. The Eagles have had some issues in run defense and the linebackers could be challenged when it comes to stopping Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott.

Thanks for the knowledge, Bleeding Green Nation.

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