It’s almost time for the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles to renew hostilities on Sunday Night Football. The Cowboys come in as pretty big underdogs (6.5 points) according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Ahead of this huge game in the NFC East, we talked to Brandon Lee Gowton from Bleeding Green Nation to get a little more detail on what is happening with the Eagles.
Blogging The Boys: Let’s talk about A.J. Brown. How has he changed the offense and how do the offensive coaches utilize him most?
Bleeding Green Nation: Brown was obviously a very significant addition. And not just because he is good but because what he is specifically good at.
Brown’s presence has really unlocked the middle of the field for Jalen Hurts. The Eagles’ quarterback didn’t even really target that area last year; he attempted the fewest number of passes between the hashes by far. Dating back to training camp, where Brown saw eleventy billion targets, Hurts demonstrated comfortability with throwing to Brown on slants for serious YAC opportunities.
It’s not like Brown only wins in the middle of the field, though. Hurts to Brown on an out route is typically a money play for this offense. Brown has the ability to make plays down the field, especially given his ability to outmuscle opponents and win at the catch point. Brown is also a player the Eagles can throw to short of the sticks and ask to break tackles.
The fourth-best wide receiver by Pro Football Focus’s grading, Brown’s really an all-around threat. And the problem with devoting extra attention to him is that the Eagles have another WR1 in DeVonta Smith (ranked 20th by PFF). As we saw against the Commanders, he’s more than capable of carving up a defense. Dallas Goedert is also pretty hard to stop. Quez Watkins is a vertical threat while Zach Pascal is a role player who can contribute in high leverage situations such as third down and/or the red zone.
If the Cowboys want to put Trevon Diggs on Brown all game long, the Eagles have the option of relying on their other receiving options to carry the offense. But the thought here is that Brown will be fairly active in this one. The Eagles oddly underutilized him in Arizona last week and they’re probably not going to do that again. Philly’s coaching was very intentional about getting Smith involved in Week 2 after he had a quiet Week 1. I expect Brown to see targets early and often.
BTB: Jalen Hurts certainly looks like he has arrived. What has improved for him in 2022? How would you rate his ability as a passer now?
BGN: DeMarcus Lawrence would beg to differ! Apparently it doesn’t matter what Hurts has shown this far since he hasn’t played the Cowboys. Of course, can we know if the Dallas defense is truly any good if they haven’t played the Eagles’ offense?
As previously noted, Hurts actually being able to utilize the middle of the field more often is a big improvement.
Hurts has made strides in terms of accuracy and decision-making. A look at Pro Football Reference’s advanced passing numbers show that he’s raised his on target throw percentage and lowered his bad throw percentage. He has also lowered his average time-to-throw from 3.19 seconds in 2021 (slowest release in the NFL) to 2.89 this year. Good to see him getting the ball out quicker at times.
Hurts is the third best quarterback by PFF’s passing grade, only behind Geno Smith (!) and Patrick Mahomes. Hurts ranks ninth among quarterbacks in DVOA.
I believe in his improvement as a passer. It felt really hard not to after watching his sensational performance against the Minnesota Vikings, completing passes he never would have even attempted a year ago. Hurts also lit up the Washington Commanders by airing it out and trusting his receivers to make plays on the ball.
Hurts hasn’t been quite *as* sharp over the past two weeks. Rainy and windy weather contributed to less than ideal passing conditions in Week 4. The Cardinals then blitzed the crap out of Hurts in Week 5. And that’s an area where Hurts and the Eagles offense as a whole must improve; they need better hot options against teams sending extra pressure.
Ultimately, Hurts is on the right path to becoming the Eagles’ franchise quarterback. He still has some big boxes to check, though, and beating the Cowboys is very much one of them. Although a two-game sample size, he has not played well against Dallas to this point in his career.
BTB: What would you consider the Eagles biggest weakness right now? What should the Cowboys try to exploit?
BGN: The Eagles’ offensive line has the potential to be their biggest strength but the health of the unit is a bit concerning. Four of the five starters were limited in practice this week. The expectation here is they’ll all start … but will they be able to make it through the game? Will they be significantly less than 100%? The Birds need their strength to actually be a strength against a Cowboys pass rush that ranks second in sacks per game.
Micah Parsons is obviously the biggest concern for the Eagles. He’s a player that Philly fans should be legitimately worried about. If I’m the Cowboys, I’m sending him at every Eagles offensive lineman other than Lane Johnson to see if there’s a weak point he can repeatedly exploit. Jordan Mailata might be especially vulnerable. Mailata is typically a very good starting left tackle, perhaps on his way to being one of the best at his position. But the Australian mammoth is coming off a shoulder injury and speed rushers have been a weakness for him even when he’s been healthy.
I know it’s not just about Parsons, either. DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, and Dante Fowler Jr. are all capable of contributing to the pass rush.
BTB: Early on in 2021, there was a lot of doubt about Nick Sirianni. I imagine that has changed now. What is he doing that is helping the Eagles to their undefeated run in 2022?
BGN: Good question. Sirianni doesn’t really get talked about as much as other head coaches do. Of course, he doesn’t call the plays, so that’s a factor.
One of my big questions entering the 2022 season was: Where does Sirianni give the Eagles an edge?
I think he’s done a good job with game management overall. The Eagles haven’t been perfect in that regard but they’ve certainly avoided incompetence that’s plagued lesser teams. Look no further than the Arizona Cardinals botching an end of game sequence against the Eagles last week.
But what might make Sirianni special is his ability to foster good vibes. Winning typically begets good energy, for sure. But Sirianni has overseen a strong chemistry and positive culture in Philly. The Eagles have largely avoided drama. The players seem to like each other and play for each other. This isn’t all Sirianni; the players deserve credit as well. Having credible veterans like Jason Kelce helps a lot. So does the emergence of Hurts as not only one of the league’s better quarterbacks but a vocal leader as well. He’s the one breaking down the pregame huddle and leading postgame speeches. Not all quarterbacks have the personality and required respect to do that.
So, that answer really devolved into me talking about Hurts again. But that’s part of the point. Sirianni puts a big emphasis on how it’s players, plays, and coaches in that order of importance.
BTB: The Eagles are pretty heavy favorites (6.5 points) right now according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Do you buy the current spread and what do you think will happen in the game?
BGN: The Eagles are 6.5-point home favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook as I type this sentence.
While I fully acknowledge that the Cowboys are a legitimately good team, they are not as good as the Eagles.
The better team doesn’t always come out on top in a given NFL matchup. But that WILL be the case on Sunday Night Football with the Eagles beating the Cowboys by a final score of 24 to 17.
I know Cooper Rush is undefeated thus far. But is he really going to keep avoiding turnovers? He’s due for some negative regression in that area. He’s tied with Carson Wentz (!) for the 10th worst bad throw percentage in the NFL. He ranks 23rd out of 32 quarterbacks in on target throw percentage. Not to mention the Eagles have an opportunistic defense that can force turnovers. Philly is tied with the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens with 11 takeaways each.
The Eagles have what it takes to put the pressure on Rush. Not only in terms of pass rush but in terms of not allowing the Cowboys’ offense to stay on schedule. Jordan Davis and the run defense can limit a team’s first down efficiency. Once Rush is faced with second-and-long and third-and-long situations, he will struggle. Especially as he is tasked with throwing to Cowboys receivers that the Eagles have not been more equipped to cover in quite some time given the presence of Darius Slay, James Bradberry, and Avonte Maddox.
At the risk of Cowboys fans throwing this in my face following a loss, I feel very confident in the Eagles. There are some who are a little too low on this team following an ugly win in Arizona. For that being their ‘worst game of the season,’ it was a day where they had the lead for 45:07 of game action and never trailed. More often than not, the Eagles have looked like a very good football team this year.
And so I’m banking on them to come up big. I made them my ‘lock of the week’ (I’m 4-1 on the season, by the way) for this week’s episode of The Look Ahead on The SB Nation NFL Show. I also accepted a bet with BTB’s RJ Ochoa where I am punished if the Eagles lose. I’m looking forward to him having to pay off his end where he has to write an article for BGN about how the Eagles are truly the top team in the conference. In addition to him having to wear a “Beat Dallas” shirt on next week’s NFC East Mixtape and The Look Ahead podcast episodes.