PHILADELPHIA – You can only knock down what’s in front of you and the Eagles did exactly that Sunday, routing a banged-up and short-handed New Orleans team, 40-29.
The win was the first home win of the season for the 5-6 Eagles, the first in nearly a calendar year at Lincoln Financial Field, and No. 1 at the Linc in the Nick Sirianni era. The last time Philadelphia won at Lincoln Financial Field was on Dec. 13 of last year when it also beat the Saints, 24-21.
Here’s the good (and there was plenty of it), and some bad from what figures to be the game that ushers in meaningful football this holiday season for an Eagles team surprisingly in the playoff picture.
The Offensive Line – The Saints came in allowing 72.9 yards per game on the ground, and Philadelphia had piled up 152 by halftime and 242 total.
Sirianni had made it a point of emphasis to play up the physicality of the team’s fronts on both sides of the ball and that has become the identity of the team. The 380-pound Jordan Mailata was particularly dominant but the entire line opened up consistent holes in the running game and also allowed Jalen Hurts all kinds of time on numerous occasions.
Over the last four games, the Eagles offense has had three 200-yard rushing performances and is averaging 217.5 run yards per game over that span with a low-water mark of 176.
“We ran against them today, so that was good,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “We knew coming in that they had a good [defensive line], a good linebacking corps, they’ve been stuffing the run all year.
“So, yeah, like I said, we’re going to try to keep doing what we’re doing moving forward. I know teams are going to scheme up to try to stop that.”
The Extensions (Dallas Goedert and Avonte Maddox) – The Eagles handed out about $50 million in guarantees to the Goedert/Maddox household this week and it was money well spent.
Goedert dominated Malcolm Jenkins and was especially effective on third downs while Maddox was very sticky in coverage and continues to be the team’s best blitzer.
Maddox did get beat deep for a TD late and Goedert had a drop but the sense of urgency was long gone by that point.
“I think we are showing it and fixing the little things that everybody was so concerned about early on and now we are on a roll,” said Goedert. “We have to get back to work on Wednesday or Thursday and get ready for next week.”
Jonathan Gannon’s defense – The much-embattled unit performed like gangbusters against a NOLA team with a bad quarterback, down 60 percent of its offensive line, and missing its elite playmakers.
“We wanted to get them in tough, longer third-down situations,” linebacker T.J. Edwards, who also had an INT and fumble recovery, said. “Again, we have such a good front that we get them in those longer distances. Those guys can really get home with stunts and things like that. We wanted to make [Saints QB Trevor Siemian] as uncomfortable as we could and that really accounts to being good on first and second down.”
Siemian was at a 16.7 passer rating in the guts of the game before piling up some garbage numbers and the group produced three turnovers, including a pick-six by Darius Slay.
Jake Elliott – Speaking of Gannon, he mentioned how nice it was to have a kicker like Jake Elliott before practice on Friday and Elliott showed why by nailing field goals from 50, 37, 33, and 47 during the game, improving to 18-of-20 (90 percent) on the season.
“We have a great rhythm and we’ve been putting together a lot of really good days of practice,” said Elliott. “I just feel really comfortable. Arryn [Siposs] added some dad strength last night since he had his first child, so you have to appreciate his effort in terms of getting that done last night and then getting back for the game today.”
T.J. Edwards – Edwards has been a revelation since becoming a starter, setting the tone from a physical perspective. On Sunday he set it from in coverage, something he’s not supposed to excel at, picking off a badly underthrown Siemian pass.
“It was honestly reading the quarterback’s eyes and I saw the over out coming behind me. You know, just making a play on the football, but the rush was getting there so we knew we had to get it out quick,” Edwards said. “So yeah, just made the play, so everything was locked up and he had no other choice but to try to fit it in. We finally got one and it felt good.”
The trend buster – WIth things coming apart at the seams late, a one-time 33-7 edge down to 33-22, and the Eagles facing a second-and-11 from their own 25, Sirianni dialed up the trend-buster for J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, his first reception of the season which went for 23 yards.
The Saints defense had just jumped all over a bubble screen to Jalen Reagor and seemed to have solved the Eagles’ offense. After that play, the Eagles put the finishing touches on the win when Hurts took in his third rushing TD of the game, a brilliant 24-yard run.
“That is big,” Goedert said of JJAW’s reception. “J.J. knows his role with the team and does an excellent job at it. It was awesome to see his hard work pay off and to be able to get that catch.
“As a wide receiver, you love that. He was able to run for 20-30 yards, or whatever it was, and that was a big play in the game. The couple of drives before that we stalled out. For him to do that, it flipped the field and was able to get us in a good position. I am really happy for him and his hard work is paying off.”
Jalen Hurts’ rushing ability – The key to the Eagles’ vaunted running game is Hurts, the best running QB in football not named Lamar Jackson. His three TDs on the ground were the most by a signal-caller since Russell Wilson matched it back in 2012.
“It is opening the holes up a lot for all of us, especially Jordan [Howard] who played a heck of a game before he got hurt,” RB Miles Sanders said. “Having Jalen makes it ten times easier, but you really have to give credit to the [offensive line].”
Miles Sanders’ ball security – Sanders was up against it because Jordan Howard and Boston Scott were so effective in his absence against poor run-support teams like Detroit and the LA Chargers, as well as a banged-up Denver team which was statistically solid in stopping the run but without many of the players who got them to that position.
He was effective running the football, with 94 yards on 16 carries but fumbled while backed up which is the only way New Orleans could muster any offense. More so, he was bailed out of another fumble with a quick whistle as the Zebras called forward progress in an era they really do that.
Kenny Gainwell – When Gainwell showed up on the field three hours before the game with Reid Sinnett and Co., the writing was on the wall. He was the odd man out in the RB committee despite handling the third-down/hurry-up role over the first 10 games. Howard and Scott both earned their roles and the straw that likely broke the camel’s back was a poor pass pro rep in Denver which resulted in a Hurts interception.
Jalen Hurts getting the football out on time – It’s nitpicking but that’s what you do in blowouts. The Eagles’ dominance rushing the football in recent weeks has masked the fact that Hurts’ biggest weakness remains not getting the football out on time a little too often.
–John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com’s EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.