Roob's Obs: 8-0 start, Sanders dazzles, and more

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The best teams are the ones that win even when they’re not at their best.

And the Eagles certainly weren’t at their best Thursday night.

They escaped Houston with a 29-17 win and kept their undefeated record intact at 8-0, the best start in franchise history.

But it sure wasn’t easy.

Here’s our 10 Observations off one of those hold-your-breath-until-there’s-0:00-on-the-clock type of games.

1. One of the byproducts of being the NFL’s only undefeated team is that you’re going to get every team’s best shot. When the Eagles come to town, that’s everybody’s Super Bowl. We saw it a few weeks ago in Arizona. That’s a 3-5 team but they gave the Eagles everything they could handle, and they needed a last-minute field goal to escape Glendale with a win. Same thing Thursday night. The Texans were ready to play. They came in confident. They weren’t intimidated. This game was just as much the Texans playing really well as the Eagles playing poorly. When those two things happen at the same time? On a short week? On the road? It makes for a very challenging evening, I don’t care who the opponent is. The Eagles continue to thrive under adversity. Whether it’s hanging on against the Lions after nearly blowing a 17-point lead, beating the Jaguars after falling behind 14-0 or getting out of Houston after a game that was tied early in the third quarter, the Eagles have shown they can win a blowout but they can also win when things don’t go well and don’t come easily.

2. Let’s be honest. This is a terrible tackling team. The Eagles have gotten away with it so far, but the only real way the Eagles have of stopping an opponent’s running game is to build up a big enough lead where teams either stop running altogether or keep running and conceding a loss. But in a close game against a good team, that tackling will be fatal. The Eagles came into the game ranked 31st in the NFL in tackling according to Pro Football Focus – ahead of only the Jaguars – and 29th allowing 5.2 yards per carry, and they sure didn’t do anything to help those rankings. We talked about it all week - Dameon Pierce is the kind of big, tough, physical, bruising back who can really gash this defense, because he just doesn’t go down unless you get numbers to the ball and wrap him up. The Eagles did neither Thursday, and he ran 27 times for 139 yards. With the personnel this team has, they should be a lot better against the run. Heck, they were No. 1 in the league in tackling last year and No. 6 against the run. The last four weeks, they’ve allowed 124, 134, 144 and 168 rushing yards. Unacceptable. Obviously, they miss Jordan Davis, but this was a problem before he got hurt. It has to get fixed.

3. I guess with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson the Eagles are going to have to live with his poor tackling because he’s such a playmaker. He’s got fantastic hands for a safety and makes some really acrobatic interceptions and has a real flair for big plays at big moments. He’s now got five interceptions in the last four games, and he’s the first Eagle with an INT in four straight games since Bill Bradley in 1972. He’s the first Eagle with five INTs in the first eight games since Asante Samuel in 2010 and the first safety with five in a season since Greg Jackson in 1994. Considering he didn’t even get here until a week and a half before the season opener, that’s remarkable production. He makes the kind of plays the Eagles’ safeties just couldn’t quite make the last few years.

4. This was another masterful job of play calling by Shane Steichen. He goes pass heavy on the first couple drives – and nets a touchdown and a couple big plays before a turnover – then goes run-heavy and the Eagles score again. By the middle of the second quarter, the Eagles had established that they could move the ball effectively through the air or on the ground, and with this talent, when they can hurt you both ways, it’s just about impossible to stop them. Steichen has such a flair for keeping opposing defenses off-balance, finding favorable matchups and mixing up the run and pass. The guy is just an elite play caller.

5. I was surprised – heck, I was shocked - by how much pressure the Texans were able to generate against the Eagles. This is not an elite defensive front. The Texans came in 24th in the league with just 15 sacks in seven games, but they took it to the Eagles’ offensive line and really manhandled them. Jerry Hughes had some terrific rushes against both Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata, and Hurts, whose pocket awareness has been virtually flawless this year, had a couple moments where he didn’t sense the pressure or struggled to escape. He was sacked four times, including a strip sack, and with this o-line against this d-line, that really shouldn’t happen. This offensive line may be the best in the NFL, but they didn’t play like it Thursday night.

6. Miles Sanders has just been dazzling this year, and Thursday night was no different. On the one hand, you’d like to see him get more carries, but you also don’t want to take the ball out of Jalen Hurts’ hands. Sanders is playing at such a high level, reading blocks, breaking tackles, jump cutting away from trouble and using his speed when he gets into the open field. I know conventional wisdom says you don’t re-sign running backs because they’re all interchangeable, but Sanders hasn’t had a huge workload in his first four seasons, he’s gotten better each year and he’s an unselfish team-first guy who’ll never complain about his touches. Sanders is now 131 carries for 656 yards and six TDs with a 5.0 average. Now, one potential issue is that the way he’s playing, his price tag is going to keep going up. But running backs don’t make a fortune on the open market, and I’m sure Howie Roseman can get something done. Right now, it’s just fun watching him run and watching a play caller who keeps calling his number.

7. Can we just talk about how accurate Jalen Hurts is? He’s delivering the ball on target just about every time he drops back, and that’s a product not just of improved mechanics but also of a deeper understanding of defenses, a better feel for his teammates and a second year under Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen. He’s not just completing passes, he’s throwing the ball with remarkable anticipation and making it easy for his receivers to catch the ball and pick up big yards after the catch. His improvement from his rookie year to last year and again to this year is astonishing. He was a 52 percent passer as a rookie, 61 percent last year and now he’s at 68 percent through eight games. He’s getting the ball down the field, he’s throwing touchdowns, he’s using all his weapons and he still has only two interceptions (in 239 attempts). Hurts was 21-for-27 against the Texans for 243 yards and two more touchdowns. He’s won 10 straight starts. He’s 24.

8. It’s the weekly Dallas Goedert appreciation observation. Good grief is he good. Eight catches for 100 yards and the fourth 100-yard game of his career, and Goedert now has 40 catches for 521 yards in just under half a season. Goedert catches everything near him and then just tramples people. We talk so much about Hurts’ chemistry with A.J. Brown, but Hurts and Goedert have something just as special. When Goedert is open, Hurts finds him. Goedert runs wide receiver routes and has wide receiver hands but once he has the ball in his hands, he runs like a linebacker. Beast.

9. Javon Hargrave is playing like a flat-out beast right now, and the Eagles need every bit of it, because they haven’t been getting the kind of pressure they need from their edge rushers. Hargrave had two sacks against the Steelers and three more Thursday night, two of them in the fourth quarter as the defense took over and put the game away. Hargrave had a quiet first month or so of the season, but he’s been carrying that defensive line the last few weeks.

10. I probably don’t write enough about Nick Sirianni, but he deserves so much credit for where the Eagles are right now. This team is 8-0 now, the best start in Eagles history, and that 3-6 start last year seems like a lifetime ago. Since then, the Eagles are 13-1 in meaningful regular-season games, which is nuts. He’s now 17-8 as a head coach, and he’s got this team rolling. He’s got a locker room full of guys who completely buy in to his Dawg Mentality and Core Values, and he’s got a coaching staff that knows how to get this team prepared every week. Sirianni knows exactly what his team needs on a daily basis, and they’re responding. The Eagles have an elite team and an elite head coach running the show that nobody had heard of 22 months ago. This team is a legit Super Bowl contender in his second year as a head coach, and this team isn’t going away anytime soon.

 

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