Can this defense hold up against an elite quarterback? Can it slow down one of the best receivers in the league … not to mention a big-time running back? Can Jalen Hurts win a game with his arm? Can the Eagles beat a highly regarded team?
The Eagles answered a lot of questions Monday night at the Linc, riding Hurts’ brilliant night and a bounce-back performance by the defense to a 24-7 win over the Vikings and a 2-0 record.
This is only the fifth time in the last 29 years the Eagles have been 2-0, and they’re one of only six 2-0 teams in the league.
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Heck of a win. Here’s our 10 Instant Observations!
1. There’s only one place we can start, and that’s the quarterback who we kept hearing couldn’t beat a good team. Who couldn’t win games with his arm. Who wasn’t accurate enough. Well guess what. Take a look at these numbers: 26-for-31, 333 yards, 1 passing TD, 2 rushing TDs, 57 rushing yards, and an interception off Kenny Gainwell’s hands on his last pass. First quarterback in NFL history to throw for 330 yards, completed 84 percent of his passes and rush for two touchdowns. Ever. You name it, Hurts was elite. Decision making. Accuracy. Huge on third down. This wasn’t just Hurts’ best game ever, it was one of the best games ever by an Eagles’ quarterback. If you didn’t believe in Hurts before, you better now.
2. Shane Steichen has one heck of a flair for play calling, and we’re really seeing it now more than last year because A.J. Brown just makes this offense so much more electrifying. Not only is he an terrific receiver, you can see the effect he has on the entire offense when you see how open Dallas Goedert, DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins got. This is Steichen’s first full year as the Eagles’ play caller, and he really seems to have a profound understanding of how to deploy his players and who does what well along with a very good sense of how to keep defenses off balance. He mixes in different backs, he stays aggressive and he uses all his personnel. He’s got a strong feel for what opposing defenses do well and how to take advantage of their weaknesses. The Eagles have 62 points through two games, 6th-most in franchise history. We saw everybody making plays Monday night – Dallas Goedert (5-for-82), DeVonta Smith [7-for-80], Quez Watkins [2-for-69], A.J. Brown [5-for-69] as well as Miles Sanders [17-for-80]. This team has weapons everywhere, and Steichen knows what to do with them.
3. It didn’t take long to see that this was a different defense than we saw in Detroit last week. More physical, more intense, more aggressive, more focused. Maybe it was getting the pads on during the week. Maybe it was a bunch of new guys getting more comfortable in the scheme. Maybe it was just pride after watching that Lions film. Whatever it was, something clicked and the Eagles’ defense didn’t even remotely look like the one that allowed 35 points Sunday. Literally looked like a different unit. Shut down the run. Tackled. Covered. Picked off three passes. Picked up two sacks – both in the fourth quarter half – and really pressured well late in the game. Let’s face it, Jonathan Gannon needed to put this kind of product on the field against a high-powered offense, and his group came up huge.
4. Those two defensive possessions after the Vikings got great field position – at the 27-yard-line after Kris Boyd’s 27-yard blocked field goal return and at the 9-yard-line after Jordan Hicks’ interception – were absolutely brilliant. On the first one, Kyzir White stuffed Dalvin Cook on 1stdown, then Cousins threw a short pass to Cook on 2nd down that had no shot, and then on 3rddown Maddox picked off Cousins at the 13. And then just a few minutes later, Maddox knocked away a pass intended for Adam Thielen in the end zone on 1st down, Slay nearly picked off Cousins on 2nd down and then he did pick him off on 3rd down. Drives down to the 27 and the 9 and the Vikings didn’t score. There is no way this defense comes up big like that in those situations against a guy like Cousins last year. Or anybody.
5. The Eagles did record just one sack for a second straight week, but we finally saw big-time pressure in the second half, and Cousins didn’t stand a chance. Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick both generated pressure off the edge, Fletcher Cox was very active with some good pressures and a sack, and Gannon got good production sending Maddox and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson on blitzes. The second half was a defensive masterpiece, and Cousins, who was OK before halftime, was 10-for-22 for 98 yards, no TDs and three INTs in the second half. This defense doesn’t work without pressure, and it was awesome to see this front finally harass a quarterback.
6. There’s going to be so much focus on Hurts and the passing game, let’s not lose site of how much Miles Sanders is doing for the offense right now. Sanders didn’t have a run longer than 12 yards Monday night, but he was 17-for-80 coming off his 13-for-96 performance in Detroit. Sanders is just running super tough right now. Remember how much dancing around we used to see from him his first couple years? You just don’t see that anymore. He hits the hole and he hits it hard. Sanders is only the third back in Eagles history to begin a season with 80 rushing yards and a 4.5 average in each of the first two games. Wilbert Montgomery did it in 1981 and LeSean McCoy in 2011. Sanders is off to a big-time start. Running very tough.
7. Let’s talk about Slay. What a remarkable performance. He showed a national TV audience exactly why he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He loves this kind of matchup. He embraces it. He lives for it. Justin Jefferson came into this game with the 2nd-most yards in NFL history by a player in his first 35 games, and he was an absolute non-factor. Jefferson finished with just five catches for 43 yards with a long gainer of 11 yards, and he had only one catch with Slay on him. Slay smothered him. Maddox had him a few snaps as well when he lined up in the slot, but for the most part this was a matchup of two of the NFL’s best in Slay and Jefferson, and Slay was an absolute monster. He picked off Cousins twice and should have had two more. Maybe three. Slay is always terrific, but this was next-level stuff. This was Eric Allen stuff. He was a blast to watch Monday night.
8. One of the more encouraging things to come out of these first two games is the way Hurts is throwing the deep ball. He followed that 54-yarder to A.J. Brown in Detroit with a 53-yard TD to Quez Watkins Monday night. By halftime of Week 2, Hurts had matched his total number of 50-yard completions all of last year and recorded the second-longest TD pass of his career. Hurts has always had a strong enough arm, but as a rookie and last year he tended to underthrow deep balls. It’s something he’s clearly worked on, and with this offensive line and these receivers, he’s going to have plenty of opportunities to hit these kind of big plays. Stretching defenses? Picking up 50 yards at a pop? Forcing defenses to stay honest? This offense is already really dangerous. The deep ball – and the threat of the deep ball – is going to make them even more dangerous.
9. One more on Hurts: He does not get enough credit for how freaking tough he is. We all know he’s fast. But he does not back down and does not shy away from contact. On that 26-yard touchdown, I don’t know how many other quarterbacks don’t just duck out of bounds at the 15. It was a 3rd-and-2, Hurts already had the first down, and Jordan Hicks was bearing down on him. He slowed down at the 15 … saw a lane … and hit the gas again, got hit by Camryn Bynum at the 5, then got hit at the 1 by Patrick Peterson. And scored. That’s the longest rushing TD by an Eagles QB in 20 years – since Donovan McNabb had a 40-yarder against the Giants at the Vet in 2002. Dude is fearless.
10. Finally, how some props for Arryn Siposs, not for his punting – although he was actually really good Monday night – but for his touchdown-saving tackle on Boyd. That’s not a play you expect to see from a punter, but Siposs was the only guy who had a shot at Boyd, who ran a 4.45 at the 2019 Combine. Not only did he catch him, he did a great job dragging him down, and the defense and Maddox did the rest.