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Birds Run Over Saints For First Linc Win
At long last, the Eagles have won at Lincoln Financial Field, their first home win under new head coach Nick Sirianni and first in almost a year.
Thanks to another bullying effort from their run game, which churned out another 200-plus yards, along with two takeaways, the Eagles took an early lead and staved off the feisty Saints in a 40-29 win, the team’s first win at the Linc since beating the Saints last year on Dec. 13.
Jalen Hurts rushed for two touchdowns in the first quarter and three overall, Jake Elliott kicked four field goals, and Darius Slay returned an interception for a touchdown in the lopsided Eagles win. The Saints were without several of their best players on offense, including Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara and both bookend offensive tackles.
The Eagles (5-6) have won consecutive games for the first time this year and remain in the hunt for a wild card berth, having won three of their last four games as they prepare for next Sunday’s NFC East showdown against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. The Saints (5-5), who entered the game sitting in the No. 2 wild card spot, have lost three straight.
Let’s go with the observations:
1. Before we get into Jalen Hurts, or Miles Sanders, or the defense, or another ridiculously good effort in the run game, it has to be mentioned that all of this starts up front. This is one of the best games I’ve seen a collective offensive line, and I’ve covered the Eagles for almost two decades. In particular, the interior of the offensive line put on a clinic against the Saints’ front seven. By some metrics, this Saints rush defense is one of the sport’s best in a while, allowing just 73 yards per game on the ground into the game. The Eagles had 75 rushing yards after the first quarter and finished with over 240, averaging more than 5 yards per carry. It’s the third time in the last four games the Eagles have rushed for more than 200 yards. It’s evident that scheme and game-planning, while very good, is playing second-fiddle to the talent the Eagles have up front. Jason Kelce doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. Landon Dickerson has come as advertised. Jack Driscoll has shown he’s got the bulk and athleticism to move inside at guard. Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata are studs. When everyone knows you’re going to run, and you can still do it with this kind of success, you’re just that much better than everyone else.
2. I never thought the Eagles would do it, but they’ve become the Ravens on offense in the way they’re powered by the run game and quarterback’s threat to run. Hurts isn’t the open-field runner that Lamar Jackson is – but nobody else is, either. Jackson is one of a kind. But Hurts’ threat to run has become even more of a weapon because of the Eagles’ ability to move the chains with their running backs first, sucking in the defense and exposing the edges, where Hurts has flourished on keepers and read-options. It’s not hurting the offense as much if Hurts isn’t pin-point accurate or occasionally doesn’t see open receivers because the Eagles are wearing down defenses and neutralizing the pass rush. I have no idea what this means for the future of the franchise – Howie Roseman probably doesn’t either at this point – but it’ll be fun to watch as the Eagles chase a playoff berth.
3. When the Eagles can run the ball with this much success, they need Hurts to make better decisions and better throws overall. He seemed to take a step back, especially in the second half, with seeing the whole field and staying in the pocket. Hurts completed just 52 percent of his throws and hit on just 13 passes. Obviously, he compensated with three touchdowns runs. The third was ridiculous. He has that ability to make defenses look foolish. You could argue the Saints’ pass defense was better than its top-ranked run defense. The Saints started to find their footing in the second half, but the game was already out of hand.
4. The biggest issue for the Saints was a lack of pass rush, not because of effort but because of a disciplined rush strategy that kept their defensive ends from getting too far upfield. They were trying so hard to keep Hurts from breaking outside that they let Hurts stand in the pocket and have too much time to find receivers, more so in the first half. The Eagles converted 8 of 12 third downs in the first half (67 percent). There’s your game, folks. They were more tight in the second half, but couldn’t generate any offensive flow to get back into the game. Hurts’ longest pass was a 33-yarder to Smith on 3rd-and-2. Everything else was relatively short.
5. Goedert, who just signed his blockbuster four-year extension, really has the potential to put up stats that match his new paycheck. The bobbled, one-handed catch for 14 yards to the New Orleans 13-yard-line in the second quarter was a catch that no other Eagles pass-catcher can make. He adds the physical element that this offense really needs. He also converted two 3rd-and-longs on the Eagles’ first touchdown drive, giving Hurts a reliable weapon when they face cornerbacks who can body up DeVonta Smith. He finished with 62 yards on five catches.
6. I was a defender of Miles Sanders returning to the starting role, and he showed his explosive element on a 25-yard run in the first half, kicking into second gear in a way that Jordan Howard and Boston Scott can’t do. But there’s no defending the kid putting the ball on the ground and running out of bounds in the fourth quarter when he should have, and could have, stayed in bounds. His fumble led to the Saints’ only touchdown of the first half, and he nearly fumbled again in the second quarter but was fortunate to have the referees whistle forward progress to negate the turnover. Sanders assumed more carries in the second half after Howard left with what the team called a knee injury despite Howard landing hard on his shoulder after a 7-yard run and finished with 94 yards on 16 carrie. Overall, a good return for Sanders, but he needs to be smarter and protect the football.
7. I won’t go too overboard about the Eagles’ defense. Yeah, it dominated, but the Eagles should have owned this Saints offense that didn’t have Alvin Kamara, left tackle Terron Armstead, right tackle Ryan Ramcyzk, and running back/receiver Ty Montgomery. That’s a lot of significant pieces for the Saints who weren’t on the field. Trevor Siemian is a decent quarterback who can win games, but he had very little protection from his patchwork offensive line and not much from the run game. He also made some throws that show you why he’s a backup. Mark Ingram fumbled. The kicker missed a PAT. Just ugly. But credit defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon for smelling blood and sending the hounds on certain third downs, dialing up some exotic five- and six-man rushes. To his credit, he has blitzed more since the 2-4 start. The Eagles did exactly what they should have done against this kind of an offense.
8. Big props, though, to Darius Slay. The man who just likes to be called “Slay” literally slayed the Saints with a big pass breakup on third down and an interception return for a touchdown, his second touchdown in as many games and third defensive touchdown of the year. Some thought Slay had regressed last year when he struggled in matchups against Davante Adams and DK Metcalf, but Slay has been excellent this season and has a chance to make another Pro Bowl. The interception right before halftime was classic baiting, as he played off coverage and then jumped in front of Siemian’s pass for his third pick of the season, his most since 2018, the second of his three straight Pro Bowl seasons. The pass defense definitely loosened up after Slay exited to be examined for a head injury in the fourth quarter,
9. I don’t know Javon Hargave got flagged for a personal foul on Siemian in the fourth quarter. I’ve seen some bad calls, but that was one of the worst. I wouldn’t even know the coaching point for that. He kept his arms straight up in the air and barely touched Siemian.
10. Sean Payton is a great coach, but what was he thinking by kicking a field goal to make it 33-22 with 7 minutes, 14 seconds to play in the game? After the Brett Maher 28-yarder cut the deficit to 11, the Saints still needed to score on two possessions, and Maher had already missed a point-after attempt kick. The Saints have had kicker issues all season. Not sure why Payton thought he’d be able to get a touchdown, two-point conversion AND another field goal just to tie the game at that point in the fourth.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.