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Eagles Survive Howell-een Scare

The Washington Commanders gave the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles a big scare in an overtime thriller on the first day of October, as spooky season begins. The Eagles have grown accustomed to making their fans sweat wins out this season, and it was no different in their first NFC East matchup. In front of their home fans, the Eagles defense held it down to start overtime and forced a Washington three-and-out. The offense came onto the field needing only a field goal to win. 10 plays and 34 yards later, Jake Elliot came on to try a 54-yard field goal. Like the reliable kicker that he is, Elliot put it right through the uprights. Philadelphia outlasted Washington, 34-31, and now find themselves with a record of 4-0 for the second straight season. They avoided the Commanders being their first loss for the second year straight. Let’s get into the biggest takeaways from the Eagles’ big divisional win.

Running Swiftly

Enough about Taylor Swift already, all we care about right now is D'Andre Swift. Sorry, Swifties. But, to be fair, I'm a Swiftie myself. Just not an insane one wanting to know her moves 24/7. Well, I'm also a Swiftie cause I like D-Swift. The Eagles' running back stayed hot, as he ran for 56 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

It really should've been more, but the Eagles, for whatever reason, decided to move away from Swift in the second half and more or less split the carries with Kenneth Gainwell. Then, on a 3rd-and-11 from Washington's 16 to start the 4th quarter, they called an RB draw right into the teeth of the defense on the right side. It was almost disastrous, as Gainwell fumbled, but it was luckily recovered by Lane Johnson and Elliot hit the field goal. This goes into how shaky the Eagles' play calling within the red zone has been this season. Not having Swift on the field is a problem in itself, then you add in the atrocious call to run a draw on 3rd-and-long.

MVP-Caliber Jalen Hurts has Arrived

Jalen Hurts wasn't himself in the first three games of the season despite the Eagles being able to win. In the first division game of the year, he certainly showed back up as he was 25-of-37 passing for 319 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. On both his touchdown passes, he found his favorite receiver, AJ Brown, for 59 yards and 28 yards, respectively. The 28-yard score put the Birds up 31-24 with 1:37 remaining in regulation.

I also have to add that Brown getting hit with a taunting penalty on the above touchdown was absolutely ridiculousness from the refs. He merely dropped the ball into the lap of Emmanuel Forbes after completely bodying him all game (9 REC, 175 YDs, 2 TDs) and stood over him for maybe half a second. That penalty was assessed on the ensuing kickoff and really boosted the Commanders en route to their game-tying drive. The 'No Fun League' strikes again. But alas, I digress.

Hurts converted a 4th-and-1 at midfield with a Brotherly Shove QB sneak and got another first down with an 11-yard pass to Swift. He then completed a 9-yard pass to DeVonta Smith to set up the winning field goal from Elliot. The Eagles and Hurts seemed to have found their passing identity, which is a good sign and will only make them that much better when the other kinks are worked out. The narrative that Hurts hasn't run like he used to was also put by the wayside in this one, as Hurts scrambled when he needed to and made strong throws on the run.

The Defense Played Soft Down the Stretch

Credit where credit is due, 'Manders' quarterback Sam Howell, a fifth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, looked legit - at least for one day. He made all the right throws, including the huge touchdown pass to Jahan Dotson as time expired, and looked calm in the pocket. Howell struggled mightily last week against Buffalo but showed extreme poise on the road in a hostile environment at Lincoln Financial Field. In all honesty, Washington would have won the game if they had gone for two and the win instead of just forcing overtime with the PAT. But Riverboat Ron wasn't very true to his name, a fraud, you may even say.

But on the Eagles' side of things, with a 31-24 lead, they had Howell and the Commanders on the ropes after a first down sack by Nicholas Morrow with just over a minute remaining. Following an incompletion, it was now 3rd-and-17. Howell completed a pass to Byron Pringle for 15 yards, which made it a much more manageable 4th-and-2. I certainly will give the Commanders's quarterback more credit than blame it on bad defense. In fact, James Bradberry was all over Pringle on the play and Howell fit it into a tight window. Then on the next play, the Eagles' pass rush failed to get home, allowing Howell to scramble out and find a wide-open Dyami Brown to keep the drive and the game alive. Darius Slay was playing 10 yards behind Brown and was the only defender in sight. I get that the Eagles wanted to keep the receivers in front of them, but you can't give them an easy 10-yard completion on 4th-and-2.

Not only did the Birds allow a first down on this play, but Josh Jobe was called for holding on the opposite side of the field where the throw came, as he tackled Terry McLaurin to the ground attempting to run his route. It wasn't the first rookie mistake that the second-year Jobe made on the drive, either. Howell pumped to go that way before McLaurin was tackled, so I'll give Jobe a bit of the benefit of the doubt, as it probably would've been completed.

After the next play was incomplete, Howell found McLaurin for 19 yards on the next two plays to get them down to the 10-yard line. Again, the Eagles kept everything in front of them, allowing the first down without the big play. But the Commanders were chipping away, and despite the game clock running down, Howell didn't panic. Reed Blankenship played the ball well on first down as Howell tried to find Curtis Samuel, which the Eagles' safety broke up a couple of yards before the end zone. But it gave the Commanders another chance because if Samuel had caught it, the game would have been over. That set up Howell to find Dotson in the end zone at the buzzer, but also another mistake by Jobe. Instead of staying on Dotson, Jobe backpedaled while he was already in the end zone, which allowed Dotson to make a fairly easy catch. The Eagles are 4-0, but they need to clean up these mistakes.

No Sorrow for Morrow

Nicholas Morrow was cut after training camp and is now playing the best football of his career. Per PFF, he is the second-highest graded linebacker at 84.9, five points behind Ravens' Roquan Smith. On Sunday, the 2018 first-round pick recorded more than one sack for the first time in his career. He finished with an impressive stat line: 11 tackles, three sacks, three TFLs, and three quarterback hits.

Eagles’ 2022 Sack Leader Gets on the Board

Also joining in on the sack party was Haason Reddick, the Eagles' sack leader from last year, a year in which they led the NFL with 70 sacks - two short of tying the record. The sack came at the perfect time too, as the game was tied at 24 with under 5 minutes to go on a Washington 2nd down. Reddick didn't look like his usual dominant self in the first three games after a thumb injury during training camp required surgery. He finally got his cast off before the game on Sunday and played more freely. Now that he got that first sack out of the way, he looks ready to turn the corner and dominate offenses from here on out. So far, he has just one sack and two QB hits through four games.

Secondary is Hurting

The Eagles' secondary is in shambles currently, while also being a mixed bag as far as production goes. Starting with the season-ending injury suffered by Avonte Maddox, there has seemingly been a revolving door of who has played alongside Darius Slay and James Bradberry. Sydney Brown took snaps in the slot but was out on Sunday due to a hamstring injury he suffered against Tampa Bay. Justin Evans was in at safety before also suffering an injury against the Bucs last Monday night. Bradberry has also been playing out of position in the slot in the absence of Maddox, which isn't utilizing his talent the best way possible. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai admitted that this was the case, and while he applauded Bradberry for the job he has done there, said that they are not committed to playing him there.

Philadelphia helped with the secondary depth on Tuesday, as they signed former Saints and Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby after he had reportedly fielded interest from multiple teams. Roby is expected to be signed to the practice squad, where he will get in shape and learn the defense before being elevated to the 53-man roster. The 2014 draft pick out of Ohio State has quite a bit of experience in the slot, which is exactly where the Eagles need help.

Next up for Philadelphia: at Los Angeles Rams on 10/8 at 4:05 p.m.

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