The Eagles didn’t beat the Colts, Jalen Hurts did. That distinction is both absolutely critical, and horrifyingly accurate — and the Philadelphia coaches need to get their heads out of their asses and realize it.
There is immense anxiety that comes from dominance when nobody expected it. Hell, it might trump the anxiety that comes from endless losing. Coping with mediocrity is a known quantity for most coaching staffs, because the messaging is pretty simple: We can get better. When you’re dominating and the expectation was a playoff push at best, all sorts of other thoughts sneak in. Doubt, imposter syndrome, fear of failure — all of which can influence your decision making. That’s precisely what we saw on Sunday for the majority of the game, and it’s a damn shame.
The Eagles went 8-0 because of the team’s unwavering belief in Jalen Hurts to carry the load and be the guy. After one embarrassing loss to the Commanders it’s like their world was turned on its head, and against the Colts the coaching staff felt the need to game plan around Hurts, rather than showcase him.
It failed miserably.
For much of the game on Sunday it felt like the Eagles were actually going to lose to Jeff Saturday and the Colts, because Philly forgot itself. This was the definition of playing down to your competition, and it was pathetic. For three quarters the offense bracketed Hurts, playing around him instead if having the offense run through him — treating their MVP-caliber QB like Zach Wilson, rather than Josh Allen. It resulted in boring, predictable offensive play that showcased Philadelphia’s weakest offensive players, and for a while it looked like Indy would win because of it.
To be fair, this hasn’t been an incredible three weeks for Hurts. He was mediocre against the hapless Texans, and really struggled against Washington. Those same feelings of anxiety and doubt crept into his play as well, but losing to Washington really felt like a pivot point in the team’s thinking. It stemmed from putting a lot of faith in Hurts in Week 10 which wasn’t rewarded. In that game his average intended air yards was 8.0 according to Pro Football Focus, with the YAC from his receivers being the lowest of the season.. Hurts wasn’t able to push the ball through the air and move the offense when it asked him to win with his arm. A large part of that is a credit to the Commanders’ defense, but it was enough to alter the Eagles’ game plan for the Colts, and that’s where this went off the rails.
Hurts was an afterthought until the fourth quarter, a pleasant distraction, touching the ball on every down — but not meaning anything to the grander design of the game. It showed, as Indy jumped out to a 13-3 lead entering the forth quarter. 10 points isn’t much, but it sure felt like it considering the ebb and flow of the game, with the Colts firmly in control.
Then the forth quarter came, and it was like Hurts defied the game plan up to that point. Instead of settling for mediocrity he put the entire offense on his back and pulled them across the line by his damn self, including the game-winning run, which came on an instinct play which wasn’t called — and Hurts used on his own magic.
The Colts’ mascot also thrust a bunch of times for some reason.
The Eagles are a really, really good football team. They have the talent to go all the way and win the damn Super Bowl, but only if they trust what brought them here in the first place. Moving away from Jalen Hurts is a surefire way to botch everything they’ve built up to this point, and the game against the Colts on Sunday should be a wakeup call for Nick Sirianni and Philly coaching staff that this team’s fortunes are inexorably tied to Hurts.
Make no mistake, he’s not a perfect QB — not yet. In many ways he’s still growing into the role as the feature player of an NFL team, and that takes time. However, the surefire way to hurt his confidence and damage the Eagles at the same time is moving away a Hurts-based offense. At this point they need to live and die through him, and on Sunday they won 100 percent because of what Jalen Hurts did.
Jalen Hurts is a big winner this week, but the Eagles are losers because of their decision making.
Winner: The Dallas one-two punch
The Cowboys really needed a big-time signature win to cement themselves in the NFC playoff picture and ensure they could still hang with the surprisingly hard-hitting NFC East — and they did just that against the Cowboys.
There are a great many reasons why Dallas was able to so thoroughly dominate Minnesota, including their incredible defense (which I spoke about several week ago), but in the end a lot came down to the Vikings having absolutely no answer for the team’s two running backs. Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard ate Minnesota alive, combining for 236 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.
The lion’s share of this came from Pollard, who played out of his mind on Sunday — but it was really about the duality of Pollard working on intermediate downs and Elliott on short downs which made the difference.
We haven’t really seen an offensive look from the Cowboys like this prior to Sunday, and it’s another way this team can win down the stretch. On paper the Vikings still have a better record, but for my money Dallas is built much better for the future.
Winner: Ron Rivera
At what point do we start giving some Coach of the Year buzz to Ron Rivera? It’s absurd how well he has the Commanders playing without a real quarterback, and everyone in Washington is buying in to his system.
Yes, there are a ton of notable COY candidates, led unquestionably by Nick Sirianni (assuming he doesn’t botch everything), but the Commanders are playing better football than they have any right to. Sure, beating the Texans isn’t exactly a major accomplishment — but this team is playing hard, no nonsense football and doing all the little things right along the way.
Rivera deserves all the credit for what’s happening, and if he finds a way to get Washington into the playoffs you’d be hard pressed to find anyone doing more with less talent than Rivera.
Loser: The Broncos
Y’all lost the Raiders. Once again, I don’t really want to talk about this steaming dumpster team — but at this point Denver has cemented itself as one of the worst teams in the entire NFL now. What an absolute mess.
Winner: Dan Campbell
That was an incredibly gutsy win against the Giants for a Detroit, and a much-needed win for Dan Campbell. At this point I think everyone has seen rumors that the seat in Detroit was getting hot for Campbell, but I think in the immediate future he’s the perfect coach for a rebuilding organization. The Lions still have a really broken roster in need of star power, but Campbell showed they can beat a top-tier team based off Campbell’s leadership.
There’s a ton of work to be done, but moving on would have been a mammoth mistake for the Lions — and beating the Giants should go a long way towards keeping Campbell in Detroit.
Loser: Zach Wilson, who is blaming the weather
“I think you have to take into account it's windy as hell out there too, guys,” Zach Wilson said after the #Jets loss.— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) November 21, 2022
Noodle-armed Mac Jones, with far less talent around him, completed 23 of 27 passes (85.2 percent) for 246 yards in the same conditions.
I see Jets fans somehow contorting themselves into defending a 9-for-22, 77 yard game and all I gotta say to that is: Bless your heart. It’s a southern thing. Google it.