DENVER — The Eagles’ final plane ride home of the regular season should be a good one.
After a 30-13 win over the Denver Broncos at Empower Field, the Eagles are riding some momentum just as their schedule — filled with division rivals a bus ride away — eases up a bit. Here are our instant observations:
DeVonta Smith’s 23rd birthday will be one to remember.
The rookie wide receiver celebrated the milestone with another career day with two touchdowns in the first half and finished with four catches for 66 yards.
Smith, the No. 10 pick in April’s NFL draft, has now illustrated in back-to-back games that he’s on his way to being the difference-making receiver the Eagles have been searching for the last few years.
His first touchdown against the Broncos was an eye-popping, contested catch over his former Alabama teammate and fellow first-round pick Pat Surtain II. According to Next Gen Stats, Smith had just .8 yards of separation by the time the ball arrived, but he outjumped Surtain and showed excellent body control both reeling in the ball and also staying in bounds on the way down.
Last week, Smith had five catches for 116 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers, doing most of his damage in the second half.
“I get more comfortable every week,” Smith said. “It all comes down to preparation. I go to practice, I practice hard, and the way I practice, the way this team’s practice, that’s why we’re so successful in the games.”
Hurts’ hot start
Jalen Hurts’ first half against the Broncos may have been the best he has had in the NFL. The second-year quarterback went 15-for-20 for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the air while also leading the team in rushing with 52 yards. He was a Quez Watkins drop away from three first-half touchdowns and surpassing 200 yards.
It wasn’t just the production that inspired confidence, though. Hurts’ ball placement, timing on throws, and decision-making was stellar against a solid passing defense led by Broncos coach Vic Fangio. The few incompletions he threw in the half could all be excused by outside circumstances, as there weren’t any egregious misses or questionable decisions.
His second half featured more mistakes, including an interception where it appeared his arm got hit as he was releasing the throw, but he still put together a winning performance.
The jury may still be out on whether Hurts is the team’s long-term answer at quarterback, but a performance like this one should buy him more time to make his case.
“He just did some really good things in that game,” coach Nick Sirianni said. “Right before the double-move [touchdown throw] to DeVonta, he made some really good checks.”
Sirianni sticks with the run
The Eagles kept their balanced offensive attack against the Broncos, employing equal parts called runs and passes for most of the game. They favored the run in the fourth quarter once the score was decided, but Hurts had 20 passing attempts in the first half, compared to 17 called running plays.
The Eagles’ effective rushing attack was effective while salting away the game. Jordan Howard finished as the team’s leading rusher with 83 yards in his first game since being elevated to the active roster. Boston Scott was right behind him, rushing for 81 yards. For the second time in three games, the team had three players surpass 50 rushing yards (Howard, Scott, and Hurts).
Sirianni showed some creativity in the run-game Sunday, too. The Eagles have run plenty of split-zone runs — sending the tight end across the formation after the snap to block the defensive end — and are starting to counter off of that tendency. Before Dallas Goedert left with an injury, he went across the formation on a play-action and Hurts completed a pass to him going out on a route. Growing pains should have been expected with the first-year coach and his young staff, but Sirianni is showing growth as the season progresses.
“It’s always him.”
Derek Barnett lived up to Sirianni’s words from earlier this season with the costly lapses in judgment he has become known for in his time with the Eagles. Barnett jumped offsides in the second quarter, giving the Broncos first-and-goal from the Eagles’ 4-yard line. In the third quarter, Barnett got called for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty.
It’s unclear whether it was on the initial hit of Teddy Bridgewater after he’d gotten rid of the ball or the extra shove Barnett gave the Broncos’ quarterback as he was getting up. It was a hard hit, but it looked like he hit Bridgewater in the “strike zone” that pass rushers must adhere to, avoiding going too low or too high. But the extra shove at the end of the play was definitely the type of thing that will get called, especially from a player with a reputation like Barnett’s.
It didn’t cost the Eagles too badly against Denver; they held the Broncos to field goals after both penalties, but the pattern continues for the former first-round pick.
A big special-teams play and a defensive touchdown helped ice the game for the Eagles in the second half.
K’Von Wallace had a blocked field-goal attempt deep in Eagles’ territory that kept it a two-possession game early in the third quarter.
A few series later, Davion Taylor forced a fumble on Melvin Gordon on a fourth down, and Darius Slay returned it for an 83-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 27-13 lead that essentially put the game out of reach.
Whenever you can get a 10-point swing from defense and special teams, it makes life a lot easier.