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Eagles-Saints analysis: Jalen Hurts, running game shine vs. NFL’s top rush defense in first home win

The Eagles racked up 242 rushing yards, including three touchdowns from Hurts.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) is chased by the New Orleans Saints defense during the first quarter Sunday, November 21, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) is chased by the New Orleans Saints defense during the first quarter Sunday, November 21, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

At last, the Eagles are winners at home.

It was a complete performance from the home team Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles defeated the Saints, 40-29 .

Sticking with the game plan

Ahead of the Week 11 matchup, the Saints boasted the NFL’s best rushing defense, allowing a league-low 72.9 yards per game. But that didn’t faze Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni, who has revamped his offensive game plan with a run-first attack.

The Eagles embarrassed the vaunted Saints defense for 242 rushing yards in a combined effort from Miles Sanders (94 yards), Jordan Howard (63 yards), Boston Scott (16 yards), and quarterback Jalen Hurts (69 yards).

Rush. Rinse. Repeat.

“It was a good, physical game,” Sirianni said. “That’s something that we really wanted to do is be physical. I thought our guys really showed that.”

Sirianni began the season as a pass-happy playcaller, but rewrote his approach over the past month. The Eagles are the NFC’s best rushing team with a conference-high 153.5 yards per game. Sanders returned from his three-game stint on injured reserve because of a low ankle sprain. He was the starter, but the team later implemented a committee approach.

" I love how complimentary we are playing,” Sanders said. “Everybody is getting their touches in. Next thing you know, we are moving down the field and next thing you know, we are in the end zone. That is all I really care about.”

QB breakdown

With the Eagles establishing their dominance in the trenches and building an early lead, Hurts didn’t need to do much as a passer. He completed 13 of 24 throws for 147 yards with zero passing touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Tight end Dallas Goedert was the team’s leading receiver with five catches for 62 yards. Rookie wideout DeVonta Smith added four catches for 61 yards.

Hurts was most effective in the run-pass option and in deciphering his zone reads. He had three rushing touchdowns, which upped his season total to eight, which marks the most by any Eagles quarterback through 11 games. Hurts has also produced the most games with multiple rushing touchdowns (four) in franchise history.

“We’re going to continue to attack, continue to play our game,” Hurts said. “I’ve always been asked about the identity of this football team. I think identity is not being able to run the ball or ‘we’re a running team’, ‘we’re a passing team’, or ‘we’re a team that doesn’t give up big explosive plays.’ That’s not what identity is.

“Identity is a mentality. It’s an approach. It’s the detail you put in day in and day out throughout the week. It’s being physical, it’s wanting it, it’s effort. It’s all of those things. I think that’s what we want to be. That’s what we’re growing to and what we’re evolving into.”

Big Play Slay shows up again

Cornerback Darius Slay is building quite the Pro Bowl résumé.

Slay ignited the crowd at the end of the first half when he recorded a pick-six off Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian. The 30-year-old defensive back expertly jumped wide receiver Deonte Harris’ route and returned the interception 51 yards to the house. In eight-plus seasons, Slay was named to the Pro Bowl in three consecutive years (2018-20).

“We got into two-minute drill – obviously it comes inside against a good corner,” Saint coach Sean Payton said. “When we see the replay of it, Slay sat on the route and it ended up being a significant score at the half.”

Slay suffered a head injury in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. After the game, the Eagles announced Slay is in the concussion protocol.

Elliott continues hot streak

The special teams unit has been consistent all year, and kicker Jake Elliott has played a key role in the group’s success.

Following a disappointing 2020 season, in which he converted a career-low 73.7% (14 of 19) of his field goal attempts, Elliott has rebounded nicely. He was successful on a 50-yard attempt during the second quarter, which extended the Eagles’ lead to 17-7. Elliott is 3-for-3 on 50-plus yard attempts in 2021; last year, he was only 2-for-5 on those long-distance kicks.

Against the Saints, Elliott was 4-for-4 in field goal kicks and 3-for-3 in extra-point attempts. Overall, he has made 90% (18 of 20) of his field goals and has been perfect on his 28 extra-point attempts.

Injury report

Linebacker Davion Taylor exited in the first quarter after suffering a knee injury, and he did not return.

Ahead of Sunday’s contest, Taylor’s status was already in question. He was listed with a knee injury after suffering a bone bruise last Sunday at Denver. It wasn’t clear whether or not Taylor re-injured the same knee.

Cornerback Avonte Maddox exited in the second quarter after his collision with Saints running back Mark Ingram II. Following a quick visit to the blue medical tent, Maddox later returned.

Howard also suffered a knee injury in the third quarter and didn’t return.

Celebrity appearances

The Linc was certainly the place to be this weekend.

During the team’s final practice Friday, it welcomed actor-director Rob McElhenney, best known for his role in the FX comedy series, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Following his encounter with Sirianni, McElhenney jokingly tweeted he told Sirianni to “run the ball.”

Actor and stand-up comedian Kevin Hart also was in attendance. During pregame warmups, he made the rounds on the sidelines and even had a lengthy conversation with team owner Jeffrey Lurie.