EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Jets hung around for about a half, but the Eagles pulled away from their lesser opponent and coasted to a 33-18 win on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Win, lose, or draw, here’s what we learned:
(Some of) Howie Roseman’s moves are paying off. Let’s just get this out of the way: Roseman’s fingerprints were all over the Eagles’ three-year regression following the Super Bowl. He had as much or more to do with last season’s disaster than anyone. The quarterback situation remains unresolved without an obvious solution partly because of the general manager. And his subpar drafts and salary cap mismanagement have resulted in a roster that is far from championship-caliber.
An argument could have been made that he deserved to go before coach Doug Pederson, or at least with him last offseason. But the reality is that Roseman is about as entrenched as GMs get because of Jeffrey Lurie’s abiding faith and their codependent relationship. He did help build a title winner, and that is, of course, part of the owner’s reasoning for giving him yet another opportunity to try it again. But Roseman failed in establishing a perennial contender. You’d like to maybe see how he’d do without the owner’s involvement, but one can’t exist without the other. And so, Roseman remains. Fans can only hope he gets it right with his fourth coach, or at the least, catches lightning in a bottle again.
There are subtle signs, however, that he has the Eagles moving in the right direction, and if you squint, you can see the foundation for the future. The best example of that is on the offensive line. The unit lost both its starting guards for most of this season, and yet, it hasn’t missed a beat. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland garners a lot of credit, but Landon Dickerson, Jack Driscoll, Nate Herbig, and Sua Opeta have stepped into the vacancies and done the job. Roseman might have missed on Andre Dillard in the first round — although the tackle was competent during Lane Johnson’s absence — but he found a seventh-round gem in Jordan Mailata.
The GM was also able to get Mailata under contract before the season with what could prove to be an under-market deal. He did the same with defensive end Josh Sweat, and has since inked two more 2018 draft picks — tight end Dallas Goedert and cornerback Avonte Maddox — to competitive extensions. He has been guilty of falling too much in love with some of his own selections, but on paper, the first three signings were sound, and the latter not egregious.
The 2017, 2019, and 2020 drafts have had a lot to do with the Eagles’ decline. But the latest class has some promising pieces. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith was a do-over for the Jalen Reagor whiff, but he has legitimate talent. Dickerson has only improved over the course of his first 11 starts. And there have been glimpses of potential from defensive tackle Milton Williams, cornerback Zech McPhearson, and running back Kenneth Gainwell, along with a few third-day choices. It’s still too early to say the group will compare better to other teams. The Smith pick could haunt the Eagles if Micah Parsons continues his trajectory toward becoming one of the league’s best defensive players, and most damaging, if Mac Jones develops into one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
But Roseman also managed to fleece the Dolphins for another 2022 first-rounder, and is only a few more Carson Wentz snaps from getting the Colts’ first-rounder, as well. Trades have long been his forte. If anything, they validate the notion that he is better than many other GMs. Frankly, most fail more than they succeed. Only four active GMs, aside from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, have won Super Bowls in the last decade, and Roseman is one.
The latest example of his trading proficiency came in Sunday’s victory. Roseman forfeited only a sixth-rounder for Gardner Minshew. The quarterback had already proven that he could win in the NFL, and while he may lack starter credentials, the price was a small amount to pay for arguably one of the better backups in the league. Minshew’s performance Sunday — albeit against a lesser team — already warranted the expenditure.
I don’t want to lose sight of the mistakes Roseman has made at quarterback, from the top of the depth chart to the bottom. The Joe Flacco guaranteed contract was inexplicable, even if he was able to recoup the Minshew sixth-rounder in a deadline exchange with the Jets. Could Flacco have beaten his current team? Maybe. But the 25-year-old Minshew is a decade younger and has far greater value.
Gardner Minshew could be the stopgap quarterback. Minshew was on the board when the Eagles selected quarterback Clayton Thorson in the fifth round of the 2019 draft. So it must have taken time in Jacksonville for Roseman and Co. to realize his potential, unless there was mixed opinion on the Washington State product two years ago. I have since heard that the GM had become an advocate for Minshew, although coach Nick Sirianni had scouted and met with him predraft and saw him up close with the Jaguars.
Sirianni squashed any potential controversy after the game when he said he was sticking with Jalen Hurts, and understandably so. Minshew offered the Eagles the chance to see him run the first-year coach’s offense, and it’s possible he gives them a better chance to make the playoffs. They are currently a half-game out. But the difference may only be marginal, and the 23-year-old Hurts seemingly has a higher ceiling. The Eagles owe it to themselves to see this thing to the finish line, even if they fall short of the postseason. They want to play meaningful games, of course, but Roseman can’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
There’s a chance Hurts’ one game on the sideline benefits him and he takes from Minshew executing the passing offense at a higher clip. The best thing he might have done, as least as it relates to the starter, is show what can be gained with a simple checkdown. It isn’t sexy, and it speaks to what Minshew lacks in arm talent, but it can be effective, especially against the Jets and Giants of the NFL.
Neither has shown enough to suggest he will get the Eagles closer to finding their quarterback savior. Lurie is said to still believe in Hurts, while Roseman isn’t as confident, per two independent sources familiar with their thinking. But if they think a starter is there in the draft (most don’t at this stage) or that they can get Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson (assuming they’re available and willing to waive no-trade clauses), they’ll likely pull the trigger.
But if neither is possible, both Hurts and Minshew could serve as stopgaps as the Eagles address other deficiencies, specifically on defense, and arm themselves to get their quarterback in 2023. Maybe both could develop into more, or be serviceable enough with a strong run game and defense, but the Eagles are likely to play the odds that increase with an elite thrower and a pass-first offense.
Nick Sirianni has quietly improved. The new Eagles coach has already exceeded last season’s win total. It was a low bar, but I felt all he had to do was clear it to tamper the notion that he would end up a one-and-doner. I don’t think Lurie put a number on it, but as long as the coach had the team, and specifically the offense, moving in the right direction, he would get a ringing endorsement after the season.
The Eagles still have four games left, but Sirianni has over the course of the season significantly altered his system to account for personnel. It could be argued that he should have done so earlier, or that he has benefited from facing substandard teams over the last six games, but he has done it nonetheless. No one is going to mistake his offense for the Greatest Show on Turf, or cite its many innovations, but the Eagles offense is currently 12th in Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) rankings. It’s third in the run game. Situationally, the Eagles are fourth in the NFL in third-down efficiency and ninth in the red zone. They have turned the ball over only 13 times, which is tied for sixth.
Sirianni’s pass offense has been lacking. Hurts flashed in it several times this season, specifically against the Chiefs and then in the first half of the Broncos game. But his inconsistency, in part, forced the adjustment to a run-based scheme. Minshew offered perhaps a better glimpse of how the air attack is to look. Sirianni was able to scheme guys open on occasion, although there were times when the quarterback short-armed his throws.
Goedert (6 catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns) was the beneficiary on Sunday after being neglected the previous week, although Smith wasn’t exactly involved (2 catches for 15 yards). I’m not exactly sure why Quez Watkins (55 snaps) and Reagor (48) played more snaps than Smith (44). It could be that playing more two- and three-tight end sets had Sirianni favoring the first two as blockers. Watkins had his good moments (3 catches for 60 yards), while Reagor again had his bad (1 catch for 7 yards). He misjudged a kickoff that he thought would reach the end zone, and muffed a punt, although he recovered to gain 20 yards on the latter error.
But his usage illustrates how Sirianni still doesn’t have a full deck on offense. Still, he’s cut down on penalties — the Eagles had only three Sunday — and has done better with game management and analytical-based decision-making. Going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Jets 34 late in the third quarter was sound, and so, too, was his successful challenge of the initial spot.
The Eagles’ defensive issues aren’t fixed. Jonathan Gannon’s unit has allowed only 17.7 points a game over the last six weeks after they surrendered 26.4 points in their first seven. But just as the Eagles’ offensive improvement shouldn’t be oversold because of the level of competition, the same applies to the other side of the ball.
The Jets scored touchdowns on their first three drives, and if it weren’t for two missed extra points and a failed two-point conversion, they would have been tied with the Eagles. The Jets’ Zach Wilson had been the most inaccurate starting quarterback entering the game, but he completed 11 of his first 13 throws for 103 yards and two touchdowns. He was off on a few passes, but Jets receivers had ample room to adjust to the balls.
The ball was coming out quick and there were a number of screens and shorties, but the Eagles had two blown coverages on back-to-back goal-line passes that led to the Jets’ third touchdown. Gannon made some adjustments, but the Eagles’ ball control offense had as much to do with the defensive turnaround as anything.
Javon Hargrave and Sweat combined for two sacks and six quarterback hits. They’ve been the Eagles’ most consistent pass rushers, but they’ve been inconsistent in the run game, and thus still are behind Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett in terms of playing time.
Extra points. The Eagles’ bye couldn’t have come at a better time, even if it’s one of the latest in team history. Hurts gets another week to get his ankle back to 100%. Center Jason Kelce was wearing a walking boot after he left late in the Jets game. Herbig’s torpedoed snap was just a cursory reason why Kelce’s absence could be crippling. Miles Sanders’ ankle flared up late. And cornerback Steven Nelson left with a knee injury. … The coaching staff could warrant some time off, as well. Stoutland was taken by ambulance to a hospital after not feeling well pregame. He was evaluated, discharged and back on the sideline before the half, but it had to be a scare considering the triple bypass he had eight years ago.