DETROIT — There may be a glimmer of hope for the Eagles after all.
At least for one week, the Eagles kept the season from going off the rails, blowing out the Detroit Lions, 44-6, at Ford Field on Sunday. The winless Lions looked the part, but the Eagles showed meaningful changes, moving to 3-5 on the season.
Here’s our instant analysis of the game:
Jonathan Gannon apology form
For those among you who spent the last seven days clamoring for a new defensive coordinator with a more aggressive scheme, it might be time to pen an apology to Jonathan Gannon.
The Eagles’ defensive coordinator has certainly endured growing pains since taking over in the offseason, but we must give credit where it’s due. Gannon called a diverse, aggressive game against the Lions, and the results came with it. Through 3½ quarters, the Eagles pitched a shutout, only giving up a score in garbage time.
The defense mixed in much more single-high safety looks, blitzed more than it has for most of the season, and played tighter in coverage.
The defense went into the game ranked 30th in blitz percentage, but generated several pressures by sending extra rushers against Detroit. The Lions’ offensive line is banged up, but the Eagles’ defensive line also looked rejuvenated, with Josh Sweat finishing with two of the team’s five sacks.
The Eagles committed an extra safety in the box more often and the results were apparent in their run defense. The Lions managed only 57 rushing yards despite an insistence on sticking with the run while trailing in the first half.
Nick Sirianni apology form
The botanist haters among you must repent as well.
It turns out Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni didn’t spend all his time last week figuring out his poorly received flower analogy.
For the first time in almost a month, the Eagles offense put together a promising effort. It was the most balanced that the group has been all season. Sirianni limited Jalen Hurts’ conventional dropbacks, instead calling plenty of designed runs and run-pass options that resulted in handoffs.
The result was an offensive game plan that seems much more sustainable for the Birds than the quarterback-centric scheme they had been using. Hurts had just 103 passing yards and 14 attempts, but he made plenty of plays on the ground to impact the game.
Even without the injured Miles Sanders, the Eagles’ running game was productive and helped the offense sustain drives. Surprisingly, Kenneth Gainwell wasn’t the featured back, with Boston Scott and Jordan Howard taking the brunt of the carries early on, but it didn’t matter. Hurts (71), Scott (60), and Howard (57) each surpassed 50 yards rushing on the day.
Now that the apologies are out of the way, it’s important to add some context: The Lions are a bad football team.
There have been several weeks where Detroit came off as a plucky team that was overdue for its first win, but that was hardly the case Sunday.
Lions coach Dan Campbell had a few head-scratching decisions, chief among them his reliance on the run game even as the game got out of hand.
In the final two minutes of the first half, Campbell called several running plays that wasted timeouts and eventually saw the Lions’ most promising drive to that point end on a failed fourth-down conversion when a field-goal attempt might have been wiser.
Every time the Lions seemingly got something going, penalties or mental miscues negated things for them. At least this Sunday, Detroit looked completely overmatched.
Slay’s big play
Avonte Maddox and Darius Slay looked at home in Detroit and for good reason.
Maddox, a Detroit native, and Slay, a Lions player for the first seven years of his career, teamed up for a defensive touchdown. Maddox managed to punch the football out of Lions running back D’Andre Swift’s hands late in the third quarter and Slay recovered the Philadelphia native’s fumble for a score.
Slay has quietly put together a solid season even though Gannon had shifted the defensive scheme to employ more zone coverage than man.
Gardner Minshew took snaps with the offense in his first game as the No. 2 quarterback, but not for the reason you’d have imagined going into the game.
With the Eagles holding a sizable lead in the fourth quarter, the Eagles turned to the backups and gave Minshew some snaps.
Hurts played well, although he did most of his damage on the ground. It wasn’t a perfect game from Hurts, who missed a few throws and bailed on clean pockets at times, but he was more than good enough for the Eagles. In fact, the way the offense functioned against Detroit might be the winning formula for the team.