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Eagles-Texans analysis: Birds’ 8-0 start is the best in franchise history after winning in Houston

The Eagles didn't look their best against the Texans, but the playmakers came through when they were needed in a 29-17 win.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown catches a touchdown pass putting the Eagles in the lead 21-14 in the third quarter as the Eagles play the Texas at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, in Houston.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown catches a touchdown pass putting the Eagles in the lead 21-14 in the third quarter as the Eagles play the Texas at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, in Houston.Read moreDavid Maialetti / Staff Photographer

HOUSTON — After beating a soft zone coverage and hauling in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Jalen Hurts, wide receiver A.J. Brown stood alone in the corner of the end zone. Brown then excitedly waved over his teammates, while executing a “Fly, Eagles Fly” waltz with both of his arms waving up and down like a bird.

Moments before Brown’s touchdown, Gardner-Johnson secured his league-leading fifth interception off Texans quarterback Davis Mills. In order to haul in the pick, Gardner-Johnson fully extended his body and executed a nifty, diving snag.

The Eagles received major contributions from key playmakers — Brown and Gardner-Johnson — both of whom were added before the start of the regular season. Their pivotal moments during the third quarter of Thursday night’s game helped lift the Eagles to a 29-17 victory over the Texans at NRG Stadium.

With the victory, the undefeated Eagles have reached 8-0 for the first time in franchise history.

“We know that our goal wasn’t to go 8-0,” coach Nick Sirianni said. “Our goal is to take it one game at a time. That’s our goal. Is it good to have this long weekend and sit at 8-0? Of course. But we know we’re going to go back to work Monday.”

Hurts’ homecoming

Hurts made his return to Houston for the first time in his professional career. The 24-year-old quarterback showed early jitters, but he quickly shook off the nerves, including a rare early turnover — his first lost fumble of the season.

“I’m proud my family got to see that today,” Hurts said of the victory. “To come home and get a win in this city, it’s special.”

With dozens of family members and friends in attendance, Hurts showed decisiveness and accuracy in picking apart the Texans secondary. He completed 21 of 27 throws for 243 passing yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Dallas Goedert was Hurts’ leading receiver with eight catches (on nine targets) with 100 receiving yards and one touchdown. More impressively, Hurts distributed the ball to nearly everyone; before the end of the first half, Hurts had completed passes to seven different pass catchers. According to Next Gen Stats, Hurts completed eight of nine passes for 112 yards against split-safety coverages in the first half.

“Every game is a meaningful game for him,” Goedert said of Hurts. “He came back home, wanted to show out in front of his hometown — he definitely did that. It seems like every week, he gets better and better. He commands the offense like nobody I’ve ever seen, so it’s fun playing with him.”

Run defense’s missed tackles

Heading into Thursday’s game, the Texans hadn’t scored an opening-drive touchdown all season.

However, the Eagles allowed the Texans to march downfield with ease to start the game with a nine-play drive that spanned 75 yards, consisting of a handful of dump-offs and rushes from rookie running back Dameon Pierce.

Earlier in the week, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon highlighted Pierce during meetings and walkthroughs with his unit. He wanted to limit the explosive rusher and turn the Texans into a one-dimensional offense. However, Pierce proved to be just as explosive in person as he was on film. He kept the game competitive with his team-high 139 rushing yards on 27 carries. The Eagles struggled with bringing down Pierce upon first contact. It’s also clear they missed rookie nose tackle Jordan Davis, who was recently placed on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain.

Ahead of the Eagles’ next game against the Commanders, they will need to prioritize sure tackling and technique. The defense eventually buckled down, but this specific area could hamper them against better opposition. Javon Hargrave led the defense with seven tackles, three sacks, and three quarterback hits.

Sanders running hard

The Eagles responded with their own potent rushing attack led by running back Miles Sanders. He finished with 93 yards with one touchdown on 17 carries. Kenneth Gainwell added 22 rushing yards and one touchdown.

Sanders’ score marked his sixth rushing touchdown, which ties his career-high for most touchdowns in a single season. The fourth-year running back is staying healthy, and he’s playing as if he has something to prove. Sanders is eligible to reach free agency at the end of the year.

“This is a blessing,” Sanders said. “It’s not easy to win in this league. I’m happy we’ve got eight wins out of the way. We’re onto bigger and better things. We’ve still got a long rest of the season. We’ve got a lot of stuff we need to focus on rather than being 8-0.”

Injury report

Veteran defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was slow to get off the field after a play in the first half. He required attention from trainers, but Cox was able to walk off under his own power. After missing just one play, Cox rejoined his teammates in the huddle.

During the second half, cornerback Josh Jobe suffered a thigh injury.