The Eagles pulled away from the Texans after an uneven start to the game, moving to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history with a 29-17 win on Thursday Night Football.
Here’s what I saw.
• After the Eagles’ offense came out looking pedestrian to open the second half, you began to get the feeling this might be the sort of game that ends the undefeated run. There were some factors working against the Eagles: Thursday Night Football on the road is a pain in the ass regardless of the opponent, and they were up against a hungry opponent looking to earn a reputation-changing win, which will be the case the rest of the way for the Eagles.
It was the perfect time for Philadelphia’s defense to get with the program. Houston was penalized on their first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, but T.J. Edwards made a terrific pass breakup on that play anyway, firing up some of the guys on the back end in the process. With Houston facing second and 20 after the holding penalty was enforced, the Eagles left no doubt on the ensuing plays, burying the Texans on two consecutive run plays before stopping them well short of a first down on a wide receiver screen.
On the ensuing offensive possession, same story. Philadelphia struggled to get anything going, and on what initially looked like a first down run by Miles Sanders, replay eventually showed that Sanders had gone down before the first-down marker, allowing the Texans to hang around even longer. For anyone who opted for this game over the Eagles, I imagine there were some sweaty brows and clenched fists.
Enter C.J. Gardner Johnson. Already tied for the league lead in interceptions heading into the game, CGJ made a terrific diving catch to come away with his fifth of the year, taking the NFL lead for himself while putting the Eagles in the perfect position to begin marching toward a road victory:
This all starts with the pass rush, which made Davis Mills feel the heat well before he was ready to make a decision. Brandon Graham came flying around the edge and forced Mills to step up into a collapsing pocket, and the 24-year-old QB opted to simply throw up a hope and a prayer in the circumstances. God must have had the Eagles moneyline.
It didn’t take long for the offense to capitalize on the takeaway, with Hurts finding A.J. Brown for a big-time touchdown on the ensuing possession:
You couldn’t say the Eagles had their best stuff on Thursday night, which is the case for just about every team on Thursday Night Football. But their ability to punish opponents for their mistakes continued to shine through, a signature feature of this year’s team helping to carry them on a night where they weren’t at their high-flying, high-octane best.
• To that point, Hurts putting the ball on the turf with a fumble in the first half is a rare giveaway from him this year and a rare moment where he did not look in total command of the moment. Seeing Hurts taken by surprise hasn’t happened in 2022, which made the fumble jarring for anyone who has followed the Eagles this year.
What did feel like the rest of this season was Hurts shedding that mistake and some problems in the pocket — Philadelphia’s pass protection left plenty to be desired — to pick up the tough yards for the Eagles when they needed them. Broadly speaking, if there was an open man to be found and Hurts was upright, the QB made sure the ball got there, spreading it around to his weapons on a series of clock-eating drives.
Dallas Goedert was one of the big beneficiaries, Hurts hooking up with the athletic tight end for lots of important plays in the middle of the field. Goedert hauled in his eighth catch and his 100th yard of the day on the touchdown that all but sealed this game, with the Eagles using a beautiful design to sell the run before Hurts found Goedert for an easy six:
Whatever they lacked in explosiveness, the Eagles made up for with consistency on offense. Hurts acting as Philadelphia’s metronome through the air kept things calm in a game that could have went sideways, and his impressive, undefeated campaign continues.
• This was one of Miles Sanders’ most impressive games of the season, strictly speaking about the style of running he did. Getting Sanders to be a no-nonsense, downhill runner can be difficult at times, but there was no uncertainty to his game against the Texans. As soon as the ball hit his hands, Sanders was off to the races, his speed good enough to pick up big chunks of yards before Houston really knew what hit them.
Philadelphia really needed those yards in the middle stages of this game in order to keep Houston honest and ensure Hurts could have some time to work in the pocket. He may not be in the high-volume role I’m sure he’d like to be in as a runner, but he has been an important piece in a great offense this year, and I’m sure all the winning helps quell any internal grumbling over his role.
• I’m under no illusion the Eagles are going to march to an undefeated record and make history this year, but this was a preview of the fight they’re going to get from everybody as they stay out in front of the rest of the league. Having that target on your back means you’re getting everybody’s best until the season is over, and it’s going to test them on every front. It will likely lead to some losses, especially when the schedule gets tougher late in the year, but it is going to make this group better and prepare them for the playoffs. Eight wins in, their performance this winter is the goal we can all start focusing on, and I’m excited to see what the final form of this team is down the stretch.
• On a night without a ton of defensive standouts, Javon Hargrave came up with multiple sacks and was a menace on passing downs in general, taking advantage of the attention Houston paid to Robert Quinn on his side of the line. He didn’t do much to fix the run-defense problems Philadelphia had all night, but his work attacking Davis Mills should be commended.
Just when it looked like the Texans might score a late touchdown and make things interesting, Hargrave burst through the line yet again, earning sack No. 3 and ending any reasonable chance the Texans had to score again. With Mills pressing to cover the ground they needed on third and 19, the Eagles had a golden opportunity to punish the young QB, and James Bradberry would pick off an errant Mills throw to put this game away for good:
That’s the power of a big sack. Set a team back on the early downs, and life gets so much easier on the downs they need to have.
• I’ve given Gannon a ton of grief for dropping Haason Reddick in coverage this year, so we must note that Reddick made a terrific play in coverage late in this one.
• Philadelphia did not have a banner night in pass protection, and a lot of the ire can be directed at Jordan Mailata, who struggled with Houston’s edge rushers throughout the game. The Eagles have been so good in the trenches this year and historically that I think it has been easy to take their dominance up front for granted, and this was a reminder of how quickly your offense can be sent off kilter through no fault of the QB or skill position guys.
He and the rest of the offense would tighten up as we inched toward the stretch, so maybe just a blip during a short week. We’ll keep an eye on it regardless.
• Jordan Davis had some low moments during the first few games of the year, but it seems abundantly clear he has made a big impact on their run defense with his presence on the field. Taking the field without him in Houston, the Eagles got absolutely destroyed by Dameon Pierce up the middle, the rookie bouncing off of defenders and making guys look silly for most of the night. Davis is only one man, but he is a massive man, and his physicality has been key to keeping teams in check on the ground. Here’s hoping Davis heals up quick.
Putting this all on Davis’ absence feels like letting the Eagles off the hook, though. Coming into this game, everybody in the world knew the Texans only had one real way to make things happen on offense, with Houston down their top two receivers coming into the night. It should have allowed Philadelphia to key on the backfield, and it’s not like the Texans even made a real effort to come out and attack Philadelphia through the air. Even in those circumstances, the Texans battered the Eagles with the rushing attack, keeping this game close for far longer than they should have been able to.
For all the praise Jonathan Gannon has earned this year, you would have liked to see him and his unit show some killer instinct to open this game, hammering an undermanned and outgunned team to put this game away early. Giving Houston life early forced the Eagles to work for this win fairly deep into the second half, and the only silver lining is that they now have some extra time off before their next game.
• Bad job by the offense to let the Texans get their challenge off on Miles Sanders’ carry early in the third quarter. Jalen Hurts has to have some urgency in that situation, and if he doesn’t, there needs to be somebody barking at him to get it moving in those circumstances.
• Here’s hoping the Phillies can get a hit with a runner in scoring position by the time I publish this story.
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