By Dylan MacKinnon
Eagles may have blowout, but given they sat almost all their starters, that part is not surprising. The Cowboys sent out their starters to play the Eagles bench and practice squad. It would have been embarrassing if there was any result other than a blowout. But that does not mean there is nothing to takeaway from this game. So here are the 5 numbers that tell the story of this game.
In the wake of Gardner Minshew’s performance vs the Jets, there was talk if perhaps this offense could run better with him under center. He was far from amazing in that game, but he was fairly accurate and the argument from that side is his accuracy would help the Eagles since Hurts had been inconsistent in that area. Last nights game put a definite end to that talk though. Minshew looked very inaccurate. He only completed 57.6% of his passes, and frankly it should have been worse.
And it was not just his inaccuracy, he made several ill advised throws. Twice he threw it across the middle to Kenny Gainwell, where if it had been caught, Gainwell would have been killed, and got minimal yards. He had some over throws, some underthrows, and overall just didn’t look like a starting QB.
Which is fine because he isn’t. The Eagles didn’t bring him in to start. They wanted a dependable backup who has proven he can win when called upon, and he is that. Minshew is good for a backup, and having him under contract next year on a team friendly deal is a plus. But last night proved there should be no talk of him pushing for Jalen Hurts job.
Last night Devonta Smith set the new rookie record for receiving yards, previously held by DeSean Jackson. That of course comes with the asterisk that he had one extra game than Jackson did, but frankly I do not think that matters that much. It is not the fact that he broke Jacksons record that makes me excited, that is just a reminder of how good Smith was this season. Even with inconsistent QB Play, he shined all year. Ignore the stats, and ignore the record he set. Those do not matter as much as how impressive he looked on the field.
For one, he runs routes like a savvy veteran. He is so fluid and easy, that he will often find himself wide open with what seem like subtle moves to shake the corner off him. His hands are dependable. He has the speed and quickness to gain extra yards after the catch. And his footwork may be the most impressive part of his game.
He had several sideline toe-tap catches. We saw last night with Cee Dee Lamb that its not a given NFL WRs get their feet down. Lamb had what should have been a TD, but his feet landed out of bounds because he didn’t realize how close to the sideline he was. That’s not to take anything away from Lamb, who is still a phenomenal WR. It is just to say that there are very good WRs in the NFL who don’t have the footwork to make make the plays Smith so casually executes.
Also, on the subject of the rookie record, and Devonta Smith playing more games than DeSean did, it is also worth mentioning the Eagles passed it almost 100 more times in Jackson’s rookie season than in Smith’s rookie season. So well yea Smith had more games, he also has less chances to be targeted.
Anyone who watched last night came saw one number showing up a lot. Milton Williams jersey number, 93. He was wreaking havoc on what was mostly the starters for the Cowboys o line. He had multiple tackles for a loss, a pass deflection, and I counted 3 QB pressures. His role has been limited in his rookie year. But as he has gotten more chances and more experience, he has started to show up on the tape a lot more.
Which brings us back to the aftermath of the draft. Some of you, not naming names, have some apologizing to do. Because many of you freaked out at a video of Senior Director of Player Personnel Tom Donahoe looking grumpy because the Eagles didn’t take the player he wanted. Eagles fans and some media took the opportunity to rip Howie Roseman and the pick, ignoring that many around the NFL praised the pick.
And it turned out in the end, the player Tom Donahoe wanted was not the CB Eagles fans assumed he wanted. Tom wanted Alim McNeil, a different, also promising, DT. The vitriol over this pick was silly at the time and now its even sillier. Milton Williams was and still is a promising prospect. And fans and media member alike should take this as a lesson to not overreact so much to dumb things like one person in the draft room looking upset.
There are good reasons not to trust Howie Roseman. Those were also on display last night with JJ Arcega Whiteside whiffing on a potential TD. But some in this city go out of their way to make up extra reasons to be upset at him. Milton Williams looks like he could end up being a great pick. He still has a a lot to prove, but the promise is certainly there.
The Eagles over/under win total before the season was 6.5. They hit the over, and then some. This Eagles team was supposed to be among the worst teams in the league. And early on it looked like they would be. But in the process of losing, they found an identity. And now they are genuinely the best running team in the league, and that was enough to get them into the playoffs.
Now you may say they played an easy schedule made easier by injuries and Covid issues for their opponents. And that is fair. But it is also fair to say you play who is on your schedule, and there are many teams who would get this schedule and still not take advantage. And its not like they made it in by being in a bad division like NFC East teams have usually done. They are a wild card team.
This Eagles team is far from great, and there is a lot of work to do to make them truly competitive. But there is a clear thing to build on. They have a great O line, and even with all the backups in last night the O line shined. That is going to mean they can run on almost any team they face. And they have the assets to be able to fix other areas. They have a ton of cap space, and a haul of picks. If they play their cards right they could genuinely be a good team next year.
This team, Nick Sirianni, Jalen Hurts, and yes, even Howie Roseman, deserve credit for exceeding expectations.
Jack Anderson allowed 0 pressures last night filling in at guard and later at center. It was just one game, but it was an impressive display by the rookie. He manhandled Leighton Vander Esch a couple times, ending with Vander Esch on the ground with time to think about how a rookie who spent most of the year on the IR just pancaked him.
Leighton Vander Esch is never going to want to see Jack Anderson again after this first half. Repeatedly throwing him to the ground on the second level. #Eagles— Mike Kaye (@mike_e_kaye) January 9, 2022
Which brings up the question, do the Eagles already have Jason Kelce’s eventual replacement on the roster? Anderson certainly impressed in this game vs the Cowboys starters. He is young and inexperienced, but he may have another season to learn behind Kelce if the future Hall of Famer returns another season.
One of Howie’s best accomplishments as GM is consistently finding starters on the o line late in the draft. Found Jason Kelce in the 6th. Jordan Mailata in the 7th, among several other names including some notable backup lineman. In Anderson’s case, Howie Roseman scooped him off the Bills practice squad. Its just one game, but it is certainly worth further evaluation of Jack Anderson to see if he is truly capable of being the future at center for the Eagles.