The first half was wacky, the second half was asleep and the Eagles beat a bad Jets team.
But the real storyline, the topic that will dominate the city next week (so brace yourself), is the performance of mustached Gardner Minshew, who handled the first half and led the Eagles to victory.
So let’s obviously overreact to all of this:
1. Gardner Minshew’s Big Game Shows Hurts Should Do More
Let’s say it early: I know it’s the Jets, and I know the Jets suck. I know, I know, I know.
But Gardner Minshew’s performance on Sunday, cutting off New York’s defense one solid game at a time, showed that Jalen Hurts – who is a top-quality football player – is clearly leaving things out.
Minshew did a lot of things well on Sunday.
First and foremost, it was largely precise. Accuracy has been a Hurts problem all year, and while Minshew knocked down some guys on Sunday, he also never missed an open player. Hurts did it this year, throwing the ball about four yards from the target, and that just can’t happen if you want the attack to go smoothly.
Minshew was good in the pocket, not getting angry and listening early like Hurts can. Minshew is clearly not the athlete Hurts is, so using his legs is not the same kind of option, but Minshew was very good on Sunday to feel the pressure and move the pocket just enough to save time and find guys down the field, like this third down conversion:
Minshew also just took the things that were there. That’s kind of his MO as a quarterback, given his limitations, but it often feels like this year that Hurts is trying to do a little a lot on plays that appear to be dead (like the interception before halftime last week) and it can bite him. You don’t always want to just check out Sam Bradford, but sometimes the best game is the easiest. Minshew understands this.
Now Minshew was far from perfect. He left yards there, whether it was on shots below that could have been bigger gains or on shots that didn’t hit their intended targets when open, like a miss on the third down. in the third quarter for DeVonta Smith. Minshew’s arm strength isn’t really there, and that can get in the way when he’s playing against better teams. There was pressure, but that shot at Quez Watkins wasn’t where it should have been:
I don’t think Minshew should be a threat to Hurts’ status as QB1. But I think there was a lot to learn from Sunday’s victory.
2. The Eagles’ defense just isn’t talented enough
I’m not here to excuse Jonathan Gannon. The Eagles first-year defensive coordinator has routinely abused his staff, played far too passive a defensive style for my liking, and generally needs to be a lot better next season if he’s going to stay here for the long haul.
But damn it, this Eagles defense needs more talent.
Zach Wilson was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league heading into Sunday’s game, and in the first half he completed 12 of 14 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson regularly found players just plain wide open, a combination of Gannon’s failures and a general lack of skill on the defensive end of the ball for the Birds.
The Jets were leading again in the fourth quarter, down 12, before Zach Wilson flies a ball to Marcus Epps for an interception and essentially seals the game. You can’t count on blatant failure to stop your opponent; you have to go and do this yourself.
A quick overview of the job groups …
- In secondary: Steven Nelson makes too many mistakes in the cover, Marcus Epps is fine but not great, Anthony Harris is fine but not great
- On line D: Fletcher Cox is not what he once was, Derek Barnett is regularly out of position, Josh Sweat is good but has to take the leap
- At the linebacker: TJ Edwards is absolutely fine, Alex Singleton is bad, Davion Taylor is pretty strong when in good health
There just aren’t enough noticeable skills on this defense, especially looking to the future when guys like Cox, Darius Slay, and Brandon Graham are gone or have fully hit the downhill slope of their respective careers.
The Eagles will have three first-round picks this year, and while it’s tempting to ship them for a veteran QB or use one on a wide receiver, where they still don’t have enough answers, the Eagles have really need to invest in building up future defense talent.
3. Kenneth Gainwell really should have more keys
For 12 weeks Kenneth Gainwell felt a bit like a gimmicky player, and I think a lot of that framing is down to his involvement in the Eagles offense being very inconsistent.
What was not inconsistent? Gainwell’s ability to make plays when he has the ball in his hands, including finding the end zone.
Gainwell had four touchdowns on 66 touches heading into Sunday’s game this season, a pretty impressive conversion rate despite inconsistent use in attack. He added another touchdown on 17 touches against the Jets.
I like Boston Scott a lot, and he brings more between tackles as a kind of lopsided RB. Miles Sanders is clearly a top runner, as is Jordan Howard. And I know there are only a number of keys to go around, so I don’t even blame Nick Sirianni for the inconsistency.
But whether it’s in the last five games of the season or next year, Gainwell needs to be more involved because he just makes things happen.
I especially like the way Gainwell keeps his legs moving as he disappears among the trees, like he did on his touchdown in the second quarter:
There were a couple of times during this game where I assumed his progress was over, but Gainwell kept spinning and eventually ran out into the end zone for six. That’s what good players do, and Gainwell is a good player.
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