Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation was kind enough to take some time and answer five questions surrounding the Eagles ahead of this week’s matchup against the 49ers.
1) The Eagles pass rush hasn’t been producing at the same level as 2022. What do you believe is the reason for that and is it something to worry about heading into this game and the postseason?
After finishing two sacks shy of tying the single-season record last year, some kind of drop-off was always expected. But check out the sack totals through 11 games from each of the past two seasons:
2022: 322023: 32
And that’s with the Eagles getting robbed of two sure sacks via cowardly intentional grounding throws by Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen over their past two games.
So, I’m not too worried about the Eagles’ pass rush right now. They only have two sacks in their last two games, but that’s in part due to the quarterbacks they faced being really good at not going down as opposed to a lack of pressure. BGN contributor Shane Haff recently had a good note on this subject:
Let's talk about why the #Eagles pass rush can't finish plays with sacks.— Shane Haff (@ShaneHaffNFL) November 30, 2023
Last week against the Chiefs, they pressured Patrick Mahomes on 44% of his drop backs, but only recorded 1 sack.
This week against Buffalo, they pressured Josh Allen on 35% of his drop backs and only… pic.twitter.com/LxDprKV7fw
Now, I do think it’s fair to wonder if the Eagles’ pass rush can continue to be AS productive. They’ve been really relying on Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick to play a lot of snaps whereas in the past they’ve utilized a more heavy EDGE rotation. The Eagles are also dealing with some interior defensive line injuries with Fletcher Cox potentially out this week and Jordan Davis less than 100%.
But the ceiling for the Eagles’ pass rush is still very high. They’ve produced a number of clutch, game-winning sacks this season.
2) Jalen Hurts is now the favorite to win the MVP, despite a career high in turnovers. What makes him so difficult to defend, especially in the running game?
Hurts’ rushing efficiency is down this year. He’s only logging 3.6 yards per attempt after being at 4.6 in 2022 and 5.6 in 2021. He’s been hampered by a bone bruise that prompted him to wear a knee brace. He’s also been more judicious about getting down early to avoid taking unnecessary hits.
Still, he’s obviously not a non-factor as a runner; Hurts ran for his second-highest rushing total of the season (65 yards) against the Bills last week. And one of those 14 rushes was the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
Hurts likes to call himself a triple-threat (as opposed to a dual-threat) since he believes he can win with his arm, his legs, and his mind. It’s not an unfair assessment.
But perhaps the most dangerous thing about Hurts is the intangibles he brings to the table. The Eagles have won eight straight games where they’ve been down 10+ points with Hurts starting. There’s a real sense that they’ve never truly out of a game with Hurts under center. The blend of his incredibly calm composure and his intense desire to win is really resonates with his teammates.
It’s no accident that the Eagles are 26-3 in Hurts’ last 29 starts.
3) They are calling for thunderstorms in Philadelphia on Sunday. Do you see this as an advantage, and how much of an advantage is playing at home for the Eagles?
I typically believe that the underdog benefits from increased variance. So, with the Eagles not favored at home, that might indeed benefit them.
It also might not hurt that the Birds just played in a rain game against the Bills. So they might have some fresh ideas of what does and doesn’t work in those conditions.
But I don’t really see it as being a big factor either way. Unless the sentiment I’ve seen from 49ers fans that Brock Purdy isn’t good in the rain is true?
4) The best matchup in this game is in the trenches where the Eagles offensive line is at full strength with Lane Johnson back in the starting lineup. How do you think Philadelphia will handle the Niners dominant pass rush, and can they stop Nick Bosa and co. from putting pressure on Hurts?
Bosa’s worst-graded game by Pro Football Focus last year came against the Eagles. It was just one of two games where he didn’t log a single sack or a QB hit in 2022.
Bosa’s second-worst graded game by PFF in 2021 came against the Eagles.
So, I think it’s fair to suggest Johnson might have the edge his matchup.
That doesn’t mean I think the Eagles will shut down the 49ers’ rush entirely. Their defensive line is too talented for that to happen. San Fran acquiring Chase Young at the trade deadline for a relatively low cost was really annoying. He’s given Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailata some trouble when they’ve faced off. The Eagles also know what Javon Hargrave is capable of as an interior disruptor.
It should also be noted that Hurts has held the ball for a long time this season. His 3.15-second average time-to-throw ranks as the slowest release time in the NFL, only ahead of Justin Fields. Accordingly, Hurts has the second-highest QB sack percentage responsibility. He could give the 49ers some chances to get to him.
5) The total is set for 46.5 on DraftKings Sportsbook. These are the third and fourth highest-scoring teams in the NFL, but with the bad weather, do you expect a low-scoring slug fest or are you taking the over?
The Eagles and Bills just combined for 71 total points in the rain (62 in regulation). The Eagles and Chiefs combined for 38 points in the rain the week before that. So, not totally sure what to expect! But I’ll lean with the over. I think there’s blowout potential on both sides. I also think it could be a very dramatic game with a lot of scoring.
As for my prediction for this game, I’m taking the Eagles to win. I do worry about the Birds being at a rest disadvantage coming off a tiring overtime performance whereas the 49ers had a mini-bye before this one. But I keep coming back to … are the Eagles really going to allow the team that disrespected them with a ton of trash talk march into their home and leave with a win? I wouldn’t bet against this prideful group that ultimately finds ways to win.