Future headlines: The Eagles are big

Before the Eagles-Cowboys game on Sunday afternoon, I spoke with Shamus Clancy (PhillyVoice’s assistant sports editor) – and I mentioned that the Eagles are probably the best team in the NFL just by nature.

This isn’t because they’re dominant, exceptional or special, it’s because the rest of the NFL just isn’t impressive.

A 28-23 win over the high-powered Dallas Cowboys in Week 9 might have changed things.

Philly showed off its strengths (stopping the run, controlling the football and moving it with Jalen Hurts) while taking advantage of some things the Cowboys may not have known they had. The result is that the Eagles are 8-1 and are performing at a high level with some well-deserved rest in the bye week.

That means plenty of airtime for local talk radio hosts and possibly hushed banter while Eagles fans get their daily fix. Or maybe not – this is Philadelphia, after all. Yes, they almost botched the game in catastrophic fashion, but they didn’t. Here are three headlines we expect to see a lot over the next two weeks:

In the driver’s seat

With their big win in the national spotlight on Sunday, the Eagles are now in full control of the NFC East and have a first-round playoff bye (for the second year in a row). Yes, it’s still pretty early to talk about playoff seeding, but the Eagles couldn’t be in a better position as they get 14 days of rest before a Super Bowl rematch on Monday, November 20th comes with the Chiefs.

The Cowboys are now 2.5 games back in the division and have no further threats:

team Record GB
Eagle 8-1
Cowboys 5-3 2.5
Commanders 4-5 4
Giants 2-7 6

The price of a week off in mid-January before playing playoff games as the No. 1 seed also appears to be something the Eagles have a firm grasp on, although there are a few contenders in the NFC overall like the Lions that the Eagles will win not play this season. The 49ers will come to town in December for a meeting that could decide NFC seeding and home-field advantage. A look at the NFC as a whole:

team Record GB
Eagle 8-1
Lions 6-2 2
49ers 5-3 2.5
Cowboys 5-3 2.5
Saints 5-4 3

Don’t be surprised if you see the Eagles as the betting favorites for the Super Bowl.


Jalen Hurts was elite last season – and was in serious MVP contention until he suffered a minor season-ending injury. He was good and very good at points in 2023, but couldn’t quite maintain last season’s elite accolades.

Given the Eagles’ deep roster, that really wasn’t necessary. Although he remains one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL, he appears to have lost some of his skills at times this season. And it makes sense why. Hurts suffered a knee injury and was beaten up pretty badly.

At the end of the first half, the game appeared to be over when he was slow to get up and limped off the field after suffering a blow to his lower body. He stayed in the game and passed the ball once before cautiously padding into the locker room ahead of the rest of the Birds. But he came back okay.

After returning to the field with bated breath, the resilient quarterback merely led the Eagles to a touchdown drive in which he sank a bunch, scored an RPO himself and threw this dart to the speedy DeVonta Smith:

Overall, Hurts threw two touchdowns, ran one and completed 17 of 23 passes. There are few people in Philadelphia who want to win more than Hurts (maybe Bryce Harper), and it shows. He could go down in history as the all-timer in this city.

Third-down problems

The Eagles defense is a very solid unit overall. They are the best against the run in the NFL and that proved true on Sunday. They are also excellent at rushing the passer. And for an eight-win team, they’ve done whatever it takes to win football games.

However, in Week 9, they once again showed one of their biggest weaknesses – third place. Ahead of the afternoon duel with Dallas, Philly is considered one of the worst teams in football when the pressure is on:

category Stat NFL ranking
Third defense 43% 25
Third downs per game 12.5 25

Philadelphia has so much possession that it also has the eighth-fewest third downs on defense per game. Which makes sense. But they were atrocious against the Cowboys, bouncing back after two solid downs to go 9-for-20 on third and fourth downs, combined by Dak Prescott and company.

• Interestingly, the first touchdown they allowed was the result of a failure to stop on fourth-and-1 (an issue they don’t normally have to deal with) when Prescott found CeeDee Lamb, who scored for Jake one play later Ferguson prepared.

• Dallas’ next touchdown came on a drive that featured three third-down conversions, including one on 3rd-and-14 and another near the goal line.

• Another slow conversion in the fourth quarter helped give the Cowboys the lead before halftime – but the real damage was done earlier in the game, when Lamb was able to fend off a sack by Prescott and create a short situation on fourth down. The drive ended with a field goal and gave the Cowboys a 17-14 lead.

• In the fourth quarter, a third-down conversion by the Eagles’ defense helped the Cowboys stay alive from an 11-point deficit, coupled with a personal foul on Philly safety Kevin Byard on an ensuing fourth-down play (that would have cost a point ). (first down anyway), the Cowboys finally stalled on fourth down at the 1-yard line.

• A third-and-10 that could have potentially decided the game put Dallas ahead within three minutes of the final frame – but two consecutive sacks on the following plays got them off the hook.

This needs to be cleaned up, right? They’re 8-1, but they’re definitely making it difficult for defenses to get off the field, and it seems to be a trend that could end up hitting them hard if it’s not stopped.

Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy

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