The Philadelphia Eagles have been the best team in the NFC all year long. They finished the regular season tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the best record in the NFL at 14-3, and Jalen Hurts has as good an argument as anyone to be named the league MVP.
But after a 13-1 start to the season, it was a bumpy road to the finish line for the NFC East champs. The Eagles now have a few glaring concerns entering a Super Bowl-or-bust playoff run, and it all starts with Hurts.
1. Jalen Hurts and his injured shoulder
Any Eagles fans who say they aren’t concerned about Jalen Hurts’ shoulder are lying to themselves.
After missing two games with a right shoulder sprain, Hurts returned to the lineup in Week 18 and didn’t look anything like the MVP candidate we watched all season. The 24-year-old completed just 20 of his 35 pass attempts and reluctantly rushed nine times for only 13 yards. Hurts finished the game with his second-worst completion percentage of the season (57.1%), his third-fewest rushing yards, and he didn’t account for a single touchdown for the first time all year.
Yes, the Eagles called a conservative offensive game plan to keep their QB healthy. And yes, Hurts only needed to do the bare minimum to beat a New York Giants team that trotted out Davis Webb and a slew of backups. But that shouldn’t erase the concern about this injury. Take it from head coach Nick Sirianni.
“There was no more risk, but he was hurting,” Sirianni told reporters after the game. “He was hurting bad. But that’s just the kind of competitor, that’s just the kind of leader he is.”
Yeah, not great!
If Hurts still isn’t healthy three weeks after he suffered the shoulder sprain, he likely won’t be 100% when the divisional round arrives two weekends from now. The Eagles need Hurts at his best as a passer and rusher to make a Super Bowl run, but his best may never come this postseason.
2. Lane Johnson playing through an abdominal injury
Aside from Hurts, Lane Johnson is the most important player on this Eagles offense. Since Johnson was drafted in 2013, Philadelphia is 79-47-1 with its star right tackle on the field and 13-22 without him.
The Eagles allowed 10 sacks over their final two games of the regular season with Jack Driscoll starting at RT. With Johnson on the field this season, they’ve given up just 2.5 sacks per game. Philly’s yards per rush also dropped from 4.7 to 4.2 in the last two weeks.
This team goes as No. 65 goes, which isn’t great news considering Johnson will attempt to play through a torn adductor in the playoffs. Even if he doesn’t re-aggravate his major abdominal injury, the Pro Bowler likely won’t be his typical, dominant self in the postseason.
3. Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen
Eagles OC and play-caller Shane Steichen had this offense rolling for most of the season. Through 16 weeks, Philadelphia ranked No. 1 in the NFL in scoring (29.7 points per game) and No. 3 in total offense (397.3 yards per game).
But in the last two weeks, Steichen has, for reasons beyond my comprehension, completely bailed on this offense’s greatest strength. There is no better run-blocking offensive line than the unit in Philadelphia, yet Steichen called just two designed rushes to running backs in the first half of last Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints. He followed that up by calling nine straight pass plays to start the game against the Giants — with his quarterback nursing an injured throwing shoulder!
The Eagles scored fewer than 24 points just twice in the first 16 weeks of the season. They scored 10 and 22 in the final two games.
Steichen needs to re-discover the balanced attack that led the Eagles to the No. 1 seed in the NFC, or this playoff run could have early exit written all over it.