The Philadelphia Eagles salvaged their 2021 season by leaning on the run game. There’s little to debate there. After starting the year in an unsuccessful pass-first scheme, the team completely transformed its identity. Head coach Nick Sirianni established an offense predicated around the run, ending the year first in the NFL in total rushing yards.
This notably helped second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. His best asset is his legs, while his arm strength has been questioned throughout the season.
The Eagles would presumably like to stick to their run-first mentality against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend. However, the nature of their opponent might not allow them to do so.
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers have a high-scoring offense
Even without wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, the Buccaneers have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. Brady finished the year first in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and total completions. His ability to dissect and pick apart opposing defenses is legendary.
The Bucs are dealing with significant losses heading into their wild-card matchup. However, they still have two special weapons that will cause significant issues for the Philadelphia defense. WR Mike Evans is a massive mismatch for opposing cornerbacks, and the Eagles don’t have a single safety or linebacker capable of guarding TE Rob Gronkowski in the open field.
The point? Brady and the Buccaneers will likely score a lot of points this weekend. They’re averaging 30 points per game this season — second in the NFL.
With so much scoring likely to occur on Tampa Bay’s side of the ball, the Eagles will have to find ways to respond. Pounding the ball 30-plus times won’t work. They will need to pick up chunk plays through the air to keep up with Brady and the Bucs.
The Eagles need to live or die by Jalen Hurts’ arm
Jalen Hurts had a solid 2021 season, all things considered. However, the one thing he’s still lacking is a big-time performance where he leads the Eagles to a win through the air. Hurts only surpassed 300-plus passing yards twice this season — both were during losses.
Sirianni and the Eagles will still work hard to establish the run game on Sunday. However, it’s impossible to ignore the likelihood of Hurts needing a massive day through the air for the Eagles to hang with Tampa Bay. Unless Brady throws multiple interceptions (highly unlikely), the Eagles will quickly find themselves playing catch-up if they can’t match the Bucs’ high-scoring offense.
Tampa Bay also rosters an incredibly strong run defense led by star defensive tackle Vita Vea. The notion that Philly can score 30-plus by simply slamming the ball up the middle of the field isn’t logical. Vea is too good of a run-stopper to allow that to happen.
Jalen Hurts can leave his mark on the Eagles’ QB1 job with a big day
Hurts is facing a significant amount of pressure this weekend, and the odds are almost certainly not in his favor. He’s taking on the reigning Super Bowl champions on the road.
However, a strong performance through the air for the second-year QB would go a long way toward securing his job status for the future.
Either way, it’s time for the Eagles to live or die by Hurts’ arm. The playoffs are not the time to try and hide or play scared.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.