Eagles observations: The one thing Eagles need to do to beat Giants

Eagles observations: The one thing Eagles need to do to beat Giants

A huge priority Saturday night, Jalen Hurts’ expectations, an unforgettable play from a postseason game nearly 20 years ago, and a franchise record that needs to be broken.

Eagles-Giants is finally here. The Eagles are 5-0 at home in franchise history in the conference (or “divisional”) semifinals, and they will look to go 6-0 Saturday night at Linc.

Here are our 10 random Eagles playoff sightings leading up to what promises to be a wild night in South Philly.

1. One thing that is imperative for the Eagles on Saturday night is to take advantage of takeout opportunities. The Giants rarely return the ball. Only 16 all year – second-fewest in the league. Only five in their last eight games. They may not be the most talented team in the league, but they’re smart, they’re well-trained and they don’t fight. Once upon a time, the Eagles were the best in the league in takeouts, freebies and turnover margin. In eight games, they had a plus-15 turnover ratio, they had only committed three turnovers and they had 18 takeaways. Since? Minus-7 takeout margin, 16 turnovers and only nine takeouts. They had plenty of chances. They were just a little behind on fumbles and they lost more than their share of interceptions. When the Eagles have more than one or better in turnover rate this year, they’re 10-0 (and they’ve won 16 in a row since losing the Chiefs last October). When they’re plus-zero or worse this year, they’re 4-3 (and 7-11 under Nick Sirianni). And they’re 2-13 in 15 playoff games over the past 50 years when they’re minus-1 or worse and 12-4 when they’re plus-one or better. The Giants can’t beat the Eagles directly. But if the Eagles keep turning the ball over and fail to generate takeaways, it will be a ball game in the fourth quarter. When the opportunities are there, the Eagles must pounce.

2. The first 13 weeks of the season, Jalen Hurts average game was: 20 for 30, 243 passing yards, 1.7 passing touchdowns, 0.2 interceptions, 108.4 passer rating , 53 rushing yards, 0.8 rushing touchdowns. It’s the Jalen Hurts I expect to see on Saturday night. It will have no restrictions. It’s all on the line. Shane Steichen doesn’t need to shield him or go vanilla or hold back. It’s the NFL’s No. 3 offense against the NFL’s No. 25 defense, and I’m expecting big things Saturday night from Hurts.

3. Here’s a remarkable stat: Daniel Jones ran 120 times this year and 57 of those rushed attempts – 48% – ended in first downs. It’s incredibly efficient. He’s a scary runner because he only takes off when he has a real advantage and he rarely takes a big hit. He’s faster than he looks because at 6-foot-5, he gobbles up a lot of ground with those long strides. He ran a 4.81 pedestrian at the Combine – Sam Bradford ran faster and he averaged 42 rushing yards per season. Jones has averaged 44 yards per game this year. Jones is just smart when he runs. The Giants don’t have many ways to hurt you. But when Jones and Saquon Barkley gain big yards, they can be hard to stop. The Eagles’ run defense was elusive — they finished 24th in the league in allowing 4.6 yards per carry — fifth-worst in franchise history. They’re going to have to get numbers on the ball, finish tackles and stop Jones and Barkley from getting into the second tier. Because the Giants are going to keep pounding the ground until the Eagles prove they can stop it.

4. And if the Giants can set the run, that takes away the Eagles’ greatest strength – their world-class pass rush. The Eagles finished the season with an absurd 37 sacks in their last seven games, the most in NFL history by a team in the last seven games of a season and the third in history over a span of seven games (thanks, brand new Stathead Team Spanfinder!). From Week 11 through Week 18, seven NFL players had eight or more sacks. Three of them were Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham. And Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave had four each. If the Eagles can get the Giants in a known pass and free their passers, they have a huge advantage.

5. I’ll go so far as to say this: I’d be surprised if the Eagles didn’t at least tie the franchise record for sacks in a postseason game. That’s four three times – against Tampa in 2000 (Hugh Douglas 2, Mike Caldwell, Hollis Thomas), the Falcons in 2004 (Derrick Burgess 2, Jevon Kearse 1, Hollis Thomas 1) and last year in Tampa (Ryan Kerrigan 1 1/2 , Alex Singleton 1/2, Javon Hargrace 1, Derek Barnett 1/2). The Eagles’ 35-game playoff streak without more than four sacks is the longest in NFL history. It must end on Saturday evening.

6. I give Lane Johnson so much credit for what he tries to do. I don’t know what kind of Lane Johnson we’ll see on Saturday night. I don’t think anyone knows, including Lane. I know if it’s a matter of pain tolerance, he’ll be fine. No one is tougher. But if his core muscle injury prevents him from grounding, prevents him from generating power to punch, that could be a problem. Jack Driscoll is a hard-working replacement, and he’ll be ready, but even if the Eagles get 80% from Lane Johnson, he’s still better than most good tackles in the NFL.

7. This Eagles list is full of stars. Jalen hurts. AJ Brown. DeVonta Smith. Miles Sander. Jason Kelce. Lane Johnson. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Darius Slay. James Bradberry. Hason Reddick. TJ Edwards. Brandon Graham. Fletcher Cox. Josh Sweat. Jake Elliott. Landon Dickerson. Professional bowlers. All pros. Players of the week. Players of the month. Howie Roseman did his job. He built one of the best rosters in the NFL. Top to bottom, perhaps the best. The coaches did their job. They prepared these guys. Now is the time for stars to play like stars. That’s what the playoffs are for.

8. I still can’t believe Brett Favre threw that overtime pass in Games 4 and 26. The worst pass in history by a Hall of Fame quarterback? A few underrated things about this play: 1) An awesome blitz from I think Clinton Hart forced Favre to throw a lot faster than he wanted to, 2) Lito Sheppard could have picked the pass as well but didn’t smartly out of Dawk’s way and blocked Javon Walker out of play, 3) Dawk’s incredible 35-yard return to the Packers 34-yard line, 4) Big Duce Staley 11-yard rush on a 2nd-and-13 to At 14, it’s a much shorter winning field goal for David Akers.

9. Crazy that there will only be 13 guys on the field for the Eagles on Saturday who played in the Eagles’ last home playoff game just three years ago: Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, Miles Sanders, Dallas Goedert, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jake Elliott, Boston Scott, Marcus Epps, Rick Lovato, TJ Edwards, Andre Dillard and Josh Sweat. And nine of those 13 are not signed beyond this year (all but Goedert, Elliott, Edwards and Sweat).

10A. It’s easy to think of AJ Brown as WR1 and DeVonta Smith as WR2, but I’ll tell you what, from what I’ve seen this year, they’re definitely co-WR1. Brown made a Pro Bowl, second-team all-pro and broke Mike Quick’s single-season receiving record. He’s an incredible player. But what Smith did this year really elevated him in my mind to equal Brown. From Week 11 through Week 18, as the Eagles battled for the No. 1 seed, Brown had the most receiving yards in the NFL (96 per game) and after Justin Jefferson (94) and Davante Adams (92), Smith was fourth at 89. Smith finished with 1,196 yards in his second season, a number Brown did not reach until this year, his fourth season. His 2,112 yards are the most ever by an Eagle in his first two years (46 more than DeSean Jackson). The brown is amazing. Smith is amazing. The two have terrific chemistry with Jalen Hurts. Either can resume a game at any time. And the Eagles both control their contracts for another three years. I’m not going to put one before the other. And it’s certainly not a blow to Brown. That’s how impressed I was with Smith.

10B. Imagine if there was sports radio, social media and message boards when the Eagles had a winning season from 1962 to 1977? During that 16-year span, the Eagles won the NFL’s 4.5-worst games a year and didn’t come close to the playoffs. They were the NFL’s worst team for nearly two decades. They’ve had seven coaches in 18 years and gone 18 seasons without winning a playoff game.

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