Notes on every Eagles position after two weeks of the 2023 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Eagles have plenty of room for growth but they get to improve from an advantageous position. They’re 2-0.
And anytime you get to learn from wins instead of losses, it feels pretty good.
With that said, the Eagles haven’t looked dominant. They’ve been able to sneak by the Patriots and Vikings in back-to-back weeks. Give them credit for finding ways to win, but they need to get better if they want to repeat as NFC champions.
After two games — a 25-20 win and a 34-28 win — here are some notes on every position group:
Through a couple games, Jalen Hurts hasn’t looked like the 2022 version of Hurts. He has looked more like the 2021 version. While he’s done enough to get the Eagles to 2-0 he hasn’t been especially sharp or decisive and has looked uncomfortable in the pocket, taking sacks when he really shouldn’t. Part of this could be the result of having a new offensive play caller in Brian Johnson but you have to give the defenses some credit too. Bill Belichick and Brian Flores threw a bunch of junk at Hurts in the first two weeks of the season. The good news is that Hurts has completed over 71% of his passes but he has just 363 passing yards with a touchdown and an interception. He has also run for 72 yards and 2 touchdowns.
After watching Hurts look dominant all summer, it’s probably unreasonable to hit the panic button this early. But the passing offense obviously needs to improve. From a macro standpoint, the Eagles were likely to see some defensive regression in 2023, which makes it necessary to have a top offense to carry the team at times. You can’t have a top offense without a better passing game and the Eagles know this. Is there a fear we could be seeing some Hurts regression? It’s possible. But it’s more likely that Hurts figures it out and gets better as talent on that side of the football wins out.
The extremely heavy Kenny Gainwell usage was a little strange when it happened in Week 1 and became even stranger when we saw what D’Andre Swift did in Week 2. Swift got just two touches in the opener and then went off for 175 rushing yards against the Vikings on Thursday night football as Gainwell missed the game with a ribs injury. But don’t change Gainwell’s name to Wally Pipp just yet. Because Swift’s 28 carries were the second-most he’s ever had in his career and the third-most he’s ever had is 16. Swift hasn’t been a prototypical workhorse running back during his NFL career so it probably doesn’t make sense to turn him into one this season. If nothing else, we could see a split like we did last year, where Swift becomes the main guy but Gainwell still has 2-minute and 4-minute responsibilities.
The one other note about running backs is that it appears Boston Scott is simply ahead of Rashaad Penny in the pecking order. Penny was inactive in Week 1 and got less work that Scott in Week 2 even with Scott’s concussion. Scott had a nice Week 2 with 40 yards on 5 carries.
The Eagles’ top duo of receivers are off to a good start. While the numbers haven’t been consistent with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, it seems like that is more of a function of the wonky pass offense and not their play. Brown and Smith are playing well. Brown’s ability is what helped the Eagles get out of a funk in the second half of Week 1 and Smith caught those two deep balls in Week 2, which accounted for a huge percentage of the Eagles’ yards through the air. Both of these guys are going to be fine long-term. Of course, the scene with a frustrated Brown on the sideline on Thursday night is notable. It might not be a huge deal but it’s worth mentioning that after that little sideline argument with Hurts, the Eagles threw shot touchdown plays to Brown back-to-back. The first was negated by a penalty and the ref missed a clear DPI on the second. As long as the Eagles are winning, Brown’s frustration won’t be a big deal. Just remember this if things ever start to go south.
After these top two, the Eagles haven’t gotten much from their other receivers. Quez Watkins has 2 catches for 17 yards in the opener but didn’t have a catch in his 11 snaps before getting a hamstring injury in Week 2. Olamide Zaccheaus hasn’t even seen a target yet. It’s clear Watkins is ahead of Zaccheaus on the depth chart.
Through two games, Dallas Goedert has just six catches for 22 yards and all of those came against the Vikings. Not the kind of start many envisioned for Goedert, who had a tremendous summer. But Goedert was open at times in Week 1 and Hurts didn’t find him and he did see seven targets in Week 2. Goedert is eventually going to get his. In the win over the Vikings, the Eagles went with a ton of 12 personnel; Jack Stoll got 27 snaps. And those top two tight ends helped kick start the run game in the 259-yard performance. While Stoll still doesn’t offer much as a receiver, the Eagles really seem to like him in that blocking role.
There have been a few hiccups in pass protection early in the season but some of the sacks we’ve seen have been on Hurts, who has looked flustered in sometimes clean pockets. Overall, the Eagles’ OL has performed well and looked dominant in the run game against the Vikings in Week 2. The Eagles went off for 259 rushing yards in that game behind the strength of the offensive line. The Eagles now have 10 performances with 200+ rushing yards under Sirianni; that’s the most in the NFL during that span.
As individuals, Jordan Mailata had an incredible performance in Week 2. PFF handed him the highest grade for an offensive tackle in a game since 2010. Lane Johnson struggled a bit against rookie Keion White in the first game but really settled down against the Vikings and didn’t give up a single pressure. Inside, Landon Dickerson did give up a sack and had a penalty against the Vikings but he was a mauler in the run game. Cam Jurgens has gone mostly unnoticed at right guard in his first two starts, which is exactly what you want from a guard. And Jason Kelce is still Jason Kelce.
This could be the year of Josh Sweat. This is Year 6 for Sweat and he has increased his sack total in each year of his career up to this point. In 2022, he had a career-high 11 sacks and he already has 1 1/2 in two games this season. He was dominant against the Vikings with a sack and six quarterback hits. He has been the Eagles’ best edge rusher early in the season and could be poised for a huge season. Haason Reddick has been a little quieter. No sacks and just one QB hit for Reddick, who has been playing with a surgically repaired thumb. Reddick got some pressure in the first game but didn’t get home. Don’t hit any panic buttons, though. If you remember, Reddick had zero sacks and zero QB hits through two games last year too; then he went off with 4 1/2 in his next 3 games on his way to 16 in the season.
After those top two rushers, Brandon Graham is still the third option, although he’s had a quiet start to his season. After that, it’s been notable that Derek Barnett is the fourth option, while Nolan Smith is fifth. Barnett has 30 snaps so far, while Smith has just 13. Ideally, that would flip at some point. Smith was the No. 30 overall pick in the draft and even though he does play a big role on special teams, it would be nice to see him rush the passer more.
Through two games, this position has been the strength of the entire team. Remember, this is a position where the Eagles lost Pro Bowl defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in free agency and they somehow got better. Fletcher Cox is 32 but he certainly doesn’t look like it. Through a couple of games, Cox looks like the six-time Pro Bowl version of himself. And third-year player Milton Williams is often overlooked but his physical style and endless motor have been on display.
But the most encouraging thing is what we’ve seen from the former Georgia Bulldogs inside. Rookie Jalen Carter and second-year player Jordan Davis have been great early on. DT can be a tough position for young players in the NFL to thrive early but Carter has already been disruptive and has a sack. Perhaps the biggest development so far this season, though, is the play of Davis. He has been as stout as advertised against the run and has been dynamic as a pass rusher. After playing 13 games as a rookie without a sack, Davis has 1 1/2 in two games to start the 2023 season. This four-man rotation is dominant.
The Eagles came into this season extremely light at linebacker and that depth has already been tested. Second-year linebacker Nakobe Dean made his first NFL start in the opener and was playing well, but suffered a foot injury and is on IR. So he’ll miss at least three more games. Zach Cunningham has started both games so far. He really struggled, especially in zone coverage, in the opener but bounced back with a nice game against the Vikings. The Eagles will need him to keep that up, especially while Dean is out.
The surprise of Week 2 was that the Eagles elected to sign Nicholas Morrow from the practice squad and start him over Christian Elliss. Morrow went from the practice squad to wearing the green dot on his helmet in a few days. As much as I questioned that decision, the duo of Cunningham and Morrow actually played pretty well against the Vikings. Sure, we’re grading on a curve here but it was far from the disaster some might have envisioned.
One of the big fears heading into the 2023 season was how the aging cornerback duo of Darius Slay and James Bradberry would hold up. They’ve both looked fine. While Bradberry missed Week 2 with a concussion on a short turnaround, Slay has played all 138 snaps in two games and doesn’t look like a 32-year-old cornerback who is slowing down. Even though Justin Jefferson made some tough catches on him on Thursday night, Slay really battled. And that game came after he made some tremendous plays in Week 1, including the long pick-6. Without Bradberry, the Eagles started Josh Jobe. Even though Jobe gave up a bad deep ball and missed the tackle that led to a touchdown, he played fairly well aside from that play. The Eagles might have a serviceable backup with him.
The problem is the nickel corner spot. Avonte Maddox suffered a shoulder injury and the fear is that it’s a season-ending pec tear. While Maddox has been a productive player in his career, he has struggled to stay healthy and two games into the 2023 season, he’s already hurt. The Eagles don’t have great depth here. Their top backup nickel is second-year corner Mario Goodrich, who got his first NFL action in Week 2. While Bradberry got snaps in the slot this summer, it’s hard to imagine a full-time move. Both Jobe and Eli Ricks didn’t get time inside this summer either.
The Eagles will hope to get Reed Blankenship back for Week 3. The starting safety hurt his ribs in the opener and couldn’t get back on the field in a short week. That left the starters as Justin Evans and Terrell Edmunds — even though Maddox played safety in base until his injury. Give Evans credit. Because just like Cunningham at linebacker, Evans had a really rough first game but looked better in Week 2. And Edmunds filled in nicely for Blankenship, forcing the biggest fumble of the game late in the second quarter. Rookie Sydney Brown got a handful of snaps in Week 2 but the Eagles don’t seem too eager to get him a lot of action on defense.
The bar for this group is relatively low. The Eagles aren’t expecting Pro Bowl level play out of this position as it’s currently constructed. But Blankenship looked the part in Week 1 and they’re going to need him back on the field, flying around and making plays all year. Evans and Edmunds are just OK. Neither is going to wow you but they might be good enough to hold off Brown for a while. The hope here, though, is that Brown becomes the long-term fix at the position.
Jake Elliott is a monster. The Eagles’ Pro Bowl kicker is 6-for-7 on field goals through two games and is 3-for-4 from 50+, including that 61-yarder at the end of the first half in Week 2. Elliott made a career-high five field goals of 50+ yards in 2022 and he’s more than halfway to that mark through two games in 2023. He’s an absolute weapon.
After that? Special teams have been a tad shaky. Britain Covey had a 25-yard punt return in the opener but nearly fumbled the ball away in Week 2. The Eagles have pretty good gunner play from Jobe and Brown but there have been some mistakes on special teams too. Some substitution errors, a long kick return given up in Week 1 and some up-and-down play from the punter. The Eagles tried to find an upgrade for Arryn Siposs but he’s still their guy. Through two games, Siposs has punted eight times. He has an average of 43.4 yards per punt and 38.4 net yards per punt; both are career-lows, but it’s still very early.