The week that was hasn't all been the dominant story of a quarterback change for the Eagles. Sunday's game against New Orleans is a significant test against a 10-2 team as the Eagles are looking to snap a four-game losing streak. So … let's catch up on some of the other things going on with this football team …
1. The offensive line changes … again
Bringing back Jason Peters for 2020 was an emergency move for the Eagles. They felt in the wake of the Brandon Brooks injury and the truncated offseason and preseason that having someone who knew the system and the coaching and the culture would be the best fit for an offensive line that already had moving pieces before Training Camp started. Of course, it didn't work out as planned. Peters went through camp at right guard and then moved back to left tackle before the regular season when Andre Dillard was injured. Peters struggled the entire season, as has the offensive line, and now Peters is on Injured Reserve for the remainder of the season as the Eagles prepare their 12th starting offensive line combination in 13 games.
"That's just the way it goes sometimes," center Jason Kelce said. "It's a large number of changes and a lot of combinations, stuff like that. You'd like to have some continuity along the offensive line. It certainly helps, but at the end of the day, it's all part of the job. It's all part of being a professional. It's all part of being a leader and embracing the situation and making the most out of them. Whatever happens this week … I'll consider it an honor to go out with those four games and go out and battle."
Nate Herbig starts at right guard on Sunday next to rookie right tackle Jack Driscoll. Jordan Mailata is the left tackle. Raise your hand if you had those three players starting at this point in the season. Herbig has had a bizarre season, starting the first eight games, injuring a finger and being inactive, then serving as a backup for a few games. Strange second season for Herbig, which he understands.
"The team did what they felt was best for us to win and I was banged up and other guys got some opportunities and they played really well," Herbig said. "Now guys are banged up and I'm coming back and I have opportunities and I hope I can help the team win. That's all I care about. I want to win."
The message from Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Jeff Stoutland?
"I'm just not good enough in general. I need to be better in a lot of aspects of my game," Herbig said.
2. Attacking at defensive tackle
The Eagles rely on a four-man pass rush most of the time and they've responded with the most quarterback sacks from a four-man rush of any team in the league. It isn't an easy transition to make into an "attack" system, so for players like Malik Jackson and Javon Hargrave, there has been an adjustment period. The line is playing strong football now, and Jackson explains what it is like to go from one system to another along the defensive line.
"It was a huge adjustment," Jackson said. "You're coming, for me, from playing eight years of sitting there reading, essentially, coming here and they just want you to go and attack. It didn't really register with me all through camp (in 2019) and even the first game I went back to my old ways. It really took me a whole year. I got hurt, so really just thinking about it last year I had to think about it, I had to put myself in situations in a game and say, 'Do this, do that.' It is still a challenge."
Against New Orleans, the Eagles have a tough challenge against the many skills of running back Alvin Kamara and a quarterback in Taysom Hill who can run away from trouble. Hill, by the way, completed 11 of 13 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown on third down last week against Atlanta, so don't think that he's just a "run-around" quarterback.
"It's hard with Hill because he has those legs, and as a pass rusher when you're getting ready for the Saints you're like, 'Oh, Drew Brees. He's going to stand there and look downfield,' and he's not even looking to run unless he has to," Jackson said. "This guy, you really have to watch your rushes. You've got to be more of … Aaron Rodgers-type of rushes where you're really cautious of where people are going, where he's going, where he is. I think that's really the difference. As a pass rusher, it kind of sucks. You just want the guy to stand there. He provides you different problems and we've got to respect him."
3. Jalen Hurts gave the Eagles defense a taste when he played on the scout team
What can we expect from Jalen Hurts on Sunday? He's an athletic player with fresh legs and a big arm and he's smart and he's a winner. The Eagles' defense had a taste of Hurts when he played scout team quarterback for the first 12 weeks of the season and he impressed them.
"Dual-threat quarterback. A guy, if it's a situation where you've got a free blitzer or a defensive end coming right at him, he can escape the pocket," safety Jalen Mills said. "Those third-and-2s, those third-and-5s, he can use his legs to move the chains and as a defender that can definitely be frustrating for sure."
Mills related a story about the problems Hurts showed the defense in the red zone, not with his legs, but with his arm.
"For, I want to say, the past three weeks, on Fridays when it's red zone compete day, he was on the scout team and he would make some crazy throws and would have (Defensive Coordinator Jim) Schwartz cussing us out and would have guys on the defense mad. That's what you want. You want that competition on the other side of the ball."
4. Who is playing linebacker on Sunday?
Nathan Gerry remains on Injured Reserve. Same with Davion Taylor. T.J. Edwards is out with a hamstring injury. That leaves … Alex Singleton, Duke Riley, Shaun Bradley, and, um, who? Here's who: Rashad Smith, a rookie who was not drafted out of Florida Atlantic. He was on the Bears' practice squad before being signed to the Cowboys' active roster. The Eagles signed him to the practice squad in early November and elevated him on Saturday to the active roster for the Saints game. Then there is Joe Bachie, whom the Eagles signed off the Saints' practice squad this week. Here is the catch with Bachie, though: Because of the COVID-19 protocols in place, Bachie wasn't eligible to practice until Saturday, which, of course, is a walkthrough day. So … he has been able to participate in virtual meetings and he has some understanding of the defense, but he hasn't really practiced. The linebacker crew for Sunday is, yes, paper-thin.