They all know Assignment No. 1 on Sunday playing against the Tennessee offense: Don't let running back Derrick Henry get started. That meant the Eagles' defensive front seven had to be aggressive and disciplined and physical and, oh, what a challenge against a beast of a back like Henry, all 247 pounds of him.
Guess what? Mission accomplished. The Eagles stuffed Henry, limiting him to 11 carries and 30 yards, with a long of 6 yards in a blowout victory.
"Once we made them one-dimensional, we could get after it up front," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said.
Oh, did they get after it! The Eagles sacked quarterback Ryan Tannehill six times and limited to Tennessee to, get this ...
• 11 first downs
• 4 of 14 third-down conversions
• A field goal in two red zone trips
• 209 total net yards
"It was like a race to the quarterback, said defensive end Josh Sweat, who had a pair of quarterback sacks, upping his season total to 6.5. "We just had some opportunities. Inside, outside, we just kept coming. We knew that if we stopped the run, we could put them in tough situations. They're a tough team, a physical team, but we are as well. I think we showed that. We smelled some blood and went at it."
The Eagles had No. 1 draft pick Jordan Davis active for the game, so they were deep and especially talented up front. They moved pieces around, they kept the players fresh, and they pinned their ears back throughout the second half after the Eagles held a 21-10 lead after two quarters.
"I think people have to realize what we have up front," said linebacker Haason Reddick, who had a sack (to give him 9 for the year), 2 tackles, and 4 quarterback hits. "We're coming to get you. It doesn't matter who it is, we're coming. That's how much depth we have. We aren't going to get tired, we're going to get stronger. I just love the way we're playing – but the thing is, and what's really exciting is that we know we have a lot more to improve on."
There wasn't much to improve on from Sunday: The Eagles were that good fitting as a defense. In every way, they just fit each other and shut down Tennessee.
"Good win, nice performance, but more to accomplish," said Cox, who had a sack and now has 5 for the season. "We were hungry out there. That's how we played and you see what we were able to do." – Dave Spadaro
ICYMI from Sunday
• Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro offers six takeaways from the win.
• A.J. Brown opens up about the meaning of two-TD performance vs. former team.
• Game Recap: Eagles 35, Titans 10
• Listen to the instant reaction edition of the Eagles Insider Podcast.
Jalen Hurts thrives in high-wire act
Last week, quarterback Jalen Hurts had a historic performance for his rushing ability.
On Sunday against the Titans, he was on the precipice of a career outing using his arm.
Hurts threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns and finished with a 130.3 QB rating in a little over three quarters of work. He was 7 yards shy of tying his career high.
But the bottom line is that Hurts is the point guard of an offense that can beat teams in a multitude of ways.
"Regardless of how we're attacking a defense, we just want to execute in whatever it is we're doing. We want to make the right plays, make the right decisions with the football, protect the football, and put points on the board," Hurts said. "We just want to continue to grow. It's the same old message with me. We just want to continue to grow, to continue to rise, to continue to learn from everything we do good and bad, and grow from it."
What's even more impressive about the pass game is that Hurts doesn't just dink-and-dunk defenses into submission. The Eagles are tied for fifth in the league with 43 completions of 20+ yards this season, yet – even while being aggressive – Hurts has only three interceptions. Of teams with 43 or more explosive pass plays, no other team has fewer than seven interceptions.
Against the Titans on Sunday, all three of Hurts' touchdown throws were of 20+ yards. He connected with DeVonta Smith for a 34-yard touchdown on the opening drive. He threw back-to-back 40-yard touchdowns to A.J. Brown in the second quarter after the first was wiped off the board when replays showed Brown didn't get both feet in bounds. Lastly, Brown plucked the final touchdown despite Titans cornerback Tre Avery draped on him tighter than static cling.
"That's why only so many people in this world can play the position that he plays. Because you want to be aggressive. You know explosive plays are key to your success on offense, but you also know turnovers can doom you as well," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said.
"So, there is an art to that, and he's done a good job of that all year. Today, particularly a lot of the throws were outside. When a lot of the throws are outside, there is usually only one guy that can get it. It's either our guy or their corner."
And on Sunday, it was usually our guy.
"Every time he was throwing a deep ball, I was like this meme popped up in my head of A.J. Brown was down there somewhere, just throw it up in the air," tackle Jordan Mailata said.
For Hurts, "it's all a thing of trust."
"It goes back to the preparation," he added. "The execution fuels emotion, but that comes from the execution of stuff in practice and the detail that we have in our meetings and the conversations that we have throughout the week. All of it is about the whole entire process of preparation and we just want to continue to prepare to come out here and be ready on our gamedays." – Chris McPherson
The Slim Reaper feasts on the Titans' secondary
Head Coach Nick Sirianni threw down a challenge to reporters at his post-game press conference Sunday following the 35-10 drubbing of the Titans at Lincoln Financial Field when he was asked about standout second-year wide receiver DeVonta Smith.
"That first third down, the thing he did on that route shows you just what – go back and look at that. I mean, someone will send me that this week zeroed in on that and someone writing an article about that because it was beautiful," Sirianni said.
On 3rd-and-8 from the Eagles' 27-yard line, the offense was in a trips formation with Smith lined up on the three-receiver side – to the right of quarterback Jalen Hurts – closest to the ball. Hurts motioned running back Kenneth Gainwell from the far left side into the backfield to force the Titans to show that they were in man coverage. Lined up across from Smith was cornerback Tre Avery, who walked back until he was 7 yards away from Smith when he saw Gainwell shift into the backfield. Off the snap, Smith attacks Avery and heads upfield, appearing as if he's leaning towards the post. But as soon as Avery opens his hips, Smith cuts to his right and has created plenty of a cushion. A.J. Brown, lined up to the far right of the trips side, ran a go route, dragging cornerback Kristian Fulton to clear the space for Smith, who caught the pass from Hurts for 20 yards and the first down.
That wasn't Smith's only big play of the drive. Smith capped off the opening drive with a 34-yard touchdown reception. Lined up as the X-receiver to the boundary – left side of Hurts in this case, Smith attacked cornerback Roger McCreary, who was lined up in off coverage. When McCreary turned his back, expecting a corner route, Smith shook him on a post route. Hurts delivered the ball to Smith at the 2-yard line and Smith did the rest to put the Eagles ahead in a game in which they never trailed, improving to 11-1 on the season for just the fourth time in franchise history.
"He ran a great route and he got open," Hurts said. "He's elite."
"Great ball by Jalen. He saw the safety leave the middle of the field, so he just made a great play," Smith said.
Smith finished with five catches for 102 yards and the touchdown. Smith and A.J. Brown each went for over 100 yards, becoming the first pair of Eagles to do so in the same game since Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz in 2018 against Houston. One week after the Eagles gained 363 yards on the ground, the Birds took flight as Hurts went for 380 in the air and three touchdowns before being pulled early in the fourth quarter, just 8 yards shy of a new career high.
"With this offense, you never know what you're going to get that day, so you go out there, whatever working for us that day, that's what we're going to stick with," Smith said.
"It's amazing. You never know what to expect, so you always have to be ready, but it's fun when you see everybody getting what they deserve, the hard work paying off, it's just fun when you see everybody getting theirs."
Smith has 61 catches on the year, surpassing the 60-reception mark now in back-to-back seasons to start his career.
"DeVonta has been going the whole year. He's had some really big games. So, it was good," Sirianni said. "Anytime you get two guys that have 100 yards, that's pretty sweet and makes you feel good as a coach. Makes them feel good as players that the whole room is contributing." – Chris McPherson
'No stress' for Reed Blankenship in starting debut
Rookie safety Reed Blankenship got his feet wet, becoming the first undrafted rookie to ever intercept MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers in last Sunday's win over the Packers as he subbed for the injured C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
With Gardner-Johnson placed on Injured Reserve on Saturday with a lacerated kidney, Blankenship took command of the other starting spot opposite Marcus Epps on the back end of the defense. He knew he had a bull's-eye on his back, stepping in for the league's interceptions leader, and the Titans were armed with game tape.
Blankenship took the same approach. He put his head in the playbook. He studied the tape ferociously. He asked questions of his teammates in the secondary.
By kickoff, he was ready.
"There's no reason to pressure yourself in anything," said Blankenship, a five-year starter and three-year captain at Middle Tennessee State, about 40 minutes from the Titans' home base in Nashville. "You've been playing football for a long time and just go out there and have fun. We put in the work all week, stressed all week, today – no stress."
The results? Tennessee mustered just 209 yards of total offense.
"We just came to play," said Blankenship. "We knew that Tennessee was a physical team and everybody said they didn't know if we could be a physical team just like them. They had to match us today and that's what we wanted to do."
Per Pro Football Focus, Blankenship was targeted four times, as he was the only defensive player to be on the field for all 55 snaps. Blankenship quickly diagnosed a pass to wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and wrapped him up for a short gain in the first quarter. He had good coverage on an incompletion to tight end Austin Hooper. Later in the second quarter, he raced to break up an in-breaker over the middle to Hooper. On a 3rd down late in the first half, he met wide receiver Robert Woods along the sideline to keep him well short of the sticks.
And on the ground, former NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry was stymied to the tune of 30 yards on 11 carries.
"He's a freak athlete," Blankenship said of the 247-pound back. "That's probably one of the biggest human beings at running back I've ever seen."
The rookie credited the defensive line as several times he'd be in coverage only to hear the roar of the crowd, then turn to the video board and see how the pocket collapsed.
"We know not to let the older guys down, so there's already a standard. The standard's in place," he said.
Gardner-Johnson will be sidelined for at least another three games, so Blankenship – who was inactive for six of the first seven games – will be ready at the call for whatever is asked of him.
"I would say a dream. You know, a dream come true," he said of the past week. "I just take every week, every day, day by day. I'm blessed for my opportunity each day and whatever role they tell me to be at, I'm going to fulfill it and try my best to fulfill it." – Chris McPherson
'Definitely' a confidence-builder for special teams
Linebacker Christian Elliss was elevated from the practice squad and made his 2022 debut Sunday against the Titans. He was summoned to add a jolt to a special teams unit that allowed several big kickoff returns in last Sunday night's win over the Packers.
Elliss didn't waste much time announcing his presence. On the first punt coverage assignment of the afternoon, midway through the first quarter, Elliss stormed down the field and stopped returner C.J. Board after a 9-yard gain. It was the first of two special teams tackles on the afternoon. He also aided in blocking for punt returner Britain Covey, who had the best game of his rookie campaign with six returns for 105 yards (17.5 average) – second most yards in a game this season – and three that went for 20 or more, including a season-best 27-yarder early in the third quarter that started a touchdown drive.
"I'm just in a state of gratitude at the moment," said Elliss. "We have amazing special teams players and we needed to do our job. That was the big emphasis this week – do our job, be the Energizer bunny, bring energy. I was just trying to add a piece to that, fit into that puzzle any way in any way I could."
Covey said that Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay made a few schematic tweaks, which allowed him to get more opportunities on the outside.
"That wasn't just me. That was my unit. I almost look at punt return unit as a bigger team accomplishment than any other unit on the field," Covey said.
Four of the Eagles' 11 offensive drives started beyond their 30-yard line. The Titans had only one such drive and it was in the fourth quarter when the Eagles' starters were on the bench.
"Brit deserves all of the blocking in the world. He's a special returner, special returner, so I was just lucky to be able to be out there to help him seal that edge and get it for him," Elliss said.
To bounce back in a big way was, as Covey put it, "definitely" a confidence-builder.
"Just to see it. We know what we're capable of, but to see it out there is huge," he added. – Chris McPherson