You are a defensive coordinator and you've got six days to prepare to play the Philadelphia Eagles. You'll go through the normal situational preparation and you will have your defense understand the personnel challenges ahead. And then you will try to get into the minds of Philadelphia Head Coach Nick Sirianni and Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen and the coaching staff: What are they thinking this week? How are they planning to attack me? If I have to pick a poison on which to concentrate, what direction do I take?
This is the predicament every defense faces when it lines up against an Eagles offense that has potent flexibility that, through eight games, has been remarkably consistent. With the Week 9 games not complete, we'll go with the pre-Thursday night numbers from a league standpoint, but they aren't going to change much, if at all: The Eagles ranked third in the NFL in total offense through seven games, sixth in the run game and 10th passing the football. They averaged 28 points heading into the Texans game – they scored 29 that night in the victory – to rank third in the league.
You want to load up the box to stop running back Miles Sanders, quarterback Jalen Hurts, and a stable of contributors on the ground? Go ahead. Hurts will read it and look to a passing game that features the potent trio of wide receivers A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and tight end Dallas Goedert, and if you somehow manage to contract that terrific threesome, Hurts will feature wide receivers Quez Watkins or Zach Pascal, or take a peek at tight end Jack Stoll or get the running backs – Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, and Boston Scott – involved in the catch-and-run game.
"We've got so many playmakers here. Defenses, they have a lot to think about when they play against us," said Brown, who had four receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown on Thursday night and now has 43 receptions, 718 yards, and six touchdowns in the eight victories. "There are no so soft spots. We pride ourselves on having the ability to win any number of ways. When we get the passing game going, we're making big plays and going up and down the field. The running game, same thing. The coaches have done a great job keeping everybody involved, which isn't always easy to do.
"Jalen is the guy and he's directing things out there, reading the defense, and making the right decisions."
Flexibility and versatility are the goals here, and the Eagles have achieved them through eight games. There have been games in which Brown has been the dominating force – in Detroit, against Pittsburgh, to name two – and Hurts feeds him as he destroys the coverage. Smith has had his turns as well – notably against Minnesota, Washington, and Arizona – and Hurts has directed the passing game in his direction. Goedert gets his as well – he has 40 receptions, 521 yards, and a couple of scores and was huge in wins over Minnesota, Arizona, and Houston – as defenses struggle at attempts to match his size and speed.
The running game, paced by Sanders who lit up Jacksonville for 134 yards with two scores and has five touchdowns in the last five games, has been consistent each and every week. Sanders already has 656 ground yards, averaging 5 yards per carry.
Hurts is the orchestrator, averaging 255 passing yards and 41 rushing yards per game with only one lost fumble and two interceptions thrown. He is directing an offense that is making beautiful music, one that scored touchdowns on all four red zone visits on Thursday night – two running, two passing, of course – and that has a 70 percent touchdown percentage inside the 20-yard line, fourth-best in the NFL.
"Execution is the key," Hurts says over and over. "The opportunities for big plays and scores are there if we execute at a high level. That's our goal every time out. The pieces are here."
We've talked about this throughout the season: What is the personality of this offense? After eight games, it is a complete offense, fueled by an outstanding offensive line that makes everything go.
"All credit to the line," Sanders said on Thursday night after he ran for 93 yards and a touchdown on 17 touches. "They're doing a great job every week. I keep saying this over and over, but it's true. Without those guys, our offense isn't anywhere close to what we're doing now."
Even with that, when the players are asked about the offense and the way it has collectively played, the response is usually one that reminds us all that there is still room to grow and that points are still out there to be had. In other words, the Eagles expect that the best, the very best, is still to come.
"Oh, we have more to accomplish and we will continue to work on it," Brown said. "There is a lot more we can be better at, so the goal is to keep working hard and improving our game. We want to peak at the right time and put it all together. We haven't done that yet."
The thought is exciting, isn't it? As good as the offense has been and as off-balance as defenses are when they line up against the Eagles, there is still growth potential. We're only eight games into something special, and everyone is aiming higher with nine weeks remaining in the regular season.