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Spadaro: Putting the Eagles' 9-1 start in perspective

Dave Spadaro On the Inside 1920

First, some perspective: The Eagles are 9-1. That's the best record in the NFL. They have a two-game lead in the NFC East and they are a game up on the 8-2 Vikings in the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs – only one team receives a coveted bye week in the NFL postseason.

Goals that are clearly defined within the walls of the NovaCare Complex are listed in this order: 1. Win the NFC East. 2. Win the NFC with a No. 1 seed. 3. Win the Super Bowl. All of these goals are within reach because the Eagles have had such a terrific first 10 games of the season.

Perhaps the No. 1 question entering this season was this: Will quarterback Jalen Hurts take the next step in his game? I think the answer is a resounding "yes," in every way possible. The latest example happened in Indianapolis, where Hurts basically put the offense on his back and erased a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Quez Watkins and a 7-yard touchdown sprint. In all, Hurts ran for a game-high 86 yards and a score on 16 carries and completed 18 of 25 passes for 190 yards and the touchdown to bring the offense back to life after a sluggish opening three quarters.

The sheer numbers don't quite tell the story of Hurts' climb in 2022, but they jump off the page: He has 15 touchdown passes, 3 interceptions, and 2,407 yards passing, and his pocket game has been outstanding. Hurts also has 440 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground, and his QB sneak technique and power are a thing of beauty. Plus, he's been a rock in the fourth quarter of games with the come-from-behind win at Indianapolis, the final drive in the fourth quarter (17 plays, 70 yards) to score the winning points at Arizona, and a fourth-quarter drive (13 plays, 75 yards) the Eagles needed with Dallas within three points and surging in the fourth quarter of the Week 6 game at Lincoln Financial Field.

"I have not seen that guy rattled too much," said center Jason Kelce after Sunday's win over the Colts when I said to him, "Jalen really does have ice in his veins, doesn't he?"

"I think that that does rub off on other guys," Kelce added. "I really think he's been great in scenarios like that at the end of the game for a long while. He doesn't get fazed at all."

More on the big picture and takeaways from Sunday's win over the Colts ...

1. The Eagles' defense continues to keep teams off the scoreboard. Over the last 10 weeks, Philadelphia ranks first in the NFL in defensive points allowed per game (14.8 points), including a league-low 5.8 second-half points. The Eagles have allowed 17 or fewer defensive points in eight games this season, leading the league. The Eagles continue to lead the NFL with 21 takeaways and are third in the NFL with 33 sacks (the Eagles had 29 last season, ranking 31st in the league). That combination of 30-plus sacks, 20-plus takeaways, and allowing fewer than 20 points per game as a team (18.3) through 10 games had previously been accomplished only twice before – Jim Johnson's 2001 defense (32-20-13.1) and 1989 under Head Coach Buddy Ryan (39-20-19.4).

2. Talk about instant impact: Defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh made a little practice last week go a long way on gameday. Joseph played 26 snaps and recorded 4 total tackles and a half-quarterback sack, and Suh played 17 snaps and had 3 total tackles and shared the quarterback sack with Joseph.

"Man, I'm glad to have them here, glad to have them here," said linebacker Haason Reddick, who had a huge late-game sack (he now has 7.5 this season) to force the Colts into a field goal to make it 16-10. "(They were) a big help in the run game today. (They) helped out Fletch (Fletcher Cox) and Grave (Javon Hargrave). I said it when they first got here, when I knew that we were going to go after them and try to sign them to get some more bigger bodies out there on the field – I'm appreciative. I'm happy to have those guys. I'm glad that they came here and balled out with us."

3. Still on the defense: Another monster game from middle linebacker T.J. Edwards, who had 10 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery. "I'm just playing within the defense and getting to the football," Edwards said. "Every week, I feel we're getting used to each other more. We add in some new pieces and it takes a minute to get used to each other but here we are. I like the way we're playing, but you know me: There is always going to be room for improvement." True, but consider that the Eagles limited the Colts to 284 total net yards, 4.6 yards per play, 5 of 15 on third downs, and one touchdown in three visits to the red zone.

4. Running back Miles Sanders this season: 757 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Add another 12 receptions and a play on Sunday when he ran a route and was wide open down the right sideline. Hurts heaved a pass for him but linebacker Zaire Franklin tackled Sanders for a huge pass-interference penalty that set up the offense at the Indianapolis 28-yard line on the drive that resulted in the winning points. Sanders is ninth in the league in rushing and has been solid in every facet of his game.

5. There are some statistics that are more important than others in the NFL and this one is very important and needs to stay strong for the Eagles: Philadelphia is fourth in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage on offense, 71.43 percent (89 percent in the last three games). The teams 1-3: Cincinnati (75 percent), Tennessee (74.07), and Kansas City (72.09 percent). Go ahead and check the records of those four teams. Last season, the Eagles had a TD percentage of 62.9 percent, so the jump this season has been significant and a real reason the team is 9-1.

6. Whether it is Hurts or Sanders or both plus the rest of the Eagles' running backs, Philadelphia is among the best in the league on the ground with 142.5 yards per game. That ranks sixth in the league. And if you say, "Well, last year the Eagles led the NFL in rushing yards per game, why have they fallen off this season," you'd have to look a little deeper. The Eagles in 2021 paced the NFL with 156.1 yards per game, so the per-game number is still right there.

The teams ahead of Philadelphia running the football: Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, Giants, Cleveland. Only Cleveland's passing game among those teams ranks in the top half of the NFL in per-game yards (14th, the Eagles are 12th). So, it's probably fair to say that the Eagles are just where they want to be in terms of balance offensively this season. On Sunday against a Colts team that ranks second in the NFL allowing just 3.8 yards per carry, the Eagles averaged 4.3 yards per attempt, gaining 141 yards.

"I thought we could have run the ball better, to be honest with you," Kelce said. "They're good because they have two great interior players and linebackers. They're a good defense. They play hard. Our old friend Rodney McLeod is all over the place. He clearly was a force out there trying to stifle the run game. We have to play a lot better. I thought we could have done a better job, quite frankly, running the ball."

OK, well, on to Sunday night and prime time against the Green Bay Packers ...

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