It’s a busy time in Houston and Philadelphia sports as the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles square off on Thursday Night Football. The NFL insists on every team playing in prime time at least once for some strange reason and this is the best matchup they could come up with for the Texans. The Texans will be two touchdown dogs entering Thursday night and that number feels kind of low after watching them this last Sunday.
The Eagles are on the exact opposite path. They are 7-0 and seemed destined to leave NRG with an easy victory. We sat down with Brandon Gowton from our sister site Bleeding Green Nation to get his thoughts on the upcoming game. Is there any reason to tune into this one instead of Game Five of the World Series?
1) The Eagles have the league’s best record at 7-0. What’s been the secret of their success? Do you think they are the legit favorite in the NFC or is their a team that worries you come playoff time?
The Eagles’ success isn’t difficult to explain; they have a lot going for them. Howie Roseman assembled arguably the most talented roster in the league. Jalen Hurts developed as a passer and is now an MVP candidate. Nick Sirianni and his coaching staff are pushing the right buttons. It’s all clicking.
The Eagles are definitely the legit favorite in a relatively weak NFC. They’ve beaten two of their biggest threats in the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys. As a result, they’re currently the only team in the NFL with two victories over six-win teams.
The road to the playoffs isn’t exactly arduous. Look at the remaining games:
How many more losses do you see there? The Eagles probably won’t do undefeated … but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
When it comes to winning in the postseason, well, yeah. That’s going to be the big test for this team. The feeling here is that they have what it takes to make it to the Super Bowl. It’s not like they’re in the spot they were last year where they were running the ball at an unsustainably high rate before getting stomped by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round. Hurts was a liability back then and now he is a strength of the team.
The question remains whether Hurts can hang with elite passers such as Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes putting up big numbers. He just might get the chance to provide an answer if the Eagles can make it to the Super Bowl.
2) Jalen Hurts is in his second full season as the starter and is obviously putting up better numbers. Do you attribute that to his improvement primarily? An improvement in the offensive scheme? Or is it an improvement in the talent around him? Do you see him as a franchise quarterback?
All of the above, yes.
Most NFL players work pretty hard. But Hurts’ dedication to getting better is probably at a different level. He’s obsessed with improving. Unlike the Eagles’ former starting quarterback, Hurts has a reputation for being very coachable. So, work ethic is a factor.
His surrounding talent is obviously a big deal as well. The A.J. Brown addition alone was massive. Brown is clearly an elite wide receiver. He’s really helped to unlock Hurts’ ability to throw over the middle of the field, which is something he did less frequently than any other quarterback last year. Good things tend to happen when Hurts throws Brown’s way, even if the throw isn’t a great decision or pass.
In addition to Brown, the Eagles have high-quality pass-catching options in DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert. DeVonta is more than capable of turning in WR1 performances, especially if teams are going to try to take Brown away. Goedert is incredibly efficient. Outside of those guys, Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal are capable role players. The former is a speedster while the latter does the dirty work.
Hurts also benefits from playing behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. He often has ample time to throw the ball. And even if he doesn’t, well, he’s capable of avoiding pressure and/or taking off to run.
Hurts is absolutely on track to cement his status as a franchise quarterback. He always checked all the boxes off the field in terms of leadership, intangibles, etc. Now he’s checking the boxes on the field as well. The Eagles will likely sign Hurts to a contract extension after the 2022 season.
3) Who are some of the unsung heroes on offense and defense that we will see figure into Thursday night’s outcome?
Offense: The Eagles are expected to really pound the rock on Thursday night. Houston is obviously not good against the run, as evidenced by allowing the second most opponent yards per rush attempt. If the Texans end up very focused on stopping the run, the Eagles might be able to burn them with play action. In that event, the aforementioned Quez Watkins could be a factor. He’s been pretty quiet ever since catching a deep bomb touchdown in Week 2. The Eagles could look to get him involved in this spot. If not running the ball to set him up for a deep pass, it might work the other way around. Aiming to stretch the field with him early could result in opening up Philly’s ground game.
Defense: T.J. Edwards. The Eagles haven’t been great at stopping the run this season; they rank tied for allowing the fourth most opponent yards per rush attempt. There’s concern that their run defense just got worse, too, with Jordan Davis expected to miss four-to-six weeks with an ankle injury. The Eagles will be tested by Dameon Pierce, who is clearly one of the best things the Texans have going for them. The Eagles are going to have to shut down Pierce in order to win and Edwards could be a big part of that. He has the ability to rack up tackles and make smart plays in run defense.
4) The NFC East is currently the best division in football. Who is the biggest surprise to you so far on the season? Which team (Dallas or New York) do you see giving the Eagles the most headaches coming down the stretch?
The Giants are definitely the biggest surprise relative to expectations. I definitely thought they were headed in the right direction after firing Joe Judge/Dave Gettleman and hiring Brian Daboll/Joe Schoen. But not many could have reasonably seen them reaching 6-2 at this point in this season.
The Cowboys are a bit of a surprise in that they didn’t crumble as much as they reasonably could have. They didn’t have a great offseason and Dak Prescott got hurt in Week 1. That didn’t feel like a recipe for success. And yet here they are, also standing relatively tall at 6-2.
Dallas is a bigger threat to the Eagles. Their defense is pretty talented and Dak Prescott has a higher ceiling than Daniel Jones does. Daboll and his staff have done a good job of maximizing the Giants’ talent but there are limits on what they’re working with. That being said, I do expect the G-Men to be frisky when the Birds play them. I currently have the Eagles losing to Big Blue in Week 14 as their first defeat of the season.
5) The Eagles are obviously heavily favored. How many points would you be comfortable laying on this game? Is there anyone on the Texans side you’re worried about?
DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the Eagles favored by 14 points. I’ll take the Birds to cover that spread.
The Texans’ resume just isn’t very impressive when one examines it on a game-by-game basis. The Eagles are by far and away the best team that Houston has faced this season.
The feeling here is the Eagles will be able to run the ball a lot and control this game.
I can’t discount there being some weirdness with the Eagles having to travel on a short week. That’s definitely something working against them. It’s also possible that the Texans could cover the spread in garbage time as the Eagles have been known to let up in second half action after building leads.
That being said, I’ll bet on the Birds.
There isn’t anyone on the Texans’ roster I’m overly concerned about. Pierce is certainly a nice player who could test an Eagles weakness. Hurts should probably avoid throwing Derek Stingley Jr.’s way on a regular basis. I like a Jalen Pitre. Brandin Cooks has had a good career but shouldn’t be able to wreck the game … and I wonder where his head is at after not being traded.
Eagles win, 38 to 13.
And they won’t be the only Philadelphia team to beat a Houston team on Thursday night. Phillies in five, baby!
We wanted to thank Brandon for sitting down with us to discuss the game. You can follow his work at Bleeding Green Nation and you can follow him @brandongowton on Twitter. We want to wish the Eagles the best of luck this season (after Thursday of course) and hope to catch up with them again someday.