The sound you hear is the 1972 Miami Dolphins uncorking their array of champagne bottles after the 2022 Philadelphia Eagles‘ undefeated season came to an end at the hands of the divisional rival Washington Commanders.
It was their worst offensive output of the season in terms of expected points added (EPA) per play, but the Eagles still sit second in that measure over the course of the season. They score a touchdown on just under 33% of their drives, which ranks second in the league.
Even amid the loss, this is as good of an offense as there is in the NFL this season. And the Eagles remain the team to beat in the NFC.
Philadelphia has been winning by doing the simple things at a high level. With the talent at hand at receiver and offensive line, defenses are put in a precarious position week in and week out. Defenses that try to play single-high coverage against the Eagles are at the mercy of their two star receivers, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, while playing with light boxes to stop the pass is met by an offensive line that has dominated this year.
Against two-high coverages, the Eagles rank first in the league in rushing success rate (46.3%). Against man coverage, quarterback Jalen Hurts has a 115.6 passer rating — fourth-best in the league. The Eagles present a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t structural problem to defenses.
While not carrying the volume of formations and concepts that some other NFL offenses do, the Eagles are committed to making sure that defenses have to stop what they do best. Their Week 10 game against the Commanders showed, even in defeat, that the team has a lot of resolve in their play calling and their commitment to Hurts.
Midway through the second quarter, Commanders safety Darrick Forrest intercepted a deep post route intended for A.J. Brown. It was a slick play by the safety, who baited Hurts into thinking Brown was open before spinning around and sprinting over top of the receiver.
The Ringer’s Ben Solak explains how film study went into this Forrest interception:
Broke down the Darrick Forrest pick. Really good film study! Played off a Hurts tendency from the Steelers game pic.twitter.com/YBJS9y3P2C
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) November 15, 2022
Solak’s point is that Hurts tends to want to take deep shots down the field and that Forrest knew to time his backpedal and spin with Hurts throwing the football.
This did not scare off the Eagles' coaching staff. They were going to make sure they connected on an over route — the route Hurts does not throw on the Forrest interception — and on a post route for an explosive play.
On an important third down with the Eagles trailing by nine points, the offense was again shown man-to-man coverage with Forrest as the deep safety.
Forrest stays in the same backpedal and Hurts hits Quez Watkins as he crosses the safety’s face. A safety who is in a backpedal and staying square to the quarterback allows him to plant his feet and come down on that crossing route. That’s why Hurts tried to throw over the top of him earlier in the game. This time, Hurts knew that even though Forrest's body positioning was the same, he would not attack Watkins' route. Hurts delivers a beautiful throw for an important first down.
The Eagles came back to the same idea — although they didn’t pair the crossing route with a post route — and found a completion based on the coverage and technique of the defense. They didn’t have to change their entire offensive scheme and weren’t scared to return to the well.
Still, they hadn’t completed the deep post route yet, and so late in the fourth quarter, they schemed up Watkins down the field on the post.
Watkins was on his way to giving Philadelphia the lead before he fumbled, but the Eagles' offensive plan and execution remain important.
Earlier in the game, the Eagles lined up in a “2 by 2” formation with DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert aligned to the offense's left side with the Commanders showing a two-high safety pre-snap look.
There are a few different ways to play the quarters coverage, which the Commanders do end up playing. But on this occasion, the Eagles' offense saw the safety on top of Goedert stay low on the tight end, giving a one-on-one to Smith. The call was for a double move, and cornerback Benjamin St-Juste played the route well until giving up a late pass interference.
On the fourth-quarter catch and fumble by Watkins, the Eagles aligned the same way and got the same coverage. The safety attached to the tight end and, instead of running a stop n’ go, Philadelphia had Watkins run the post knowing it would be one-on-one coverage again.
These concepts illustrate the faith that the Eagles have in quarterback Jalen Hurts to continue to get better game by game and their faith in a supporting cast that is deep and among the best in the league.
The chances that Philadelphia finished out an undefeated season were always slim, but even after a tough loss against a bitter rival, they still look like the NFC's most formidable squad.