DETROIT — It was Halloween, and they were dead men walking.
Nick Sirianni wouldn’t run the ball. Jonathan Gannon ran a toothless, timid defense. And Jalen Hurts was playing like Bobby Hoying. If the Eagles had lost in Motor City, they’d have needed a miracle to keep their jobs.
But, on a lovely autumn afternoon, the Birds buried the winless Lions, 44-6. Sirianni inspired his flower children to the franchise’s most lopsided victory since Dec. 22, 2013, when, in Chip Kelly’s first season, the Birds trounced the visiting Chicago Bears, 54-11. Thank you, NFC North.
In doing so, Sirianni and Gannon assured that they won’t get fired anytime soon, and Hurts won’t get benched. The relief was palpable.
“I wouldn’t say ‘relief,’” said Sirianni, who was, clearly, relieved.
Hurts, who lost his job at Alabama and had to transfer to Oklahoma, knows what poor play portends, and he knows that only one thing guarantees continued inclusion.
Eagles’ Nick Sirianni, Jonathan Gannon, Jalen Hurts save their jobs against hapless Lions — Marcus Hayes
“I’ve kind of been through the downs and the ups,” Hurts said when asked about his 14 pass attempts, the fewest of his 12 career starts. “All I really care about is getting the W.”
The Eagles should learn something, then, from Sunday, because W’s weren’t coming — not the way Sirianni was coaching, or the way Hurts was throwing.
Entering the game, Sirianni’s offense featured more than 70% passing plays, usually from a shotgun formation. On Sunday, though, Sirianni constantly ran the ball from formations that placed Hurts under center. The plays featured included veteran grinder Jordan Howard, who’d been stashed on the practice squad until this week, when Miles Sanders landed on injured reserve. Eagles running backs gained 120 yards on 25 runs and scored four touchdowns by the end of the third quarter.
Eagles backs gained 144 total rushing yards on 37 carries. The coach who made a litany of mistakes in his last six games, then compared his budding team to a fertilized daffodil Wednesday, coached like Vince Lombardi on Sunday afternoon.,
Jonathan “No-Blitz” Gannon, the most blitz-hesitant defensive coordinator in the NFL, blitzed often and effectively. How effectively? Well, $10 million defensive end Derek Barnett finally got his first sack. It took eight games, and it took star tackle Fletcher Cox publicly roasting Gannon, and it took Sirianni joining in the complaints, but at least it happened.
Hurts didn’t play as badly as he’d been playing. Hurts had completed just 53.6% of his passes in the three previous games, all Eagles losses. Those two facts were causal, not coincidental. He completed 9-of-14 passes for 103 yards Sunday and sat out the fourth quarter, leading, 38-0. He’d also scrambled for 71 yards, his third-best career total, on seven rather thrilling runs.
So what, right?
The Lions remain a ragged group of relatively random players impersonating a football team, with a hyperbolic kneecap-biter as their head coach. Now 0-8, they’ve lost 12 in a row dating back to last season. Not even the hiring of former Eagles assistant coach Duce Staley has stopped their headlong rush to long-term irrelevance.
The Eagles’ headlong rush has, for the moment, paused. This alleviates, for the moment, the mounting pressures on Sirianni, a first-time head coach; Gannon, a first-time coordinator; and Hurts, a first-time, full-time starter in his second NFL season.
The Eagles are 3-5, and they have the NFL’s easiest remaining schedule, but they’ll have to continue to beat bad teams to keep the boots off the neck of the timorous trio.
Eagles’ Jonathan Gannon-led defense stifles Lions with season-high in quarterback hits
The Lions allowed an average of 120 rushing yards per game, which ranked 21st in the NFL. So, of course the Eagles were going to run.
Detroit quarterback Jared Goff’s passer rating of 84.7 this season was worst among the league’s passers with at least 250 attempts. He remains as mobile as a monument; he was sacked five times, the first time in nearly three years he’s been dropped that many times.
Hurts still missed elementary throws, such as the 40-yard pass he threw out of bounds early in the third quarter. He’d scrambled right, set his feet, saw DeVonta Smith running open, and, with no defender near him, just threw it out of bounds. But he scrambled for 20 yards on the next play, so the misfire didn’t matter as much.
All of this good feeling might evaporate in a week, if the Eagles revert to pass-happy, blitz-hating, QB-misfiring form when the Los Angeles Chargers visit.
But, if and when doom descends again, they’ll always have Detroit.