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Behind Enemy Lines: Insider Analysis on the Philadelphia Eagles

Sports Illustrated-Fan Nation's Eagle Maven team publisher Ed Kracz serves up the inside scoop on the Philadelphia Eagles, who face the Giants this weekend.

The Philadelphia Eagles have suddenly hit their stride under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni.

Front and center for the Eagles' offense is their running game. In their last four contests, they've rushed for at least 175 net yards, and in three of those four contests, they've gone over the 200-yard rushing mark.

Defensively, cornerback Darius Slay has allowed less than 50 percent of the pass targets against him to be complete, plus he has one interception over his last two games. And the Eagles defense as a whole has been absolutely shut-down when it's come to third-down conversion attempts against it. In their previous two games, Philadelphia has allowed opponents to convert seven of 24 third-down attempts (29.1 percent).

Still, any team can win on any given Sunday, and with the Giants set to formally retire Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan's jersey number this weekend, perhaps a little bit of that Strahan magic will rub off on the current team. Meanwhile, let's get the lowdown on the Eagles from Sports Illustrated-Fan Nation's Eagle Maven team publisher Ed Kracz, who answered five burning questions about the Birds for us.

Earlier in the year, there was some grumbling on defense about the scheme. What adjustments were made, and why is the defense playing better?

I would say it was more than grumbling. It was torches and pitchforks from a fan base who wanted defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon fired midseason.

In fairness to him, it took him a while to learn what his personnel did well. Not sure he’s completely figured it out, even now, but he is playing to certain players’ strengths better, such as Fletcher Cox.

He wants to run a scheme where his linebackers make plays and tackles, with D-linemen occupying blockers, but personnel-wise, with the Eagles not putting many resources at the LB position, he is short-handed.

Gannon has dialed up more blitzes as he’s learned to trust his secondary – again, it’s a unit short-handed at safety due to a lack of resource being spent there by the front office. He also allows his D-lineman to attack a little more than sitting back reading and occupying blockers.

QB Jalen Hurts has become more comfortable in his role. Where has he taken his most significant leap, and what makes him so dangerous to an opponent?

Defenses have to play the Eagles differently due to Hurts’ ability to make plays with his legs, giving them a so-called plus-one edge in the backfield. He leads this team in rushing yardage with 618. He became the first QB in team history to run for three TDs and now has eight.

The Eagles are also calling more designed runs for him, whereas they wanted him to play more from the pocket. Hurts has needed time to adjust to life in the pocket, though, something he never really did much in college, always fleeing at the first whiff of pressure. He has also been more accurate with some of his throws, but I think a big part of that is the Eagles running attack, which has taken off the last month.

Hurts is also getting more comfortable in a new offense. Last week against the Saints, he had six rushing first downs on third downs and was 6-for-10 for 95 yards in the air on third down for another five first downs.

Coming into this year, the linebackers were a question mark. Have they figured that out yet, or is that group still a concern?

The Eagles just don’t see that as an area they want to invest in. Last year’s third-round pick, Davion Taylor, was coming on strong the past month but suffered a knee injury that required surgery earlier in the week, so he’s on IR.

Last year’s breakout player, Alex Singleton, who had 120 tackles, but is very limited, was benched for Taylor but will now return as the starter.

Where the Eagles have done well at this spot was inserting T.J. Edwards at middle LB. A former undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin in 2019, he was just given a one-year contract extension. He has had 44 tackles in the four games since taking over as the starter, with an interception and a fumble recovery in last week’s win over the Saints.

They could still use a bona fide playmaker at that position, however.

What are your three keys for an Eagles win?

Run the ball. For the first time since 1978, they have run for more than 200 yards in back-to-back games and have the league’s second-best rushing attack with 153.4 yards per game.

Get the ball to Dallas Goedert and DeVonta Smith in the passing game. The tight end and rookie WR have been integral parts of the passing game. Both players are heavily targeted and give the offense an inside (Goedert)/outside (Smith) threat.

Pressure Daniel Jones. The Eagles haven’t had a sack in the last two games, though they did a good job getting pressure against Trevor Siemian last week.

What matchup in this game most intrigues you and why?

Evan Engram vs. Eagles linebackers. Tight ends have given the Eagles problems all season, and Engram has had some success against Philly in the past.

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