Our Interview with the Enemy series continues this week with Brandon Gowton from Bleeding Green Nation. Brandon joins us to answer a few quick questions before the Philadelphia Eagles face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
TH: QB Jalen Hurts is battling a shoulder injury that caused him to miss last week’s game against the Cowboys. The Eagles lost that game, so they are still trying to lock up the #1 seed in the NFC and need just one more win to do so. Do you think Hurts will play Sunday or will they let him rest another week and not risk further injury?
BG: As of me typing this answer at 10:52 AM Eastern on Thursday morning, I do not think Hurts plays. He was listed under “Did Not Participate” on Wednesday’s walk-through. I’m guessing he won’t practice on Thursday, which would basically confirm his absence.
If Hurts is healthy, the Eagles should obviously play him. If he’s not, there’s no good reason to risk it at this point. Philly’s offense put up 442 yards and 27 points with Gardner Minshew under center against the No. 2 DVOA defense last week. Minshew did throw two picks but it’s not like they were both awful passes by him as much as there was blame to share between his intended target (Quez Watkins) and the coaching staff.
When news of Hurts’ shoulder injury first emerged, it was said that he could miss two games. The Eagles will hope to beat the Saints and clinch the No. 1 seed so that they can let Hurts rest until the divisional round (although maybe they give him some limited snaps in Week 18 to guard against rust).
TH: The Eagles are currently 13-2 after finishing last season 9-8. What is the biggest thing that has attributed to their success this season?
BG: The 2022 Eagles are much more talented than the 2021 Eagles. A.J. Brown leads the team in receiving. Wasn’t on the roster last year. Haason Reddick leads the team in sacks. Wasn’t on the roster last year. C.J. Gardner-Johnson leads the team (and the entire NFL) in interceptions. Wasn’t on the roster last year. Howie Roseman deserves a lot of credit for remaking the roster. He really rebounded after the Eagles’ post-Super Bowl decline. Of course, Jalen Hurts’ improvement is another huge factor. His growth as a passer is nearly unprecedented. He really made a Josh Allen-like leap in this regard. Hurts is also obviously very dangerous as a runner. In addition to being able to generate yards touchdowns with his legs, the threat of his mobility aids the Eagles’ running backs. The Saints know this well from their struggles to defend him the past two years. I imagine New Orleans is happy to likely see Minshew instead of Hurts.
TH: Is there an Eagles player who was not on many people’s radars, that has really stood out to you so far this season and why?
BG: Reed Blankenship fits this description. Signing with the Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Middle Tennessee, it seemed like he was destined for a practice squad spot at best. But Blankenship impressed during training camp practices. He showed a real knack for being in the right position to make plays in coverage or in run support. Even though he demonstrated promise, Blankenship was not necessarily a lock to make the roster. He did end up making the team, but he was a healthy scratch earlier in the season. Blankenship did not play a defensive snap until Week 11, when it became clear he overtook K’Von Wallace as the team’s third safety behind starters CJGJ and Marcus Epps. With CJGJ suffering a lacerated kidney in Week 12, Blankenship was forced into his first extensive NFL game action. He rose to the challenge by making an incredible play to jump a route and pick off Aaron Rodgers. Blankenship suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss Week 15 and potentially hampered him in Week 16 as well. He’ll likely be starting for the Eagles again this weekend with CJGJ seemingly not ready to return despite being eligible to be activated. The Saints should be looking to test Blankenship. He might give up a big play or two. But he’s also capable of making an impact in Philly’s favor.
TH: What is the biggest obstacle the Eagles will face in order defeat the Saints on Sunday?
BG: After being healthy for most of the season, the Eagles are pretty banged up right now. We already touched on Minshew likely filling in for Hurts (former Saints draft pick Ian Book will be the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback, by the way). New injuries to emerge from Week 16 included Lane Johnson and Avonte Maddox getting hurt. They’re both not playing this week. The Eagles still have a strong offensive line without Johnson but he’s such a great player that the drop-off from him to almost anyone else is massive. Jack Driscoll going up against Cameron Jordan is not an enticing matchup for the Eagles. The Saints will also potentially be able to pick on Josiah Scott and/or K’Von Wallace lining up in place of Maddox in the slot. Miles Sanders’ status is also something to watch. He was listed under DNP on Wednesday. Two of Sanders’ top 12 games in terms of total rushing yards have come against the Saints. His 30 carries against New Orleans have gone for 209 yards (6.97 average) and two touchdowns. If Sanders can’t play, the Eagles are down to Boston Scott (another former Saint), Kenneth Gainwell, and Trey Sermon. Those guys are best suited to be committee backs as opposed to a lead option like Sanders.
TH: According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Eagles are 6.5-point favorites. Do you think they cover the spread and what is your final score prediction?
BG: The line has actually shifted down to the Eagles ‘only’ being favored by 5.5 points as of me typing this answer.
I like New Orleans to cover in this spot. I’m actually taking Saints +5.5 as my Lock Of The Week for this week’s Friday episode of The SB Nation NFL Show. I know their playoff hopes are slim, but they need to win in order to stave off elimination. I think they give the Eagles a good fight in a game that Philly ultimately wins with the No. 1 seed on the line. The Eagles don’t want to be in a spot where they HAVE to win in Week 18 to avoid blowing their chance at clinching home field advantage. Final score: Eagles 21, Saints 17.
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