June 30, 2022
This week, all week long, we're taking a negative look at each of the teams in the NFC East, in detail. Today we'll finish out the series with the Philadelphia Eagles.
🔥 DUMPSTER FIRE SERIES 🔥
Prior to the start of the 2021 season, the general consensus was that Jalen Hurts had one season to prove beyond a doubt that he was "the guy" at quarterback for the Eagles, and that if he didn't, the team would either be aggressive in trying to trade for a star vet, or they would select a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft.
As it turned out, the Eagles did indeed have interest in trading for Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, but their interest was not mutual, as neither Wilson nor Watson wanted to come to Philly. It was also an extremely weak quarterback draft class, as only one was selected in the first two rounds (Kenny Pickett at 20th overall).
And so, the Eagles had no choice but to throw their full support behind Hurts for the 2022 season, but make no mistake, they were shopping for an upgrade, and they set themselves up to be able to draft or trade for a quarterback in 2023, as evidenced by their seeking out of an extra first-round pick in 2023, which they were able to extract from the Saints.
The Eagles like Hurts, of course, or they wouldn't have selected him in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. However, the reality is that they drafted him to be a competent backup to the injury-prone Carson Wentz, and then, yada yada yada, Wentz was gone, and Hurts was what was left. When the Eagles picked Hurts, the plan certainly wasn't for him to be the Eagles' starting quarterback in 2021.
Hurts had some impressive games, but he was inconsistent, and he left a bad final impression. If you followed us during the 2021 season, you know that we kept a "stock up - stock down" weekly progress report on Hurts. It looked like this:
The tale of the tape:
📈 = 6 games
📉 = 5 games
😐 = 5 games
🪑 = 2 games
If we're being real, there were only six games out of 18 last season in which you could really feel better about Hurts as a long-term answer than you did before the day began.
Because of his athletic ability, Hurts can make plays with his legs that only a small number of quarterbacks in the league can make. He has also widely been praised for his intelligence and leadership qualities. However, his two biggest concerns entering the 2021 season were his accuracy, as well as his decision-making and willingness to make quick, decisive throws from the pocket. Those concerns remain.
In the playoffs in Tampa, Hurts threw wildly all over the field, missing receivers long, short, left, right, and everything in between. He also failed to pull the trigger on passes to receivers who were wide open for potential big plays, like here:
Ultimately, the Eagles' season ended partly because Hurts' most concerning preseason attributes showed up in a big way in their final game.
Going forward, it feels like Eagles fans/media/team personnel are nearly unanimous in their belief that Hurts will improve in his third NFL season. I believe the possibility for regression is being underestimated.
Wait, regression, as in, he could go in the wrong direction? Sure, why not? It happens. Certainly, Tampa did not respect the Eagles' ability to beat them through the air. They made Hurts stay in the pocket, or if he was going to escape, they made sure it was to his left, where he is clearly not comfortable.
That's Hurts 👆. Can't go left.
Opposing teams now have a full season's worth of Hurts' tape and tendencies to figure out how to make life difficult for him, and he'll have to prove he can adjust.
The Eagles' defense in 2021 was fine against bad quarterbacks, but they barely made the good ones break a sweat. A visual:
|Opposing QB||QB rating vs. Eagles|
|Dak Prescott, Cowboys (Week 3)||143.3|
|Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs||131.1|
|Justin Herbert, Chargers||123.2|
|Tom Brady, Buccaneers (Playoffs)||115.2|
|Derek Carr, Raiders||113.6|
|Tom Brady, Buccaneers (Week 6)||102.1|
|Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers||100.6|
|Daniel Jones, Giants||94.0|
|Jared Goff, Lions||90.6|
|Zach Wilson, Jets||83.9|
|Garrett Gilbert, WFT||81.9|
|Taylor Heinicke, WFT||81.6|
|Teddy Bridgewater, Broncos||79.2|
|Trevor Siemian, Saints||74.4|
|Matt Ryan, Falcons||71.6|
|Jake Fromm / Mike Glennon, Giants||46.8|
|Sam Darnold, Panthers||44.5|
The good/great quarterbacks performed better against the Eagles than the bad ones, which, you know, makes sense. However, the Eagles made life far too easy on the good quarterbacks, who picked apart the Eagles' soft coverage defense with ease. The super basic way of putting it is that they took what Gannon's defense gave them until the ball was in the end zone. It often looked like this:
Five quarterbacks completed at least 80 percent of their passes against the Eagles last season.
|QB||Att-Comp (%)||Yards (YPA)||TD-INT||Rating|
|Dak Prescott, Cowboys||21-26 (80.8%)||238 (9.2)||3-0||143.3|
|Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs||24-30 (80.0%)||278 (9.3)||5-1||131.0|
|Tom Brady, Buccaneers||34-42 (81.0%)||297 (7.1)||2-1||102.1|
|Derek Carr, Raiders||31-34 (91.2%)||323 (9.5)||2-1||113.6|
|Justin Herbert, Chargers||32-38 (84.2%)||356 (9.4)||2-0||123.2|
How uncommon is that? Well, between 1950-2020, the Eagles allowed just 6 quarterbacks to complete 80-plus percent of their throws (min. 25 attempts), per ESPN Stats & Info (via Tim McManus).
Those five games against "The 80 Percent Club" occurred within the first nine games of the season, by the way. After Herbert, the Eagles pretty much faced trash offenses the rest of the way, largely handled them, and they made the playoffs as the 7 seed.
Waiting for them in the first round of the playoffs was Tom Brady. In the leadup to that game, I remember most believing that the Eagles' defense had made all the necessary fixes and that they'd be more competitive against Brady this time around. Wrong ❌. The Bucs got out to a 31-0 lead, with Brady putting up big numbers, even with the Bucs taking their foot off the gas as early as the third quarter.
The Eagles have better players this year on defense, but that won't matter much if Gannon keeps playing these foofy soft shell defenses against good quarterbacks.
The Eagles beat one team with a winning record last season. A list of the teams they beat:
|1||Falcons (Matt Ryan)||7-10||30||-146|
|5||Panthers (Sam Darnold)||5-12||27||-100|
|8||Lions (Jared Goff)||3-13-1||29||-142|
|10||Broncos (Teddy Bridgewater)||7-10||18||+13|
|11||Saints (Trevor Siemian)||9-8||14||+29|
|13||Jets (Zach Wilson)||4-13||26||-194|
|15||Commanders (Garrett Gilbert)||7-10||22||-99|
|16||Giants (Mike Glennon / Jake Fromm)||4-13||31||-158|
|17||Commanders (Taylor Heinicke)||7-10||22||-99|
Those teams had a combined record of 53-99-1, with a combined point differential of -896. I mean, look at these quarterbacks.
The only team the Eagles beat that had a winning record was the Saints, who were missing Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramczyk, Andrus Peat, and their starting quarterback.
Yeah yeah, you can only play who is on your schedule. Of course, the Eagles lost to every other team on their schedule. They're clearly better than the worst teams in the NFL. They were also clearly not on the level of the good teams they faced last year.
It's worth noting that the Eagles have an easy schedule again in 2022, at least on paper. However, racking up a lot of wins against awful opponents might not be what's best for the long-term interests of the team. You can get a false sense of reality about the talent on the roster, which is potentially dangerous particularly in the case of Hurts, who will be eligible for a contract extension next offseason. Long-term mistakes can be made on false positives.
The 2021 Eagles lost a few key starters early in the season in Brandon Graham and Brandon Brooks, but otherwise did not lose anyone of major importance for long stretches of time. Their opponents often had major injury issues.
The following are the bottom 10 injury luck teams in the NFL in 2021, according to Football Outsiders:
|Team||Adjusted games lost (to injury)|
The Eagles played 10 of their games in 2021 against those teams. They were 7-3 in those games.
The following is a week-by-week look at the notable players who were deactivated against the Eagles last season (omitting their meaningless Week 18 game against Dallas):
|Week||Opponent||Notable inactive players|
|1||Falcons||No noteworthy absences.|
|2||49ers||CB Jason Verrett, CB Emmanuel Moseley, CB Ambry Thomas, LB Dre Greenlaw, RB Raheem Mostert, RB Jeffrey Wilson|
|3||Cowboys||DE DeMarcus Lawrence, RT La'el Collins, WR Michael Gallup, DT Neville Gallimore, S Donovan Wilson|
|4||Chiefs||DE Frank Clark, CB Charvarius Ward, CB Rashad Fenton, LB Willie Gay|
|5||Panthers||RB Christian McCaffrey, LT Cameron Erving, LB Shaq Thompson, CB Jaycee Horn, CB Stephon Gilmore|
|6||Buccaneers||TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Lavonte David, S Antoine Winfield, CB Carlton Davis, CB Sean Murphy-Bunting|
|7||Raiders||TE Darren Waller, LG Richie Incognito, RG Denzelle Good, CB Trayvon Mullen, LB Nicholas Morrow|
|8||Lions||C Frank Ragnow, LT Taylor Decker, CB Jeff Okudah, CB Ifeatu Melifonwu, DE Romeo Okwara, WR Tyrell Williams|
|9||Chargers||CB Michael Davis, CB Asante Samuel Jr., RT Bryan Bulaga, RG Oday Aboushi, LB Kenneth Murray|
|10||Broncos||Edge Bradley Chubb, LT Garrett Bolles, RT Bobby Massie, RG Grahamn Glasgow, WR KJ Hamler|
|11||Saints||QB Jameis Winston, RB Alvin Kamara, WR Michael Thomas, LT Terron Armstead, RT Ryan Ramczyk, LG Andrus Peat, DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson|
|12||Giants||LB Blake Martinez, WR Kadarius Toney, WR Sterling Shepard, CB Logan Ryan, S Jabrill Peppers, C Nick Gates, LG Shame Lemieux|
|13||Jets||LT Mekhi Becton, S Marcus Maye, DE Carl Lawson, RB Michael Carter, DT Sheldon Rankins|
|15||Commanders||QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB Taylor Heinicke, QB Kyle Allen, DE Chase Young, RG Brandon Scherff, CB Kendall Fuller, TE Logan Thomas, C Chase Roullier, C Tyler Larson, S Cam Kurl, WR Curtis Samuel|
|16||Giants||QB Daniel Jones, CB Adoree Jackson, LB Blake Martinez, WR Sterling Shepard, S Jabrill Peppers, C Nick Gates, LG Shame Lemieux, CB Darnay Holmes|
|17||Commanders||QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, DE Chase Young, DE Montez Sweat, CB William Jackson, S Landon Collins, RB Antonio Gibson, TE Logan Thomas, RT Sam Cosmi, C Chase Roullier, LG Ereck Flowers, RB J.D. McKissic, WR Curtis Samuel|
|WC||Buccaneers||WR Chris Godwin, WR Antonio Brown, RB Leonard Fournette, CB Sean Murphy-Bunting, RB Ronald Jones, CB Richard Sherman|
A minimum of 22 (!) players with at least 1 career Pro Bowl to their credit missed a game against the Eagles last year.
Again, look at the quality of Saints players who were missing against the Eagles last year, or how absurdly depleted the Commanders were in both Eagles matchups. Those games were gimmes that otherwise would have been far more competitive. Hell, the Eagles needed a last minute Rodney McLeod INT to beat a Commanders team missing 11 starters.
Oh, and a total of 21 cornerbacks are on that list, and the Eagles rarely made those teams pay through the air.
The Eagles will say that they don't care how they win, as long as they win, which is no doubt a true statement. However, they have communicated in the past that they feel that the way to win Super Bowls is to have a deadly passing attack.
Heading into the 2021 season, it seemed clear that the Eagles' offensive personnel was better suited toward a run-heavy attack. They had a great run-blocking offensive line, a quarterback who could make plays with his legs, and young, unproven receivers. The Eagles' staff could certainly see what we all saw, too.
Still, through the first six or so weeks of the season, they tried to be something they weren't set up to be, which was an offense built around the passing game. It did not go well, and after the first month and a half of the season, they transitioned into the most run-heavy offense in the NFL. That version of the offense got them to the playoffs.
Teams like the Titans, Ravens, and 49ers are fine with owning that kind of identity, but make no mistake — that is not what the Eagles want to be, long-term.
Heading into 2022, they for sure want more balance, at a minimum. It will be a juggling act between (a) the continued evaluation of Hurts as a passer, (b) keeping guys like DeVonta Smith, A.J. Brown, and Dallas Goedert happy with their target allotments, and (c) knowing when to lean heavily on their rushing attack to win games in the short-term.
There will always be second-guessing after losses in Philly, but that has the potential to ramp up significantly in 2022 when things don't go right.
Over the last six games of the season in 2021, the Eagles got out to slow starts in every game.
|1st quarter scoring||Eagles||Opponent|
|Week 12: At Giants||0||3|
|Week 13: At Jets||7||12|
|Week 15: Washington||0||10|
|Week 16: Giants||0||0|
|Week 17: At Washington||0||10|
|Wild card round: At Buccaneers||0||14|
They lost to the Giants Week 12, never being able to get on track offensively. In Weeks 15 and 17, they were able to weather the storm against the aforementioned severely depleted Commanders, but it took a while. If Washington didn't have like 15 players on the COVID list, maybe the outcome of one (or both?) of those games are different. Against a good team in the playoffs, and with a roster not constructed to be able to throw all day, the Eagles were all but eliminated by the first few minutes of the third quarter after getting down early.
At some point during the 2021 regular season, Nick Sirianni handed off play calling duties to offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. It feels like the general belief is that Steichen did a good job calling plays and the staff as a whole did a good job with their late-season game plans, based on the Eagles' 6-1 record to close the season (omitting the meaningless Week 18 game).
Did they though? If the Eagles had played better teams (even average ones) and came out flat the way the did every week down the stretch, they're probably not winning those games.
The Eagles have gotten favorable scheduling the last few years, and they (along with the rest of the NFC East) have an easy schedule in terms of strength of opponents. BUT... they have two significant disadvantages in 2022.
• They have road games on three straight weekends, a major disadvantage that schedule makers try to avoid. Oh, and they occur late in the season, in Weeks 14, 15, and 16. Oh, and the third game of that three-game stretch occurs on a short week of rest against the Eagles' most dangerous divisional rival, the Cowboys, and on Christmas Eve, no less.
• Four of their eight road games are on short rest.
Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps will likely start, and the team added Jaquiski Tartt for depth. There are worse safety groups in the NFL, but this is obviously not a position of strength.
I've seen the safety position be hand-waived away as not all that important because the Eagles played a lot of soft shell coverages last season, which makes the safeties' jobs easier. Of course, if they play a lot of soft shell coverages against good quarterbacks again in 2022 they have much bigger problems, as explained in reason No. 2 above.
This poor punter. After the Eagles added players to almost every other positional group this offseason, there's been little left to focus on, so the heat has been turned up on Arryn Siposs, who was a shankopotamus machine at the end of the 2021 season.
Earlier this offseason, special teams coordinator Michael Clay spoke with Philly media. The Eagles got a Pro Bowl caliber season out of kicker Jake Elliott and they had recently added a world record-threatening hurdler with potential return ability, and Clay's first four questions were about the punter, lol.
That's not a criticism of my colleagues, to be clear. I missed that presser, but if I had been there, it would have been five or six straight questions about the punter.
The Eagles have made a lot of notable additions this offseason. On the defensive side of the ball, there's edge rusher Haason Reddick, CB James Bradberry, DT Jordan Davis, LB Nakobe Dean, and LB Kyzir White. On offense, of course, they traded a first-round pick for WR A.J. Brown.
The last few offseasons, the Eagles have been sort of an afterthought. This offseason, the hype is back and Eagles fans are confident. The vibes:
I get the excitement, but it does feel just a smidge premature. We don't really know about the quarterback yet. Or the head coach. The defensive coordinator might be bad. They didn't beat a single good team last year, they had major injury luck (both ways), and they don't really want their offensive identity to be what it probably should be.
And yet, the city is basically like, nah f*** all that.
There are few things more obnoxious than confident Eagles fans. I say this with love, of course. Please don't hurt me or my family, thanks.
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