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September 29, 2021

What they're saying: The Eagles have some problems. Big ones.

Eagles NFL
Nick_Sirianni_14_Eagles_49ers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni walks the sidelines during a recent game.

Following a 20-point loss to the Dallas Cowboys, it might not be all that easy for Eagles fans to point fingers, simply because they don't have enough digits. 

There's plenty of blame to go around now that the Birds are 1-2 and any good vibes following their Week 1 win over the Falcons have totally evaporated. Nick Sirianni? You bet. Jalen Hurts? For sure. The defense? Absolutely, as long as you're not named Fletcher Cox or Javon Hargrave. 

So, we're just going to rip the band-aid off and get right into this week's edition of What They're Saying, which features some harsh but needed criticism, as well as some explanations from the head coach, specifically when it comes to his play-calling and his team's lack of discipline. 

Let's dive right in... 

Philly, we have a problem

Mike Sielski | The Philadelphia Inquirer

We'll start over at, where columnist Mike Sielski laments the Eagles' lack of talent (especially at key positions) in a division that doesn't require much to be a contender. 

That’s all it would take to compete in the NFC East: respectability. The Giants are 0-3 and awful. Washington lost its starting quarterback, and its defense has been shredded each week. But after these last two games, after Sirianni’s too-cute play-calling cost them against the 49ers and Dallas simply destroyed them, the Eagles are putting on full display the limitations of their roster and the confusion within their culture. They’re not good enough to get away with the mistakes that they too often make, and those errors are putting Sirianni and his coaches, a staff still trying to establish credibility, at a crossroads.

This season was always going to be a test for the Eagles’ inexperienced people in important positions, for those whose futures with the franchise were still undetermined, and these three games have shown everyone something about those people. Jordan Mailata and DeVonta Smith seem to have the stuff to stick around a while. Jalen Reagor, from his zigzagging punt returns to his uncertain pass routes, makes one wonder what the Eagles saw in him to make him a first-round pick. Jalen Hurts relies too much on his first read being open, isn’t accurate enough on intermediate throws — the out he tried to throw to Smith that Trevon Diggs intercepted and returned 59 yards for a touchdown was too far to the inside — and his deep passes tend to flutter and descend like tipsy pigeons. Jonathan Gannon, the new defensive coordinator, has some creativity to go with his blitz schemes. His unit lost its mano a mano matchups to Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offensive line Monday night. Let’s see what Gannon can do if and when his personnel is better.

But it’s Sirianni who still has the most questions swirling around him, and he did little to answer any of them Monday. If anything, questions multiplied, and the scrutiny that he will face for his answers increased.  []

Unfortunately for Sirianni, things aren't about to get any easier, as the Eagles will play a pair of currently undefeated teams over the next month... plus the Chiefs and Bucs. If the Eagles treat those games as ones they need to win rather than ones in which they need to grow, we're going to see a lot more outcomes like we saw on Monday night. 

The truth Hurts

Brandon Lee Gowton | Bleeding Green Nation

After an impressive performance in Week 1, the Eagles might have a Jalen Hurts problem. Sure, he did the right thing and shouldered the blame for the loss — that what leaders are supposed to do — but the results speak for themselves. And he's now putting enough on tape that opposing defensive coordinators should be able to gameplan around his weaknesses, like the fact that he sometimes leaves the pocket too quickly or continues to under-throw receivers on deep balls. 

Over at Bleeding Green Nation as part of his NFC East Mixtape podcast with RJ Ochoa of Blogging The Boys, BLG gives a us a sobering reminder that in Year 2, this might simply be what Jalen Hurts is. Here's his full response of being "realistic" about what Jalen Hurts was coming into this year.

The Hurts discussion is a little frustrating for me coming out of the game. I think there’s a little too much of like ‘Oh, he’s young, he’s a rookie.’ Which, we said, he’s not. That’s literally not up for debate. He is very much not a rookie. He’s a young player, he’s inexperienced, that much is true.

But my problem with this conversation is that you can’t just assume because a player is young and they struggle that they are DEFINITELY going to get better. I think not enough people, when it comes to NFL players in general and not just quarterbacks, can’t accept that a player, what they are, might largely be what they are. Not to say Jalen Hurts can’t ever get better and this is his peak and obviously it’s not because we’ve seen him play better than this. But I think this is giving you a realistic picture of what he is. I don’t think it’s wildly off-base. Just not the one [Cowboys] game but the whole sample we’ve seen this season thus far. I don’t think this is wildly off what Jalen Hurts is and is to come.

I think it’s clear that the Eagles had concerns about Jalen Hurts. This isn’t some kind of elite prospect. This is a guy who got benched in college because he wasn’t good enough at passing. This is a guy who was taken in the second round, at 53 overall. This is a player who didn’t have the best training camp, as I said throughout training camp. This is a player who the Eagles clearly weren’t all in because they traded for a first-round pick next year from the Dolphins, they moved back in this year’s draft. And they also were super heavily connected to Deshaun Watson. There was a reason for all of those things. You can’t just assume Jalen Hurts is going to be the answer.

People WANT to believe Hurts is the answer and that is rational from the standpoint that it would be amazing for the Eagles if Jalen Hurts was really good and you could use those first-round picks you have in the 2022 NFL Draft to build around, as opposed to have to trade them for a quarterback. But just because you want that to happen doesn’t mean it’s realistic or it’s going to happen. And I think everything we’ve seen from him thus far points to him not clearing that high bar that I think the Eagles are going to have for him.  [Bleeding Green Nation]

Penalty problems

Chris Franklin |

And then there are the penalties. The Eagles are on pace to easily surpass the 2011 Raiders for the most in NFL history. They already have the most in franchise history through three games — and it's hard to win when you're constantly giving your opponents free downs and yards. 

One of the biggest offenders has been Derek Barnett, who is either seemingly always offsides or committing a personal foul — and somehow it's always the worst time. Sirianni was caught reacting to one of those penalties on Monday night. 

And while the penalties are worse than ever this year, it's also worth noting that this team wasn't great under Pederson last season.  

Caught by ESPN cameras, Sirianni was visibly frustrated that Barnett jumped offsides, and he appeared to mouth the words “It’s always him” after the play. Barnett’s penalty was one of 13 committed by the Eagles in their 41-21 loss to the Cowboys, which dropped them to 1-2. [...]

Sirianni inherited some of the problems with the pre-snap penalties. Last season, the Eagles were second in the league in false starts with 25 and tied for fifth overall in penalties with 107.

The Eagles’ 35 penalties through the first three games set a franchise record. The Oakland Raiders set the NFL record for most penalties in a season in 2011 when they committed 163. At the current rate the Eagles are racking up infractions, they would end up with 192 penalties, shattering the record.  []

Sirianni was asked again during his Wednesday press conference about how he's holding players accountable for dumb mistakes like pre-snap penalties. 

"I think when you hold a player to a standard -- I don't want to say it that way. When you hold a player to a standard, you just point out the mistakes. It's as simple as, ‘Hey, here's what went wrong, here's what the standard is,’ -- and that's what our job is to paint the picture," Sirianni explained. "Obviously, the standard in penalties is don't jump offsides. Both sides of the ball, right. But you paint the standard of what's required on each play, and when the play is met, when the standard is met on the play, you congratulate, and you get excited about it. When it's not, you correct it. It's really as simple as that."

There were also visuals.

"When we're watching tape, if this was the tape right here and we're watching the film right here," Sirianni said holding up a blank piece of paper as an example, "the play is up at the top, the numbers of who made a mistake on the play are down here at the bottom left. So that's every play that they watch, practice, game, it doesn't matter. It's down here at the bottom left. Every play they're getting corrected visually and then they'll hear us talk about it.

"The way you handle it is different every time. Sometimes it's, ‘Hey, we've got to do this here.’ Sometimes it's, ‘HEY, WE'VE GOT TO DO THIS’ -- the tone is different every time, and the tone and the way you do it every time is different. But what's very clear is, ‘Here's the standard. Here's what's expected.’ If we don't live up to that standard, we correct it. If we do, we high five, we congratulate each other."

I include all that to say this: Yes, Nick Sirianni really held up a blank piece of paper and created a meme that will probably get used quite a bit this season.

MORE: NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Week 4

Sirianni gets ratio'd

Reuben Frank | NBC Sports Philadelphia

I'm just going hand the floor over to Roob here, who absolutely destroyed Sirianni for his play-calling on Monday night, specifically the fact that he called 50 pass plays to just three runs (unless of course you use Sirianni Math, which we'll get to in a minute, and count RPOs that resulted in passes as run plays). But it's more than just that. The Eagles have a dynamic rusher in Miles Sanders. And I get wanting to save some tread on a young RBs tires in a year when you're not going to be a contender, but come on.

Any way, the floor is yours, Roob... 

I thought Doug Pederson was wasting Sanders’ talent, but Sirianni is taking it to a new level, and it’s painful to watch.

Sirianni explained giving Sanders only two carries by pointing out that the Eagles didn't have many plays in the first half and then fell behind in the second half.

Hogwash.   When the offense is struggling is exactly when you HAVE to involve Sanders, who’s a home run threat every time he touches the ball. Sirianni did the opposite. The worse the offense played, the deeper in mothballs Sanders wound up.

Use your gifted running back instead of chucking the ball every snap behind a battered offensive line with a young and struggling quarterback and MAYBE YOU’LL GAIN SOME YARDS AND HAVE MORE PLAYS IN THE FIRST HALF AND YOU WON’T BE DOWN 20 POINTS EARLY IN THE SECOND QUARTER.

I get that Sirianni is a rookie head coach and still finding his way, but this is basic stuff. He should know better. He has to know better.  [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

Unsurprisingly, that was the first topic Sirianni was asked about on Wednesday. Here's what he had to say... 

Q. You've taken some heat this week for play calling, especially with the run-pass ratio. How often did QB Jalen Hurts check out of the runs early in that first half? (Mike Kaye)

NICK SIRIANNI: There were some times there are going to be RPOs where we're reading somebody. So, one time we're expecting to hand it off, but the guy does something a little different than what we thought, and we pull the ball. That's going to happen; I get that. But as far as checking out of plays, we had some things that we were at the line of scrimmage doing, and there wasn't a lot of those, either.

Again, I do need to do a better job running the football. There's no question about that. We need to be able to do that to help us be a balanced team and help us win football games.

But sometimes RPOs do play out that way, and what we do is we count RPOs – if they're going to take a guy and replace – get him out of position for the pass, we actually count those as runs. But we've got to run the ball more.

Q. With those RPOs, obviously it can lend itself to an out of whack ratio. Does that bother you at all or are you okay living with that? (Dave Zangaro)

NICK SIRIANNI: I'm okay with living with that as far as the ratio, because, like I said, we're reading a guy, right? We're not blocking a guy, which it creates better angles for the entire offensive line when you do that, because you're just reading, ‘What did you do? Oh, you did that? I hand it off. Oh, you did this? I pull it.’ I'm comfortable with that. We count those as runs.

And I count Monopoly money as part of my personal wealth.

Jokes aside, even if there were five of those such instances, that's just eight rushing attempts by running backs. Better, but is it really?

A return to the run?

Staff | ESPN+

Will Sirianni completely flip the script this week? He should, because keeping the ball out of Patrick Mahomes' hands should be paramount against the Chiefs. That, and their run defense is one of the worst in the league. If Sirianni doesn't give a healthy dose of Sanders (and Kenneth Gainwell for that matter), then we might really have a problem here.

Who's a fringe fantasy player who should be started in Week 4?

[Dan] Graziano: Miles Sanders, RB, Eagles (vs. KC). The Chiefs have allowed 160.3 rushing yards per game. Only the Chargers have allowed more. Kansas City has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to running backs. Eagles running backs amassed a grand total of three carries in Monday night's loss to the Cowboys, which means Nick Sirianni & Co. will be hearing (and likely talking) all week about how they need to try and run the ball more. Teams tend to go run heavy against the Chiefs, who have yet to show they can really stop it. I wouldn't expect Sirianni to all of a sudden turn run heavy, but I expect Sanders to be more involved. If he hits a big play or two, it could pay off for fantasy managers.  [ESPN]

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