Slow Down on the Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles Playoffs

The City of Brotherly Love is full of excitement. After a season that saw rookie Head Coach Nick Sirianni and first-year starter Jalen Hurts lead the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs, Howie Roseman spent the offseason adding talented players to the roster.

The Eagles acquired receiver A.J. Brown from the Tennessee Titans on night one of the NFL Draft and signed cornerback James Bradberry after he was released by the New York Giants.

The improvement of the Eagles’ roster, combined with their success of last season, should make them a guaranteed playoff team. However, the Eagles are far more flawed than most are admitting, which could leave them on the outside looking in when Week 18 comes and goes.

2021 Season

The Eagles were the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoffs in 2021. They finished the season by winning four of their last five games, earning a 9-8 record and the final wildcard spot. Then they got thoroughly exposed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 31-15 loss.

The Eagles didn’t boast an impressive track record despite making the postseason. Including playoffs, the Eagles were 1-8 in games against teams with winning records. In those nine games, they allowed 40 points three times, including twice to the Dallas Cowboys (41 and 51 points, respectively).

In the eight losses, the Eagles lost by an average score of 35-22. The only win Philadelphia had against a team with a winning record came against the Saints in Week 11, who had Trevor Siemian at quarterback and didn’t make the playoffs.

The complete list of the teams the Eagles defeated is as follows: Falcons, Panthers, Lions, Broncos, Saints, Jets, Commanders and Giants. Those teams’ combined win-loss record in 2021 was 46-77-1, good for a winning percentage of .360. In totality, the Eagles beat a lot of bad teams in 2021 and finished the season with a grand total of zero wins against playoff teams.

Jalen Hurts

Quarterback is the biggest question for the Eagles this season. Jalen Hurts, while dynamic as a runner, is far from being a good enough passer to succeed long-term in the NFL.

In 16 starts, including playoffs, Hurts threw for less than 200 yards nine times in 2021. The former Oklahoma signal-caller finished 26th in the league in yards per game, 22nd in passer rating and 19th in QBR. Hurts also finished 25th in touchdown passes and 28th in completion percentage.

An argument can be made Philadelphia is starting its second-best quarterback. Throughout the last two seasons, Gardner Minshew has unequivocally been the better passer. To compare, here are each of their numbers side by side:

Gardner Minshew (22 career starts):

63.2 completion percentage

221 passing yards per gam

93.9 passer rating

41 TDs, 12 INTs

Jalen Hurts (19 career starts):

59 completion percentage

140 passing yards per game

84.7 passer rating

22 TDs, 13 INTs

Minshew also had the best passing performance by an Eagles quarterback in 2021. It came when Minshew went 20-of-25 for 242 yards and two touchdowns in their Week 13 win against the Jets.

While Minshew may not bring the running ability Hurts does, he is the better passer. If Hurts struggles early in the season, Minshew could try to come in and right the ship.

A.J. Brown

The passing game is expected to take a big leap forward after the acquisition of Brown. While the former Titan is fantastic, whether or not Hurts can get him the ball consistently remains to be seen.

In 2020, Ryan Tannehill led the NFL in passing yards off of play action. Brown was the direct beneficiary of that, finishing with five receptions of 40+ yards, which was second in the league.

While playing without Derrick Henry for the majority of 2021, the Titans’ passing offense took a big hit, as did Brown’s production. He finished with just three receptions of 40+ yards, while the league-leader Cooper Kupp had nine. The Titans’ offense struggled as a whole to get anything going without Henry, and their regression in the passing game correlates with that.

Brown’s Fit in the Eagles’ Scheme

Philadelphia was a run-heavy team in 2021, but that didn’t necessarily translate to big plays off of play action. Hurts finished 13th in the NFL in yards off play action, and 21st  in completed air yards.

Plus, Brown will be sharing targets with the likes of Devonta Smith and Dallas Goedert. The former Ole Miss star hasn’t had a legitimate Robin to his Batman since his rise to stardom. Even last season when the Titans signed Julio Jones, he ended up playing in just 10 games and only caught 31 passes. In an offense that was 29th in pass attempts, how much will Brown get the ball? Can Hurts keep his three main targets satisfied?

It’s great to add a playmaker like Brown, but there has to be a schematic fit. The perfect example of this is when the Raiders acquired Randy Moss in 2005. Moss was coming off a historic run with the Vikings, but the fit wasn’t there with Oakland.

Kerry Collins was his quarterback, and things never clicked. The Hall of Fame receiver proceeded to have the two worst years of his career. In 2007, he was traded to New England and paired with Tom Brady. The duo broke several records together and got Moss’ legendary career back on track.

Ryan Tannehill needed a great run game to succeed, but his chemistry with Brown was unmatched allowing the two to develop one of the best deep ball connections in the league. The Eagles’ offense is drastically different from Tennessee’s. If a change of scenery can severely impact the production of a receiver who some consider the most talented at his position of all time, it can do the same to a talented guy like Brown.

2022 Outlook:

The Eagles have the second easiest strength of schedule in 2022. The Eagles over/under is set at 8.5 wins. On the surface, it would seem uneducated to not take the over. That said, several teams on their schedule have improved drastically from 2021. Weeks 1-6 for the Eagles is as follows:

Week 1: at Detroit Lions

Week 2: vs Minnesota Vikings

Week 3: at Washington Commanders

Week 4: vs Jacksonville Jaguars

Week 5: at Arizona Cardinals

Week 6: vs Dallas Cowboys

The Eagles dismantled the Lions 44-6 last season and will kick off their season in Detroit. The Lions have improved on both sides of the ball and could give Philadelphia a more competitive match than most are expecting going into Week 1.

The Vikings should take a step forward under new head coach Kevin O’Connell. Carson Wentz would love to stick it to his old team at least once this season. Doug Pederson will be equally motivated when he makes his first appearance in Philadelphia since being fired. They then close out the first part of their season against two playoff teams from a year ago in the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys.

The Eagles also have games against the Steelers, Colts, Packers and Titans. All four of those teams have upper echelon defenses.

NFC East Improvements

The Commanders are getting Chase Young back. Plus, they added receiver Jahan Dotson out of Penn State, as well as the aforementioned Wentz. The Giants are better, and they defeated Philadelphia once in 2021.

The Cowboys won the division last season, and still have a lot of weapons along with Dak Prescott at the helm. The NFC East may not be a juggernaut, but it has certainly improved.

The Eagles benefited from a top-heavy conference in 2021 and a weak bottom half of their division. They took advantage of playing bad teams but struggled against teams with more talent.

If Hurts can grow as a passer and keeps his playmakers happy, Philadelphia could live up to the lofty expectations. If he stays stagnant, and the offense doesn’t take a step forward, it will be a long year in the City of Brotherly Love.

Jarrett Bailey contributed to this report. 

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