NFL Analysis


7 min read

What Went Wrong for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2023?

Jalen Hurts sits helmetless on the bench looking distraught
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) reacts during the second half of a 2024 NFC wild card game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. (Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports)

The Philadelphia Eagles broke at some point during the 2023 season.

Yes, along the way, tiny cracks appeared — on their own, though, they weren’t dangerous. But by the end of Philadelphia’s 32-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wild-card round, those cracks combined to cause the Eagles to fall apart.

This team was 10-1 at one point in the season. While they were never as good as the record indicated — they were ninth in DVOA with that league-best record — no one could have imagined how far the team would fall.

Philadelphia finished the season 14th in DVOA after a 1-5 record to close out the regular season. There wasn’t just a massive vibe shift from the start of the season, there was a complete lack of confidence as the train went off the rails in the final weeks.

The Eagles couldn’t make the necessary changes on the fly during the season, and now they’re left with a more difficult task: figuring out what to do in the offseason. Those decisions will start with the coaching staff. When the season began, it would've been preposterous to wonder if Nick Sirianni’s job would be in danger.

Now, it's preposterous to wonder if it’s not.

This team already had to replace both coordinators last offseason. If Sirianni stays, is it possible the Eagles will have to do the same again?

Matt Patricia and Howie Roseman
Philadelphia Eagles assistant coach Matt Patricia stands with general manager Howie Roseman before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Eagles' Defensive Gambles Backfired

Coaching felt like the biggest disconnect between the 2022 team and the 2023 version. Sean Desai was brought in as defensive coordinator to replace Jonathan Gannon. The idea was to bring in and expand some Vic Fangio–style defense, but that never completely clicked with the personnel. Light boxes and an inconsistent secondary left the Eagles gashed for big plays regularly.

Through Week 14, the Eagles were 30th in both EPA and points per drive, per TruMedia. At that time, it was reported defensive assistant Matt Patricia would handle defensive play-calling and Desai (not fired) would be reassigned.

Philadelphia was worse on defense after the switch.

Patricia wasn’t the answer, but he also wasn’t the biggest problem. The same could be said for Desai. Instead, some of the Eagles’ gambles backfired on that side of the ball. Philadelphia has rarely put assets into the off-ball linebacker position and allowed safeties C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps to leave in free agency.

That left a young, cheap, and inexperienced spine of the defense.

On short passes, the Eagles were 31st in DVOA. On throws to the middle of the field, they ranked 26th. Last season, those ranks were sixth and 10th, respectively. By the end of the season, the Eagles tried to fill those spots with veterans such as Kevin Byard and Shaq Leonard, neither of whom made an impact.

Theoretically, Philadelphia could take those gambles up the middle because the outside was the strength of the defense. But after finishing 2022 ninth in success rate against throws outside the numbers, the Eagles were 27th in 2023.

Cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry played more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps in 2022 and were one of the best duos in the league. Their 2023 versions were various levels of injured and ineffective.

Coverage wasn’t helped by the pass rush as much as it was last season. In 2022, the Eagles turned a good pressure rate into a historic sack rate (11.9 percent), while the 2023 version turned a decent pressure rate into a below-average sack rate (6.2, 24th).

Last year’s defense was based on the idea the Eagles had better players than their opponents. The scheme was simple enough but effective because of who was executing it.

Offense Never Seemed to have a Good Plan

That idea — that Philadelphia could beat opponents with its more talented players — felt like the 2023 offense’s philosophy for much of the season, too. With Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert, the offense typically figured things out. The unit wasn’t as dominant as it was last season, but there were moments when the talent took over.

But as the season progressed, the lack of a plan was more apparent. That was especially true against the blitz. Hurts has struggled throughout his career against the blitz, but that has stemmed from his desire to attempt to outrun the pressure and extend the play.

Last season, Hurts had a nine percent sack rate against the blitz, which was 24th among quarterbacks. This season, Hurts was only sacked on 4.7 percent of dropbacks when blitzed, which ranked fourth; his 10.2 percent pressure-to-sack rate was third-best. 

There weren’t many easy answers when he threw the ball, though. On blitzes that got pressure, Hurts’ response was to throw deep — 22.5 percent of his pass attempts on pressured blitzes went 20 or more air yards. Those were boom-or-bust plays that didn't typically boom.

When Hurts tried to get the ball out quickly, the offense didn’t function. He was 29th in EPA per play against blitzes when he tried to get the ball out within 2.5 seconds. Philadelphia's idea was to run the offense as normal, which put a ton of stress on Hurts making the right read and throw rather than having a hot read designed to beat a blitz.

Because the Eagles worked from empty so often, defenses knew Philadelphia would be left with just five men in protection. Hurts was the second-most blitzed quarterback in empty during the regular season, behind only Justin Fields. That showed in the wild-card game when the Buccaneers forced quick pressures on the blitz.

Hurts was also banged up throughout the season, which limited the quarterback run game. Without that element, the Eagles didn’t have a counter to keep defenses off-balance. While everything worked together and players built off each other in the offense last season, the 2023 version was disjointed.

The running backs' rushing game was disappointing. The Eagles led the league in yards before contact per rush, but just 9.9 percent of Philadelphia’s running back carries went for 10 or more yards, the 15th-best rate in the league.

Overall, this was a team that could not create explosives as often as it did in 2022.

By the end of the season, the offense was barely functioning and lost to the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals and had a no-show against the Buccaneers.

Where Does Philadelphia Go From Here?

Now, the question is how much of Philadelphia's issues can be fixed and what needs to change for that to happen.

If the Eagles want, they can keep much of this team together. The only big pending free agents are Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and D’Andre Swift — while the team has a projected $29 million in cap space, according to Over The Cap. 

But how much of this team can stay the same?

The Eagles were the second-oldest team in the league this season by snap-weighted age. All-Pro center Jason Kelce just announced his retirement. Slay just turned 33 years old. Bradberry will turn 31 in August. 

Philadelphia has made an effort to add depth before it's needed. Still, this offseason, the team might have to fill more immediate needs than it has had to in a while. This won't exactly be a difficult transition, but there will be difficult questions asked in order to get there.

Under Howie Roseman, the Eagles haven't been afraid to make the bold move. In his view, the worst thing to be is complacent. After a trip to the Super Bowl, Philadelphia looked poised to continue a run at the top of the league.

Just a year removed, the Eagles must figure out how much of that team will give them the best chance to get back to the top of the NFC.