Three ways the Eagles can go from pretender to contender

ATLANTA, GA – SEPTEMBER 12: Jalen Hurts #1 of the Philadelphia Eagles scrambles during the 2021 Week 1 NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 12, 2021 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles have endured a bumpy start to the 2021 season. Sitting with a record of 1-3, the road ahead is full of unknowns and the schedule is punishing. But that’s not to say that all hope should be abandoned. In fact, there is still plenty of reason to believe that this team could clinch an NFC playoff spot.

The bigger picture

Before we get to the reasons themselves, let’s zoom out for a second. The Cowboys lead the division at 3-1, as expected, but Washington sit on a pair of wins while New York are languishing at the bottom of the division tied with the Birds. The new expanded playoff format allows for an extra wildcard team to sneak into the playoff mix and we can easily set that as a benchmark for Philadelphia to reach.

With the Panthers, Bucs, and Raiders on deck, it’s fair to assume that the next three games could very easily be chalked up as predictable losses. The Chargers lie just a couple of weeks further out before things to begin to settle. But the nature of the NFL allows for upsets and if the Eagles can clinch even one of those games, it would be huge.

That leaves five divisional matchups and clashes with the Broncos, Jets, Lions, and Saints. All of a sudden, the idea of getting 7-8 wins doesn’t seem that unattainable. To do this, they’ll need to fix three big flaws.

Getting out of their own way

First and foremost, they absolutely have to stop taking so many penalties. On average, the team are losing 70 yards per game (29th in the NFL). They are suffering a league-high 11 flags per matchup. For context, they lost an average of 53 yards per game last year. It’s not just the penalties themselves, but the situations they’re being flagged in.

Whether legitimate calls or not, the JJ Arcega-Whiteside flag cost the team a touchdown. DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor have both had touchdowns called back and Kenny Gainwell had one rescinded in the opener.

Lane Johnson and Isaac Seumalo rank among the top-5 most penalized players in the league. Neither played in Sunday’s loss.

Inside the red zone, the calls have become both expected and debilitating and it’s not just on offense. If the Eagles are ever going to capitalize on what has honestly been some pretty impressive play aside from this anchor weighing them down, then they have to get out of their own way.

If the Eagles can find a way to improve their discipline, then the successes they do have will actually translate to what we see on the scoreboard as opposed to minor moral victories.

Accepting that change needs to happen

As far as the success of this team, it’s going to be very limited unless Nick Sirianni and Jonathan Gannon are willing to bend. This shouldn’t be too hard given how much the pair have preached that very sentiment all offseason, but looks can be deceiving.

For Sirianni, it’s as simple as running the ball. Miles Sanders has some scary potential in the tank and none of it is being used. It’s great to see Kenny Gainwell making an impact in the passing game, but the team have a disruptively agile running back who is already becoming frustrated with the lack of carries he’s getting. His teammates agree that Sanders needs to carry the rock and the sentiment surrounding the situation is that regardless of how you slice it, Jalen Hurts could do with some weight being taken off of his shoulders.

For Gannon, just get the linebackers off the field. If you’re rolling out the same zone shell every single time and four offenses have picked apart the middle of the field to a point where it’s now a trend, that should say something. The Eagles defensive coordinator is adamant that he’d rather have the extra linebacker on the field, but it’s problematic when lining up against 3 WR sets. The Eagles have versatile DB’s. Shake things up, bail out the defensive line and help get them off the field by presenting a man-matchup with corners who can at least force a QB to stay in the pocket a second longer.

Taking care of business

I mentioned it earlier, but the Eagles still have five divisional matchups on the slate. The main concern with these games is that each team possesses a lethal weapon in the run game and will matchup against a run defense leakier than a tap. Antonio Gibson, Saquan Barkley, and the duo in Dallas will all cause problems for Philadelphia. However, if they follow step 2, then this should negate their impact and give them a fighting chance.

If the Eagles can find a way to win both games against Washington and New York then there is absolutely a chance that they’ll be in the mix come week 17. Providing that they follow the rest of this guide, taking care of business should be something the team are are more than capable of doing.

Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire