The Philadelphia Eagles will travel to Charlotte, NC to face the upstart 3-1 Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Skepticism is swirling in Philadelphia following the team’s third consecutive loss. Their opponents have scored over 40 points in each of the last two. These growing pains were somewhat expected, however, when owner Jeffrey Lurie referred to 2021 as a “transition point” for the franchise.
While fans should never write off the possibility of making the playoffs so early in the season, they should also concentrate on looking for signs of hope for the future and recognize that a competitive effort in 2021 could be an important building block moving forward. Carolina demonstrated in 2020 how a transitional season with a losing record can benefit the long-term growth of a franchise.
Eagles Can Learn from Rhule and the Panthers
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, now in his second NFL season, will receive his fair share of attention from the Philadelphia media leading into Sunday because of his former position as head coach at Temple University. Carolina has six former Owls listed on their active roster, including Robbie Anderson, Haason Reddick, and Philip (P.J.) Walker.
Despite a 36-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3, Rhule’s Panthers still sit tied for first place in a strong NFC South. They are third in the NFL in both scoring defense and total defense. Their offensive coordinator Joe Brady is developing a good reputation as a play-caller, and quarterback Sam Darnold has shown flashes of the skill that made him the third-overall pick in 2018.
The Panthers finished 5-11 in their first season under Rhule in 2020. Despite the poor record, they were a relatively competitive team for parts of the season, especially on defense. They came out on the wrong side of three tough road games against high-caliber opponents in one-possession losses to the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, and New Orleans Saints.
They established a strong overall direction and entered a new era, even though their best player Christian McCaffrey only played three games. During the offseason, they allocated their resources more aggressively by trading for Darnold and signing Reddick in free agency. The franchise is clearly trending upward.
Eagles Coaching History Provides More Examples
Eagles fans have every right to criticize first-year head coach Nick Sirianni in response to the lack of discipline the team has shown on the field. The Eagles lead the NFL by a considerable margin with 44 penalties. Sirianni’s lack of sharp decision-making has stalled the offense in the red zone at pivotal points against the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
However, recognition of the big picture transition and the standards of NFL franchise trajectory should also be in back of their minds. Like the 2020 Panthers, the 1999 Eagles finished 5-11 in their first season under head coach Andy Reid. Rookie quarterback Donovan McNabb didn’t impress statistically, but he gave Eagles fans glimmers of hope that they had found a franchise quarterback. The duo went on to lead the longest sustained era of success in franchise history. Zach Berman of The Athletic pointed out that Sirianni should recreate Reid’s effort to “introduce a new scheme, create a culture and determine who would last when better days arrive” during the 1999 season.
The Panthers lost eight of nine games at one point last season. The Eagles similarly lost nine of 11 games during Doug Pederson’s first year as head coach in 2016. They still showed promising signs of development surrounding that brutal stretch and won their final two games. They won the franchise’s only Super Bowl the following season.
The organization hired Sirianni with a long-term vision, and the 2021 season is somewhat of an audition for the future of second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. These two objective facts won’t eliminate the frustration that Eagles fans endure with every loss this season. However, conversely, that frustration doesn’t dispel the team’s chances for long-term success.
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