Nick Sirianni needs to be more assertive if Eagles are to overcome lack of discipline

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – AUGUST 27: Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni during the National Football League preseason game between the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles on August 27, 2021 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles improved to 2-3 with a road victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The game certainly won’t go down as an all-time classic. The momentum swung throughout the afternoon on five combined turnovers, 15 total penalties, an ugly safety, a wildly misdirected punt, and a blocked punt that set up the game-winning drive.

The Eagles have lacked overall continuity through the first five games of Nick Sirianni’s tenure as head coach. Fox analyst and former Panthers tight end Greg Olsen accurately pointed out Philadelphia’s sloppy play during the game broadcast. He noted, “Penalties, turnovers, critical errors at bad times. You’re not going to win in the NFL playing like that.”

The Eagles fortunately snuck away with an exciting victory on Sunday. However, Sirianni needs to address the root of Olson’s criticism immediately before these mistakes become characteristic of his team in his first season.

Eagles are too sloppy

Even after a season low six accepted penalties on Sunday, the Eagles have still committed the most penalties in the NFL by a considerable margin. Their next two opponents, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Las Vegas Raiders, are tied for second with 40 fouls while the Eagles have 50. 

They lacked overall offensive rhythm, especially early in the game, against Carolina. Their offensive gameplans have had very little consistency through the first five weeks. 

Quarterback Jalen Hurts wasn’t in sync with his offense for most of Sunday. He threw imperfect balls that were dropped by his tight ends at key points in the game. He failed to connect with Zach Ertz on 4th and 4 with under six minutes remaining and again on a pass to Dallas Goedert on 1st and goal on the possession that did ultimately lead to the game-winning touchdown. 

The tight ends could’ve reasonably been expected to catch both balls. Regardless of who was at fault in either instance, the two plays demonstrated a lack of developed chemistry between Hurts and his two most experienced offensive weapons. The Eagles do not have enough talent on their roster to leave these types of plays unmade on the field.

Former first-round pick Jalen Reagor over-aggressively carried two kickoffs out of the end zone when he would’ve been better served kneeling down to simply let the offense start from the 25-yard-line.

Running back Miles Sanders committed the most glaringly poor decisions during the last drive of the game. While the Eagles were attempting to hold the lead, he unnecessarily stepped out of bounds twice to stop the clock. 

Sirianni’s Misleading “Next Play” Quote

The balance of accountability between players and coaches is subjective and complex. The mistakes were committed by players who need to correct them moving forward. However, Sirianni hasn’t yet established an acceptable level of continuity and discipline during his short tenure as Eagles head coach. He has not made the proper adjustments to help his players improve in areas that require no talent.

During Sirianni’s post-game press conference, he mentioned the need to find solutions to mistakes rather than simply criticizing them. He acknowledged Sanders’ poor decision to step out of bounds, emphasizing the need to “squash it” and for his running back to think “next play, next play, next play” after the mistake. He ignored the fact that Sanders did not exhibit this mentality because he made the same mistake twice in three plays. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell did replace Sanders in the backfield following the second blunder. 

In Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs, penalties erased three Philadelphia touchdowns. Despite this obvious problem, another touchdown by DeVonta Smith came off the board in the first quarter on Sunday due to a penalty called against Greg Ward on a wide receiver pick play. The foul closely resembled a flag on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside that erased a touchdown against the Chiefs. It appeared there was no adjustment during the week made to correct the issue.

Derek Barnett has consistently shown a lack of discipline on the defensive line. The careless play has not drastically affected his playing time. He was lucky that he wasn’t whistled for roughing the passer after a hit on Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold in the first half. While the hit was not egregious, Barnett should’ve shown better awareness during an era of the NFL when quarterbacks are so heavily protected.

The repeated infractions and the lack of growth through a learning process directly contradict Sirianni’s insistence on the “next play” mentality.

Eagles Sit at 2-3

Eagles fans should enjoy the win in Carolina during a 2021 season when they might not get to see too many victories. Their team went on the road and defeated a 3-1 opponent, regardless of whether or not it was an impressive victory.

The defense forced three turnovers and sacked Darnold three times. The special teams made a big play that put the team in position to take the lead in the fourth quarter, and Hurts ran for two touchdowns to seal the deal. 

Sirianni’s first five games will not define his entire tenure in Philadelphia. He can look to his predecessor Doug Pederson for an example of a coach who overcame early struggles to achieve tremendous success. 

However, he needs to establish a better command of his football team. His emphasis on intangible strengths, fighting through struggles, and a “dog mentality” will fall on deaf ears if the Eagles continue to appear unprepared to face their competition.

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire