How Nick Sirianni’s coaching principles helped save the season

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)

Head coach Nick Sirianni emphasized the need to be a “smart situational football team” shortly after the Philadelphia Eagles hired him in January. He spoke to his players before the season about mastering elements of the game that require no talent as part of the five principles that he considers keys to success in the NFL.

The Eagles made avoidable mistakes during their victory against the Washington Football Team at Lincoln Financial Field on Tuesday night. Dallas Goedert dropped a pass on the opening drive that resulted in an interception. Jalen Hurts lost a fumble on the next possession because of poor awareness of Washington’s defensive pressure. Goedert dropped another third-down pass that halted a drive during the third quarter.

While these individual mistakes certainly don’t align with Sirianni’s vision, the Eagles have shown consistent progress in 2021 in their ability to correct mistakes in areas of the games that require no talent. Fans should be confident that they can continue to do so for the remainder of the season. 

Eagles, Sirianni Start Slow

On Oct. 12, I wrote that the Eagles lacked overall continuity during their first five games of the season. They had committed 50 penalties, by far the most in the NFL at that point. Their offense had no rhythm or direction.

In Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers, Jalen Reagor stepped out of bounds on a route just before catching a touchdown. The illegal touch nullified the score. The Eagles had three penalties that took touchdowns off the board in Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs, including one called on DeVonta Smith for an illegal touch.

Derek Barnett advanced his reputation as an undisciplined player with several costly penalties in the opening weeks, and Eagles wide receivers committed multiple penalties on intended pick plays. 

Siriannni did not reach a comfort level with his personnel early in the season. He relied too heavily on Hurts in the passing game and didn’t properly utilize his team’s strengths. Miles Sanders averaged just seven carries per game from Weeks 3-7, and the Eagles couldn’t establish an effective running game.

The first-year head coach annoyed large portions of the fan base with forced attempts to immerse himself in Philadelphia culture and bizarre comments about gardening. The Eagles sat at 2-5 through the first seven games under Sirianni.

Progress Inspires Playoff Hopes

The Eagles have won five of their last seven games and climbed back into the NFC playoff hunt. They are now the 18th most penalized team in the NFL. They have corrected their tendencies on wide receiver pick plays, avoided repeats of the illegal touch issues, and executed screen passes without getting flagged for having offensive linemen downfield illegally. 

Sirianni himself has adjusted the course of his offensive game plans. His focus on physical football and a persistent rushing attack works to the advantage of his players and puts them in the best position to succeed. His shift in strategy has led to the development of an offensive identity, and it indicates the proper level of accountability for his own mistakes.  

The fans don’t fixate on goofy press conference quotes by the head coach when the team is winning. Their opinions of Sirianni have more to do with how the Eagles have shown better discipline and improved drastically in their ability to execute their coach’s game plans.

Optimism for Continued Progress

The miscues against Washington weren’t the only correctable mistakes the Eagles have made during their late-season surge. They also turned the ball over four times in a disappointing loss to the New York Giants at the Meadowlands on Nov. 28.

Sirianni isn’t accepting the mistakes. He didn’t hesitate to come down hard on Hurts after the fumble on Tuesday. After the game, he explained his relationship with his QB and the comfort level they have with hard coaching. His words aligned with the ideas of accountability, connection, and trust, all things that tied into the principles for success that he talked about before the season. 

The Eagles cannot afford to let poorly-timed turnovers cost them another game. They have shown the ability to improve and avoid costly penalties, and they need to do the same in another area of the game involving correctable mistakes.

The Giants didn’t establish any kind of blueprint for a game plan that exposed Philadelphia’s weaknesses. They won because the Eagles turned the ball over at inopportune times. Washington took advantage of the same types of mistakes to take the early lead on Tuesday, but the Eagles recovered to avoid another disappointing loss.

The Eagles will have an opportunity to build on their progress and avenge the loss against the Giants when the two teams meet in South Philadelphia on Sunday. Their ability to correct the mistakes that have hurt them recently will play a major factor in Week 16 and for the remainder of the season with a playoff spot on the line.

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire