After perhaps one of the most embarrassing losses for the Eagles in the last decade, falling to the woeful Arizona Cardinals at home on Sunday as a 12.5-point favorite, it appears the Eagles are on a ship without a captain. Perhaps even a mutiny is on the horizon. Week in and week out we hear from the players and Nick Sirianni that they need to be better, they have to make corrections in order to be the team they believe they can be. However, each week during this rut, its status quo with little to no changes made.
This Eagles team entered the season with extremely high expectations from the players and coaches inside the locker room to the fans and national media outlets. This team was supposed to dominate the NFC and defeat the odds of returning to the Super Bowl after losing in the big game the season prior.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Eagles certainly looked to be on pace to do just that. Starting off 5-0 and were 10-1 through the first 11 games. They found ways to win. They beat playoff caliber teams in the Cowboys, Chiefs, Dolphins and Bills. What has transpired over the last five weeks is puzzling and concerning.
Coaching a Major Issue
Over the last month, it has been evident that this team is clearly lost and it’s not so much the players who are trying to find the way, it’s the coaching staff. The Eagles lost two coordinators last season in Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon. The two were so good, they both landed head coaching jobs.
Steichen has his Indianapolis Colts in the hunt for a playoff spot in the final week of the season after losing rookie franchise quarterback Anthony Richardson to a season-ending injury and has found ways to win with backup Gardner Minshew.
Gannon, who Nick Sirianni made a point to say on WIP this week that he wanted his former defensive coordinator to feel as uncomfortable as possible on the sidelines, looked the complete opposite while outcoaching his former boss and staff in the second half, reading the Eagles’ offense on that crucial penultimate drive like an elementary school book, forcing the Eagles to kick a field goal and cross their fingers their porous defense could get just one stop.
Last season, with Steichen and Gannon on the sidelines, the Eagles were a well-oiled machine. Dominating on offense with an explosive balance of run and pass, Hurts finished second in MVP voting and the unit had an identity which was smashmouth running. The defense had a vaunted pass rush, falling just two sacks shy of the NFL record for most in a season.
This year, it’s the polar opposite. Now losing two coordinators is a huge loss for any team. However, the men who have tried to fill the void have been underwhelming. First-year Offensive Coordinator Brian Johnson has been under the microscope plenty of times this season. On the defensive side, it’s a circus. First-year Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai was relieved of his play-calling duties two weeks ago in favor of Matt Patricia, but Desai still holds the coordinator title with the Eagles despite not calling plays.
After Sunday’s lackluster performance where the defense didn’t force the Cardinals to punt the ball once and allowed 29 points in the second half, Sirianni announced earlier in his press conference on Monday that Patrcia will continue to call the plays for the defense.
Who are the Eagles?
When you think of a football team, you can usually point out what its identity is. Other than the “Brotherly Shove”, what is the identity of this offense? What, if anything does this unit do well consistently? The offensive play calling has been head-scratching. We’ve been told this is Sirianni’s offense and Johnson has a menu of plays to choose from. That menu is either very limited, or the plays on it are just not NFL-caliber.
Just take a look at the drive after the Cardinals’ failed onside kick, positioning the Eagles perfectly to take control of the game once and for all late in the fourth quarter. Instead of throwing down field and trying to stretch the defense after a holding call made it 1st and 20 on the Cardinals 30-yard line, it was three, unimaginative, conservative and questionable plays on a drive the Eagles desperately needed a touchdown.
Here’s the breakdown and video of that sequence:
Play 1: Prior to the play, serious confusion by the offense and what personnel needed to be out there. Results in a Hurts designed run for four yards.
Play 2: An RPO that Hurts keeps and is swallowed up for a 3-yard loss.
Then, they inexplicably had to burn a timeout.
Play 3: They draw up a bubble screen to Kenneth Gainwell on 3rd and 19 for a four-yard gain. DeVonta Smith also sprained his ankle on that play.
Not a single attempt to go vertical. Not a single attempt to get the ball in your best playmakers hands in Smith, A.J. Brown, or Dallas Goedert. That’s 100% on coaching, or the lack thereof.
Sirianni claimed they weren’t conservative on that drive during his postgame presser, but earlier on Monday, he retracted and said they could’ve been a bit more aggressive on that second-to-last-drive. There seems to be a lot of second-guessing from Sirianni and Johnson with this offense that has no identity other than an unstoppable short yardage play that might be banned after the season.
Furthermore, the talent certainly has overcome the coaching blunders throughout the season at times. Scoring 31 points should be more than enough to win a game in the NFL. This Eagles team has one of the best wide receiving duos in the league, a top-10 tight end, a running back who can be explosive and take over a game and a quarterback who has been very inconsistent, but when he’s on, there’s not many better than him in the NFL. However, the play-calling and staff continue to put this unit in terrible positions to succeed.
With that said, the fact that Brown did not have a single touchdown in the month of December is mind blowing. The same wide receiver who strung together an NFL record six consecutive 125+ yard games to start the season. What happened?
It seems that this year’s staff believes the only way to get one of the most physically gifted wideouts in the game the ball is on the deep shots. Yet, they didn’t even attempt one on that pivotal drive on Sunday when they were behind the chains.
Brown has every right to be frustrated. I’d love for him to speak his mind to the media and air it all out. Maybe we will finally get to that day, but for the time being, he’s opting to stay silent on the dysfunction of the offense.
Have you ever witnessed such a downward spiral from just one season in what we’ve seen from this defensive unit? The defense was one of the top three teams in stopping the run through the first six weeks of the season. Now, that same defense has no answer in stopping the run. Over the last five games, opposing teams have averaged 142.2 yards per game with the Cardinals rushing for 221 yards and outgaining the Eagles 449-275. Couple that with the poor play from the secondary and lack of pass pressure throughout the season, this unit stands no chance even against the bottom feeders of the league.
Now one can say that this defense is playing a lot of rookies. That is true. Jalen Carter, the odds-on favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, has been a mainstay on the defensive line while cornerbacks Kelee Ringo and Eli Ricks, linebacker Nolan Smith and safety Sydney Brown are seeing more snaps as of late definitely makes this an inexperienced group. However, the amount of missed tackles, and missed assignments is alarming and it apparently goes back to how this team is being prepped during the week according to Brown.
There’s a serious issue going on with this team. The locker room seems to be broken as the players appear to be dejected by the coaching staff’s inability to call the correct plays and to fix the issues that have been glaring all season long. Now, the players certainly have accountability in the overall downfall as well, but it’s becoming more evident that this free fall is more on the shoulders of Sirianni and the staff he assembled. Could Sirianni and his staff be on the hot seat? Time will tell, but it’s getting ugly in South Philly.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum