The Eagles are being crushed under the weight of expectation, but are things really that bad?

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Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles running back D’Andre Swift celebrates after scoring against the New York Giants during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Philadelphia Eagles are lucky to be in the position they’re in. Despite months of sloppy play, they’re locked into a postseason spot with a favorable first-round matchup and still have a shot at clinching the NFC East this weekend. So why does it feel like the team is on the brink of collapse?

The Philadelphia Eagles and the weight of expectation

That question has become one that will go on to define the Eagles this season. Should they somehow rally to another Super Bowl appearance, it would be seen as a huge turnaround and a testament to Nick Sirianni’s coaching chops. Should they fall at the first hurdle, it will go down as a predictable disappointment.

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts pushes off New York Giants linebacker Micah McFadden during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

On the surface, things aren’t that bad. The Eagles made the Super Bowl in a tremendous 2022 season and almost won the whole damn thing. They strengthened the team with what might be one of the most impressive Philadelphia draft classes in recent memory as far as ‘instant impact’ goes, and, as aforementioned, they’re back in the playoffs.

A.J Brown and DeVonta Smith both cruised past 1,000 yards for the second year in a row, D’Andre Swift has pushed past the 1k mark for the first time in his career, and Jalen Hurts has a career-high in passing touchdowns. While the stats don’t glimmer the same defensively, they do have the runaway favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year in Jalen Carter, and stopped the likes of Kansas City, Buffalo and Miami this season.

If you read anyone those sentences out of context, it would be genuinely hard to find a negative. But then you dive deeper. And you see the atrocious play-calling, the near-misses, the turnovers, the collapses against awful teams, and a clear lack of identity.

If in doubt, zoom out

To most teams in the NFL, making the playoffs is what counts. It doesn’t matter how you get there, so long as you’re at the party. The Eagles are…and have done so on the back of a Super Bowl appearance. Since being appointed as the Philadelphia Head Coach, Nick Sirianni has a combined record of 34-16, along with 3 consecutive playoff appearances and a Super Bowl berth. The problem is that this team has gotten so good, so quickly, that the expectation is now greatness. The floor is greatness. The bare minimum is greatness.

The Eagles aren’t being blown out by bad teams. They’re not in a state of total disarray just yet. However, Eagles fans all remember the Carson Wentz era and how quickly things snowballed. They’ve seen the wheels come off the wagon way too many times to ignore the blatant red flags that are being paraded around the City.

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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts runs with the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

There’s no guarantee that the Eagles will fall. But so long as they try to walk that tricky tightrope, every fan will watch on with a knot in their stomach, wincing at the idea of yet another golden era of Eagles football being cut too short due to self-inflicted wounds. And as that pressure builds, and the team begins to feel it, the chances of it happening only ever increase in what becomes a horrible self-fulfilling prophecy.

Trust the process

Has the Eagles offense been underwhelming this year? Bitterly. Should an all-star cast of players be among the NFL’s elite? Absolutely. But this is a young team that hit its peak incredibly quickly. The only way, realistically, was to stumble back a few steps and find their footing before getting ready to launch one more time.

They haven’t been afforded that breathing room. It’s ‘win or go home’ for a team with this much talent, and one that has amassed over 30 wins in 3 short years. Winning has suddenly become synonymous with the Eagles, and while nobody should be chastised for holding them to that standard, there also has to be some level of acceptance. What we have seen from the Eagles has been nothing short of great, and sustaining that level of play is extremely difficult.

I’ve been more vocal than most about the deficiencies Brian Johnson has as a play-caller, and how the Eagles need to find some kind of soul going into the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean that the season is a failure, or that the sky is falling.

What we see is a team built to be a perennial championship contender for 3-5 years. What we see are players talented enough to sweep individual accolades and earn Pro Bowl nods, along with a Head Coach who just gets what it means to be successful here. As soon as those beliefs get interfered with by panicky play, overthought play calling and reactionary analysis, it’s easy for things to spiral.

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Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat (94) and safety Sydney Brown (21) react after a tackle against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Are there valid reasons to be concerned? Absolutely. But the Eagles haven’t really missed a beat aside from letting the NFC East slip through their fingers. The battle is not over. The war is not over. And this team is way too talented to go down without a fight, even if the coaching staff does continue to make puzzling decisions and make it hard for the players to execute. The talent overrides those setbacks a lot of the time, and when it counts in the playoffs, the Eagles are now an experienced outfit.

They know what it takes to win in the playoffs, they’ve been here in both years preceding this season. While previous results are not indicative of future success, there are still reasons for hope and belief, and they at least counter some of the reasons for concern.

The team might be stress-inducing, frustrating and falling short of expectation. But they still have the opportuntiy to get right and make up for all of that with a strong postseason run. It’s easy to be annoyed that the Eagles aren’t what we thought they were…but that doesn’t mean they’re suddenly a 3-win level team.

Zoom out. Breathe. The Philadelphia Eagles are okay…for now.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke