During the decade that the Philadelphia Eagles played football, we witnessed all kinds of disappointment.
There have been years piled upon years where the team was uncompetitive and was a borderline laughingstock in the league. There have been eras with buffoonish head coaches, quarterbacks who couldn't find Broad Street with a guide and GPS, and no-name defenses trying to make names for themselves being pushed all over the field.
We've seen good teams suffer devastating playoff losses. We've seen the seasons end in fog, powerLost to teams that may have cheated (2004 Patriots) and stolen titles due to slippery turf and questionable officials' calls.
But we've never seen what the 2023 Eagles have done. In fact, the NFL has never seen a team like the underachieving, finger-pointing, disaffected Eagles.
Starting 10-1 after a Super Bowl appearance and ending the season with a -18 point lead after their humiliating 32-9 loss to Baker Mayfield and the Bucs is an unmitigated disaster. After losing six of their last seven, they finished the season with a -82 point lead over the final seven weeks.
In short, they went from a Super Bowl contender to the worst team in the NFL.
After this collapse, there are a lot of unanswered questions. This is the biggest.
Why did the veteran leadership fail to address the differences in the locker room?
One of the reasons the Eagles are considered an elite organization is the culture that has been built under the leadership of Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, Nick Sirianni, and Jalen Hurts. It was a culture that prided itself on a cohesive locker room, with dozens of guys rowing in the same direction along with a cadre of veteran leaders, an emotionally intelligent coach and a quarterback who was the undisputed heartbeat of the team.
At some point this year, it all came crashing down. This week, in Three separate articles Just hours after kickoff in Tampa, various factions within the organization did their best to explain to multiple reporters that Sirianni, Hurts, and/or Brian Johnson were responsible for the epic collapse that followed. Leaders like Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox tried to sound encouraging as the black hole deepened, but they weren't strong enough to manage a set of egos that couldn't seem to work together.
At some point, this locker room became so broken that no amount of veteran leadership was enough to stop it. So much for that firewall.
Are Sirianni and Johnson qualified?
This may seem like a silly question, but it's one that Lowry and Roseman need to address, because they can't afford to waste another prime year on AJ Brown, DeVonta Smith, Jalen Hurts, or Dallas Goedert in 2024. They need to know that now. Whether Sirianni and/or Johnson have answers to why the offense completely collapsed at the end of this season, and why it was so flabby throughout the '23 season?
Their failure to adapt to the blitz at any time this year, but especially over the past few weeks and in last night's wild-card loss, is inexplicable. I can't imagine how they would justify their decision to Laurie in their end-of-year meetings.
ten. Unblocked. Pressures.
This was not a surprising game plan from Tampa. These were not strange lightning attacks. Todd Bowles telegraphed where they were coming from and Sirianni continued to move linebackers and tight ends out of the backfield and send receivers on vertical routes, resulting in extremely low throw time for Hurts. Maybe they should try consulting some outside experts for help in this area?
The level of incompetence and/or arrogance is astonishing for a coach who went to the Super Bowl just a year ago, but perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Back in September, Sirianni basically admitted that he wouldn't change anything about his scheme, regardless of how the rest of the NFL handled it.
“So, one thing we wanted to do with our team offensively, for example, is … really try — it's not always about coming up with new plays and new wrinkles and new things like that. Sometimes it just gets better, and a lot of times it just gets better.” He gets better at your basic things. And how do you train him better. And how do you do it better. And aside from that, what are some of the wrinkles in that? Not necessarily new things. But things that are wrinkles. I guess I would say what I would do is that This is the same way I thought in year 3. I don't think this is anything new, it's about how do we improve what we're already doing?
Did Sirianni lose the locker room?
Something Troy Aikman said on the broadcast last night probably said more about Sirianni's influence on this locker room than anything else.
The Eagles entered last night's playoff game as an undefeated team.
Regardless of Sirianni's X's and O's and anyone remaining on his staff saying they can prepare for next year, one has to wonder if his behavior and failure to right the ship means he's lost the locker room.
Oh sure, most of the players said the right thing, but when given the opportunity to vocally support his head coach last night, the team's franchise QB certainly didn't.
Firstly, there is no world in which Hurts was not aware of the criticism directed at his head coach. no one. Second, Hurts' comments above cannot be construed as anything other than a lack of commitment at best.
If Sirianni loses the trust of the Eagles' $200 million quarterback, it's hard to see how Lowry can keep him.
What happened to Jalen Hurts' ability to run?
Much of the Eagles' success on offense last year was based on Hurts' dynamic running game. Teams had to account for the QB catching the ball and running in an RPO, and Hurts routinely set off huge plays by dribbling players up the middle of the field, making them miss, and rushing to the outside. Sometimes he had to scramble over defenders in order to get a key third-down conversion, and while there was always concern that that type of play could lead to injury, it was an invaluable part of what the Eagles did.
I mean, Just take a look at these highlights of painful running last year.
We haven't seen that at all in 2023. Not once.
If the team decides early to prioritize Hurts' availability over his game-breaking running ability, it would contradict Sirianni's post-signing claims that They didn't want to take that aspect of his game away from him. Perhaps it was Hertz himself who decided to avoid playing football in exchange for avoiding injury.
Whatever the reason, when Hurts decided to run this year, it was without his usual enthusiasm or agility. He was an exclusively North-South runner in the first bracket. He couldn't get outside, and he couldn't make guys miss. He seemed slower. Runs designed for Hurts were typically dead plays upon arrival, and his ability to scramble under pressure was also gone.
However, Sirianni continued to run the same RPO offense with just the shotgun, as Hurts' ability as a runner became a non-factor. Teams no longer had to game plan for him to run, effectively removing the player from the Eagles' offense. Is that aspect of his game gone forever? If so, they'll need a whole new chart to account for it.
Does Jalen Hurts' personality/leadership style matter?
Eagles insiders told Jeff MacLean so Stoic behavior hurts It worries them, especially in difficult times. We have no idea if that's true or not, but Hurts clearly hasn't had much fun this season, even when they're sporting a 10-1 record.
Sure, it would be great if Hurts could adapt his character to the circumstances. Sometimes teammates need their leaders to meet them where they are, reinforce them when they need to, take some pressure off when called for, and call them on the mat when necessary. The Eagles, at any given time this year, seem to have fun with anything, and sometimes you need your leaders to tell you that it's okay to enjoy the moment and have a good time.
That's not to say it all falls on Hertz's shoulders. By all accounts, he's a tough guy, and coming into this season, his leadership ability has been one of his greatest attributes. It didn't all suddenly disappear overnight. It shouldn't be up to the franchise QB exclusively to keep the pulse of the team, but players look to their leaders when times are tough, and sometimes behavior and body language matter.
Can the pain grow in that area? Does he need that? It's hard to say, but it's certainly one of the narratives that some within the Eagles are pushing, similar to Carson Wentz in 2019 and '20.
Why did the defense fail so spectacularly?
To answer this unanswered question, we need to ask some other unanswered questions:
- Why has defensive line production declined so severely over the past two months?
- Did Father Time officially meet Darius Slay and James Bradbury?
- Why did Sirianni feel that Matt Patricia was the answer after realizing that the veterans on the team had lost confidence in Desai?
- Has the league discovered Vic Fangio's scheme?
- Will Howie Roseman finally admit they need to invest in real players?
Obviously, the change from Desai to Patricia was an unmitigated disaster and was probably the final nail in the coffin for the 2023 Eagles. By changing defensive coordinators with just five weeks left in the season, the Birds went from having a less-than-great defense to the worst defense this franchise has ever seen. Launch. The young defensive tackles played poorly and appeared to have hit the rookie wall. Sweat and Reddick were not effective for long stretches and perhaps played too many snaps, but it's really hard to pinpoint an overall lack of production.
Roseman entered the season thinking he could just grab linebackers and safeties on the trade market or scrape the pile and turn it into gold, as he did last year. But Kevin Byard, Zach Cunningham, Nicholas Morrow, Bradley Roby and the rest were all mediocre to poor at best.
The team missed a lot of tackles, played poor fundamental football, and it was difficult to watch Bradberry go down. This defense is like one of those houses on that HGTV show where a cute couple from the Midwest will come in and knock down the studs. There's a major overhaul coming, and they need to get this next appointment right. Desai and Patricia were disasters.
Can the Eagles survive Jason Kelce's retirement?
They drafted Cam Jurgens with Kelce's eventual retirement in mind, and while Jurgens had a good season (he got… Pro Bowl alternate slot this year), has been inconsistent. However, he still has the physical tools to replicate some of what Kelce has been able to do over the years.
When he got some reps at quarterback in his first preseason game, he looked a lot like Kelce.
But you don't trade away a first-ballot Hall of Famer overnight, and the Eagles will need Tyler Steen to step in at right guard and provide immediate help during what will certainly be a difficult transition.
How angry is Jeffrey Lurie?
We've all seen what happens when Lowry decides he can't move forward with a head coach, and we all know the Eagles' owner doesn't like to be embarrassed.
This is not a happy man.
But Lowry cannot make a decision based on emotion, and is unlikely to do so. The best argument for retaining Sirianni is that he may be viewed as premature in the league. He certainly doesn't want to have a reputation for firing coaches willy-nilly, because it will be difficult to hire top candidates in the future if he gains a reputation quickly. It can be said that giving Sirianni a season to fix what happened is fair, especially in light of the success he achieved in 2022.
But that would also be a big roll of the dice. At no point did the coaching staff show any ability or desire to adapt. They failed to put players in a position to succeed and, in many cases, put them in a position to fail. They are indecisive and panicked, and it seems clear to anyone watching that most of the players on the field last night have given up.
The fanbase will revolt if Lowry Sirianni doesn't get fired, but the fanbase isn't always right. Canning Nick will feel good, just as Canning Jonathan Gannon felt good last offseason. But one could argue that being able to retain Gannon might have prevented a complete failure of the defense over the last two months.
Either way, Lowry and Roseman have a decision to make in the coming days that could change the course of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
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