The Philadelphia Eagles made the playoffs as a No. 7 seed with a 9-8 record in head coach Nick Sirianni’s first season and quarterback Jalen Hurts’ first full season as a starter. You could say the Eagles were ahead of schedule, but the team’s playoff stay was predictably quick after losing decisively in Tampa Bay.
Frankly, the 2021 Eagles were not a playoff-caliber team. They were 0-6 against other playoff teams, joining the 2011 Bengals (0-7) as the only playoff teams in NFL history to go 0-6 or worse against playoff teams in the regular season.
But like those Bengals from a decade ago, the young Eagles are looking to get better. After upgrading the roster, and expecting some regression from division winner Dallas, the Eagles just might be the best team in the NFC East this season.
The Notable Changes for 2022
The Eagles are largely running it back with the same cast from last year, including both of Sirianni’s main coordinators, and center Jason Kelce plans to give it one more go after another All-Pro season.
But that does not mean the Eagles did not pull off any power moves this offseason to get better. They had one of the biggest shocks on draft night.
Eagles Trade for A.J. Brown on Draft Night
On draft night, the Eagles sent a first-round pick and third-round pick to Tennessee for No. 1 wideout A.J. Brown.
He is another big-play threat to pair with second-year receiver DeVonta Smith, who had a solid rookie year with 916 yards to lead the Eagles.
This feels like one of the best wide receiver moves in the offseason. Brown came up big numerous times for the Titans, and Smith is far from done developing. They could both be 1,000-yard receivers in this offense if it chooses to throw more.
In coming from Tennessee, Brown is used to a team that wants to run (Derrick Henry’s rushing titles) and use play-action shots. This should make the Eagles more successful in that area this year.
Receiving Power Loading
It is also great news for tight end Dallas Goedert, free from Zach Ertz’s shadow, to have another big year after a career-high 830 yards in 2021. With Brown, Smith, Goedert, and running back Miles Sanders, Hurts has reliable receiving targets at each depth level of the field.
Finally, the Eagles can stop trying to make Jalen Reagor happen. They traded the first-round disappointment to the Vikings. Quez Watkins remains a very viable No. 3 wideout and Zach Pascal is a good depth signing from the Colts.
This should be the best receiving corps for the Eagles in a long time.
Is the Defense Reliable?
The Eagles had their share of offensive duds last year, but that was still generally the stronger side of the ball for the team. It is also the side that added Brown and still has the (hopeful) continued development for Hurts and Smith to look forward to.
The defense is where the Eagles need to make some bigger strides. The results were not good enough for first-time coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who returns this season. The 2021 Eagles ranked:
- 20th in points per drive allowed.
- 15th in yards per drive allowed.
- 25th in takeaways per drive.
- 22nd in pressure rate (24.0%) according to Pro Football Reference.
- 23rd in third-down conversion rate (42.9%).
- 23rd in points per red zone trip allowed.
- The Eagles were 1-7 when allowing more than 18 points last year.
In coming over from the Colts where Matt Eberflus ran Frank Reich’s defense, the Eagles’ new staff stuck to their guns with the second-lowest blitz rate (16.4%) in 2021. They liked to keep the play in front of them too by allowing a lot of short completions.
The average throw against the Eagles was just 6.4 yards, or 0.6 yards shorter than the next-closest defense. That can explain why quarterbacks completed a league-high 69.4% of their passes against the Eagles.
In fact, the Eagles allowed five quarterbacks to complete 80% of their passes last year, tying the 2015 Buccaneers for the single-season record.
Need for Solid Options
With the Eagles running the ball often, not getting many takeaways, and allowing so many short completions, it left the offense with the fourth-fewest possessions in the league.
You like to see Hurts get more chances and on shorter fields as the Eagles ranked 22nd in average starting field position.
Bad quarterbacks were not going to fare well against the Philadelphia defense last year, but the veterans were so good at finding the open receivers underneath and picking them apart.
That is why the Eagles struggled to win games against the better teams and quarterbacks.
The Eagles still have a good veteran core of defenders with Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham up front, and corner Darius Slay made the Pro Bowl again. But Cox actually failed to make the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2014 as he only had 3.5 sacks last year.
With Cox slowing down as he turns 32, the Eagles are looking to the future with the first-round selection of Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis. He is a load at 6’6” and nearly 340 pounds.
He is the third player to run the 40-yard dash in under 5.0 seconds despite weighing over 330 pounds. His time was 4.78 seconds. He can learn plenty from Cox and Javon Hargrave.
The Eagles also added a younger edge rusher in linebacker Haason Reddick. When he had 12.5 sacks for the Cardinals in 2020, there was some suspicion after he collected five of them against Daniel Jones and the Giants.
Reddick went to Carolina last year and had 11 more sacks, proving he is not a one-year (or one-game) wonder.
The anti-blitz Eagles did not have anyone with 8.0 sacks last year, so getting a natural rusher like Reddick should be a good boost to the pass rush.
The secondary also should be better after the team replaced corner Steven Nelson and safety Anthony Harris with corner James Bradberry (Giants) and safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (Saints).
I still have concerns that the Eagles do not invite quarterbacks to hold the ball longer and invite more volatile results to happen, but if the coverage is a little tighter and Reddick makes the rush better, then you should see a defense that is on the fringes of the top 10 this year.
The Eagles also recovered just four fumbles last year (second fewest), so hopefully some positive regression will hit there and they add a few lucky bounces to the takeaway sheet.
For as much as we groan about NFC East teams playing in a ton of island games each season, the division is at least hard to predict. No one has repeated as division champions since the Eagles in 2004.
I think that streak continues as the Eagles finish with at least 10 wins and take the division from Dallas.
The division alone should be worth at least four wins to the Eagles, and they also get to play the Texans, Lions, Jaguars, Bears, and home games with the Steelers and Saints are very winnable.
Playing the AFC South instead of the AFC North or AFC West is a nice luxury this season.
Philadelphia Eagles Best Bet
Following the NFL odds, the Over 9.5 wins should be one of the safest bets in the league this year. Expect me in January to write a playoff preview noting that the Eagles won more games this year, have a home playoff game.
The question is if they are in any better position to go on a deep playoff run after playing the NFC East and AFC South.
The Eagles do not have to play the Buccaneers, the defending champion Rams, or any of those AFC West contenders.
Given that, it would be a big disappointment if this team does not have a better season than last year. Welcome back to the land of expectations, Philadelphia fans.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.
On the Last Season of “The Eagles”: The Gang Welcomes New Leader Nick
Not to toot our own horn, but last year’s Eagles preview was one of the most prescient we had as close game regression and schedule analysis won out:
- In 2020, the Eagles played a league-high 15 close games, defined as games where at least one team was in possession of the ball in a one-score game in the fourth quarter.
- In 2021, the Eagles played a league-low four close games, finishing 2-2 in them.
- We noted the tough early schedule would lead to a rough start for the Eagles, who started 3-6 with only wins against the Falcons, Panthers, and Lions.
- But with five division games and the Jets after Thanksgiving, the Eagles could clean up and easily hit their over 6.5 wins.
- The Eagles won four of their last five games to finish 9-8 and sneak into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed.
Things were certainly rough early for Nick Sirianni as he tried to find a balance with this offense. The Eagles infamously handed the ball off three times to running backs in a sloppy 41-21 loss to the Cowboys.
They allowed 42 points to the Chiefs just six days later. When we talk about the Eagles going 0-6 against playoff teams, five of those games came in the first seven weeks of the season.
The sixth such loss did not come to Week 18 when the Eagles rested starters against Dallas, which ran up the score with starters in a 51-26 win.
Jalen Hurts’ Sophomore Season Recap
Hurts was an improvement over the Carson Wentz we saw in 2020, though it would be an overstatement to say his 2021 season was a strong performance. Jalen Hurts finished 19th in QBR (48.5), or right behind struggling Miami starter Tua Tagovailoa (49.7.).
While he only threw 148 passes in his rookie season, there were a few areas where we wanted to see growth from Hurts in his second season. Did he deliver?
In 2020, Hurts had the highest rate of bad passes (26.7%) by anyone with at least 125 attempts. He improved that rate to 14.0% in 2021, the third-best rate according to Pro Football Reference.
Hurts also went from dead last in on-target pass rate (60.7%) to the eighth-best mark (78.2%) in 2021.
Hurts did not do much in the red zone as a rookie, but this proved to be a strength for the offense in 2021.
The Eagles finished third in points per red zone trip, No. 8 in touchdown rate, and the offense in general was good in situational football by finishing No. 4 in third-down conversion rate.
Part of the red-zone success was Hurts using his legs. Of his 10 rushing touchdowns, nine of them came within the 6-yard line. Only Josh Allen had more rushing EPA than Hurts in 2021.
Holding the Ball
We are in a different era where most NFL quarterbacks can run the ball and extend plays. But in 2020, Hurts’ average time to throw was 3.11 seconds, trailing only 2016 Tyrod Taylor (3.13 seconds) and 2018 Josh Allen (3.22 seconds) for the highest season since 2016 according to Next Gen Stats.
Well, Hurts finished with a time to throw of 3.12 seconds in 2021, so you can say he is very consistent there. The good news is he brought his sack rate down from 8.1% to 5.7%, but he probably could stand to develop more in the quick game.
The Eagles decreased Hurts’ pass attempts from 34.6 per game when they were 2-5 to 23.8 attempts in his last eight starts. Hopefully with a better receiving corps, the Eagles will open things up more for Hurts and this offense in 2022 if they are going to start winning games against the better teams.