After going 4-11-1 in 2020, firing their Super Bowl-winning head coach, and moving on from a former second overall pick at quarterback, what if I told you that the Philadelphia Eagles with a rookie head coach, who has never called plays before and a second-year quarterback would lead the team to the playoffs the following season?
You probably wouldn’t believe it, but that is what exactly happened in 2021, which is why this season was a success for Philadelphia.
Some fans believe that the Eagles are doomed after their 31-15 playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card round. I tend to be on the contrary of that position and believe the Eagles are heading down the right path with where they stand now.
After starting the season 2-5, many were questioning the hire of first-year head coach Nick Sirianni. I was one of those people, but it was for good reason. Early on, there were play-calling issues with Sirianni trying to do too much, whether it was in the red zone or placing a lot of responsibility on young quarterback Jalen Hurts.
The Eagles, as a team, relied way too much on their second-year quarterback to throw the football. Hurts was averaging 35 passing attempts per game through the first seven contests of the year.
In that same period, the Eagles were ranked bottom five in the league in rushing attempts, only averaging 23.4 carries per game. But in four of those games, Hurts was the leading rusher and a team with a deep backfield like the Eagles that should not be the case.
However, the turning point of the season was in Week 8 against the Detroit Lions, who were the worst team in the league with zero wins up until that point. The week leading up to that game was very memorable as Sirianni made his famous “flower” remark.
“I put a picture of a flower up. It’s coming through the ground, and the roots are growing out. And the roots are continuing to grow out,” he said. “And everybody wants to see results. Shoot, nobody wants to see results more than us. We want to see results, too. But it’s really important that the foundation is being built and the roots are growing out. And the only way the roots grow out every single day, and it grows stronger, and they grow better, is if we all water. We all fertilize. We all do our part.”
Nick Sirianni used a picture of a flower in his Eagles team meeting today to illustrate growth ????
“the results aren't there right now, but what's going on here is that there's growth under the soil… it's coming through the ground, and the roots are growing out.” pic.twitter.com/q6JuNpC70Z
— Jeff Skversky (@JeffSkversky) October 27, 2021
The Eagles got the victory against the Lions and became the best rushing team in the league from that point on because Sirianni made the adjustment to take the pressure off Hurts and run the football.
We're making things happen in Detroit!#PHIvsDET | #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/zDIJMqCPMY
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 31, 2021
The Eagles won seven of their last 10 games and finished the year with a league-best 156.1 rushing yards per game, which was a complete turnaround from the beginning of the season.
This important adjustment showed the growth of Sirianni as a coach and a play-caller, which allowed this team to settle in.
As for Hurts, he has earned the right to be the starting quarterback of the Eagles in 2022. This sentiment was echoed in a press conference following wild card weekend with Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and Sirianni.
“We wanted to see him take the bull by the horn, and he certainly did that,” said Roseman referring to Hurts’ 2021 campaign.
Howie Roseman on @JalenHurts pic.twitter.com/fKUvYqth4E
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) January 19, 2022
Roseman also mentioned, “We’ve got to do whatever we can to continue to help him (Hurts) develop.” This means the Eagles are committed to Hurts for next season and it could be a foreshadow of what is to come in the offseason.
On the year, the 23-year-old quarterback threw for 3,144 yards, 16 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
Jalen Hurts to DeVonta Smith for the 36-yard touchdown! ????#FlyEaglesFly (via @NFL)
— TSN EDGE (@TSN_Edge) November 14, 2021
Hurts was very dangerous with his legs as well, leading all quarterbacks with 784 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on the season.
As the season progressed, you saw development from Hurts as a passer. At the beginning of the season, he did not seem to have great pocket awareness and did not look as comfortable.
When the Eagles started taking pressure off the second-year quarterback, he was able to develop his pocket presence and be himself in the offense.
Some fans and media alike say Hurts’ arm strength is a concern. But in my eyes not so much because he is still very young and made some big throws down the stretch.
With time and an opportunity, I think Hurts still has lots to develop and work on. But this season was a solid one for the young quarterback, and he can only grow from what he did this year.
From offense to defense, the Eagles had an interesting season under first-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
The Eagles were ranked dead last in opponent completion percentage, allowing teams to complete 69.97% of their passes, and that’s due to the conservative scheme Gannon liked to run.
Philadelphia was also a team that did not blitz a ton either. It is something that needs to be addressed in the off-season schematically and through personnel moves.
However, the defense did play well down the stretch, allowing 20 points or less in five out of their last six games, so there is something to be said about that. The Eagles are sitting pretty with three first-round picks in this year’s draft. And in my estimation, they need to utilize two of those picks on the defensive side of the ball.
After a 9-8 season with a playoff berth, this Eagles franchise is in a good spot moving forward and has a foundation to build upon.
They are not a finished product by any means yet, and that was clear in the playoff game against Tampa Bay. However, this team has positioned itself well for the future. It just depends on how they capitalize on their opportunity.
*Photo courtesy of Getty Images