January 13, 2024   6 MIN READ

No Excuses

DiCecco: Despite Injuries, Six-Week Slump, Birds "Should" Still Sink Bucs


The Eagles for the fourth time since the dawn of the millennium will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.

But instead of the typical, meticulous appraisal of the game itself, the dominant narrative of this Super Wild Card matchup is more about the improbable path the Eagles took to arrive at Raymond James Stadium.

Heading into Week 13 – fresh off a 37-34 thriller at the Linc over the Buffalo Bills – the Eagles boasted an NFL-best 10-1 record. The No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture appeared to be a formality.

Nick sirianni

GETTY IMAGES: Eagles HC Nick Sirianni’s messaging to the team remained the same despite its slump headed into postseason.

Adversity was confronted, seemingly on a weekly basis, and the Eagles had resoundingly answered the bell.

By no means was their inconsistent on-field product emblematic of a surefire Super Bowl contender, but less than two months ago,  the Eagles sure seemed talented enough to autopilot their way into a favorable postseason standing.

The messaging remained consistent, as the team insisted it hadn’t yet pieced together a complete game and hit its stride. Insufficient execution was another common theme.

Given their body of work, veteran nucleus, and MVP-leading quarterback, the 2023 Eagles were given the benefit of the doubt of righting the ship.

But a lopsided 42-19 home blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers the following week initiated a downslide, revealing a systemic breakdown on all fronts.

The defense, called then by coordinator Sean Desai, masqueraded as a sieve, surrendering 456 total net yards and allowing 8-of-11 third-down conversions.

Communication woes – a prevailing theme all season – were exploited again as the Eagles were overmatched and wildly disjointed, with tight end George Kittle’s 32-yard completion on a wide-open leak-out becoming symbolic of the team’s season-long problems.

“It’s a huge play action,” Kittle said after the game. “We got a pulling guard … we’re trying to get people to step up so we can hit Deebo [Samuel] or [Brandon] Aiyuk. And I’m just kinda in a motion, waiting for someone to fly off the edge.

“And Reddick flew off the edge, and I kinda hit him. I don’t know if someone just forgot about me after I hit him, but fell into the flat and [Brock] Purdy gave me a nice little dump-off. Anytime you’re running in space is pretty fun.”

The offense was better, but still lacked rhythm and an identity.

Given its star-power personnel, the offense too often fell victim to the aforementioned execution lapses.

Throughout the season, the cracks and imperfections in the foundation were always prevalent. The San Francisco loss, however, opened the floodgates.

Considering the stakes, a gut-wrenching 20-point loss to the division rival Dallas Cowboys the following Sunday inspired a hasty, impulsive response from head coach Nick Sirianni.

In the days leading up to the team’s Week 15 road game against Seattle, Sirianni banished Desai to the coaching booth in exchange for senior defensive assistant Matt Patricia, who would replace Desai as the defensive play-caller on the sideline, a move that more resembled perhaps grasping at straws.

While a change of that magnitude often requires deliberation, the optics – and underwhelming results since – suggest it was desperation maneuver by a team in the midst of a freefall.

One could argue that Desai, a first-year coordinator who dazzled in games against the high-powered Miami Dolphins offense and in the second half of the Chiefs game, deserved an opportunity to work through his growing pains and find a solution.

Instead, he’s taken a back seat to Patricia, whose wrinkles and fingerprints on the spiraling unit haven’t showed to be for the better.

Whether it’s more communication blunders, curious personnel usage, or the unstable flurry of personnel groupings, Patricia took a faulty defense and somehow made it worse, as his defense allowed 107 points over his four games at the helm.

Three of those games, by the way, featured offenses piloted by the likes of Drew Lock, Tommy DeVito, and Tyrod Taylor.

Thanks to the defensive deficiencies, an inordinate burden has been placed on an erratic offense to score points.

Jalen Hurts hasn’t played in MVP form in weeks and has turned the football over at an uncharacteristically high rate. But the offense – Sirianni’s vision, though carried out by coordinator Brian Johnson –  still has yet to establish an identity after 18 games.

The plodding unit has lacked for splash plays, becoming far too reliant on methodical, clock-draining possessions to manufacture points. Balance and cohesion are absent from the attack.

Perhaps this version of the Eagles downshifted into autopilot, as the unfathomable collapse resulted in a 1-5 finish and No. 5 seed in the playoffs.

More likely, however, is that the amalgam of festering early-season issues – the same ones that were said to have been cleaned up – ultimately caught up to them.

It seemed once the cracks were sprung and deck chairs had been rearranged, the team couldn’t escape with narrow wins on talent alone.

The team had no remedy.

Unlike the 2022 Eagles, who steamrolled the NFL to little resistance en route to historic feats, this season will be remembered as one pocked with adversity and skepticism.

And so the fate of the 2023 Eagles hinges on Monday night, against a Tampa Bay team they beat handedly, 25-11, back in Week 3 – the same Bucs team that mustered just nine points a week ago against the woeful Carolina Panthers.

The Eagles won’t have star wide receiver A.J. Brown, who’s out with a knee injury sustained last week against the Giants at MetLife Stadium, and could be down a starter at safety, but the Eagles theoretically should still win.

This Eagles team was assembled to eviscerate fringe playoff teams like Tampa Bay, separating themselves among the elite.

Ahead of what’s become an extraordinarily pivotal game, Sirianni on Thursday was unflinching in his conviction, delivering familiar messaging to his team.

“We just talked about our identity, who we are, and like I said, physical, violent,” Sirianni said Saturday. “We talked about with the offense, don’t forget you’re a top 10 unit these past two years, or top- – whatever – eight unit, whatever we finished this year in scoring and offense, total offense. Don’t forget that.

“And special teams has been doing a great job all season long. Just talked about our identity. I don’t think you come up with a new message because you got to the playoffs. You come back to who you are, what got you here.

“Even if you drifted a little bit from who you are, what got you there, just trying to get yourself back to that moment. And know we can have confidence that we’ve been here before and are ready to go up there and play a really good team that we’re facing this week.”

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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1 Comment

  • Mike from Rochester, NY


    Nice article. Spot on. It reflects poorly on the coaching staff that the team has digressed and unable to fix many, if not any, of the glaring problems this year. The players seem to be blaming themselves for poor execution and communication. It’s been the same press conference week after week. I can’t listen to any of them any more.

    I disagree that they should beat Tampa. They were embarrassed by both the Cardinals and the Giants, who at the time of the losses, combined for fewer wins than Tampa. The defense barely qualifies as professional and the offense lacks creativeness and has become so predictable (just ask CMC). They can’t beat anybody right now, save Carolina, Washington, or perhaps their AFC twin, Miami.

    There is something very wrong in the locker room. We may never know what that is. It feels eerily like Doug Pederson’s last year. The wheels have come off the bus. They must have zero confidence and no one is stepping up and putting the team on their shoulders. Hurts carried that torch the first half of the season but his magic vanished after the Bills game.

    If Sirianni hasn’t suffered a concussion, he would be wise to invoke his 2021 mid-season strategy of running the ball. It might be the one thing they still do well. They need to chew up the clock and keep their own defense off the field. Swift has been a stud and Gainwell has been heating up. Please explain why they don’t mix in Boston Scott? He should have seen significant snaps vs. the Giants but he was a ghost. He has owned them. I don’t want to see Rashad Penny again. They can cut him now and sign a warm body to be an emergency safety.

    The Eagles have been falling off a cliff for 6 weeks and I’m just waiting for the splat at the bottom. I need this offseason to recover from the stress and anxiety of watching this team.

    Looking forward to baseball season –