RUSH TO JUDGMENT
Birds Not Great, But Not As Bad As Losses Suggest
It didn’t take long for Eagles coach Nick Sirianni to have his “Genius” card revoked by the very same fans and talking heads who just a few weeks ago were running around their neighborhoods, barking out “dawg mentality” and pounding their chests about a head coach who could finally develop talent.
After consecutive losses, including Monday night’s 20-point blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Sirianni has been banished to the back of the classroom, ordered to wear the dunce cap, and demanded to sit with his back facing the room.
It’s open season right now on the first-time Eagles head coach. The court of public opinion has already found him guilty of inconceivable crimes, such as running the ball twice and a botched version of the Philly Special.
Those who pinky-swore to be patient and practical with Frank Reich’s understudy must have done so with fingers crossed behind their back.
But perhaps now’s a good time to step back, take a collective deep breathe and try to remember what NFL history has taught year after year after year:
There’s an ebb-and-flow to the season, especially for first-year head coaches and even more so for first-time play callers. It’s a roller-coaster process that frequently produces knee-jerk reactions – both positive and negative – along the way.
Memories tend to fade fast, but just eight years ago Chip Kelly walked the same path Sirianni is headed down right now.
Kelly’s anticipated NFL introduction came with way more pomp and circumstance than Sirianni’s 32-6 win over the Falcons. One of the very few fond Kelly memories for fans here is the eruption against Washington in Landover, Md., as the Eagles opened a 33-7 lead against shell-shocked Washington before a few garbage-time touchdowns turned the route into a six-point triumph.
People still discuss Mike Vick’s 257 total yards and LeSean McCoy’s 184-yard rushing effort as some kind of storming onto the scene for the former Oregon head coach, almost forgetting the fact that Kelly dropped his next three straight games, his team outscored by a combined 111-66 margin, including a 52-20 manhandling by the Broncos in Denver at Mile High Stadium.
While Kelly might not be anyone’s favorite measuring stick, it’s worth remembering that even he bounced back from that September embarrassment and figured out some stuff as the Eagles won five of their next seven games behind Nick Foles to finish 10-6 and atop the NFC East, thus proving even the most hideous of three-game losing streaks can be overcome, especially when you reside in the NFC East.
This works both ways, of course.
Everyone can also remember Doug Pederson opening his career 3-0, including a 34-3 destruction of the Steelers at the Linc that nobody saw coming. The blowout had folks “recalibrating” expectations and debating whether the Eagles would be wrapping up the NFC’s top seed by Thanksgiving or make fans wait an extra week.
Until, of course, Week 4 happened. The Eagles traveled to Detroit and lost in overtime to a Lions team that had already lost three straight games – the first reality check of the 2016 season.
Some might even recall the Eagles losing five straight games that season, spoiling all those NFC Championship game travel plans that folks had booked after the Steelers throttling.
The point here is to reinforce an old sports adage that teams usually aren’t as good as you think they are during their best moments, and not nearly as bad as they are during their worst, and perhaps Monday’s loss will be Siriainni’s lowest point.
Sirianni wasn’t the next Bill Walsh after the Eagles thumped a god-awful Falcons team in the season opener and he’s not the second coming of Rich Kotite just because the Eagles have lost two straight.
No matter how bad the carnage looked Monday – and it sure looked nauseating – three games just isn’t a big enough sample size to make any long-term conclusions. And if you’re being fair, with games in the next three weeks against the last two Super Bowl champs, even five or six weeks might not tell the full story of Sirianni or this 2021 Eagles team.
The Eagles obviously face some major obstacles, including the loss of another starting lineman, and nobody’s saying this season can’t or won’t spiral out of control. Their issues are real and their problems won’t just go away by more practice.
At the same time, back in February when many harbored visions of a four-win 2021, I wrote that the Eagles still have an enviable amount of talent in key areas, most notably on the offensive and defensive lines. A few more injuries and that won’t be the case, but for now they’re still rock-solid in the trenches, which gives them an opportunity to compete on a weekly basis.
Personnel at other important spots – namely linebacker, safety and wide receiver – along with the most pressing question of whether Jalen Hurts is a winning NFL quarterback still remain, but those were already major questions marks headed into the season.
If you thought the Eagles were a 10-to-12 win team in August, that’s on you. Nothing about the Eagles’ offseason screamed worst-to-first for Jeffrey Lurie’s club.
For now, Sirianni needs to figure out how to balance and stabilize his offense for the sake of his quarterback. Even with an offensive line that’s already seen too many injuries, Sirianni has the personnel and playmakers to scheme his way out the madness of the past two weeks.
Obstacles on defense might be more challenging given the mismatch of personnel and scheme. Like the Falcons did for one half, the Cowboys exposed the interior of the Jonathan Gannon’s run defense and the Eagles’ struggles when an opponent decides to load up front and ram the ball down their throats.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard followed in the footsteps of Mike Davis and Cordarelle Patterson, taking turns gashing Gannon’s vanilla, four-man front as Dallas’ offensive linemen had no problem covering up Eagles linebackers at the second level. Gannon can’t keep allowing opponents to take aim at the gut of the Eagles’ defense. Jeremiah Trotter circa 2004 isn’t walking through the NovaCare doors.
But even Gannon should feel some solace in knowing that Javon Hargrave is playing like a top-five defensive lineman and Fletcher Cox is still right there, giving the Eagles one of the top interior tandems in football.
Rodney McLeod should return soon to give the team more experience in the secondary. This defense lacks playmakers in the back seven but there’s no reason for allowing the 380 yards it surrendered to Dallas on Monday night.
Many of the Eagles’ problems need another offseason to fix, but that doesn’t mean 2020 is totally washed after three games – or even four or five.
Unless, of course, you really believed this Eagles team would far exceed the modest expectations that usually accompany a team that’s transitioning to a new head coach, new starting quarterback and entirely new schemes on both sides of scrimmage.
If that’s the case, maybe your “Genius” card should be revoked, too.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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