By Connor Thomas
Tonight will be the Eagles last preseason game before they kick off their 2021 regular season. So far, the starters have played minimal snaps for new Head Coach Nick Sirianni, which is typical of preseason to this point. The difference in this year, however, is that there are only 3 preseason games for teams to prepare for the games that count. In the past, the 3rd preseason contest is the one that sees the starters get their most action, usually about a half’s worth. Now, some teams seem wary to play their starters considering that this is the final game before the regular season. It’s an interesting conundrum that is sure to be handled differently across the league. When it comes to the Eagles and Nick Sirianni, though, there is only one option.
Play the starters. And play them for a significant amount of time. If you are the Eagles, you are staring down the barrel of a middle of the road season at best. 6.5 wins is their total at most Las Vegas sportsbooks, which would give them an estimated record of either 6-11 or 7-10. The fear of playing your starters comes from the worry about a key piece being injured and sinking a season in a game that doesn’t count for anything. For the birds, there isn’t much of a season to sink. No team, regardless of their wins projection, should be putting their players at unnecessary risk, but this risk is totally necessary. Just take a look at the projected starters right now on offense for the Eagles:
QB: Jalen Hurts – 4 Career Starts
RB: Miles Sanders – Entering his 3rd season
WR: DeVonta Smith – Rookie
WR: Jalen Reagor – 2nd year, missed significant time in rookie season
WR: Greg Ward – Entering his 3rd season
LT: Jordan Mailata – 10 career starts
LG: Isaac Seumalo – Vet
C: Jason Kelce – Vet
RG: Brandon Brooks – Vet
RT: Lane Johnson – Vet
TE: Zach Ertz (for now) – Vet
The offensive line is proven, but the skill position players are inexperienced, almost down to a man. With a young QB and a new head coach with a brand new offensive scheme, why would you not want as much in game experience for those players as possible? Jalen Hurts has not completed a pass to DeVonta Smith in a game yet. Wouldn’t it be smart to have them develop that connection during a preseason game rather than in the regular season? The Eagles are about to embark on a season that’s main goal is to determine whether or not the team has a young core that is worth building around. Not playing the starters tonight puts them behind the 8 ball.
Another argument in favor of playing the starters tonight is how some proven head coaches have handled this preseason. The Patriots were in town just last week and Bill Belichick started his start Cam Newton against the birds. Andy Reid has played Patrick Mahomes in the preseason as well, and Kansas City is an AFC favorite to go to the Super Bowl. It seems that the more experienced coaches across the league have been more inclined to give their starters some playing time rather than bubble wrapping them until week 1. Modeling your strategy after Belichick and Reid is something that every coach could consider, regardless of the risks involved.
If there’s a major injury to a starter, this argument will look dumb, but that will be revisionist. Fear of injuries should not outweigh the necessity of evaluating a rebuilding team when it comes to the 2021-22 Eagles. Nick Sirianni needs to take every opportunity to see what his young guys have, and tonight is another one of those chances. It would be a mistake to not get the starters some action, despite the risks that come with it.