By Connor Thomas
The Eagles have officially dropped 3 straight games after their opening week rout of the Atlanta Falcons, the latest being yesterday’s shootout with the Kansas City Chiefs. It was an unsurprising result on the scoreboard, but there were a lot of interesting takeaways over the course of the game. 30 points from an Eagles offense that looked lost the past couple weeks is encouraging. Giving up 42 points, even though it was against Patrick Mahomes and company, is discouraging for a defensive unit that looked great in weeks 1 and 2. There were also some questionable play calls and of course some crippling penalties; it was an Eagles game of course. After having slept on it, here are the 5 biggest things to focus on from yesterday’s loss:
After the game, Nick Sirianni met with the media and claimed that Jalen Hurts had “one of the better quarterback performances I’ve seen”. Wow. That’s high praise from a guy who, while he hasn’t been a head coach for long, has been around football for a little bit. Hurts had a nice afternoon, but was it one of the great performances ever? Ehhhh… The numbers say it was a good day, but not to the point of Sirianni’s praise. Hurts went 32/48 with 387 yards and 2 TDs and no picks, but you could argue he wasn’t even the best QB in this game. Mahomes went 24/30 for only 278 yards, but threw 5 TDs and 1 INT. THAT is what an elite performance from a QB looks like. Pro football reference only shows the top 50 leaders all time, but the top 50 passing yards in a game marks are all 470 yard performances or more. There are clearly levels above the performance Hurts turned in yesterday. That being said, the more important thing is that he showed something to build on. Sirianni certainly over-praised him, but Hurts just took his biggest step so far this year towards proving himself as a franchise QB option. The Chiefs defense is a terrible unit, so there’s only so much stock you can put in that, but the biggest positive from yesterday is that your young QB showed he can at least keep a team in the game against one of the great talents in the NFL. He still needs to prove he can win those games, though.
Over the first 4 games of the 2021 season, the Eagles have given up 601 rushing yards. That’s good for about 150 per game, the 2nd highest mark in the NFL. Only the Seattle Seahawks (608) have more yards given up on runs. What’s worse is when you look at who is running wild on the Eagles. The main backs for the teams they have played so far are Mike Davis, Elijah Mitchell, Ezekiel Elliott, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Not exactly the cream of the crop there. The birds are very clearly missing Brandon Graham, but with his season done, there is no relief on the horizon. 4 weeks’ worth of games is more than an anomaly; it’s time to face the fact that the Eagles run defense just is not good. And if we know that, you better believe that the rest of the NFL knows that too. No doubt, the rest of the season will see a concerted effort from anyone who faces off against Jonathan Gannon’s defense to run the ball down the Eagles’ throats. Is there a solution? I’m not sure. But there damn sure is a problem, and it’s killing this team.
Speaking of killing this team, it’s time for your weekly penalty update! The Eagles had 9 more penalties yesterday, bringing their grand total for the year to 44 through only 4 weeks. They are on pace to commit 187 penalties this season, which would top the 2011 Oakland Raiders (163) for most penalties in an NFL Season. It’s gotten past the point of being frustrating, and now is sitting firmly in the unacceptable category. There are arguments on either side of the question of who deserves the most blame, the players or the coaches, but at this point, both sides are culpable. Nick Sirianni needs to get a hold of this team and fix their discipline issues, or else the Eagles are in for a season that will land them well below their preseason win total of 6.5 games. Part of it has to be coaching points in practice, but also, there are players (*cough cough* DEREK BARNETT) who are habitual offenders that simply cannot play for this team anymore. This is not a season where the Eagles will be competing for a deep playoff run, or probably even playoffs in general, so if you have to sit down a more talented player because he continues to take stupid penalties, then so be it. Either way, something drastic has to be done to correct it.
Last week, the Eagles ran the ball with running backs on just 3 occasions. It was a complete failure by Nick Sirianni’s game plan, but it was also indicative of the lack of faith in Miles Sanders. Well, this week was better overall, but not for Sanders. He tallied only 7 carries against the Chiefs for a grand total of 13 yards. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell had fewer opportunities, but was able to turn 3 carries into 31 yards and a touchdown. In fact, Gainwell was the main back in red zone situations, which led to his more productive day. For whatever reason, there have now been two separate coaching regimes that seem to have soured on Miles Sanders. It’s a strange phenomenon considering Sanders set the Eagles rookie yards from scrimmage record and is widely considered to be one of the better runners in football. The reasoning may never be explained, but the fact of the matter is that Miles Sanders is no longer the clear feature back in Philadelphia. The wild thing is, it may end up being the right move if Gainwell pans out.
Maybe the clearest thing to take away from this loss is that the Eagles are still a long way away from being a contending football team. Now, they can hang with some good teams, which means they’re not an AWFUL football team, but there’s still a margin between hanging with those teams and actually beating them. Jalen Hurts had a strong afternoon, but it’s still hard to say if he’s even the guy to lead this team next year. The defense has been abysmal in back to back weeks, giving up 83 points over the past 2 games. The offensive balance is still off, and that falls on Nick Sirianni, who is still trying to find his legs as an NFL play caller. This is what a rebuilding football team looks like, and these are the themes that we can expect to see from the birds for the remaining 13 games. The key to this season has always been self-evaluation; learning what pieces the Eagles have in place and where they need to improve this next offseason. Small week to week improvements will be a welcome sight, but even those will most likely not lead to many wins the rest of the way. The boos will always come – it’s Philadelphia of course – but it’s important to remember the expectations for this team. They’re not a good football team yet, and despite some competitive scores so far this year, they’ve still got a ways to go to get back to a team that is a legitimate threat to compete for a championship.