Three days after the Eagles’ surprisingly easy dismantling of the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, head coach Nick Sirianni’s debut rings as impressive as it did in the minutes and hours after it was over. No one knew what to expect from him and his offense, as not many people had gotten a chance to see them in the preseason.
Clearly, whatever Sirianni and his coaches were doing this summer worked. The offense looked remarkably like Doug Pederson’s 2017 version. The schemes, personnel usage, and efficiency were eye-popping, especially for a first-time head coach in his first game.
How good was Nick Sirianni’s debut? Let’s compare it to the debuts of previous Birds head coaches, going back to Dick Vermeil, ranked from worst to best.
9. 1991 Rich Kotite: Eagles 20, Packers 3
The score doesn’t matter because this happened.
The Eagles had come off a 1990 season in which they lost in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight season. Richie Kotite, the offensive coordinator under Buddy Ryan, took over with a Bud Carson-led defense full of studs and everyone in Philadelphia had Super Bowl dreams dashed when Packers defensive end Bryce Paup put his helmet into Randall Cunningham’s knee and tore his ACL.
Despite going 10-6, a battered and aging Jim McMahon couldn’t stay on the field enough to send the Eagles to the playoffs and Kotite helmed one of the more disappointing, what-could-have-been seasons in NFL history.
8. 1995 Ray Rhodes: Buccaneers 21, Eagles 6
“For Who? For What?”
It’s not good when your star off-season acquisition becomes a meme, but that’s what happened to Ricky Watters when he alligator-armed a pass over the middle during Rhodes’ disastrous first game in Philly. Randall Cunningham was still starting for the Birds, but he wouldn’t last long in offensive coordinator Jon Gruden’s west coast offense, and he was not good in this game.
Despite the inauspicious start, Ray Rhodes’ ‘95 Eagles had a fantastic season, going 10-6 and winning one of the greatest playoff games in Veterans Stadium history. I miss those orange Bucs jerseys, too.
7. 1976 Dick Vermeil: Cowboys 27, Eagles 7
Losing to the Cowboys is never good.
If you watched “Invincible,” you know the beginning of Vermeil’s stewardship as Eagles head coach didn’t start well. Losing in blowout fashion to the Cowboys in Dallas is about as bad as it gets, and the game was as ugly as the score indicated. In fact, the Cowboys were shutting out the Eagles 27-0 until two people named Tom Sullivan and Mike Boryla connected for a 20-yard TD in the 4th quarter.
The Cowboys had 445 yards of offense compared to the Birds’ 280. The Eagles committed five turnovers (the Cowboys turned it over three times). Dallas went 11-3 in ‘76 and lost to the Rams in the first round of the playoffs, while Vermeil’s Eagles went 4-10.
Revenge would come in full four years later, but on this day, Vermeil’s debut was utterly forgettable.
6. 1999 Andy Reid: Cardinals 25, Eagles 24
I was in attendance at this game and as long as I live I will never forget the name Brian Finneran.
The Eagles led 24-6 in this one but Jake Plummber chipped away at the lead throughout the second half. However, with the Birds in front 24-22 with two minutes left, Doug Pederson, who would later succeed Andy Reid 17 years later as head coach, dropped back to pass on 3rd and 4. He lofted a nicely thrown ball to the former Villanova wideout, who bobbled the ball into air and directly into the hands of a waiting Arizona cornerback, who returned it deep into Eagles territory.
Finneran’s catch should have iced the game. Instead, it led to a devastating Chris Jacke 31-yard FG with four second remaining to give Arizona a one-point win.
Big Red’s Eagles got better as the season went along, but it was a rough 5-11 campaign that got started off on the wrong foot.
5. 1986 Buddy Ryan: Washington 41, Eagles 14
Buddy Ball did not get off to a flying start.
Washington was then at the height of their powers and the Eagles turned to Buddy to fix their team after his Chicago Bears defense set records all over the place during their run to Super Bowl XX. Ryan would eventually turn Philadelphia into winners, but things started slowly, as expected. Ron Jaworski, not Randall Cunningham, was the starting QB for that team, although Randall did make three passing attempts that day.
Washington forced three Birds turnovers and outgained them 433-267. Reggie White started at defensive tackle. Junior Tautalatasi started at running back. The Eagles went 5-10-1.
4. 2016 Doug Pederson: Eagles 29, Browns 10
Pederson’s tenure in Philadelphia didn’t end well, but he got off to a hot start and, of course, excitement was high as Carson Wentz, the No. 2 pick in the draft, made his debut and led the Eagles to an impressive win over a lackluster Cleveland team at Lincoln Financial Field.
The offense piled up 23 first downs and 403 yards of total offense, compared to Cleveland’s 288. Of course, the defense that day was playing the rotting corpse of Robert Griffin III, who put up a 55.0 passer rating in this one. Wentz, meanwhile was fantastic, going 22-37 for 278 yards and 2 TDs. Jordan Matthews caught 7 balls for 114 yards and a score, and the defense piled up 3 sacks and an interception as well.
Pederson’s ‘16 team would win their first three games before ultimately stumbling to a 7-9 finish. Things went much better in 2017.
3. 1983 Marion Campbell: Eagles 22, 49ers 17
Hey, the Swamp Fox! Most of you reading likely weren’t alive when Dick Vermeil’s former defensive coordinator took over for him as head coach and, to be kind, his tenure as the top guy didn’t go well. It did, however, get off to a decent start.
An offensive slugfest, this was not. San Francisco outgained the Eagles 336-281, but Philadelphia got three turnovers from Joe Montana’s Niners and held the future Hall of Famer to just 10-of-20 passing for 180 yards and an interception. Joe Pisarcik relieved an injured Ron Jaworski in this one and both played well, with QB ratings over 100.
This game ranks this high because this was a good 49ers team that went 10-6 and made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game before losing to Washington. The Eagles, meanwhile, went 5-11, losing 9 of their last 10 games. It was undoubtedly their best win of the season.
2. 2021 Nick Sirianni: Eagles 32, Falcons 6
Fresh off their 4-11-1 season, Sirianni’s Eagles looked polished, professional, and downright scary in their efficiency. Jalen Hurts looked like a star, the dual running back threat of Miles Sanders and Kenny Gainwell were solid, the tight ends chipped in, the young wideouts produced and the offensive line mowed Atlanta defenders to the ground.
After a rough first quarter, Jonathan Gannon’s defense rallied and shut Matt Ryan down completely. It was a pleasant and enjoyable game and gave Eagles fans hope that maybe, just maybe, the 2021 season won’t be a gap year after all.
1. 2013 Chip Kelly: Eagles 33, Washington 27
Don’t forget how excited we were for the Chip Kelly era after this game.
The ‘13 season got off to a fast start in the nation’s capital as the Birds built a commanding 33-7 lead before Washington scored 20 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to make it a bit closer. Using his fast-paced, no-huddle run-heavy scheme with Mike Vick at QB, the Birds piled up 263 yards on the ground on Monday Night Football, with LeSean McCoy gashing Washington for 184 yards and a score.
Once again, an Eagles coach faced Robert Griffin III in his debut and Griffin’s 77.7 rating was not nearly good enough to be a fired-up Birds squad that would go 10-6 in Kelly’s first season, the only one of his three in which he would take them to the playoffs.