clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

State of the Eagles: 2021 Season Outlook

It’s the dawn of a new era for Philadelphia Eagles football. What will it look like once the year is all said and done?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Hey Bleeding Green Nation! It’s been a long, hot summer but we finally have actual professional football right around the corner. If you’re new to the site, I pen an occasional “State of the Eagles” series where I’ll offer my thoughts about the direction of the team. During the regular season, this takes the form of “checkpoints” every 4 games where I will review the last quarter-season of play.

This year, things will be a little bit different. I’m getting married in October - Week 9, to be precise - and if you’ve never planned a wedding before... lol, just wait. With all of that going on, I won’t have time to write check-ins, so I’ll offer some thoughts now, and then I’ll wrap everything up at the end of the season - whenever that is!

Enough with the personal details. Let’s talk Eagles football! In this article:

  • Some odds and ends on training camp and the preseason
  • What does Jalen Hurts have to do to show the Eagles he’s “their guy”?
  • Record predictions for the season

We’ll get right into it.

New Coach, New Offseason

Under Andy Reid and Doug Pederson, the Eagles were known for having long, physical practices in training camp. Under Doug, they were also known for being perpetually injured (and still making the playoffs in spite of that).

Not so anymore. The Eagles embraced a youth movement with Nick Sirianni and he has brought a new primary focus with him to training camp - keep everyone healthy. There are of course a lot of goals for a new coaching staff at training camp: install the system, practice fundamentals, evaluate position battles, establish a culture. But injuries appear to be near the top of the priority list, if not THE top.

It remains to be seen whether or not those priorities pay off. It’s a relief to see the Eagles healthy for once (fingers crossed), but how much will that matter if the starters can’t block? Tackle? Are out of position? Not in game shape? What if the team is “soft”?

Priorities are a zero-sum game in practice, but I like the bet Sirianni has taken to keep people healthy over the summer. The NFL playoff landscape has changed: there are 17 games and 7 teams will play at least 18. Every game is important, but taking a few games in September to find your groove won’t ruin your season. If your first few games are sloppy, but after 4 games you are 2-2 and healthy, is that really so bad? Even 1-3 is a hole, but not insurmountable with 13 games left on the docket.

Playoff odds are of course better if you win more games early. But to me that’s more a function of teams just being good than anything to do with a “hot start.” And with 2021 serving as an “evaluation” year for the Eagles, I won’t mind a bumpy September if it means the health and groundwork is there for a cohesive November and December.

Other thoughts from training camp:

  • I am SELLING on any panic because of the preseason game performances. We knew the depth was bad coming into this season, and yeah a couple of those backups will see playing time this season. But preseason is just the coaches sending some guys out there and running plays. There isn’t much game planning... or any real attempt to win the game. If these guys see time in the regular season, the coaches will at least try to put them in a position to succeed. Does that mean the Eagles will be “okay” if backups have to play? No, but they probably won’t be the abomination we saw in August.
  • I think this defense could really surprise people. Per Joe Banner, Eagles defensive coordinator was highly coveted during coaching searches, and there have been reports from camp of defenders really getting after the football and forcing turnovers. That would be a welcome change from 2020 - the Eagles only forced 19 turnovers - and there seems to be good talent at all levels of the defense (especially on the line). If these guys can gel, this could be an impressive group.
  • The trade for Minshew was a solid move that really shores up the quarterback room. Even though Uncle Rico has had some good success in the NFL on bad Jaguars teams, I’m not ready to say he has more upside than Jalen Hurts. I think it’s fair to say he is a better NFL quarterback right now than Hurts, but when you have a young team in transition, it’s better to see the guy with upside than the guy who might be more accomplished. At worst, the Eagles have a talented and cheap backup quarterback. At best, the coaching staff is able to take him to the next level and he can be a low-end starter if Hurts doesn’t pan out.

Benchmarking Jalen Hurts

It’s widely accepted that the 2021 season serves as the “trial run” for Jalen Hurts. Can he be the guy for Philadelphia? Or will the Eagles be picking a new signal caller in the 2022 draft?

What’s not really discussed is what being “the guy” actually means. The Eagles have a brand new coaching staff and a roster with some decent surface-level talent in some places and unproven youth in others. With all of that context, what would a “the guy” season look like?

It’s important to point out that Hurts does not necessarily have to set the world on fire to earn himself another season with as the Eagles’ starter. He just needs to make the Eagles’ brass believe that next year’s free agent moves and draft capital is better spent supporting Hurts rather than replacing him. In other words, if Hurts can convince Howie, Nick, and Lurie that he would be a top-5 quarterback with a better roster, he will have largely been successful in 2021, even if he isn’t a top-10 quarterback this year.

So let’s try to define that “would be top-5” performance looks like with this current Eagles coaching staff and roster. To give ourselves a starting point, let’s look at a similar quarterback - Russell Wilson* - in his first season as a starter with the Seahawks (2012):

  • 252/393 (64.1%), 3118 yards (7.93 YPA), 26 TD, 10 INT, 100.0 PR
  • 94 rushes, 489 yards (5.20 YPR), 4 TD, 6 fumbles (3 lost)

The Seahawks mostly rode their run game and defense to an 11-5 season that year, but Russell was no slouch in his own right. The game was different back then, but I would think if Jalen put up similar numbers (perhaps slightly inflated for the modern passing game), we’d all be happy as Eagles fans and the front office would probably invest their draft capital in surrounding Hurts with talent. Maybe something like this:

  • 330/550 (60.0%), 3850 yards (7.00 YPA), 25 TD, 12 INT, 87.3 PR
  • 120 rushes, 660 yards (5.50 YPR), 7 TD, 8 fumbles (4 lost)
  • Eagles record: 7-10 (based on the common O/U of 6.5 wins)

This would show some modest improvements in accuracy and YPA, while keeping the turnovers closer to what we’ve seen so far with his ball security. To me, the 3800+ passing yards, 4500+ total yards, and 30+ total TDs would be enough to invest in Hurts as a longer term answer. But would that be enough for Howie?

Poll

Would the above stat line be enough to convince you to invest in Hurts as "the guy"?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Yes!
    (1346 votes)
  • 10%
    No
    (233 votes)
  • 26%
    ...Eh
    (557 votes)
2136 votes total Vote Now

*Wilson was actually the third quarterback I looked at for this. The first was Josh Allen, but Hurts doesn’t have his cannon. The second was Dak Prescott, but Dak hasn’t run as much in his career as we might expect from Hurts. Finally, I landed on Wilson.

Season Predictions

I’ve already rambled for over 1200 words here, so I won’t go game-by-game. Instead, I’ll pick every game in 4 categories: wins, losses, tossup wins, and tossup losses. As the word implies, the “tossup” games are ones where I would not be shocked by the opposite outcome, giving the Eagles a floor and ceiling for their record. Games in italics are home games.

  • Wins: Detroit, NY Jets, Denver, Washington, NY Giants, Dallas
  • Losses: San Francisco, Dallas, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, New York, Washington
  • Tossup Wins: Carolina, Las Vegas
  • Tossup Losses: Atlanta, New Orleans

Based on this, the Eagles will go 8-9 straight up, with a floor of 6-11 if you flip the tossup wins, and a ceiling of 10-7 if you flip the tossup losses. To me, this seems like a fair representation of how the Eagles will perform this season: they are probably better than their 4-11-1 finish from last year, but by how much will depend on a lot of factors, and 10 wins as a “surprise” team does not feel like too much of a stretch. The real issue here, though, is that if the Eagles do fall somewhere between 7-9 wins, Hurts better have done enough to earn another season as the starter, or else Howie might find himself in a position where maneuvering for a quarterback is very difficult.

Poll

How many games will the Eagles win this season?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    0-4
    (90 votes)
  • 55%
    5-8
    (1555 votes)
  • 39%
    9-12
    (1100 votes)
  • 2%
    13+
    (64 votes)
2809 votes total Vote Now

Closing Thoughts

As painful as 2020 was, and as annoying some of the 2021 offseason has been, I am genuinely more excited for Eagles football than I have in a long time. Regardless of whether they will be good or bad, they will be different, and there is real value in watching to see how 2021 will shape the future direction of the team.

I loved the Doug Pederson era for what it brought to Philadelphia, and the game of football. But it was becoming more and more clear that the team was rudderless after that Super Bowl win as assistant coaches left for greener pastures. At the very least, 2021 feels like the Eagles are finally trying to chart a course for success... How long it takes them to get there is another question entirely.

Happy NFL Kickoff, everyone, and enjoy the ride - I’ll see you all on the other side in January.

Poll

When is the next time the Eagles will make the playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    2021
    (689 votes)
  • 48%
    2022
    (1222 votes)
  • 24%
    2023+
    (619 votes)
2530 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who will be the Eagles’ starting quarterback in 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Jalen Hurts
    (1524 votes)
  • 3%
    Aaron Rodgers
    (87 votes)
  • 3%
    Russell Wilson
    (86 votes)
  • 7%
    Gardner Minshew
    (177 votes)
  • 18%
    2022 Draft Pick (specify in comments)
    (440 votes)
  • 4%
    Someone Else (specify in comments)
    (99 votes)
2413 votes total Vote Now