By suffering what was essentially a blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2021 season ended in disappointing fashion. But the year was hardly for naught. Let’s take a look back at what we learned about the Birds. We’ll be back tomorrow with the unanswered questions that remain for Philly.
Did Jeffrey Lurie make the right coaching decision in hiring Nick Sirianni?
For a little while there, the Sirianni hire looked like it was going to be a disaster. He honestly didn’t look like he knew what he was doing. He looked overmatched. But as the team developed an identity, he changed and became the only rookie head coach in the NFL to lead his team to the playoffs. Here are the others:
- Brandon Staley (Los Angeles Chargers): 9-8
- Arthur Smith (Atlanta Falcons): 7-10
- David Culley (Houston Texans): 4-13
- Roblert Saleh (New York Jets): 4-13
- Dan Campbell (Detroit Lions): 3-13-1
- Urban Meyer (Jacksonville Jaguars): Fired after going 2-11
So, for 2021 at least, Lurie appeared to once again make the right call. But Sirianni is also a big unanswered question for the future, as you’ll read below.
Is Jalen Hurts a starting NFL QB?
The Eagles were hoping to get some clear answers on Hurts in 2021 and, unfortunately, he did just enough to make it impossible to give up on him, but showcased enough flaws and limitations to make one wonder if his ceiling is all that much higher than what we’re seeing right now.
At the end of the day, Hurts’ first full season as a starting QB was pretty good, but not great. He was 8-7 as a starter, quarterbacked an offense that scored the 12th-most points in the league (26.1 ppg), threw for 3,144 yards and had just 9 interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 784 yards and scored 10 TDs on the ground as a focal point of the league’s best rushing offense. His intangibles as a leader and his ability to make splash plays both on the ground and through the air are reasons to believe he should be the team’s No. 1 QB heading into next season, and he at least showed he can lead the Eagles to the No. 7 seed in the NFC demonstrate improvement in many areas as the season progressed.
He’s still just 23 years old and has proved he’s at least a viable starting NFL QB.
Will DeVonta Smith be another early round WR bust?
He needed a 17th game to do it, but with 916 yards receiving this year, Smith eclipsed DeSean Jackson’s franchise rookie receiving yards record this season, and did it while being overlooked in the offense for much of the season. His route-running and hands were as advertised, and even though he’s not a big guy, he managed to stay healthy for the entire season. He won’t win Offensive Rookie of the Year, but his first season in the NFL was an unmitigated success.
Can the Eagles finally stay healthy?
Injuries have plagued the Eagles in recent years but, with Sirianni’s coaching staff in place, the Birds did a much better job staying out of the medical tent and off injured reserve.
NFL end of 2021 regular season injury plot. Games missed to injuries versus team wins. Bubble size represents cumulative quality of players lost (Lost-av metric) https://t.co/ILv7Y4ZcaH pic.twitter.com/z0oPcldiW2— Man Games Lost NFL (@ManGamesLostNFL) January 13, 2022
The medical staff has gotten destroyed the last few years for all the games Eagles players missed but, this year, they were one of the healthier teams in the NFL. Good job, docs.
Can the Eagles establish an identity?
One of the biggest issues with Doug Pederson’s offense in his last two seasons was a lack of identity. They didn’t know what kind of team they wanted to be, either on offense or defense, and it’s one of the reasons he was ultimately fired.
Early in the 2021 season, Sirianni’s offense wanted to be some kind of screen-heavy, short-passing, no-run system, a system Hurts was ill-equipped to handle. He also didn’t have the wide receivers to make such an offensive viable, but what he did have was a huge offensive line with an athletic center in Jason Kelce who could run the ball a ton.
At halftime of their Week 6 loss to Tampa, Sirianni decided to throw the pass-heavy scheme in the garbage and dial up the runs, and it worked. The Eagles established an identity as a nasty, smash-mouth, run-gashing offense that tortured opposing defensive coordinators over the second half of the season. They couldn’t win with that formula on Sunday, unfortunately, and it’s unlikely we’ll see Sirianni return to that kind of run-pass distribution next year. But in 2021, it was their calling card, and for the most part, it worked.
Can Jalen Reagor bounce back?
Obviously, the answer was no.
There’s no need to post the muffed punt against Tampa and there’s no need to post his substandard stats from this year. We all know it was a mistake to draft Reagor over Justin Jefferson in the 2020 NFL Draft, but there was hope Reagor would at least be able to be a productive slot wideout in Sirianni’s offense. But not only was Reagor unproductive, he actively hurt his team’s ability to win football games.
If he’s anything higher than a WR5 next year, something went very wrong this off-season.
Will Zach Ertz finish the season with the Eagles?
Remember when Ertz’ future in Philly was the big topic of discussion last off-season? Well, he managed to stick around for a few weeks but was ultimately traded to Arizona, where he landed with a Cardinals team that also made the postseason.
With the Cardinals, Ertz has become one of Kyler Murray’s most trusted targets and has hauled in 56 balls for 574 yards with 3 TDs in just 11 games. He’s not the stud he once was, but he’s still productive. However, Ertz’ departure opened the door for more targets for Dallas Goedert, who had a tremendous season with 56 catches for 830 yards and four scores.
Will the Eagles get that third, 1st round pick?
It wasn’t looking good when Carson Wentz was declared “out indefinitely” with a foot injury in the preseason, but he returned in time to play for the Colts in Week 1 and managed to stay healthy for the entire season, ensuring he would cross the 75% snap threshold and turn that 2nd round pick in a 1st rounder. With Indianapolis missing the playoffs and Wentz’ downward spiral leading the way, the Birds end up with Indy’s pick at No. 16, better than their own at No. 19 (the Dolphins’ 1st rounder finished at No. 15). Which of course leads us to the next question...
Would Howie Roseman regret trading away Carson Wentz?
Wentz is getting destroyed in the Indianapolis media for his incredible choke job down the stretch for the Colts, and his future next year with Indy is in doubt. Had he stayed with the Eagles, it’s unlikely they would have made the playoffs. Since his ACL tear and concussion against the Seahawks in 2019, Wentz just hasn’t been the same player, and it doesn’t look like that’s ever going to change.
Will Roseman survive another season?
I don’t know if Howie Roseman was ever really on the hot seat with Jeffrey Lurie, but it certainly appeared as if the 2021 season was a very important one for Roseman. No, he wouldn’t have been fired had the Eagles finished in last place, because everyone assumed this would be a rebuilding year, but Roseman has taken a ton of heat for his recent draft misses and the way he handled the Wentz/Pederson departure last year.
Fast forward one year and, suddenly, Roseman’s job security is without question. He had a very good ‘21 draft, with Smith, Landon Dickerson, Milton Williams and Kenny Gainwell all contributing to a surprise playoff run. His deals during the draft last year were masterful and he now has a much more team-friendly cap situation and three first round picks at his disposal.
It’s Howie’s team moving forward, thanks to an unexpected postseason appearance in a rebuilding year, even if that playoff loss was about as miserable as it gets.