Through 13 games the Eagles are having what is shaping up to be the best regular season in franchise history. You don’t get that by players simply having good seasons, you get that by them having great seasons. Whether or not the 2022 Eagles are the best team in franchise history will be determined in the playoffs, but right now there are quite a few who are making a claim to the best ever single season performance in franchise history.
These are the best seasons since…
Entering this season, the 2017 offensive line was the benchmark for the franchise. Of course it won the Super Bowl, but more than that it had three Hall of Fame players in Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, and Lane Johnson. Brandon Brooks made the first of three Pro Bowls that year, joining Kelce and Johnson; and Peters would have made it if he was healthy, he had made nine straight entering the year.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai was excellent as an injury substitute for Peters. Most offensive lines struggle when the starting left tackle goes down, the 2017 Eagles went 11-1 in meaningful games with Vaitai. Apologies to Jason Peters, but as Faustian deals go, the Eagles will take that every time it’s offered.
This year’s version is at least as good, and might be better. 35 year old Jason Kelce has been as good as ever. Lane Johnson is possibly even better now at 32 than he was at 27. Landon Dickerson and Jordan Mailata are Pro Bowl caliber players, and Isaac Seumalo could start for just about any team.
The difference is how one values the bench players. This one is so close that I’ll give it a toss up.
Including the bench, and for one season only, which Eagles offensive line would you rather have?— mid-life crisis actor (@Southern_Philly) December 14, 2022
Or yeah let’s just give it to this year’s team.
Wide Receiver duo
On Sunday AJ Brown crossed the 1000 yard receiving mark, only the 25th such season for an Eagles player. Devonta Smith may join him, he’s on pace for 1013 yards, but he probably won’t get there when you consider the Eagles will rest starters in the final game of the season.
The duo is, at least statistically, the best in the NFL this year. Brown is 6th in receiving yards and 3rd in touchdowns, while Smith is 21st and 20th. They’ve combined for 1795 yards and 15 touchdowns. That just edges out DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, who have 1765 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have combined for 1682 and 12. And it’s just 33 yards less than the worst passing passing team, and more touchdowns than 12 teams.
But the best isn’t about just stats. Brown is one the best receivers in the league. He got a GM fired. Smith was already the lead receiver for a playoff team as a rookie last year.
The Eagles have had great seasons by great receivers, from Tommy McDonald to Harold Carmichael to Mike Quick to Terrell Owens. They’ve had some highly productive duos as well, Irving Fryar and Chris Jones combined for over 2000 yards and 16 touchdowns in 1996; DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper over 2100 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2013; and Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews for over 2000 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2014.
But those duos didn’t have the combination of production and talent that Brown and Smith have. For that, you’ve got to go all the way back to Tommy McDonald and Pete Retzlaff. McDonald is a Hall of Famer, the Eagles retired Retzlaff’s number.
In 1961 McDonald led the league in receiving yards and touchdowns, and Retzlaff was 17th in yards and 8th in touchdowns. The duo combined for 21 touchdowns, which was more than literally half the league. As a duo they were just 61 yards short of having more receiving yards than the worst offense had.
That’s the kind of season Brown and Smith are having.
In the Super Bowl era, a pair of QBs has come close to winning MVP. Randall Cunningham was runner up in 1988 and 1990, and Donovan McNabb was runner up in 2000. However McNabb’s best season was 2004. He set career highs across the board that year, and was finally among league leaders in just about everything. He was 2nd in interception percentage, 3rd in passing touchdowns, 4th in passer rating, yards per attempt, and touchdown percentage, and 10th in completion percentage. Only Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper had better statistical years. Manning received all but one vote that year for MVP, and Terrell Owens was runner up for Offensive Player of the Year. McNabb received no votes. There have been some other close calls. Carson Wentz was an MVP contender before getting hurt in 2017, Michael Vick was Offensive Player of the Year runner up in 2010, Ron Jaworski finished third in MVP voting in 1980, the Eagles haven’t had an All Pro QB since Sonny Jurgensen in 1961.
Cunningham’s 1990 season was the best of those. He was 2nd in passing touchdowns and touchdown percentage, 6th in passing yards, 7th in completion percentage and yards per attempt, and the 9th best interception rate. He was near elite as a passer, right there with Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and John Elway in production, and added a lot of value as a runner. He also finished as runner up for Offensive Player of the Year to Warren Moon.
Jalen Hurts is having an even better season. He leads the league in passer rating, has the best interception rate, and is 2nd in yards per attempt, 4th in completion percentage, 5th in touchdowns, and is 10th in yards. And that’s just his impact in the air, only five players have more rushing touchdowns than Hurts, and he’s 21st in rushing yards. Hurts as a passer alone would be in the conversation for MVP, add in his impact as a runner and he’s rightfully oddsmakers favorite.
But the best season by an Eagles QB was Norm Van Brocklin in 1960. Voters back then didn’t care as much about numbers, but they were no less impressive. He was 2nd in passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, and passer rating (which hadn’t even been invented yet), and 5th in completion percentage. An eight time Pro Bowler entering the season, this was unquestionably the best year of his career. He won MVP and the Eagles won the title. That’s a combination that can only be matched, not topped. Jalen Hurts might accomplish that this season, but until he does, that is rarified air.
The Eagles have had some really good cornerback duos over the years.
Herm Edwards and Roynell Young started their tenure together reaching the Super Bowl in 1980 and played together through 1985. Eric Allen, Bill Bradley, and Brian Dawkins are the only Eagles with more interceptions than Edwards with 34 to his 33, Young is 10th with 23. Eric Allen alone gave a team a good cornerback duo, but he had five partners in seven seasons. Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor teamed up for eight seasons from 1996 to 2003 and combined for 47 interceptions, more than any duo in team history. They were seamlessly replaced by Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown from 2003 to 2007, who made it to the Super Bowl. Brown would later team up with Asante Samuel in 2008 and 2009.
The duo of Darius Slay and James Bradberry may only be together for one season, but this one season might be the best the franchise has ever had. Both deserve to make the Pro Bowl, and Slay should be All Pro. Only once before have two Eagles cornerbacks made the Pro Bowl together, Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor in 2002, Vincent was also All Pro.
If we look at from a team statistical performance, we are entering best ever territory. The 2022 Eagles defense is 1st in yards per attempt, interception rate, and passer rating against, and 4th in completion percentage and passes defensed. They’ve given up just one touchdown of more than 25 yards. It would be unfair to the rest of the defense to give all of that credit to just two players, but it starts with Slay-Bradberry 2022.
The last Eagles defense to be this good against the pass was the near mythical 1991 defense, who were 1st in passer rating, yards per attempt, completion percentage, and 2nd in interception rate. Teams completed fewer than half their passes against the Eagles that season. The 1991 team had Eric Allen and Ben Smith, the team’s 1st round pick in 1990. Allen made the Pro Bowl and was 2nd team All-Pro, while Smith unfortunately tore his ACL during the season and was never the same again, but for the first year and a half of his career he was impressive.
Throughout the Eagles modern history they’ve had excellent pass rushers, from to Claude Humphrey to Reggie White and Clyde Simmons to Trent Cole to Brandon Graham, just to name a few. They’ve also had some excellent pass rushing seasons by interior linemen, such as Jerome Brown and Fletcher Cox having double digit sack seasons.
But we’ve never seen a pass rush like this.
Haason Reddick got his 10th sack on Sunday. Brandon Graham has 8.5, Javon Hargrave has 8, and Josh Sweat has 7.5. The Eagles very well may have four players with double digit sacks, and one of them doesn’t start.
The Eagles have had three double digit sack getters just once before, the trio of Reggie White, Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons in 1989. Simmons had 15.5 sacks, White 11, and Brown 10.5. On an individual basis, that trio was better, after all we’re talking about Reggie White. But as a collective, this pass rush is quite possibly the best the team has ever seen.
We can’t talk about how great the team is playing and not talk about the coach.
Five Eagles head coaches have reached the final game of the league’s season: Greasy Neale, Buck Shaw, Dick Vermeil, Andy Reid, and Doug Pederson. Neale, Shaw, Vermeil, and Reid were builders. They all took over teams that had been bad for at least a couple of seasons and turned them around into a contender, and in Neale and Shaw’s case, winners.
Pederson did not. He became head coach after a singular bad season, which wasn’t even that bad, the state of the roster was good, the team was a year removed from back to back 10 win seasons. In his second season he pushed all the right buttons to bring a veteran-laden team the Super Bowl. What he did that season was unbelievable. He won the Super Bowl with his backup QB, called the ballsiest play in the history of the sport, and that season single handedly permanently changed how NFL coaches treat 4th downs.
Sirianni’s career has parallels to Pederson’s so far, as he too took over after one bad season but with a solid core, and has the Eagles as top contenders in his second year. Most importantly, like Pederson, Sirianni is pushing all the right buttons.
This season will be judged by post season success, but as regular seasons go, as we’ve seen above this is as good as it gets.
We’re watching something special this season, all over the field.