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Eagles season preview: 5 questions and answers with Football Outsiders

What can we expect from the Birds in 2022?

PHOTO CREDIT: Holden Blanco for Bleeding Green Nation

One of the best resources to prepare for an upcoming NFL season is none other than the annual Football Outsiders Almanac. There’s a lot of good info in there about every team ... including the Philadelphia Eagles. The writers have a real good pulse on the state of the team and shared some interesting stats that might surprise you. You can get this year’s copy in electronic form or buy it in printed form.

To promote this year’s edition, Thomas Bassinger dropped by to answer some questions for Bleeding Green Nation. Read on for our full exchange.

1 - Where would you rank Jalen Hurts among NFL quarterbacks? Would you say him receiving a long-term contract extension from the Eagles is more likely or unlikely to happen?

If we’re talking about Hurts as a passer, I‘d rank him somewhere between No. 15 and No. 18. If we’re considering his value as a rusher, I’d bump him up a couple of spots. The Eagles, however, want to be a passing offense, and until Hurts starts using all parts of the field, I can’t rank him higher. As we note in the Almanac, the Eagles threw just 10% percent of their passes to the middle; the league average was 22%. With A.J. Brown in the fold, that number should jump.

The Eagles still have time to evaluate Hurts – he has two seasons left on his rookie deal – but I don’t think he’s in their long-term plans. We heard the Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson rumors – they’re clearly looking to upgrade. And thanks to the draft pick trade with the Saints, they have the assets to do so next offseason.

2 - Jonathan Gannon’s defense seemingly underperformed by Football Outsiders’ standards considering the Eagles ranked 25th in defensive DVOA. After offseason additions, what’s a reasonable expectation for his unit in 2022?

I’ve heard people suggest the Eagles were a top-10 defense last season because they allowed the 10th-fewest yards, but that’s incredibly misleading. A lot of that was schedule, which our DVOA statistics take into account. Yes, Philly faced Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, and Tom Brady early, but it feasted on Teddy Bridgewater, Trevor Siemian, Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, Garrett Gilbert, Jake Fromm, Mike Glennon, and Taylor Heinicke later.

As for this season, our projection system sees a big step forward for Gannon’s crew. With the additions of Haason Reddick, Kyzir White, and James Bradberry as well as the return of Brandon Graham, the Eagles could very well develop into a true top-10 defense.

3 - Hurts and Gannon are two of the Eagles’ biggest question marks entering this season. What’s a more under-the-radar concern that some could be overlooking?

Special teams. And I’m not just talking about punter Arryn Siposs. The Eagles’ kick return game was a liability last season, too. The offense generally didn’t have trouble moving the ball – it ranked sixth in yards per drive – but it often had to travel farther than most teams to reach the end zone because of poor kick returns. With Quez Watkins, Jalen Reagor, and Kenneth Gainwell sharing return duties, Philly ranked 26th in field position after kickoffs. Is Britain Covey the answer? Devon Allen?

4 - To what extent does Nick Sirianni give the Eagles an edge? How would you place him in head coach rankings?

So maybe Sirianni’s not a great orator like Vince Lombardi (or Jason Kelce). And maybe he’s not a play-calling mastermind like Sean McVay. But I think he deserves a lot of credit for holding last year’s team together after it lost five of its first seven games. Again, the soft second-half schedule was definitely a factor in the turnaround, but I don’t think a team rallies like that if it doesn’t like its head coach.

As for more quantifiable things such as fourth-down decision-making, Sirianni’s relatively sound there. He’s not as aggressive as, say, Brandon Staley, but he ranks near the top of the league, according to our Aggressiveness Index. One game that stands out to me: the 20-16 wild-card-clincher against Washington in Week 17. The Eagles faced fourth-and-1 or fourth-and-2 four times. Sirianni went for it each time. Philly failed to convert the first but succeeded on the next three, and two of those plays resulted in touchdowns.

He still has much to prove, though. Until he starts racking up wins against quality opponents, I don’t think you can rank him among the top 10, 11, 12 coaches.

5 - What’s the biggest reason for optimism about the 2022 Eagles?

We’ve already touched on how A.J. Brown could transform the pass offense, so how about Haason Reddick and the pass rush? The Eagles struggled to get after quarterbacks last season – their 22.9% pressure rate ranked 29th – but Reddick will change that. His 23.5 sacks since 2020 are fifth most in the league, behind only T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, Trey Hendrickson, and Aaron Donald.