Through six games, the 2023 Eagles are 5-1 but have struggled to fully recapture the magic that made them so dominant during their run to the Super Bowl. Jalen Hurts looks more human, the offensive flow looks a little bit bumpier, and the performance in the redzone is dreadful.
The fanbase at large has laid these struggles squarely at the feet of offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, the first-time playcaller faced with the monumental task of replacing the beloved Shane Steichen, who left the Eagles to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Perfectly filling Steichen’s shoes was always going to be impossible - he is likely a Top 3 playcaller in the NFL, if not the best. Indeed, by all measures, Johnson has not been as good as his predecessor. But certainly there must have been a better option than simply promoting from within?
The only way to really answer this question is to look at it both in hindsight (“What should have the Eagles done?”) and in the present (“What should they do now?”)
The Legend of the “Experienced Playcaller”
One of the more amusing comments I saw more than once this season was that the Eagles’ Super Bowl window was too precious to hand over the reins of the offense to Brian Johnson, who had never called plays at the NFL level. Instead, the argument goes, they should have hired an “experienced playcaller” to recreate Steichen’s magic.
The critical piece of information missing from these comments was always, well, a name. As in any name. Any person who fits the description of an “experienced playcaller” who is also - conveniently - in search of work.
The funny thing about competent, experienced NFL playcallers is that they are generally employed. Teams don’t fire people who are good at their jobs. There are a handful of bonafide good NFL playcallers, and they are all either offensive coordinators or head coaches. It is true that two well-respected coordinators - Kellen Moore and Eric Bieniemy - made lateral moves this year. But Bieniemy was desperate to escape the shadow of Reid and Mahomes, so going to another offensive juggernaut that was also in last year’s Super Bowl made zero sense. There is a better argument for Moore, but - surprise! - Cowboys fans have spent the better part of three years complaining about him too, and we’ve seen what happens when Cowboys jump ship for the Eagles in recent years. And while we’re talking about the Cowboys, their replacement for Moore was the perpetually incompetent Brian Schottenheimer, which should paint a clear picture of the state of the offensive coordinator job market at this time.
But what about teams that made coaching changes? After all, that’s how the Sirianni was able to hire Steichen in the first place (he was let go as part of Anthony Lynn’s staff in Los Angeles). Here are the playcallers that hit the market this offseason: Frank Reich, Kliff Kingsbury, Pep Hamilton, Greg Roman, Joe Judge/Matt Patricia, Joe Brady, and Mike LaFleur. How inspiring is that group, really (other than Reich, who was a shoe-in for a new head coaching gig)? Maybe you could get talked into Roman or LaFleur? Joe Brady if you squint a little (or a lot)? But now you’re bringing in new concepts one season after the coaching continuity Hurts had under Steichen was lauded as instrumental to his development. [Note: If I missed any fired playcallers, they were probably forgettable and that just bolsters my argument.]
So given all that, who exactly would have been a better candidate than Johnson, a highly-regarded position coach who not only knew the system but also has known Hurts his whole life?
Who should have been hired as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator?
This poll is closed
Matt Patricia/Joe Judge
The Midseason Shift
After the Jets debacle, the Brian Johnson narrative has shifted from “They shouldn’t have promoted him in the first place” to “FIRE HIM NOW!” The idea behind this, presumably, would be handing playcalling duties over to a position coach might give the offense a “spark” where they need it. (I’m not considering Sirianni resuming playcalling duties - we’ve seen that before and he clearly excels when he can manage the game without calling plays.)
The issue with this is that, red zone struggles aside, the Eagles really don’t need a spark. Even after the Jets debacle they are elite in most standard stats: 2nd in yards per game (407), 9th in passing yards per game (245), 2nd in rushing yards per game (150), 5th in points per game (26.2), and 1st in third down conversion rate (50.6%). What about advanced stats? They are 8th in EPA/play (0.049) and 5th in success rate (46.9%). If you filter out garbage time (win percentage between 4%-96%), they are 6th in EPA/play (0.086) and 6th in success rate (48.2%).
So a midseason replacement - who would almost certainly have even less playcalling experience than Johnson - would be tasked with keeping that production at least on pace while also improving the red zone. How likely is that to happen as opposed to staying the course and trusting that Johnson will continue to develop as the season goes on?
To me, it doesn’t make sense. Maybe Johnson is not the right offensive coordinator of the Eagles. Maybe the season ends in disappointment and he is let go in favor of some appealing option that surprisingly comes available. I’ll be the first one to tell you that’s a real possibility. But I also don’t see how Johnson wasn’t the best candidate coming in to this season, or how firing him now will somehow kick the offense into high gear.
But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.
Which outcome is more likely?
This poll is closed
Johnson improves as he settles into the role and gets more experience calling plays
A midseason promotion among the position coaches keeps the offense rolling between the 20s and also fixes the red zone issues