Hey BGN! I was hoping to end my semi-regular writing tenure here on the heels of a Super Bowl victory, but it wasn’t in the cards. As disappointing as that loss was, Jalen Hurts’ gutsy performance for the ages should leave us as fans optimistic for the future. Unlike 2017, which proved to be lightning in a bottle, this team looks built to last from top to bottom - even with all of the upcoming coaching and roster turnover. We’ll get to that in a minute, though. In this article:
- A brief Super Bowl postmortem
- Gannon is gone - and leaves behind a blank slate for the Eagles... and the fanbase
- Upcoming free agents: who stays, who goes?
- Flying high into the future (clipped wings aside)
Super Bowl Late Hits
I won’t spend too much time here as we’ve all discussed the Super Bowl loss to death at this point. But there were a few things I felt were worth mentioning (I’ll save my thoughts on Gannon in his section):
Jalen Hurts continues to pass every test. A running theme of the 2022 season was a noticeable media narrative that Hurts wasn’t the real deal, no matter what kind of performance he displayed. This intensified in the playoffs, as the Eagles’ dominant run game turned Jalen into a dual-threat game manager. Then, on the world’s biggest stage, he delivered an all-time performance and put the team on his back (figuratively and literally on that two point conversion). There should be no question he deserves whatever the Eagles decide to pay him.
This was a team loss. Every unit had miscues (or in the case of the defense, a steady stream of them) that led to this loss. Even with his massive game, Hurts’ fumble-TD cannot be understated. I don’t think pointing to the ten point lead they built after the fumble can minimize that. You simply cannot spot Mahomes a free seven points. Full stop, end of discussion. I will freely admit that defensive touchdown was when I got my first sense the Eagles might lose. The ten point lead masked it, for a while, until the second half.
And if we’re being honest, the team didn’t just spot Mahomes seven points - it was basically a full fourteen after Siposs shanked that punt. Yes, he didn’t score, but giving the Chiefs the ball at your own five yard line is practically a gift, regardless of how good your defense is (or isn’t, in this case). What made it worse was Nick’s decision to punt at all, which brings us to...
The entire coaching effort in the second half was atrocious. In the first half, the Eagles executed a masterful game plan where they played keepaway from Mahomes and seemingly overcame a devastating defensive touchdown. The script flipped entirely in the second half. Yes, Gannon was awful (more on that later) but Sirianni suddenly forgot what made him so great all season. He shrank away from his aggressiveness when given ambitious opportunities (kicking the field goal, punting to Toney) and his game management in the fourth quarter rivaled Kyle Shanahan’s in awfulness.
When the Chiefs went up eight I was livid that they were still draining the play clock on their next drive. They received the ball with 9:22 left and took three and a half minutes to cross the 50! If they had a chance to take the lead on that drive I get it, but when the best outcome is to tie it up some tempo would have been nice from the get-go. Score quickly and make it that much more difficult for the Chiefs to bleed the clock all the way down for a go-ahead score. Instead Mahomes got the ball with five minutes left - a perfect opportunity to casually grind out a win. Which he did.
And yet... it was a three point loss. Given how disastrous the Eagles’ mistakes were against the best football player on Earth, the fact that the game was that close is a testament to how good this Eagles team actually was. They will certainly need to retool for next year, and in all likelihood they won’t be winning 14 games in 2023. But they are absolutely going to be a force for years to come, and it’s because Jalen Hurts is that guy.
In a move that caused much rejoicing among Eagles fans, the Arizona Cardinals hired Gannon as their next head coach. I mostly defended Gannon during his tenure here, as I felt it was clear that his scheme was suited to the modern NFL and he seemed to be a great motivator - multiple players on defense had career years this season.
And while his basic scheme might do its job against second- and third-tier quarterbacks, in the end he simply lacked the creativity to take on the top-tier passers. As good as the Eagles defense was this year, it was a one-trick pony fueled by a historic pass rush. When it didn’t get home on Sunday, the only major adjustment he could think of - inexplicably - was to blitz. Mahomes ate that alive all day.
Even with the level of quarterback talent we see today, creative minds like the Bengals’ Lou Anarumo, the Vikings’ Brian Flores, and the Titans’ Mike Vrabel have found ways to slow them down. Gannon couldn’t, and even with his forward-thinking ways that was his undoing.
The Eagles now have a blank slate at defensive coordinator - possibly to be filled by their own defensive backs coach, Dennard Wilson - and we, too, as fans have a blank slate to give his replacement a fair shake. Sometimes it seems we are not satisfied with the defensive coordinator unless he is a clone of Jim Johnson. And I get it. Jim Johnson was an all-time great coach for the Eagles, and I have fond memories of how his exotic blitzes terrorized opposing quarterbacks... in 2008.
That was fifteen years ago.
Today’s NFL is a whole different game. Those top tier quarterbacks Gannon couldn’t stop? They love the blitz. They thrive on pre-snap reads and hot routes to pick it apart. A well-timed and well-disguised blitz can be an impact play for sure, but to make designed pressure the cornerstone of your philosophy? That simply won’t work in 2023.
Even Jim Johnson’s coaching tree doesn’t blitz that much anymore. Per Pro Football Reference, Gannon blitzed 22.1% of the time, good for 18th in the NFL last season. Johnson “disciples” John Harbaugh (21.3%) and Sean McDermott/Leslie Frasier (19.4%) both blitzed less. Ron Rivera blitzed a tad more (22.4%) while Steve Spagnuolo blitzed the most (24.2%)... and was still 14th overall. Jalen Hurts also just cooked his defense in the Super Bowl, scoring the most points in a loss (breaking the Patriots’ record 33... in Super Bowl LII).
What about teams that actually blitz a lot? Here are the top five, with their blitz rate, defensive DVOA rank, and scoring defense rank:
- New York Giants (39.7% ... 29th ... 17th)
- Arizona Cardinals (34.5% ... 24th ... 31st)
- Miami Dolphins (33.3% ... 15th ... 24th)
- Denver Broncos (32.9% ... 10th ... 15th)
- Green Bay Packers (32.5% ... 20th ... 18th)
Jim Johnson was a legend for Philadelphia. Instead of trying to resurrect him, let’s look back on what he did for this team fondly and recognize his brand of football is from a bygone era. Personally, I’d like to see a coordinator that prioritizes pressure without blitzing while finding other ways to be creative and aggressive - whether that’s with more press coverage, disguised alignments, stunts, whatever the talent on hand affords. Just find a way to be unpredictable and maybe - just maybe - show quarterbacks like Mahomes, Allen, and even Dak something they haven’t seen before.
Retool & Reload
One of the reasons this loss was disappointing was because of the high number of free agents the Eagles will have to manage moving forward. This isn’t like the 2021 Bucs who “kept the band together” - the 2023 Eagles will look much different than the 2022 Eagles.
So who stays and who goes? I took a look at the Eagles’ pending free agents and came up with the following.
Let ‘Em Walk
Fletcher Cox, Robert Quinn, James Bradberry, Andre Dillard, Kyzir White, Ndamukong Suh, Linval Joseph, Miles Sanders, Tyree Jackson, Marcus Epps
Notes: Bradberry, Dillard, and Sanders all fall into the category of “nice to have but too expensive.” Bradberry could be more of a priority if he was younger - I’d rather see what Zech and Jobe can do, or maybe draft someone like Joey Porter Jr. White should give way to Dean, Sanders should give way to Gainwell, Sermon (remember him?), or a draft pick, and between Epps and CJGJ you find a way to keep Gardner-Johnson, especially with the promise shown by Blankenship.
Bring ‘Em Back
Javon Hargrave, Jason Kelce, T.J. Edwards, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
Notes: They might not be able to sign all of these players, but if I’m Howie I’m giving Kelce whatever he wants (assuming he doesn’t retire) and at least aiming to maintain a core player at all levels of the defense. Edwards and CJGJ can be defensive cornerstones for years to come and should be prioritized. Hargrave is older but should still have gas in the tank for a two- or three-year deal. The fact he didn’t get extended during the season could be ominous, though.
If The Price Is Right
Brandon Graham, Isaac Seumalo, Boston Scott, Zach Pascal, Rick Lovato, Gardner Minshew
Notes: I don’t think the market will be too strong for Pascal, Scott, or Lovato (lol). Graham might retire, but if he doesn’t his success as a role player this year could warrant bringing him back for depth. Seumalo and Minshew are the most likely to be gone here, in my opinion, but should be replaceable (thank you Stoutland University).
When the Dust Settles...
From that list above - and again, assuming Kelce and Graham don’t retire - I think it’s most likely the Eagles bring back Kelce, Edwards, CJGJ, Graham, Scott, Pascal, and Lovato. That’s still a solid core. It does leave holes at key positions, but ones that the Eagles have proven over the years they can replace. As for the dollars and cents, I’m not even going to venture into how they afford that crop of players and blindly trust Howie’s cap magic.
Down But Not Out
Even if they can’t bring back all of those players, the Eagles are still in an excellent position moving forward. Consider:
- Outside of Hurts - who will most certainly get an extension - the Eagles free agent class for 2024 consists of Darius Slay, Derek Barnett, K’Von Wallace, Josiah Scott, Jack Driscoll, Shaun Bradley, Quez Watkins, Arryn Siposs, and Jack Stoll. In other words, most of their nucleus on offense and defense is intact until at least 2025.
- Steichen will be likely be replaced by QB coach Brian Johnson - whose offenses in college produced great seasons out of Dak Prescott, Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney, and Kyle Trask. It’s safe to say Jalen is in good hands.
- When Lane and Kelce eventually retire, the Eagles have the GOAT offensive line coach to prepare their replacements.
- There will be a need for replenishing the defensive line, which Howie manages to do well consistently. Consider that of the four lineman who got 10+ sacks this year, only Graham was on the 2017 team.
- The secondary easily presents the biggest challenge for the future - one they can try to address with one of their two first round draft picks this year. Additionally, young players like Zech McPhearson, Josh Jobe, and especially Reed Blankenship have flashed potential to varying degrees either in the preseason or the regular season.
With Hurts rising to the upper echelon of quarterbacks this year, and Sirianni acquitting himself as a championship caliber coach, and Howie Roseman always playing the long game with roster management, this is a team that should be in the Super Bowl conversation for the next several years.
Will the Eagles win the NFC East in 2023 and become the first repeat champions in 20 seasons?
This poll is closed
Will the Eagles win the Super Bowl in the next five years?
This poll is closed
No, Hurts’ contract will make it too difficult
No, I am a Negadelphian
No (other reason, explain in comments)
It’s been a real pleasure writing for you, the readers, over the past ten seasons. Whether I was writing my original “Crunching the Numbers” or my current “State of the Eagles,” it’s been humbling to have a platform to share my (not always popular) takes. Regardless of what you thought of my writing over the years, I want to thank you all for engaging, which is far more meaningful than being ignored. And I am sure Brandon is thankful for all of the free clicks! While I will no longer be making somewhat regular contributions to the site, I may still pipe in from time to time if I feel so compelled. So keep your eyes peeled!
I was a college sophomore when the legendary JasonB, after seeing my activity in the fanposts, asked if I wanted to be a front page writer. It was - and still is - one of the coolest opportunities I’ve been blessed to have. That was almost eleven years ago, and in that time much has changed for me (and of course, the Eagles, with Super Bowl LII). Now, with a two month old son, I must channel my Eagles fandom where it’s needed most: raising my kid the right way, as an anxious, frustrated, unsatisfied, and passionate Eagles fan.
Just like his old man.