It’s been nearly a week since the Super Bowl concluded and Eagles fans began to parse through the what-ifs that ensue after a loss on the sport’s biggest stage.
In the days since Jalen Hurts’ last pass fell incomplete, finalizing the franchise’s third Super Bowl loss, I’ve parsed through some of my own thoughts about what stood out and where the Eagles head from here.
I was 100 percent wrong on Hurts. I thought his lack of arm talent would detract from his ability to be a top five player at his position. He’s proven that his intangibles are so strong they translate into noticeable improvement in his game. All those cliches about work ethic, will, etc. were all on display when Hurts took the field this season. He made numerous high-level throws and orchestrated what was likely the best offense in franchise history.
I thought his ceiling would be as a high-level system quarterback that could create out of structure on occasion. I believe he benefited from the system and players around him but I also believe he was the piece that drove the Eagles offense. The coaching staff could do so much more because of what he brought to the table. His ability as a runner elevated the ground game and forced defenses to think in the RPO game.
Hitting more on his intangibles, he seemed unfazed when the chips were down against Kansas City. The fumble was demoralizing and felt like a moment where the floodgates would open. Instead Hurts immediately flipped the script and led his team to a pair of scoring drives before the half. That same feeling persisted after Kansas City took an eight-point lead in the second half when the offense seems to be running out of steam after drives that yielded a field goal and a punt. Hurts instead led his team down the field, capping the tying drive with one of the more incredible runs you’ll see from a quarterback with a powerful 2-point conversion jolt. Not to beat a dead horse but rarely has it felt like the Eagles have had a QB who could flip the momentum the way Hurts did twice in the game.
A defensive nightmare
It’s impossible to say something that hasn’t already been said about the Eagles defense. The second half performance was pitiful and it feels hard to blame it all on coaching, though we’ll get to Jonathan Gannon momentarily. Attention to detail is magnified when you have the two best teams in the league playing each other with two weeks of preparation. The Eagles failed to execute the little things and it added up, erasing their ability to get the Chiefs off script.
On Isiah Pacheco’s 24-yard first-quarter run T.J. Edwards was frozen by motion and never scraped to fill his run fit. Darius Slay briefly took his eyes off Kadarius Toney on his touchdown reception. Jordan Davis and C.J. Gardner-Johnson took the same gap on a first-down run play that picked up nine yards in the second half. Andy Reid’s record with an extra week of preparation has been well documented. These were things the Eagles needed to be sound in and they weren’t. On the outside it’s hard to know how to disperse blame. Was it coaching or simply poor execution? It would be nice to know which leads me to my next point.
It was disappointing to say the least that Jonathan Gannon didn’t speak with the media after the loss. He could’ve answered those questions about the execution and why it was so poor. During his time in Philadelphia he’s faced Dak Prescott three times, Tom Brady twice, Patrick Mahomes twice and other relatively successful quarterbacks such as Justin Herbert, Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr, Aaron Rodgers and Trevor Lawrence. Most of those players have diced his defenses.
Good QBs do that, but it’s alarming how easily they did it against Gannon’s units. Dak posted CPOE (complain percentage over expected) lines of 16.8 and 14.6 in both 2021 matchups with the Eagles. Mahomes was good for 17 and 13.6 in his two matchups. Justin Herbert was good for 16.8 and Derek Carr for 17.8. Brady fired a clips of 12.9 and 8.2. Mahomes has led the NFL in that category over the last two season with CPOE of 6 while Joe Burrow is second at 4.5. That’s nearly a 10 percent bump in completion percentage when playing a Gannon-led defense. Even this season that number was high with Dak posting a CPOE of 8.1 and Kirk Cousins one of 7.8.
Naturally Gannon’s passive approach to limiting big plays yields more plays underneath which translates into a higher completion percentage as the ADOT (average depth of target) for each of those QBs was below league average when they played the Eagles. The issue is that’s not a way to attack experienced play callers or top tier QBs. It was made worse this year with the Eagles’ struggles against the run.
It all came together Sunday when the Chiefs used the run to stay on script, helping them avoid obvious passing situations and in effect helping neutralize the Eagles’ great equalizer - their pass rush. A patient offense engineered by a good QB gave Gannon fits. The Eagles are better off without him if they want to evolve. In a world where the Eagles fielded playoff defensive backfields with Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby it’s shame one with two all-pro caliber corners went to waste.
Whoever gets the defensive coordinator position has their work cut out for them. The personnel will be mostly different and regression is guaranteed. That said, this search needs to be handled with care. The Eagles need to hire with the goal of countering the elite QBs of the NFL. There aren’t any of those in the NFC right now which served as a perfect storm for the Birds. The best QB in the conference plays for the Eagles while the second best is probably Dak.
The next defensive coordinator needs to come in with a philosophy geared towards limiting the Josh Allens and Patrick Mahomes of the world. That doesn’t need to be tied to a specific scheme, it just needs to be something more than “Don’t get beat deep in the passing game.” Being adaptable would be a good start. The Bengals’ personnel didn’t matchup with the Eagles’ this year but that’s still a team that managed to hold Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen to under 24 points because it was adaptable to each opponent.
Moves on offense
One of the positives is the Eagles have their offensive core under contract through the next couple of years. It remains to be seen what Jason Kelce decides to do but Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Lane Johnson, DeVonta Smith, AJ Brown, Dallas Goedert and Jalen Hurts form one of the best offensive cores of the last decade.
It will be interesting to see if there’s a steep curve to finding success when the Eagles named their next offensive coordinator, presumably Brian Johnson. We’re aware of the struggles when the team went from Frank Reich to Mike Groh in 2018 though Johnson’s track record, particularly at Florida, is more encouraging than Groh’s was. I may be in the minority here, but as Hurts continues to progress as a passer I’d be in favor of limiting the amount of designed runs. Hurts has missed time each of the last two seasons and while he’s smart in how he avoids hits in in the open field, I’d prefer his exposure to them be limited.
You don’t have to scrap them altogether as I believe he gives you an advantage, but his health should be your top priority. Even with the turnover on defense the offense is cohesive enough and the NFC is down to the point where a healthy offense will have the Eagles in contention every year.
Russell Wilson might be a good blueprint for how to handle Hurts. Wilson was a good passer early in his career but was incorporated more in the run game in those early years. As it became clear he was going to receive a massive contract, designed QB runs became more scarce. This also feels like a good time to point out over the last two seasons the team has played six more games than usual - two new Week 18 games and four playoff games. That toll adds up and will continue to do so.
The way the season ended was a bummer but the Eagles come out of this season with more long-term answers to the important questions they had last year.