The Eagles have had a perfect start in the win-loss column, but an imperfect performance. On one hand, winning games when not playing great is a sign of a good team, and it is only September. On the other hand, there will be a point where early season concerns cross over into midseason problems. We are not there yet. But we can start to outline in pencil some conclusions.
Extremely early assistant coach grades
Everyone has to start somewhere, but a Super Bowl contender going with unproven play callers on both sides of the ball is a dangerous risk.
Sean Desai is in just his second year as a play caller, a statement that was true of Jonathan Gannon this time last year. And Gannon, as young and as dumb as he is, had been in the NFL for longer and been a position coach in the NFL for longer than Desai. (Coincidentally both spent some time in a non-coaching position, Gannon was a scout with the Rams, Desai was in the football operations department at the University of Miami.) But I feel better about Desai going into this season than I did Gannon because in Chicago Desai showed some ability to adapt, which is Gannon’s biggest flaw besides being a serial liar. I also am encouraged by John Fox, Vic Fangio, and Pete Carroll either keeping him on staff or hiring him. In his short background there is plenty to like.
As for his coaching so far, and again we’re talking about two games-on a new team no less-there’s reason for optimism. Desai is being asked to make due with a linebacker and safety group that was not good enough to start the season, and already there are injuries piling up.
What’s working: The Eagles have given up 104 rushing yards total through two games, which is fewer than any two games last year combined, and on a 3.4 yards per carry average. Mac Jones had 5.9 yards per attempt on 54(!) attempts. A drop off in sacks was always in the cards but four in two games is fine (they had three this time last year) and they’ve gotten to the QB without blitzing.
What’s not: Tackling is still an issue. Rotations, maybe. Derek Barnett shouldn’t be on the field in the red zone given the options ahead of him, but on Thursday he was. Haason Reddick played 73% and 67% of snaps, though he is returning from injury. Nolan Smith played 13 total snaps, though he too is returning from injury.
Confidence level: Increasing. In both games at least one starter has left due to injury and not returned. Both games so far have been one score finals, but in both the opposition scored a TD late in the 4th. Win Expectancy isn’t perfect but the Eagles have had an 80%+ WE at the start of the 4th in both games.
There are 15 regular season games to go but so far Desai has done a credible job, I don’t think you can reasonably ask a coach to do significantly better with what he’s had–and just as importantly, not had–at his disposal. His unit is punching its weight, which is good enough for the time being.
But Brian Johnson, you are quickly making me rethink my stance on how important Shane Steichen was to the offense last year. Johnson did have three seasons as a play caller in college, which is even if it was college was more than Steichen and Sirianni had when they joined the Eagles. But none of those seasons were anything to be proud of. At Utah Kyle Whittingham admitted that he put Johnson into the role too soon. At Houston the offense went from 26th in scoring to 65th with him and then 5th without him, though certainly losing Eagles legend Greg Ward at QB played a part in the Cougars drop off. In his short background, there are areas of concern.
In his short tenure as Eagles offensive coordinator has also been concerning.
What’s working: Not trying to be a smartass, but I spent all day Friday trying to think of something positive that the Eagles offense has done so far that you can’t credit Jeff Stoutland for. I got nothing.
What’s not: Jalen Hurts looks like he’s spending way too much time thinking. He’s also being asked to run the ball more than he should be on 1st and 2nd down given the pass catchers he has. Dallas Goedert should be the one complaining about his usage. Two touches for D’Andre Swift against the Patriots was outrageous then and is indefensible after the Vikings game even if the Vikings were content to only rush three and let Swift steamroll them. The offense had 10 possessions in the 2nd half that weren’t either a kneel down or the defense recovering a turnover at the 7 yard line, and failed to get past the opposition’s 30 on 8 of them.
Confidence level: Poor. Johnson is likely a good QB coach, at Mississippi State he was Dak Prescott’s QB coach, at Florida as QB coach he helped Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask to have the best seasons by a Gator since Tim Tebow a decade prior, and of course he was Jalen Hurts’ QB coach the past two years. We may have another Mike Groh Peter Principle situation–though Groh didn’t call plays–in that Johnson is a good position coach who is not ready or maybe not cut out (he is only 36) for a promotion.
This offense is far less than the sum of its impressive parts. That’s on the game plan, that’s on the in-game adjustments, and that’s on the players too. And all of that is on the coaches.
Both these guys are going to take their lumps during the season because they’re learning on the job. The post-TNF mini-bye, which is even longer than usual because the next game is Monday Night Football, will give the coaching staff plenty of time for self-scouting. If we see a lot of the same stutters on offense in that game, you can flip open the safety cover on the panic button.
Same game, different year (again)
Last year the Eagles played the Vikings in prime time in Week 2. They won. They did it again on Thursday. I wondered after the season opener if the NFL was just using the same script for the Eagles as last season. I’m still unconvinced.
In 2022 the Eagles won the turnovers 3-1, this year they won it 4-1. In both games Kirk Cousins was sacked twice while the Eagles gave up more sacks. In both games Justin Jefferson was kept out of the end zone thanks in large part to Darius Slay. In both games the Eagles dominated the time of possession, 36:14 in 2022 and 39:28 on Thursday. In 2022 the Eagles hurt themselves with 7 penalties, on Thursday they had 8. In both games the Eagles kicked a field goal at the end of the first half after some bad clock management by Kevin O’Connell; last year giving the Eagles a time out prior to a 3rd down that they then converted, this year taking a timeout after an incomplete pass because they couldn’t get the play in.
Thursday wasn’t quite the carbon copy of last year that the season opener was, but there were things to be concerned about coming out of that game too. Though Jalen Hurts had a coming out game as a passer going 26-31 for 333 yards after a struggle in Week 1, he threw just 1 TD (though he did run for 2) and the Eagles didn’t score in the second half, with a block FG, punt, INT, and punt. You would have been forgiven for being concerned that the offense couldn’t close the deal in the second half, because they didn’t. Things turned out alright for that team.
College Football Watch List Week 3
This week stinks on paper. Just a disgusting line up.
Early and late - Channel surfing
Night - Tennessee at Florida
UT: QB Joe Milton #7
Florida: CB Jason Marshall #3, EDGE Princely Umanmielen #1; Billy Napier’s seat temperature