The 2024 coaching cycle is essentially complete. The Commanders got last choice of head coaches, the Seahawks are going through last choice of offensive coordinators, and the Cowboys are going through last choice of defensive coordinators. The Eagles and Nick Sirianni, their Chief Executive Football Coaching Officer, filled their C-suite positions relatively early. Kellen Moore is the new offensive coordinator, and Vic Fangio returns to the Eagles as the defensive coordinator. Whoever made the final decision to hire them, they are as good of a hire as the Eagles could make.
The Eagles had to hire an offensive coordinator with NFL experience. They interviewed two with it, Kellen Moore and Kliff Kingsbury, and one without it, Jerrod Johnson. Potential experienced candidates they didn’t interview included Shane Waldron, who was hired by the Bears, Ken Dorsey, who was hired by the Browns; Alex Van Pelt, who was hired by the Patriots; Arthur Smith, who was hired by the Steelers; Luke Getsy, who was hired by the Raiders; and Josh McDaniels, who was believed to be joining Bill Belichick in Atlanta before the Falcons pulled out of hiring Belichick and who interviewed with the Eagles for head coach in 2021.
Of the experienced candidates, Moore is the best option for what the Eagles needed, and what they want to do. The league is churning through play callers at what has to be a record rate. Only 11 offensive play callers are still with the same team they were with in 2022, and only two of them, Ben Johnson and Mike Kafka (when Brian Daboll lets him call plays) are not head coaches. Head coaches are more fungible than ever, which means their assistants are even more replaceable. Not getting the job done? Owners and GMs can find someone who more aligns with their vision, even if they have never had the job before. If they stink, they’ll just fire them anyway and bring in some other up and comer.
What I like
-You don’t want too many voices/cooks like the team had in 2019 and 2020, but in 2022 and 2023 the team did not bring in any new voices on the offensive staff, the only hire made after 2021 was Marcus Brady, who worked with Sirianni on the Colts. With no new viewpoints or experiences on offense for three years, things predictably got stale. Nick Sirianni didn’t have to promote both Brian Johnson and Alex Tanney, he could have brought in someone from the outside, and now both are or will be gone and replaced by someone from outside. Moore comes with no real connection to the Eagles staff (he did play on teams that employed former Eagles advisor Jim Bob Cooter and former Sirianni coworker Matt Eberflus, but nearly a decade ago). He is likely to bring with him Doug Nussmeier, who was his QB coach with the Chargers and Cowboys, and perhaps a low level assistant, but those coaches will have alignment with Moore and not be the disparate parts like in 2019 and 2020.
As for on the field, Moore should mesh well with much of what works with the Eagles.
-Jalen Hurts has finished 4th, 11th, and 3rd in Intended Air Yards per Pass Attempt. Dak Prescott was 5th, 16th, and 10th under Moore, and last year Justin Herbert was 17th, which was up from 31st in 2022. Moore was hired in Los Angeles in large part to turn the Chargers from a dink and dunk offense to one with downfield passing. The results weren’t spectacular, but they were real and the Chargers dealt with injuries all season long.
-In 2022 Justin Herbert ran 41 RPOs in 17 games, 15th most; in 2023 he ran 68 in 13 games, which was 10th most but if we prorate that to 17 games it would have been the 5th most. Justin Herbert is no Jalen Hurts, but Moore has called his fair share of RPOs.
-He’s not going to not get Dallas Goedert involved. Dalton Schultz had 63, 78, and 57 receptions under Moore. Gerald Everett had the second most receptions per game (and barely so) in his career.
-He’s not going to spread the ball around just to spread it around. In Dallas his top 4 targets accounted for 69%, 71%, 62%, and 72% of target share. The Chargers in 2023 were injury plagued but even missing four games Keenan Allen had the 3rd highest total targets of his career, Gerald Everett had the 2nd most of his career despite missing two games, and in just three games Mike Williams was on pace for the most in his career. AJ Brown, Devonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert are still going to get their pieces of the pie.
-When he’s had strong talent he’s gotten strong results. In his only season with Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and CeeDee Lamb for a full season, 2021, the Cowboys led the league in scoring and yards, and were 6th in both total and passing DVOA. It should seem obvious that having really good players results in having really good success, but it isn’t, otherwise the job wouldn’t have been available.
-Despite Justin Herbert missing four starts and playing through multiple games with a broken finger on his throwing hand, and his WR1, WR3, WR4, TE1, and RB1 all missing time, along with his starting center, the Chargers offense finished a respectable 16th in DVOA.
-Under Nick Sirianni the Eagles have had the 5th, 3rd, and 2nd highest rate of no huddle. Moore’s offenses have been in the top 10.
-For what it is worth, in the first game after Brandon Staley was fired the Chargers scored more points than they had in any of their previous five games, and more points per game in their final three games than in their previous five; all with Easton Stick at QB. Hard to imagine interim HC and LB coach Giff Smith marched into Moore’s office and told him to play an offense he didn’t want to. That probably means very little, but it’s better than the offense collapsing.
What I don’t like
-Moore’s offenses have not been good on 4th down: 21st, 21st, 11th, 14th, and 24th in conversion rate. Jalen Hurts gives the Eagles a high floor on 4th and very short, but Moore needs to improve here.
-Unless they sign or draft a tight end who can play significant snaps and catch the ball, expect more cardio from Jack Stoll. Moore’s offenses have been 16th, 9th, 8th, 6th, and 5th in 12 personnel.
Where the Eagles infrastructure can help
-Last year the Chargers were 20th in rush yards before contact. The Eagles? 4th.
-In Dallas and Los Angeles the knock on Moore has been his in-game/situational adjustments. Jeff Stoutland has been excellent at it with the run game, so that should help some, but it’s an issue that followed Moore.
Like offensive coordinator, the Eagles could not risk the hire of another inexperienced defensive coordinator. They got one with a boatload of it.
Vic Fangio has been coaching for so long he entered the NFL the same year Jim Johnson did, coincidentally both coached in the USFL for two seasons before entering the NFL. And they were both the Colts defensive coordinator in the 90s. Their similarities pretty much end there though, Johnson loved to blitz, Fangio does not.
Like Moore, Fangio was the best option for what they needed, and the best option for what they want to do. The Eagles want to run the “Fangio defense.” Jonathan Gannon tried, Sean Desai actually worked for Fangio, and now rather than an imitation they have the real thing. What to know what Vic Fangio would do? Knock on his door and ask him. I am somewhat convinced that Mike McDaniel hired him just so he could pick his brain to try to get ahead of defenses.
What I like
-Fangio’s experience runs laps around most of the offensive play callers in the league.
Vic Fangio’s first coaching job was in 1979. Most of the offensive play callers in the league and that the Eagles will face this season weren’t even born yet when Fangio coached his first game in high school. Vic Fangio coached against some of their dads. Experience matters, and the Eagles coaching staff has been lacking in it for a while. No more of that on defense.
-He’s developed young players and gotten strong seasons out of veterans.
NaVarro Bowman was a 3rd round pick with not a lot of playing time in his rookie year, in his second season, his first with Fangio, he was All Pro. Bradley Chubb, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson, Justin Simmons, and Donte Whitner also made their first Pro Bowl or All Pro under Fangio. Ahmad Brooks, Akiem Hicks, Dashon Goldson, Eric Reid, and Carlos Rogers made their only Pro Bowl(s) and/or All Pro(s) under Fangio. And Justin Smith had already made the Pro Bowl before Fangio but made All Pro under him, while Antoine Bethea made his first in five seasons. And that’s just listing postseason honors.
What I don’t like
-While it’s good to get the original of something you have been chasing, in the NFL if you’re going after what’s been working you’re probably already behind. The Fangio defense is in vogue right now, but that is bound to change. For a while the defense du jour was Cover 1 and Cover 3, inspired by Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ dominance and the Pete Carroll Legion of Boom. Then offenses countered those cover odd/middle of field closed schemes, and defenses countered to that counter with the only place they could go: to cover even/middle of field open defenses of Cover 2 and Cover 4. It’s simple math, you either have an odd number of deep defenders, or an even number, just as you either have an odd number of linemen or an even one. Right now teams are defending by putting an even number of deep defenders on most plays to take away deep passes and force teams to grind out short and medium completions; in the past decade the lowest scoring seasons have been 2017, and then 2022 and 2023. Once is a blip, twice in a row is a trend.
Eventually offensive adjustments are going to break through, and the counter to that adjustment will be moving into the cover odd/MOFC part of the endless cycle. This isn’t to say that Vic Fangio can’t adjust. He’s been defensive coordinator or head coach for 23 years. If he hasn’t seen it, no one has. But…
-While the “Fangio defense” is all the rage, Vic Fangio’s defenses haven’t been. The Dolphins were 19th in DVOA last year, the Broncos were 13th, 13th, and 20th; the Bears were 31st, 22nd, 14th, and 1st; and the 49ers were 3rd, 4th, 13th, and 5th. Fangio hasn’t had back to back top 10 defenses in a decade, but more worryingly for the 2024 Eagles in his last three stops he did not make an immediate impact. The Dolphins went from 15th to 19th, the Broncos from 6th to 13th, and the Bears from 29th to 31st. He did deal with injuries in Miami, but that’s a consistent track record of his defense needing time to reach its peak. Which is a problem because the Eagles are a win now team and…
-This defense isn’t ready to win now. New additions should help, and Fangio is a massive step up from the end of the season with Matt Patricia. But do not be at all surprised if midway through the season the defense doesn’t look or perform much better than it was under Sean Desai. After Week 9 of this season, when the team started to take away responsibilities from Desai, the Eagles were 21st in DVOA. The Dolphins were 24th. A coach can only do so much with what he has.
-While Fangio has gotten strong seasons out of veterans, those veterans were mostly solid players before he had them. He hasn’t had a good deal of success with getting strong seasons out of journeyman players. In his eight seasons in Chicago, Denver, and Miami, just six players played 40+% of snaps for him and were on at least their third team in five seasons. Plugging gaps hasn’t been his style.
But that actually could be an advantage…
Where the Eagles infrastructure can help
-In 2016 the Eagles, not Doug Pederson, hired Jim Schwartz. That worked out pretty well. Schwartz had significant say in personnel decisions. In 2016 the team signed Nigel Bradham, Leodis McKelvin, and Ron Brooks, who all played for Schwartz with the Bills, and traded away Kiko Alonso, who was with Schwartz in Buffalo but did not play due to injury. And in 2017 they signed Corey Graham and traded for Ronald Darby, who also played in Buffalo with Schwartz.
Fangio should be given a similar level of input to the roster. That doesn’t necessarily mean signing a bunch of his former players, though six players from the Dolphins who played 40%+ snaps for Fangio are scheduled to be free agents and a handful are potential cap casualties, and three from his final season in Denver will be free agents as well.
The Eagles have relied too much on half measures on defense. Fangio’s track record of not taking on fringe or journeyman players hopefully will be a positive influence on a front office that needs a recalibration in how they acquire linebackers and safeties.
-The Eagles have money to spend, and the majority of holes are on defense. The shopping list on offense is pretty short with so many starting positions locked up. While they don’t have a huge amount of cap space to work with, they can spend most of it on defense.
What this means for everyone else
Nick Sirianni should enter the 2024 season under pressure. It’s only fair. There are absolutely no excuses this year from a coaching standpoint. Kellen Moore and Vic Fangio have more experience in their current jobs than Sirianni does in his. Moore and Fangio are as strong a hire as the team could make. There will be early season bumps as the coaches learn their players, as there is for every new coach on every team. But there won’t be any learning on the job. If this team fails to have a successful season, which at the very least has to be making the second round of the playoffs, changes are going to come.
The same goes for the players. The Eagles roster is pretty locked in for 2024, but 2025 has a lot of moving parts.
Another disappointing season and everything should be on the table.