Where does your franchise stand heading into 2022? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Eagles' organization, Eagles fans around the world and those who still can't resist chanting "E-C-Dub" when they see a metal folding chair just sitting there:
I know the Eagles have a not-so-great history with offseason hype; even now, nearly 11 years later, who can forget the way Vince Young's infamous "Dream Team" fell flat? All that said, it's hard to contain my excitement around some of the moves Philly made this offseason. This team has been almost perfectly average since winning Super Bowl LII, compiling a record of 31-33-1 in that span. But I think the Eagles really helped set themselves up for 2022.
One high from last season: Winning the Darius Slay REVENGE GAME. I know it was just beating the Lions, but the Eagles entered their Week 8 matchup with Detroit at 2-5. The season was on the verge of getting away from them. Then they smoked Detroit, 44-6, to get things back on track. (I mean, Philly lost to the Chargers the following week, but still, you could tell the team was in much better straits.)
One low from last season: The wild-card defeat to the Buccaneers. I mean, it's cool to make the playoffs and all. But the game that sent Philly home for the year wasn't even competitive.
Head coach: Nick Sirianni. I'm going to be honest with you, I had my doubts when Sirianni was hired by the Eagles in January 2021. His initial press conference was a bit bumpy. He did the weird rock-paper-scissors thing with prospects. But he won his first game, against the Falcons, and you thought, maybe. Things got shaky with a subsequent 2-6 stretch. Then the Eagles got on a roll, winning six of their last eight games to reach the playoffs. Of course, they didn't stay in the postseason long.
One thing that I really appreciated was that Sirianni worked the offense to fit the personnel. In 2020, the Eagles ranked 10th in passing attempts, 28th in passing yards, 23rd in rushing attempts and ninth in rushing yards, while averaging 20.9 points and winning just four games. In 2021, they dropped to 32nd in pass attempts and 25th in passing yards, jumped to second in carries and first in rushing yards and averaged more than 25 points per game while upping their win total by five.
Note also that from Weeks 1-9, Philly attempted more passes (276) than runs (249) and went 3-6. From Weeks 10-18, the team flipped those totals, logging more carries (301) than throws (218), and went 6-2. I thought it was a really nice adjustment from a young head coach, something that seemed to turn the season around. I'm now kind of sold on this dude.
Quarterback: Jalen Hurts. I'm a big Hurts guy. You know this. (And if you don't, I just told you, so we're all up to speed now.) I'm a huge believer. And the 2020 second-rounder delivered in his first full season as the starter, leading the Eagles to the playoffs.
Now, it would be disingenuous of me to mention that and not point out that Hurts played kind of poorly in said playoffs, helming an offense that was shut out for the first three quarters of that Wild Card Round loss to Tampa. The first points for Philly came via a fourth-quarter Boston Scott rushing touchdown, while Hurts eventually added a cosmetic second score, finding Kenneth Gainwell on a 16-yard touchdown reception.
Still, as Hurts said afterward, the game didn't define him or the team. And he's right. He's entering his third year in the NFL, and he's going to continue to develop. He might not be fellow 2020 draftee Justin Herbert, who made the Pro Bowl last season, right now. But I'd still take Hurts over Tua Tagovailoa, who was picked 48 spots earlier than Hurts that year, so he's got that going for him.
Projected 2022 MVP: Hurts. I put this on Hurts last year, and I'm going to do it again. The additions to the roster (more on those in a sec) mean that even a modest improvement from the QB will mean big things for the Eagles this year -- and for him, given that he's got two years left on his rookie deal and is not necessarily guaranteed to keep the job beyond '22. It's on him. The pieces are there. Sirianni's early optimism is promising.
New face to know: A.J. Brown, receiver. You always hear about teams winning the draft because of the players they selected. The Eagles came away from Round 1 this year with a stud (defensive tackle Jordan Davis, taken 13th overall), but what really elevated general manager Howie Roseman's night was the return for two choices (Nos. 18 and 101) that were given away: Brown, a phenomenal veteran receiver. I was a huge fan of Brown when he was in Tennessee and honestly thought he was going to have a true breakout season in 2021, his third year in the NFL. He didn't, instead regressing from 11 touchdown catches in '20 to five. But I feel like he's going to get back into double digits this season. And I'd love to see the Eagles get creative with Brown on the field. I know it's in vogue to say someone can be a Deebo Samuel-like player -- but Brown kind of can be. Regardless, he's going to be a great complement to the next name in this piece ...
2022 breakout star: DeVonta Smith, receiver. I honestly love the way the receivers room has been built in Philadelphia. (Yeah, the organization is going to have to wear the decision to draft the underwhelming Jalen Reagor one spot before stud Justin Jefferson forever. But, like a closer in baseball after a blown save, they just have to let that one go.) Of all the second-year pros at the position, I have the most confidence in Smith. He was already my favorite receiver coming into the draft last year, before Philly took him 10th overall. Having Brown alongside him in 2022 should give him plenty of space to operate, setting up a star-making leap.
Three key dates:
- Week 1 at Detroit Lions. I honestly wouldn't want to play Detroit in Week 1. I'm not convinced the Lions are going to break out this season -- but if they are, this could be a trap game.
- Week 8 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers. This is the "extra" game that wouldn't have been on the schedule before the expansion to 17 games. Those who remember the Steagles of the 1943 season will be thrilled to see these two teams meet up.
- Week 18 vs. New York Giants. I believe the Giants are going to be better than expected this year (see their installment of this series). A playoff berth could ride on this game.
Will the Eagles be able to ...
... beat the Dallas Cowboys (or at least keep it close)? This NFC East rivalry has been one-sided recently, like JBL vs. the Blue Meanie in ECW back in 2005. But let's remember the Blue Meanie (with help from Stevie Richards -- both are Eagles fans, mind you) did finally get over on JBL. I suspect some Eagles fans might secretly be dreading the Dallas games, given that the Cowboys have logged three consecutive wins of 20-plus points in the head-to-head series. Still, the Linc will be rocking when Dallas visits for Sunday Night Football in Week 6.
... find the best way to unleash Haason Reddick? The former first-round pick has logged consecutive seasons of double-digit sacks, putting up 12.5 for the Cardinals in 2020, his final season with that team, and 11 in his lone year with the Panthers in 2021. The Eagles brought the ex-Temple Owl home this offseason with the goal of rushing the passer. The biggest question is, where will they play him? He's listed as a linebacker. He can play in the middle or on the outside, or they can put him in at defensive end. Wherever he's positioned before the snap, however, the best place to find him when the whistle blows is in the face of the opposing quarterback.
One storyline ...
... people shouldn't overthink: Whether Jalen Hurts has enough arm strength. I know a lot of Eagles fans, and some of the dudes who read too many Twitter threads feel like Jalen doesn't have the arm to make the necessary throws. I guess they don't know Sirianni put that notion to rest during a pre-draft press conference, when he said, "I think there's no question that Jalen Hurts has the arm strength to make all the throws. He's well above the line to be able to make the throws, whether it's Atlanta in the first game of the year or whether it's Philly the last game of the year with some different type of weather. So we're confident in that." And so am I.
... people shouldn't overlook: How great James Bradberry can be in this defense. Before the Eagles scooped up Bradberry, who was released by the Giants, I wrote this long diatribe in which I tried to talk myself into Zech McPhearson being a potential breakout corner this season. Now I can toss it. Not that McPhearson can't be good this season. But the Eagles suddenly have one of the better cornerback combos in the NFL, with Bradberry opposite Slay. Philly is going to be no joke on defense.
For 2022 to be a success, the Eagles MUST:
- Win a playoff game. Two months ago, I would have said their goal should be getting back to the playoffs. Now, though, with all the additions, I now look at this roster as the best in the NFC East. So the team needs to do more than just make it back to the postseason -- they need to win a game there. I'm not quite ready to say Hurts' future depends on it, but anything less would be a disappointment.