It’s that time of the year where everything is just dandy for every NFL team. “He’s in the best shape of his life! The quarterback already has an amazing repertoire with his receivers! The defense is looking fantastic in training camp!”
The positivity is good to have. After all, if a team is heading into the season knowing it will be a bust, odds are, it will be. Of course, pretending the team is set to utterly dominate might be considered wearing the rose-colored glasses.
With their additions, the Eagles certainly looked primed for a stellar season. But at the same time, these are the Eagles we’re talking about. The same Eagles that took their “dream team” and turned it into an 8-8 season.
So, let’s put on our imagination caps and think of just how the team could utterly disappoint all expectations come September, and what the odds of the pessimistic occurrences happening could be.
Despite Weapons, Jalen Hurts Dive-bombs Into Mediocrity
The roads to the team’s success this season all run through the most important position in sports. That means Jalen Hurts has a lot riding on him. He needs to make improvements over last season, especially even more so now that he has additional weapons at his disposal and is healthy from his nagging ankle injury that turned his game one dimensional.
Hurts also needs to prove he can win big games (the Eagles went 1-7 against teams that finished with .500 records in 2021). Essentially, this is the make-or-break season for him. Unfortunately for Hurts, our scenario sees him bombing.
The doomsday scenario: Hurts continues to underwhelm with his arm strength and completition percentage, once again falling somewhere around his 28th-ranked completition percentage (60.6%) and 26th-ranked QBR (84.7) from last season.
He makes the occasional big play, but the overall lack of progression proves to be an incredibly frustrating occurrence, given that DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown are able to regularly separate from receivers. The offense finds itself regularly stagnant, especially as the rushing game fails to repeats its status as an anchor from 2021.
Hurts also fails to show up in big games, especially against NFC and NFC East opponents. In those games, two interceptions are typical, and even with his legs, momentum seems to be far and few in between. While he can handle lesser opponents, that doesn’t end up mattering in the end as the Eagles miss the playoffs.
Following the season, Hurts is traded, while the Eagles select a QB with one of their first-round picks in a loaded 2023 draft.
Likelihood of this happening: Low. I think it would be a huge surprise if Hurts didn’t make some improvements to his passing game, and the amount of new talent at receiver will help to minimize his floor.
Now, while I think Hurts’ odds of not improving at all are low, I feel like the odds of the Eagles moving on at QB after this season could be a little bit higher.
Howie Roseman loves to wheel and deal, and if he feels there’s a player that would provide more value than Hurts, he would think long and hard about a possible changeup. So it remains to be seen just how well Hurts will have to perform and progress to assure the Eagles he’s their franchise guy.
The Defense Struggles Under Newfound Pressure
With Hassan Reddick, Nakobe Dean, James Bradberry, Jordan Davis, and Kyzir White in tow, there’s a lot to love about the new look defense. It’s finally got depth at linebacker, a formidable starting corner duo, and enough talent up front to help keep the pressure on. So, does it add up to a top-five D?
The doomsday scenario: The Eagles struggle to get pressure and sacks up front. Derek Barnett and Fletcher Cox were key figures during the Super Bowl run, but are now clearly on the decline with penalties and mediocre play. It’s obvious the Eagles made a mistake bringing them back.
Josh Sweat is unable to replicate his solid Pro-Bowl season last year. Meanwhile, though Davis is able to get attention, his inability to sack the quarterback — something present throughout his college career — leaves fans frustrated and ranting.
Darius Slay is able to put on another solid season, but the secondary struggles, particularly safeties. Bradberry doesn’t live up to expectations, allowing a similar stat line to his play last season (729 passing yards, eight touchdowns, 61.2% completion percentage).
Jonathon Gannon is under heavy fire throughout the season. Despite the talent, the defense fails to make critical plays when necessary and allows teams to jump ahead, making the Eagles play catch-up. Play calls are continually questionable. He’s cut loose at the end, a far-cry from the “up-and-coming” HC he was made out to be.
Likelihood of this happening: Honestly? Maybe 50%. Call me superstitious, but anytime “big expectations” and “Eagles” are put together — mixed with the big free-agent signing — it’s nerve-racking.
Gannon could be the key to productivity. He really needs to prove his anticipation around the league is warranted, especially now that he has no more excuses in terms of available depth and skill.
The Team Endures More Injuries
Over the past few years, health has sometimes been the Eagles’ toughest opponent. Injuries after injuries seemed to occur, putting the team is some really tough situations (case in point, the mish mash of starters at OL back in 2020).
Last year seemed to be a turning point, with Brandon Graham and his torn ACL being the only major, extended loss. However, even with that luck, there are certainly questions about if this team’s contributors can stay healthy.
The doomsday scenario: Dean’s pec injury that caused him to slide in the draft makes a reemergence and causes him to miss multiple games at a time, signaling a concern about his future durability. Other older players — Anthony Harris, Jaquiski Tartt — fall victim to similar injuries.
From Lane Johnson to Jordan Mailata, the offense line deals with repeated dents at various times, resulting in a repeat of never having every starter available most weeks. Though the added depth helps to mitigate this, it’s clear the Eagles aren’t living up to their full potential at OL.
Throw in a serious multi-week injury to one or two key cogs in the offense (Brown, Hurts, Goedert) and the team finds itself fighting to keep everyone healthy. Unfortunately, the dings add up, keeping the Birds out of the playoffs.
Likelihood of this happening: Not bad. Now, it might not be as extreme as the example I gave above, but the odds of the Eagles making it through their season unscathed is low, especially given the number of older players that have dealt with reoccurring bruises in the past.
So yes, a major injury will be inevitable. The only hope is that it isn’t several.
Nick Sirianni’s Coaching Woes Return, Signaling A Fluke
Nick Sirianni is coming off a fantastic season as a rookie head coach, earning a 9-8 record with a playoff appearance to boot. His flower power attitude seems to be working well amongst the team, but will his parade turn into something more Chip Kelly-esque?
The doomsday scenario: Sirianni has a sophomore slump and seems to revert back to his inexperienced self we saw throughout the first half of last season. At one minute, he neglects the running game altogether. Another minute, the team’s premiere players aren’t seeing enough play calls designed to get them the ball. Goal line calls are aggravating.
Though Nick Sirianni might make similar corny, team-hyping comments that were a surprise hit last season, they start to grow old as the team isn’t living up to its potential, ultimately finishing the season a few games below .500.
That’s the kind of mediocre ending that gets Sirianni a pass from Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie, but doesn’t instill any encouragement from the fanbase for 2023, leaving some to wonder if the team is just prolonging the inevitable.
Likelihood of this happening: Low. Sirianni certainly has his weaknesses, and it’s fair to question whether he’s the kind of coach that could lead this team back to the Super Bowl. But I do think he, like Hurts, takes a step forward in coaching and finishes with an 11-6 record.
He seems to understand the necessary schemes and play calls, and is willing to work with others in order to achieve those means. Though it might be tough to give up complete control of play calling, Sirianni clearly recognizes it could benefit the team in the long-run. For that, I’ll give him credit and say it bodes well with his development in 2022.