HomeSportsNick Sirianni deserves another shot because Eagles have bigger problems to fix

Nick Sirianni deserves another shot because Eagles have bigger problems to fix

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Nick Sirianni deserves plenty of blame for the collapse of the Philadelphia Eagles. They were 10-1 as they entered December, and a good leader would have found a way to stop a team that talented from losing six of its last seven games.

The fact that he couldn’t do it is damning. It ruined whatever cushion he earned by leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl last year. And it will rightfully hover over him in 2024, which undoubtedly becomes a make-or-break season.

But the reason Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is right in not firing him now — which appears to be the decision he’s made — is that Sirianni isn’t the only reason for the Eagles’ failures. In fact, he’s not even the biggest. The roster general manager Howie Roseman built was flawed. The coordinators misused the talent they had. And no one stepped in to fix things even though the issues were obvious as far back in September.

In other words, there’s plenty of blame to go around in the Eagles organization. And they’ll need a lot of changes this offseason to get their budding dynasty back on track.

Sirianni already began that process when he fired demoted defensive coordinator Sean Desai and told his ill-suited replacement, Matt Patricia, that he won’t be welcomed back. Multiple team sources said offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is expected to be out too, as soon as the head coaching jobs he’s interviewed for are filled.

But new coordinators are only a part of what this franchise needs to rediscover its identity and remain a contender. Here’s a look at what else they need to do to make sure their spiral doesn’t continue, so they can find a way back to the top:

Re-commit to the run: Whomever the Eagles hire as their new offensive coordinator needs to understand what Johnson didn’t: The Eagles are at their best on the ground. That’s how they were built, with a dominant offensive line and a dual-threat quarterback who is incredibly dangerous when he moves.

It’s not that Jalen Hurts can’t stand in the pocket and beat teams with his arm. Of course he can. And he’s done it often over the last two seasons. But the offense was at its best when it was living off of run-pass-option (RPO) plays. Defenses were being mauled by the Eagles O-line and then they had to hesitate not knowing if Hurts was going to hand the ball off, run it himself, or throw the ball.

Why did the Eagles collapse?

There was no guesswork this past season. Hurts might have run the same amount this season (68 carries, 508 yards) as he did last season (67-627, albeit in two fewer games), but in too many key situations they either went to straight handoffs or didn’t run at all. Like in the playoffs against the Buccaneers — perhaps their most maddening game. Johnson called runs on the first two plays, then passes on 13 of the next 14. By halftime, with the Eagles trailing only by a touchdown, he had called 21 pass plays and just five runs.

The Eagles players said it was because of the Bucs’ defensive fronts, but since when does a team with an offensive line that good willingly let an opponent make it one-dimensional? The new offensive coordinator needs to remember what the Eagles do best.

Enhance the pass rush: No one thought the Eagles would repeat the 70 sacks they had in 2022, but the drop to 43 was alarming. And it wasn’t just because they lost defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and his 11 sacks. It was because their two defensive coordinators couldn’t figure out ways to turn their pass rushers loose.

Some of it was because defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (five sacks) and linebacker Brandon Graham (three) are getting old. Some of it was because defensive end Josh Sweat (6.5) showed his limitations. But a lot of it was because they didn’t have good blitzers at linebacker or in the secondary and they didn’t get much from first-rounder Nolan Smith (one sack).

And then there’s Haason Reddick, their best pass rusher by far, who had a team-high 11 sacks on the season. The amount of times he was dropped into coverage late in the season was shocking, especially since no one else could get to the quarterback.

The new coordinator has to put a stop to that and let Reddick do what he does best. It wouldn’t hurt if Roseman did some of his patented salary cap gymnastics and found a way to add one more pass rusher in free agency to help Reddick out.

Rebuild the secondary: The defense needs a lot of work, but the secondary needs to be totally rebuilt. The coordinator situation didn’t help, but their coverage was generally poor and their tackling was atrocious, no matter how many times Sirianni insisted they were one of the top tackling teams in the NFL (spoiler alert: They were not).

Injuries in the secondary certainly didn’t help, but they never replaced the play-making or attitude of safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, whom they let leave in free agency. They were counting on their top-tier cornerback corps to carry the group, but Avonte Maddox was hurt most of the season, James Bradberry badly regressed (and likely won’t be back) and even Darius Slay wasn’t as good this season.

Slay is the only cornerstone piece in the secondary and he’s 33 now. Maybe safety Kevin Byard, who was acquired at the trading deadline, can be an all-pro player again, but he certainly wasn’t this season. There is some hope for young safety Sydney Brown and corners Eli Ricks and Kelee Ringo, but finding another Bradberry-like steal in free agency seems imperative. That secondary needs a lot of help.

Was Jalen Hurts more to blame for Eagles’ playoff loss than Nick Sirianni?

Add a third receiver: This feels like a never-ending quest for Philly, but they don’t have a viable option at receiver beyond A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. Generally, when the offense is working and Brown and Smith are clicking, they don’t need one. But injuries happen. And late in the season when Brown was in a weird funk — and then hurt in the playoffs — they were desperate for someone else to step up.

This year, the third-receiver trio of Quez Watkins, Olamide Zaccheaus and Julio Jones combined for 36 catches for 380 yards. Running back D’Andre Swift (39-214) had more catches, and he and backup running back Kenneth Gainwell (30-183) combined for more yards.

The draft is loaded every year with promising young receivers that can be had in the second and third rounds. It would be really wise for Roseman to grab one of them this year, especially with Smith only signed through the end of next season.

Don’t ignore the linebacker corps: How many times did we hear in the offseason that linebackers weren’t that important to Roseman? It didn’t seem like a worry because they were counting on Nakobe Dean to have an impact in the middle. But once he got hurt, the Eagles’ remaining linebackers were exposed as so mediocre that they were forced to sign Shaq Leonard as a desperate move late in the season.

The linebackers are at the core of the Eagles’ tackling issue. Any runner that breaks through the line of scrimmage, or any receiver that catches a short pass had a pretty good shot at breaking a tackle from a linebacker. They either flat-out missed or took bad angles that let the ball carrier go free. And they were virtually no help in the pass rush either, though that at least was partially because of a flawed defensive scheme.

Roseman can minimize the importance of a linebacker all he wants, but it would really help if the Eagles had one they could count on — someone who could consistently make a tackle and with a nose for being in the right spot at the right time.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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