As we approach Monday’s matchup between the Eagles and the Buccaneers, it’s shaping up to be one of the most intriguing playoff openers in recent memory.
The Eagles, who closed out the regular season in a somewhat shaky fashion, now face the risk of being associated with the Super Bowl-losing hangover phenomenon, a narrative that haunts defending NFC champions.
Rumors of staff changes within the Eagles organization are swirling, with speculation that they may soon have their third defensive coordinator in as many years. However, the top decision-maker, Nick Sirianni, is reportedly not in any immediate danger of losing his job, according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer.
Even if the Eagles were to lose to the No. 4-seeded Buccaneers, who finished the regular season with a 9-8 record and secured a home game due to the NFC South’s underwhelming performance in recent years, it appears that Sirianni’s position is secure.
The Eagles, with an 11-6 record, have faced their fair share of challenges, including a slump where they lost five of their last six games. Sirianni, now in his third season as head coach, has presided over one of the more memorable late-season struggles in recent NFL history.
While the Eagles’ defensive woes have been scrutinized, their quarterback, Jalen Hurts, has failed to build upon his breakthrough rookie campaign. Playing through injuries this season, Hurts has seen a decline in his performance across the board, particularly in interceptions, where he has thrown 15, matching his total from his previous two seasons combined.
Despite recently receiving a contract extension, Hurts did not earn a Pro Bowl invitation, and reports suggest a growing disconnect between him and the offensive coaching staff.
The Eagles made a significant change by replacing two-year play-caller Shane Steichen with Hurts’ position coach, Brian Johnson, who has a long history with the dual-threat QB. Johnson, who has garnered interest for head coaching positions, stepped into his new role at a challenging time as the Eagles entered the playoffs with a series of concerns.
Hurts has expressed frustration with the team’s heavy reliance on vertical passing routes that require receivers like A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith to win one-on-one matchups. Interestingly, only 5.2% of Hurts’ pass attempts this season were between-the-hashes throws, the lowest among qualified quarterbacks. With Brown sidelined due to injury, the pressure on Hurts has intensified.
Some observers attribute the disconnect between Hurts and the coaching staff to the transition from Steichen to Johnson as the offensive coordinator, with Johnson trying to adapt his concepts to Sirianni’s system. This situation draws parallels to the issues faced by the Panthers, who struggled due to their attempts to blend OC Thomas Brown’s philosophy with Frank Reich’s scheme. While the Eagles are in a different tier than the Panthers, their decline from a 10-1 start to the No. 5 seed has been perplexing.
Nick Sirianni’s decision to demote Sean Desai and assign many of his responsibilities to Matt Patricia did not yield immediate improvements, although it did provide some initial relief to certain defensive players. Locker-room tension played a role in the defensive shake-up, and multiple players-only meetings have taken place.
All of this paints a somewhat bleak picture for the Eagles’ chances of defending their NFC title. However, it’s worth noting that Sirianni led the Eagles on a surprising playoff journey in 2021, following the tumultuous final season of Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz. Furthermore, Sirianni came within a disputed defensive holding penalty of having a shot at winning Super Bowl LVII.
It would be surprising if the Eagles were to part ways with Nick Sirianni so soon, especially considering they had previously fired Pederson three years after his Super Bowl LII victory and let go of Andy Reid in the past. If the Eagles manage to replicate the 2022 Cowboys’ success and upset the Buccaneers in the first round, Sirianni’s job security would likely be more assured. However, unless there’s a remarkable turnaround, the team’s struggles in December and January will likely define the upcoming offseason.
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