NFL

Philadelphia Eagles: New era begins, but plenty of issues to solve

By Sports Desk March 22, 2021

After going from first to worst in the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to make wholesale changes. 

Doug Pederson departed, the head coach who steered the franchise to a first Super Bowl success just three years earlier deemed to no longer be the right man at the helm.   

"After taking some time to reflect on these conversations, I believe it is in both of our best interests to part ways," Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said in announcing Pederson's departure. 

The Carson Wentz era is over too, the former second overall pick getting a fresh start to his NFL career in Indianapolis. Nick Sirianni has moved in the opposite direction, leaving his post as offensive coordinator at the Colts to take charge in Philadelphia. 

A 4-11-1 record led to the departures, particularly as they lost seven out of eight after their bye week. That solitary success during the run came with Jalen Hurts starting at quarterback, seemingly offering a window into the future.  

Sirianni's appointment gives an indication as to where exactly the Eagles want to improve, as shown when looking into the team's numbers during what was a difficult 2020 season.

Offense 

Perhaps surprisingly for a team named the Eagles, there was an issue airing the ball out. Their average of 6.23 yards per pass attempt ranked dead last in the league, while they were also bottom of the pile in terms of completion percentage (55.9).  

Only the Broncos had more interceptions than Philadelphia's total of 20. Wentz was responsible for 15 in just 12 games, while a disposition to hang onto the ball led to him being on the wrong end of 50 quarterback sacks.  

Hurts was sacked 13 times, too, suggesting pass protection was a problem in general. 

Injuries did not help in that regard, admittedly, as they were without guard Brandon Brooks and tackle Andre Dillard for the entire season. They also had issues at receiver, Greg Ward finishing top for receptions with 53, hardly surprising considering he was the solitary wideout to appear in all 16 games.  

Despite the offensive line becoming a case of shuffling the pack on a weekly basis based both on form and fitness, they were still able to run the ball effectively, averaging 5.03 yards per attempt and 126.7 yards per game. 

Still, new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen will know the importance of re-establishing a consistent passing game.

Defense 

Creating pressure was not a problem for the Eagles, who finished behind only the Steelers and Rams with an impressive total of 49 sacks. 

Brandon Graham led the way with eight, while Fletcher Cox was again a factor in helping disrupt opponents on passing plays. 

And yet Philadelphia still allowed teams to complete at a rate of 68.7 per cent when throwing the ball, working out at 7.8 yards per attempt. If the pass rush failed to get home, the secondary was too often exposed. 

They also struggled when it came to stopping teams moving the ball on the ground, giving up an average of 125.8 yards per outing. 

Their cause was not helped by allowing 13 running plays of 20+ yards, as well as 20 rushing touchdowns. 

There were problems in the secondary, too. The Eagles managed only eight interceptions, making them one of just four franchises to fail to reach double digits. That low number led to a +/- takeaway deficit of -10.

Offseason

General manager Howie Roseman has holes to fill on both sides of the ball, yet not a lot of money available to find solutions. 

The Eagles' salary cap situation is not aided by having just over $40million in dead money weighing them down. It is not the table you want to top, though was deemed a necessary situation to move on from Wentz.  

Hurts tops the depth chart at quarterback for now; he will be helped by having the chance to get to grips with a new offense while getting the vast majority of reps, though that also means there is less wiggle room in terms of the level of his performances in year two.  

Philadelphia will also be hoping Jalen Reagor – selected with the 21st pick in the previous draft – can make a leap, particularly with Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson gone after barely making an impact in 2020.  

There are building blocks elsewhere on the roster, plus it can only be hoped the injury issues that weakened the offensive line do not strike again.  

Darius Slay is the number one cornerback, but there is a distinct lack of depth beneath a player who found the going tough at times in his first season in Philadelphia. 

With limited resources to spend in free agency, Roseman will have to lean heavily on the draft. The Eagles have 11 picks in total, albeit five of those are in the final two rounds. They will pick sixth overall, which opens up a number of opportunities, including trading back to gain more selections should the right offer come their way. 

An ageing roster appears to need a major overhaul, rather than attempting to paper over the cracks.

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    No team in the top six of the Premier League last season scored fewer goals than United last term (57), with seventh-placed West Ham (60) and eighth-placed Leicester City (62) also bettering that tally.

    The attacking third is an area where Ten Hag needs to find more threat and Pellistri may provide that option, albeit he failed to register a goal or an assist during his spell in Spain. He created seven chances in 753 first-team minutes last season, but none of those were converted.

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    James Garner

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    Crucially for a club like United, Garner has shown he can perform under pressure given his display in the Championship play-off final against Huddersfield – where his accuracy of 88 per cent from 48 attempted passes included completions across the field.

    Forest, understandably, are reportedly interested in bringing Garner back to the City Ground again next season in their bid to remain in the Premier League, but United will assess the 21-year-old in pre-season before making a final decision.

    Alejandro Garnacho

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