I have been getting lots of emails asking for my reaction to the first two Eagles games of the 2023 season, both wins. I’m happy to share my thoughts here now, and in the future. As always, I have a lot to say. This is the place where I plan to say it.
First, the most important thing is, the Birds have started 2-0. You are what your record says, so that’s the best you can expect 11 days into a new season. But how they got there has been bizarre, if not downright troubling. Neither the offense nor the defense has found a rhythm yet, and we can all point our fingers at the timid coaching staff for these problems.
Nick Sirianni said he was having second thoughts about not using his starters in the preseason. Duh. In what world does it make sense not to experience game conditions before the games count? Of course, Nick then said he would consider using the starters for one or two series in one of the fake games next season. Yeah, that should fix the problem. One or two series should be more than enough.
Players need to play. Jalen Hurts is a rhythm quarterback, but he should not be asked to find that tempo on the job, in games that count in the standings. He isn’t seeing the field well, is making some dumb decisions both running and passing, and he’s absorbing much more punishment than necessary, It is ludicrous to shield the franchise quarterback in the preseason and then submit him to instance abuse by running right into big hits once the games count.
What is the priority of Sirianni and his staff — avoiding criticism for preseason injuries or getting the team ready to play? This is a league-wide problem, but that fact in no way absolves the Eagles for following a stupid trend.
The new offensive coordinator, Brian Johnson, was losing my support quickly through the first five quarters of the season, but then he did something that is against every instinct of the Eagles organization. He just took the ball and rammed it down the opponent’s throats. He ran the football. With astounding results.
Thank you, D’Andre Swift, for saving the game on Thursday night with 175 yards on the ground, many of them after initial hits. If you think the Eagles have a better option at running back than the local kid (St. Joe’s Prep), you need a new TV. Swift is already looking like GM Howie Roseman’s latest steal. That Johnson was smart enough to turn the game over to Swift is a promising sign. I doubt last year’s pass-happy OC, Shane Steichen, would have made the same decision.
The biggest worry I had after the Vikings victory was what happened in the aftermath of an obvious disagreement on the sideline between Hurts and his best WR option, A.J. Brown. You didn’t need to be a lip-reader to know Brown was bitching about not getting targeted more, even though the running game was working brilliantly. (Brown had a reputation as a me-first player with the Titans. Apparently, the label still fits.)
Unfortunately, the next series featured three throws to Brown, for no good reason. The run was still unstoppable. The only thing that derailed it briefly was Brown’s ego. The new OC (and Sirianni, who jumped into the fray) needs to remind Brown that the team comes first. And then Brown needs to shut up.
And while on the topic of going mute, Sirianni first played dumb about the incident, and then called it “private.” Hello? Did Nick forget the games are televised? The coach should have acknowledged the gist of the dispute — it was painfully obvious anyway — and then said it was quickly resolved. The fans deserve that level of honesty from a team. In his third year as a major sports figure in Philadelphia, Sirianni has not figured out the importance of being honest with the passionate fan base. He needs to, and soon. Just ask Gabe Kapler.
The other obvious moment of negative emotion came late in the game when Sirianni snapped at new DC Sean Desai on the sideline. Again, no interpreter was necessary. The Vikings were marching down the field and turning an easy win into an uncomfortable one for the Birds. The same thing happened in the second half when the Patriots had their way with the Eagles’ already-injured defense.
Desai inherited one of the major faults of his awful predecessor (Jonathan Gannon), a reluctance to put extra pressure on the opposing quarterback. (Maybe it’s an organizational philosophy not to blitz?) With the two big Georgia DTs in the middle and the shocking rejuvenation of Fletcher Cox, the only thing lacking up front is unpredictability. If the Eagles are worried about blitzes leaving receivers wide open, they need to check the tape of the second half against the Vikings.
Receivers were totally unattended repeatedly in key moments, even with seven Eagles back in pass coverage. The best way to cover up this chronic problem in the secondary is to give less time to the opposing quarterback. So far, though, Desai remains passive despite some obvious strengths on his unit (the line) and some equally clear weaknesses (linebackers and safeties.)
As usual, I have found a way to bitch despite a 2-0 start, so I want to make it clear that I am excited about the season, and remain optimistic for a long run deep into the playoffs. The schedule is much tougher this season, but the Eagles should be favored in the next four games, so it’s not unrealistic to envision a 6-0 start. Let’s hope so. As I was just reminded in the excellent new documentary on Amazon Prime, Kelce, the Birds started last season 8-0. A big start like that leads to major advantages in the playoffs.
Here are some of my other random thoughts about the Eagles:
* The biggest shock so far has been the play of Fletcher Cox. I couldn’t explain how he became so invisible the past few seasons, so don’t expect any great revelations from me now about his rebirth. I had almost forgotten how big an impact he could have. It’s great to see him playing so well again.
* No one ever mentions Jake Elliott as one of the biggest stars on the Eagles, but he has won that distinction. The 61-yard field goal at the end of the half was a huge moment — one of many we tend to forget when the Eagles end up squeaking by with a win.
* Why is Nick Sirianni so exciting on the sideline, and so boring when he’s talking to the media? What would be so wrong for Nick to express the same strong opinions after games that he does during them? He would be a folk hero in Philly if he showed just little more of that game face to the fans in the days between games. If that’s asking too much, then an occasional insightful answer would be a step in the right direction.
* Roger Goodell was at the Eagles-Vikings games, and I couldn’t help wondering what the commissioner was thinking about the quality of early-season play, which has been abysmal. Amazon showed him at the end of a gruesome first quarter. Is he worried about how lousy Thursday night games are? Is he concerned about how many teams use the first few regular-season games as their preseason now? Or is he only concerned about where the next billion-dollar TV deal is coming from? My very strong guess is the last option among those questions.
* Finally, here’s a rooting guide for the rest of the season on Sundays when the Eagles aren’t playing: Root hard against Jonathan Gannon and his Arizona Cardinals. Gannon robbed a parade from us last year. Now he needs to get exposed as the fraud he is. Whoever Gannon is facing is my team that week. So, go Giants, Kick his ass. Please.