The Eagles are many things, but one thing they are not is “boring.” When the team is good, they’re often on the forefront of innovation on the offensive side of the football — under former head coach Doug Pederson, the Eagles were extremely aggressive on fourth downs and with two-point conversions.
Under current GM Howie Roseman, they invested heavily in a trade-up for QB Carson Wentz, invested heavily in the backup QB position with Nick Foles, and then shocked the world by spending a top-60 pick on Jalen Hurts last season. (Roseman justified the Hurts pick by saying the regrettable line that he wants to operate “a quarterback factory.”). The Hurts pick and an abominable season led to countless takes, and then yet another full-speed-ahead off-season for Philly, including Philly trading Wentz to Indianapolis.
That trade and the firing of Pederson, who won Super Bowl LII just three years ago, signals what is likely to be a rebuild for Philly, which is in cap hell in 2021 but could be well-positioned with young players and money to spend in 2022 and beyond.
Heading that rebuild will be 39-year-old Nick Sirianni, the former offensive coordinator of Wentz’s new team who will bring with him one of the youngest coaching staffs in the entire NFL.
A former wide receiver at Division III powerhouse Mount Union, Sirianni has coached since his 2004 graduation. He spent two years at his alma mater coaching DBs, then three years at Division II power Indiana University of Pennsylvania coaching WRs before breaking into the NFL with the Chiefs in 2009, and he’s coached on the offensive side of the football in his entire NFL tenure.
Sirianni coached QBs (2014 and 2015) and WRs (2016 and 2017) with the Chargers, working with Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen, then joined the Colts as Frank Reich’s offensive coordinator in 2018, where he’s had three different primary starting QBs (Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Rivers) in three years, with two top-10 offenses in yardage (4th in 2018 and 7th in 2020) in those three years. While Sirianni has undoubtedly worked with talented QBs, that kind of production with no consistency at the position is pretty impressive. While the season with Brissett was the Colts’ least successful offensively under Sirianni, you also have to remember Brissett came to the team just weeks before the regular season following Luck’s shocking retirement. In many ways, that could be Sirianni’s best coaching job, coaxing a solid season out of Brissett despite zero off-season to prepare him.
Sirianni’s Colts, in 2020, started with the run game and Jonathan Taylor behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. But that was with a QB in Rivers who can’t move and is a pure pocket player who likes to get rid of the ball quickly. Luck and Brissett are more second-reaction players, so Sirianni has experience coaching someone who is stylistically less like Rivers and more like Hurts, who as we stand now will be the starter in Philly.
While Sirianni did not call plays in Indy, he worked closely with the quarterbacks and in game-planning. The Reich/Sirianni offense focused a lot on creating yards after the catch for receivers and creating defined reads for the quarterback with multi-level concepts and run-pass options. Eagle fans will remember the RPO domination in Super Bowl LII, in which Reich (who didn’t call plays) was instrumental in implementing, to get Foles comfortable en route to an MVP performance.
The Colts under Sirianni have been a fun offense to watch. They were multiple in terms of personnel packages and formations, using multi-TE sets on occasion and 3-WR sets on occasion. Sirianni likes to dictate how defenses have to line up, which also helps to create reads for the quarterback.
I expect RPOs and defined reads will be a big part of what the Eagles do offensively with Hurts (or, frankly, with a rookie). Defined reads and a creative offense led to Hurts’ Heisman runner-up season in 2019 with Oklahoma, and given Hurts’ running ability is far above even that of Luck and Brissett, I would anticipate defined runs for the QB position to be a big part of Philly’s offense.
One thing I really hope Philly broached with Sirianni when the powers-that-be interviewed him — under Reich and Sirianni in 2020, the Colts were the second-most aggressive team in favorable fourth-down situations, ahead of even Pederson’s Eagles. With the Eagles having nothing to lose in 2021, I really hope Sirianni continues this level of aggressiveness.
Sirianni is 39 (40 in June). All of his coordinators — offensive coordinator Shane Steichen (35), passing-game coordinator Kevin Patullo (39, 40 in July), defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon (35), and special teams coordinator Michael Clay (29) — are all younger than him.
Assistant head coach/running backs coach Jemal Singleton is 45. Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson is 34. Wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead is 40.
Sirianni has established one of the youngest coaching staffs in the NFL, and I’m certain Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is thinking about the staff Andy Reid put together in 1999 when Lurie made a similarly bold hire of a young coach who had never called plays before. After all, with the hiring of Pederson in 2016 and now hiring Sirianni (who coached under Reich) Lurie is obsessed with chasing his past successes. And to be fair to Lurie, the Eagles have been to six conference title games and two Super Bowls under his watch.
Now, it’s on Sirianni’s staff to make this all work. We know Philly will be coaching a young QB, whether that’s Hurts or someone the Eagles use the #6 overall pick in April to acquire. Beyond Sirianni, Steichen will have his hands all over this offense. Steichen has been with the Chargers as QBs coach, and then offensive coordinator, since 2016 (he also served there as a quality control coach in 2014 and 2015). Steichen worked with Rivers up until 2019, and then called the plays for Justin Herbert’s record-setting rookie campaign in 2020.
While Herbert’s development was obviously a massive boon for the Chargers, their early-down aggressiveness was lacking, and in-game decision-making from HC Anthony Lynn and Steichen meant they lost their jobs even with Herbert’s great season. But presuming Sirianni now calls the plays (and, hopefully, maintains the aggressiveness of the staff he was on in Indy), Steichen can focus on gameplanning and perhaps tapping into what the Chargers did that made Herbert so wildly successful as a rookie. Steichen and Patullo, who was the “pass-game specialist” in Indy last year, will help to work with Sirianni to design the offense.
Meanwhile, the QB coach Johnson is particularly intriguing. While Johnson has never worked in the NFL, he played under Urban Meyer at Utah and has worked under Dan Mullen for six of the last seven seasons at both Mississippi State and Florida coaching QBs. He added offensive coordinator to his title in 2020. Johnson helped develop Dak Prescott at Mississippi State, and he coached potential first-round pick Kyle Trask at Florida.
Most interestingly, he’s known Hurts since Hurts was 4.
“I think the personal relationship that Brian and Jalen already have will help. But Brian’s background with running the spread-option type stuff, I think that will help a running-style quarterback like Jalen. think that’s definitely something he’ll be bringing to the table,” Mullen told Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
All this considered, and despite all the youth the Eagles have hired, the most important hire Sirianni might have made was simply keeping veteran offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, 59, in Philly. “Stout” has been with the Eagles since Chip Kelly hired him in 2013, and he’s well regarded as one of the best OL coaches in the business. Stoutland might be the man most directly responsible for turning RT Lane Johnson into one of the game’s premier tackles, though his shining achievement might well be helping youngster Jordan Mailata into being a solid NFL left tackle just two years after he was selected in the 7th round from Australia… as a rugby athlete having never played a snap of American football. Mailata was essentially a healthy scratch and an apprentice for two years under Stoutland’s development, and when pressed into action he graded as PFF’s #43 tackle in 2020. Just 24, Mailata is one of the few high-upside young players at a premium position the Eagles have on the roster. Keeping his mentor was essential.
Defensively, Gannon was an in-demand coach, potentially grabbing the Chargers’ DC job under Brandon Staley or the Bears’ DC job under Matt Nagy before agreeing to come over with Sirianni from the Colts. Gannon will have his work cut out for him, as the Eagles lack back-seven talent, though they’re counting on his experience as a DBs coach to help a secondary that has seemed to struggle since Brian Dawkins last roamed the deep middle for Philly.
Gannon has gotten a lot of credit for developing DBs — one of the NFL’s best nickel DBs, Kenny Moore, is a huge fan. Since the Eagles have yet to make Gannon available for an interview, we don’t even know if he’ll run a 4-3 or 3-4 base, but there’s a reasonable expectation to think that a guy with a DB background will want to run a lot of subpackages.
While Wentz is gone, the Eagles certainly aren’t yet done with rebuilding their offense (or, perhaps more accurately, “tearing down” their offense). As of now, we have to act like Hurts is going to start at quarterback for the 2021 season, though the Eagles are at minimum expected to bring in a solid vet for support/competition. They could, of course, draft a signal-caller at #6 in a very deep QB class.
But even in a broken offense, Hurts posted 26.6 FPG in his three full games in 2020. In that three-game span, he ran for 238 yards — Lamar Jackson had 239 over the same span. Extrapolated for the full season, Hurts’ FPG scoring would have been behind only Dak Prescott, who put up 28.5 FPG in a similarly small sample. So it’s obvious that if Hurts is the starter, Sirianni and company would be wise to use his legs as a significant part of the offense.
It’s also going to be fascinating to see how Sirianni views RB Miles Sanders. Sirianni coached Jonathan Taylor in Indy last year, and by the end of the year, the big and powerful Taylor was clearly the foundation of the Colts’ offense. While Sanders ran extremely hard at the end of last season, he’s had some durability issues, and he just doesn’t have Taylor’s prototypical “factor back” size. Nonetheless, in Hurts’ three full games last season, Sanders averaged 19.3 FPG, which would have ranked him 4th among all RBs over the full season. So there’s clearly upside here; the concern is that Hurts’ running ability means there aren’t many checkdowns for Sanders, though he was targeted 13 times in those three games.
At receiver… well, the Eagles have had a combination of bad luck and bad decision-making. In two consecutive years in the draft, Roseman passed on a freakshow for an underwhelming rookie. I still have hope for the gifted Jalen Reagor, who flashed but had some injury and consistency issues in a broken offense as a rookie. I do not have similar optimism for the awful JJ Arcega-Whiteside, but maybe Sirianni’s background as a WR coach (and former college WR) can get something out of these young players — the Eagles will probably try to move on from the likes of Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson and almost certainly will add more young receiver talent in the draft (potentially at #6).
At tight end, I’m expecting a big boost for Dallas Goedert. Not only has Sirianni’s offense been tight-end friendly, but I expect the Eagles will move Zach Ertz in the coming months as part of their youth movement.
In essence, this is very much a “wait-and-see” situation for Philadelphia. We have no idea what this offense will look like in Week 1 in terms of personnel at this point.