Our 2023 NFL Preview takes us from the Big Apple to the City of Brotherly Love, where this season will be all about unfinished business for the Eagles. Indeed, Philadelphia took the NFL by storm last season, as (Pro-Bowl Quarterback) Jalen Hurts emerged as a bonafide MVP contender, leading a nigh-unstoppable offense buoyed by an aggressive defense all the way to Super Bowl LVII. However, that would be where their flight came to an end, as (Head Coach) Nick Sirianni’s troops fell victim to a late rally courtesy of the Chiefs. Now, with the disappointment of that defeat looming large, what will these birds offer as an encore? How will Sirianni replace the departure of two coordinators and a number of key contributors? Can Hurts get even better? Let’s take a ride down Broad Street for some answers, shall we?
Hurts So Good
Arguably the biggest reason for the Eagles ascension to the top of the NFC last season was the meteoric rise of Jalen Hurts, who in his third season with the franchise exhibited immense growth, so much so that he was the league’s MVP frontrunner until missing two games late in the campaign due to a shoulder injury. Let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we? During his first full season as the starting Quarterback, Hurts (pictured right) completed 61.3% of his passes for an average of 209.6 yards per game on 6.54 net yards per attempt, with sixteen touchdowns opposed to nine interceptions, and a QBR of 48.5. However, he figured it all out in year number two, posting career-highs across the board, completing 66.5% of his throws for 246.7 yards on 6.97 net yards per attempt, with twenty-two touchdowns in comparison to just six interceptions and a stellar QBR of 66.4. There were two keys that accelerated his growth in this regard. The first is how (former Offensive Coordinator) Shane Steichen ultimately decided to play to the QB’s physical gifts, utilizing the zone-read and RPOs (run-pass options) to devastating effect; Hurts has topped 750 rushing yards in each of the last two years, scoring a combined twenty-three touchdowns along the way. As a result, the threat of his running has vexed defenses; he ran 122 RPO plays last season, accounting for 28.8% of his passing yardage (1,067 yards), while posting 1,094 yards via play-action, equating to another 29.5% of his aerial yards. The other key was the addition of (Pro-Bowl Receiver) A.J. Brown, who connected with his Quarterback immediately, hauling in career-highs in receptions (88), receiving yards (1,496), and touchdowns (11). The acquisition of the athletic pass-catcher was a masterstroke by (General Manager) Howie Roseman, who has been on quite the heater for over a year now. Surrounding a young Quarterback with premium talent has proven to be a recipe for Super Bowl success, and the numbers did not lie as Philadelphia evolved into a veritable juggernaut on this side of the football; Sirianni’s charges ranked third overall in points scored (28.1), total offense (404.3), and red zone efficiency (67.8%), while finishing fourth in third down conversion rate (45.9%). While there were many culprits for their loss in Super Bowl LVII, you certainly cannot blame the 24-year-old, who amassed 374 total yards and four touchdowns on that fateful night, standing by helplessly as Kansas City rallied back from a 10-point deficit late in the second half. To no surprise, the Eagles locked their QB down to a lucrative five-year, $255 million contract extension, including $179.39 million in total guarantees, and a $23.29 million signing bonus. The deal is relatively cap-friendly in its early stages, with Hurts set to count less than $22 million per season until 2026, affording Roseman the luxury of supplying him with ample reinforcements where needed.
On the other side of the football, the Eagles were nearly as formidable, ranking among the league’s best in a slew of categories. Running down the numbers, Philadelphia finished eighth overall in points allowed (20.2), second in total defense (301.4), first against the pass (179.8) and in net yards per attempt (7.08), along with fifth in takeaways (27). However, the key to said success was pressure, which they applied in SPADES. (Former Defensive Coordinator) Jonathan Gannon let the proverbial dogs loose often, with his troops logging SEVENTY sacks, the second-highest total in NFL history. This unit amassed 124 QB hits (2nd Overall), and 168 pressures (tied 2nd Overall), with a pressure percentage of 25.5% (also 2nd Overall). Interestingly, Philly only blitzed on a middling 22.1% of snaps, ranking just eighteenth in the league. That is because they were also very good in coverage, with (veteran Cornerbacks) Darius Slay and James Bradberry combining for six interceptions and thirty-one deflected passes, while (versatile Safety) C.J. Gardner-Johnson thrived in a variety of roles with six picks, eight deflected passes and a sack. Getting back to sacks, the Eagles became the first team in NFL history to field FOUR different players that amassed eleven or more sacks, including Haason Reddick (16), Javon Hargrave (11), Josh Sweat (11), and Brandon Graham (11). Hell, these four guys alone accounted for more sacks than all but three teams! On his third team in as many years, Reddick (pictured above) was happy to be back in his collegiate stomping grounds (Temple), becoming the first player to ever record a dozen or more sacks for three different teams in three consecutive seasons. The 28-year-old also proved adept at forcing fumbles, leading the NFL with five last year, with his crushing hit of (49ers QB) Brock Purdy early in the NFC Championship Game swinging the momentum of that affair. However, their ability to rush the passer aside, when we last saw them, they hardly resembled the unit that wreaked havoc on opponents throughout the campaign; Kansas City succeeded with a balanced approach, tempering the pass rush with 158 rushing yards on twenty-six carries, with Patrick Mahomes pressured seven times, hit five times, hurried twice, and sacked on two occasions. The reigning MVP exploited holes in their coverage, while breaking free of the line of scrimmage for a crucial 26-yard dash on a third-and-one at midfield with just 2:55 left to play, eventually leading to the game-winning field goal. With Gannon now in Arizona and a number of playmakers departed in free agency, this defense may sport a different look this Fall, which will make it difficult to match the gaudy sack numbers that they produced a year ago.
Leaving the Nest
Ever since the advent of free agency in the early 90’s, success in the National Football League has often been met by attrition, as other teams desperately look to open up their respective checkbooks for players out of contract. In the case of the Eagles, that goes for both players AND coaches, as Sirianni (pictured right) and Roseman have been faced with quite the task of filling the litany of vacancies across the roster and coaching staff. First and foremost, Philadelphia lost both their Offensive and Defensive Coordinators, with the aforementioned tandem of Steichen and Gannon becoming Head Coaches of the Colts and Cardinals respectively. As we covered earlier, both skippers performed an excellent job in developing their respective units to the realm of the league’s elite, in turn advancing their own careers in the process. As for filling their vacancies, Sirianni and Roseman opted for two different solutions, elevating (Quarterbacks Coach) Brian Johnson to OC, while going outside the organization for DC, hiring Sean Desai from the Seahawks. Johnson was a logical solution given he played a sizable hand in Hurts’ development as his position coach since 2021, with the offense expected to continue being a juggernaut under his watch. Desai’s hiring is the interesting one, folks, for after spending nine years as an assistant in a variety of roles with the Bears, including Defensive Coordinator in 2021, served as Seattle’s Assistant Head Coach-Defense in 2022. A product of the Vic Fangio coaching tree, the 40-year-old will mix up his coverages and devise a plethora of ways to pressure Quarterbacks, which should be made all the easier given the personnel on hand. And speaking of personnel, the Eagles parted ways with many, including (leading rusher) Miles Sanders, (Guard) Isaac Seumalo, and their top-five leading tacklers, (Linebackers) T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White, along with (Safety) Marcus Epps, and the aforementioned Gardner-Johnson as well as Hargrave. However, Roseman has done well to plan for these eventual departures via the Draft, with the likes of (Offensive Linemen) Cam Jurgens and Tyler Sheen, (Defensive Tackle) Jordan Davis, (Linebacker) Nakobe Dean, and (Defensive Backs) Kelee Ringo, Eli Ricks, and Sidney Brown all expected to play a bigger role moving forward. Philly added more Georgia Bulldogs to their roster, selecting (Defensive Tackle) Jalen Sarter tenth overall last Spring, while also acquiring the services of (veteran Tailbacks) Rashaad Penny and D’Andre Swift, the former in free agency and the latter via trade with the Lions. Before an unfortunate racing incident caused the death of a teammate and staffer, Carter was billed as the top prospect in the Draft and should find himself at home within the team’s deep rotation in the trenches. After leading the league in yards per attempt in 2021 (6.3), Penny inked a one-year deal to remain in Seattle where he was selected twenty-seventh overall in 2018, though was placed on injured reserve in mid-October due to a broken leg, leading to Roseman signing him on another one-year pact. As for Swift, the former second-round pick found himself on the outs in Detroit, who sent him to Philadelphia along with a 2023 seventh rounder for a seventh in that same draft, along with a fourth in 2025. In three seasons with the Lions, the Philly native flashed his potential as a modern Tailback, posting 500+ rushing yards and 350+ receiving yards in each campaign, with a combined twenty-five touchdowns during that time.
Projected Finish: 11-6
After matching a franchise record with fourteen victories and coming oh so close to earning their second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history, the Eagles were quite the story in 2022. Hurts blossomed into a full-blown superstar, Brown was a home run, and the defense gave Quarterbacks nightmares. Now, they look to take care of unfinished business in 2023, with anything short of winning Super Bowl LVIII likely being considered a disappointment. With that said, the roster and coaching staff suffered heavy losses in the offseason, and it will likely take some time for Sirianni to get them acclimated and up to speed. Thankfully, the early part of their schedule is far from arduous, which should grant these birds the opportunity to find their footing. As was the case last season, the NFC doesn’t appear to be very deep, with Philadelphia expected to battle the likes of San Francisco and Dallas for a ticket to Las Vegas come February.