Playoffs for the Eagles? 4 early reasons why that's not so far-fetched
The start of the NFL season is a little less than four months away, so any kind of talk about playoffs is obviously premature.
That's especially the case for the Eagles, who are coming off a 4-11-1 season, with a new coaching staff, and, like most teams, with limited or no on-field practices until the start of training camp in late July.
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And yet, as the Eagles begin their second week of spring workouts, instruction and drills as a compromise to staying away from the NovaCare Complex entirely this spring, there is a sense of optimism that this "transitional" period that the Eagles are entering, as team chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie called it, won't preclude them from competing for the NFC East title this season.
Here are four reasons why the Eagles won't be as bad as many people think:
1. Players are buying in
As with any coaching staff, the success begins with players buying in.
So far, that seems to be the case. Veterans like center Jason Kelce, right tackle Lane Johnson, defensive end Brandon Graham and even running back Miles Sanders have raved about head coach Nick Sirianni and his staff – and not because the players may or may not be winning at the rock, paper, scissors contests, or in side games of pop-a-shot basketball in the meeting room.
Sirianni and his staff might be young, but the players have noticed the energy and enthusiasm right away.
"I love it," Johnson said. "One thing about (Sirianni) is he holds everybody accountable. You go back through practice, he’ll pull up guys that are maybe not executing well, maybe not hustling well, he’ll call out veteran guys, whoever.
"I think that really sends a message to literally everyone from the top down in the organization. It pushes older guys to get better. It pushes younger guys to get better."
The players also noted the willingness for the coaches to adapt schemes that fit the players' strengths, something defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon stressed last week. When he was being interviewed for the job, Gannon said Sirianni asked him what schemes he would run, and Gannon said he replied, "I don't have a scheme."
Then he expounded: "I believe that you have to be adaptable. But the first thing is we've got to figure out what our players can do, and then we've got to put them in those situations as much as possible to utilize their strengths. The main thing for us is it's not what we play, it's how we play."
2. Speaking of the O-line
There are two ways of looking at last season's debacle. One is that quarterback Carson Wentz regressed so badly that the Eagles had no choice but to trade him. The other is that an offensive line that used a record 14 different starting lineups in 16 games had much to do with Wentz's regression.
Both statements can be true.
But all of those linemen are healthy. That includes Johnson, who missed the second half of the season to have ankle surgery. He said he's been given a clean bill of health. Right guard Brandon Brooks is back after a torn Achilles cost him the entire 2020 season. So is left tackle Andre Dillard, who missed the season with a torn biceps muscle.
Before the injuries, the Eagles had perennially one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. With those players coming back, along the addition of second-round pick Landon Dickerson, himself recovering from a torn ACL, and recent signee Le'Raven Clark, the Eagles should be better equipped to protect quarterback Jalen Hurts.
"Jason Kelce, these guys, Lane, all these guys are freakin' awesome football players," offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. "We're excited about this group ... This is one of the best in the NFL, no doubt about it."
3. Minimizing pains from Hurts
Hurts, of course, is the wildcard in all of this.
The Eagles' second-round pick in 2020 played only 4 1/2 games in place of Wentz last season, and the results were uneven. Hurts only completed 51% of his passes, which was worse than Wentz's completion percentage. Hurts also had a quarterback rating of 76.5, only slightly better than Wentz's, which was 34th of 35 quarterbacks.
But Hurts did run for 301 yards during those 4 1/2 games, providing a dynamic that opponents have to account for. And Hurts has a full offseason to get ready as the perceived starter.
Plus, the Eagles improved the wide receiver corps by drafting DeVonta Smith in the first round, and they added more support for Miles Sanders at running back by claiming Kerryon Johnson off waivers and drafting Kenny Gainwell.
If Hurts can take advantage, not only will the Eagles be improved from last season, but he could also become the franchise quarterback going forward.
"The urge and thirst for growth and being a better leader and better quarterback, that doesn’t change," Hurts said. "I obviously want to impact people around me in the best way that I can, be somebody that people see as accountable … and go out there and do my job."
4. Have you seen the NFC East?
Washington won the division last season with a 7-9 record, and that happened only because the Eagles tanked the finale, thus preventing the Giants from winning the division with a 6-10 record.
Yes, the division should be better this season. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is healthy after missing all of last season, and the Giants upgraded at wide receiver and on defense heading into Joe Judge's second year.
But it's clear that the Eagles aren't that far behind the other three. Plus, they have the NFL's easiest schedule as their opponents this season had a .430 winning percentage in 2020.
"The bottom line is we can be competitive, win games, we can win this division," Kelce said. "I have no doubt about that if we go about it the right way, we improve, and get better as team."
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.