A Week 1 win over the Atlanta Falcons welcomed high praise for Nick Sirianni in his NFL head coaching debut. An offensive-tailored head coach, Sirianni blew out the Falcons on the road, inviting optimism as the Philadelphia Eagles prepared for their Week 2 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. While Philadelphia played turnover-free football once again, an offense that lit up the Falcons for 33 points looked like a shell of itself against a much superior defensive group in the 49ers.
But not to worry, the Eagles remain in good hands.
With Sirianni, the Eagles entertain a customizable approach when it comes to their weekly offensive game plan. With 12 years of offensive experience in the NFL prior to his gig in Philadelphia, the former offensive coordinator in Indianapolis presents an exciting dynamic relative to the group of skill players he has at his disposal.
It starts with quarterback Jalen Hurts, a second-year talent that touts all the fundamental tools scouts eye in a young quarterback.
His savvy, athleticism, arm arrogance, and ability to create off-script showed flashes in a mop-up role early in the season for Carson Wentz, but when his time came to produce, the dual-threat combo in Hurts showed off what was a revered skill set during his days slinging the rock for Oklahoma and Alabama. With just four starts behind what developed into one of the league’s worst offensive lines due to a litany of injuries and an inherent lack of coaching and depth, Hurts’ numbers popped off the charts, as he finished the year with two games of 300-plus passing yards and 60-plus rushing yards—which slots him tied for the fourth-most in an NFL career behind the likes of Steve Young (4), Russell Wilson (3), and former Eagles passers Michael Vick (3) and Donovan McNabb (2). Early in 2021, much is the same.
In Week 1, Sirianni deployed Hurts in a variety of fashions. While he’s capable of reading a defense pre-snap, identifying coverages, and finding mismatches, Hurts is by no means your typical pocket passer. With his ability to create both on and off-script as a passer outside the pocket, the Falcons defense found itself lost in translation early and often as Hurts gashed Atlanta for 264 yards and three scores through the air. Space is a necessity for the 23-year old quarterback. Similar to the abilities of Lamar Jackson in Baltimore and Kyler Murray in Arizona, the threat of Hurts’ arm, coupled with his agility and open-field burst, is a hassle to try and defend for a full 60 minutes. It’s not hard to figure out that the more Hurts plays in Madden mode, the increased chances of defenders tiring quicker, and in turn, substituting starters, puts Sirianni in extremely advantageous down and distances.
From snap to throw, Hurts has the ball in his possession for roughly 4.5 seconds before delivering a dart to the chest of tight end Dallas Goedert. While in hindsight it’s all Hurts who takes the snap, rolls right, and throws off-balance under a diving defender, it’s the schematic mind of Sirianni and putting his player in the best position to succeed on what developed into a huge leverage play at the end of the half. A mix of route concepts, the tools of Hurts, the trust from Sirianni, and a little backyard football placed the Eagles in an opportune spot to put six on the board, rather than settling for three.
Sirianni’s management and ability to pull talent from players have been well spotlighted. From his days with the Indianapolis Colts, his knack for squeezing production out of players has quickly transitioned to his role with the Eagles. It’s truly a fascinating ability in a day in age where certain offenses line up athletes in hope of production, for Sirianni, it's much to the contrary where his athletes represent a puzzle piece to his intricate jigsaw. And as a result, for the offense to fully round into form, all the pieces must gel together to identify the full picture.
For many Eagles faithful, Jalen Reagor has become a bust in 13 career games. A wideout utilized incorrectly last fall with Carson Wentz at the helm, Reagor was a direct byproduct of the lack of depth and talent up front for the Eagles. The ways in which he won at TCU did not translate to last fall. Despite the misuse of his speed and elite YAC ability, Reagor managed 396 yards receiving in just 11 games played and entered 2021 with a clean slate, and a similar speed threat opposite him in DeVonta Smith. Second on the team with 11 targets and a team-high eight catches through two weeks, Sirianni’s fingerprint has clearly rubbed off on Reagor’s game. This play against the Falcons is Reagor to a T.
Get him the ball, and let him work.
A designed screen pass, working Reagor into the game plan early is crucial to his success on game day. While the same can be said for any receiver, his lack of designated touches and opportunities last fall often saw Reagor on an island and uninvolved throughout games. He was looked upon as a one-dimensional wideout whose role was to run nine-routes and win every time. While that’s a fine game plan if you’re the Dallas Cowboys of the late 1960s with Olympic track star Bob Hayes or you make a move for Usain Bolt, that’s not the ideal way to utilize your first-round receiver. Sirianni’s early involvement of Reagor with eyes drawn to Smith in obvious passing situations will put No. 18 in mismatches across the board, which should equal loads of production in his second season.
Opposite Reagor are the new faces in Smith and Quez Watkins. While the former has become household tongue since he became the first wideout to win the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard did so nearly 30 years ago, Watkins is a similarly built pass-catcher to that of Reagor and Smith who rounds out a trio of burners Sirianni has deployed for Hurts to use at his discretion. A sixth-round selection last fall, Watkins currently leads all Eagles receivers in yards (140), and like the aforementioned wideouts before him, has the burst necessary to take it to the house each and every time he touches the football.
Smith is his own beast. A wiry talent who approaches the game with a finite detail in his route-running and sure-handedness in traffic—his addition was a no-brainer to Sirianni’s offense following a monstrous final season at Alabama. While concerns linger over his play weight and inherent longevity as a boundary threat, I advise you to sit back and enjoy the show while Smith makes you eat cake.
Inching toward Sirianni’s ultimate goal and a preface of what’s to come in Philadelphia, a slowly developing change in culture stemming from the offensive side of the ball has begun to make its way towards shallow water. A dynamic quarterback with arm talent aplenty, wideouts who can work each level of the defense with fluidity, and a head coach puppeteering the act looks to be a recipe for success as the Eagles move forward. Sirianni, who has taken a marksman's approach toward the intricacies of his youth-infused offense, should soon reap the benefits of a group of skill players budding with potential.
- May 25, 2022
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