10 reasons for 2023 Eagles' epic collapse

10 reasons for 2023 Eagles' epic collapse originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia


We’ll be asking ourselves that for years.

How did a 10-1 team coming off a Super Bowl season and steamrolling its way to another No. 1 seed suddenly became the worst team in football?

How did the Eagles not just begin losing but losing in spectacular fashion, blowing three double-digit leads over the last six weeks of the regular season, losing to two of the NFL’s cellar dwellers, getting shredded by backup quarterbacks.

How was nobody in the organization – the Super Bowl coach, the all-pro veteran leaders, the inspirational quarterback – able to turn it around?

As always with difficult questions, there’s more than one answer.

We came up with 10 contributing factors and we probably could have come up with 100.

Nick had no answers: His first two years here, every time his team faced adversity, Nick Sirianni’s message got through. Whether he spoke about connecting, core values, accountability or plants growing underground, he always had the right story to tell, the right allegory to share, the right video to show. And keeping 53 guys pointed in the same direction is just as important as the right play call or the right personnel change. Maybe his players heard the same stories or the same messages so many times the message stopped getting through. But it’s clear that all the motivational techniques that worked so well in 2021 and 2022 and even the first few months of 2023 have stopped working. Whether Sirianni can regain that touch remains to be seen, but if he can’t get through to his team this week, it’s fair to wonder about his future here.

The wrong coordinators: Brian Johnson and Sean Desai were just the wrong hires and the deeper into the season the Eagles got, the more their shortcomings became apparent and the more opposing teams were able to take advantage. Shane Steichen is a play-calling genius and Jonathan Gannon – like him or not – is a shrewd defensive mind. Johnson and Desai both had their moments early in the season, some of them against good teams. But what worked early in wins over decent teams like the Vikings, Buccaneers and Dolphins stopped working. Opponents adjusted. Johnson and Desai wouldn’t or couldn’t.

The 49ers and Cowboys games: Those back-to-back blowout losses in early December – 42-19 to the 49ers at the Linc and 33-13 to the Cowboys at AT&T – cut the heart out of the Eagles. Before that stretch, the Eagles believed they were the best team in the NFC and maybe the best team in the NFL. It seemed like the Eagles mentally never recovered from getting destroyed by the two teams they saw as their biggest competition for the No. 1 seed. No team in NFL history had lost consecutive games by 20 or more points after winning 10 games. Those were non-competitive losses and the Eagles simply couldn’t handle them.

The defense stopped doing what it does best: The defense that generated 70 sacks last year - 3rd-most in history – suddenly was completely unable to generate pressure. Eagles edge rushers had 38 sacks last year and 16 through nine games this year and then just 4 ½ the last eight games and none the last four games. Josh Sweat, who made the Pro Bowl in 2021 and had 11 sacks last year, went sackless the last eight weeks of the season. Haason Reddick, who had 16 sacks last year and 8 ½ through 10 games this year, had one game with a sack since Week 10. Nolan Smith didn’t produce. Brandon Graham did what he could as a 35-year-old role player in his 14th season. But the dropoff in pressure was shocking and gave an overmatched secondary no chance.

The new guys were a liability: Because of injuries and poor play, Howie Roseman brought in three defensive veterans during the season – safety Kevin Byard, slot corner Bradley Roby and linebacker Shaq Leonard. All were rushed onto the field, all were forced by circumstance to play more than they should have and all turned out to be liabilities. Those three guys played over 1,000 snaps without ever really having a chance to learn one defense, much less two, and the results ranged from mediocre to disastrous.

The Jalen and Jordan disappearing act: Neither young Georgia interior lineman was able to maintain his level of play the first half of the season. Jordan Davis in particular seemed to drop off a cliff – 2 ½ sacks, two tackles for loss, five QB hits and a forced fumble through seven games and then no sacks, no tackles for loss, no QB hits and no other big plays after the Miami game. Jalen Carter’s dropoff wasn’t quite so pronounced, but he went from four sacks, seven QB hits, five TfL and two forced fumbles through Week 8 to two sacks, two QB hits, three TfL and no other big plays the rest of the season. Those two young defensive tackles are a big reason the defense was so good early. They were active, physical and around the ball. As their play leveled off, the defense did as well.

The Matt Patricia disaster: As bad as the defense was under Desai, it became a catastrophe once Matt Patricia replaced him as de facto defensive coordinator after the second Dallas game. At least Desai’s group played well at times, holding the Cowboys to 23 in the first meeting, Patriots to 20 points and the Dolphins and Chiefs to 17, Rams to 14, the Bucs to 11. Patricia’s group allowed a 92-yard game-winning drive to Drew Lock in Seattle, gave up 22 2nd-half points to the Giants in one game and 24 1st-half points to the Giants two weeks later and blew a 15-point halftime lead vs. the Cards in between. None of them are playoff teams. None has a top-20 offense. Only the Cards had their regular quarterback. Desai was shaky. Patricia has been a disaster.

Big play nightmares: Through 12 games, the Eagles had 32 offensive plays of at least 25 yards – 7th-most in the league and nearly three per game. The last five games they had five – only the Panthers and Texans had fewer (four each). Similarly, the first 10 games they had eight plays of at least 40 yards and the last seven games they had none. Over the last four games, Hurts had only one more completion of at least 25 yards than punter Braden Mann. Similarly, the defense only allowed 10 plays of 25 yards or more through seven games – 3rd-fewest in the league - but allowed 27 the last 10 games – 7th-most in the league. Look at it this way: Through Miami, the Eagles recorded 11 more 25-yard plays than they allowed and since then they allowed 17 more than they recorded. A recipe for disaster on both sides of the ball.

Nobody got better: This is a reflection on the entire coaching staff, not just Sirianni and his coordinators. The usual veterans were solid – Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, even B.G. – but did anybody actually improve? Reed Blankenship regressed. Nolan Smith never got going. Carter and Davis went backwards. Hurts wasn’t as good as last year. Milton Williams didn’t make the impact he made last year. Josh Sweat disappeared. Haason Reddick wasn’t as dominating as a year ago. James Bradberry struggled badly. A few of the rookies showed promise – Kelee Ringo, Sydney Brown, Eli Ricks – but they have a ways to go to become consistent starters. And now Brown is out most likely into next season with a torn ACL. If you had to pick a most improved player on this roster, I’m not sure you could.

They couldn’t stop the run: The Eagles were No. 1 in the entire NFL vs. the run through Week 10 at 66 yards allowed per game, then No. 31 the rest of the year at 145 yards per game. Best to nearly worst. They allowed at least 100 rushing yards in their last eight games for only the third time since 1970 (also 1983 and 2012), which allowed teams to control the clock, wear the Eagles down, convert a ridiculous percentage of third downs – an unbelievable 51 percent since Week 10. There were certainly breakdowns in the back seven, missed tackles, blown assignments, a lack of discipline, you name it. But run defense is mostly on the d-line. This is a unit loaded with huge contracts, 1st-round picks and Pro Bowlers, a unit the Eagles rely so heavily on to set the tone for the whole team. And they couldn’t stop anybody. When the unit that’s supposed to be your best is terrible, it’s impossible to overcome. The defensive line let the team down.

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