Eagles mailbag: Analyzing the Kellen Moore hire as OC

We’re still over a month away from free agency and even further from the draft.

But the NFL doesn’t really have an offseason these days so there’s still plenty to talk about 365 days of the year. Well, 366 in this Leap Year.

Thanks for all the questions. We’ll be rolling them out in a few segments of the mailbag:

It’s a fair question because Moore very clearly isn’t as hot right now as he was a few years ago when everyone was expecting him to rise quickly and become a head coach. His star has cooled a bit since then. But I think some of the skepticism about his offense is a bit misplaced.

Let’s first look at the Chargers’ season in 2023. Sure, it’s fair to say that Justin Herbert and that offense didn’t make the kind of jump many hoped to see this past year. The Chargers in 2023 ranked 18th in total offense but their passing game was much better than their run game. They were 13th in passing and 25th in rushing. The Chargers had the worst EPA/play in the NFL on rushing plays. Obviously, Moore was in charge of the entire offense but his strength is the pass game. And in Philly, he’ll have a much more stable run game with Jeff Stoutland and the Eagles’ offensive line.

Herbert in 2023 missed four games and the Chargers — no shocker here — were much better with him than without him. With Herbert, they averaged 342.2 yards per game and were at 287.8 without him. The average with Herbert isn’t great but it would be 13th in the league in 2023, while the average without him would rank in the bottom five.

And it’s not like Herbert really regressed either. Did he take a big jump in his career? No. But his stats were pretty much right on target with where he’s been in a new offense. His completion percentage of 65.1% was slightly lower than his career average of 66.6% but his success rate in 2022 was 46.3% and it was 46.2% in 2023. His passer rating was the exact same the last two years: 93.2.

But let’s look at the Cowboys. Because there’s no doubt that they were a really good offense even after Moore left. And you give their players and Mike McCarthy credit for that. But all this talk about Prescott magically getting better without Moore seems a little too far. The biggest difference in Dak’s game in 2023 was the lack of interceptions. He threw just 9 in 17 games after throwing 15 in 12 games. I have a really hard time pinning interceptions on the OC.

And look at Prescott’s 2023 season vs. the last full season he had under Moore in 2022 and tell me if they’re really that different:

2022: 68.8%, 4,449 yards, 37 TDs, 10 INTs, passer rating of 104.2

2023: 69.5%, 4,516 yards, 36 TDs, 9 INTs, passer rating of 105.9

Sure, maybe this proves that Moore wasn’t some secret sauce for Prescott but it’s not like Prescott was being held back by Moore either.

And then there’s this really interesting piece from Fran Duffy of the Eagles from before the second matchup against the Cowboys in 2023. It looks at some of the reasons the Cowboys’ offense improved during the 2023 season and it looks like they went back to a lot of what had made them so successful under Moore in previous seasons.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like the rest of the NFL is as excited about Moore as it was a few years ago and there are reasons for that. Maybe he’s not some wunderkind who is ready to change football. But he’s a 35-year-old proven offensive coordinator whose concepts have had tangible success in the NFL. He really did seem to be a good marriage of experience and fresh ideas. No guarantee it works, but I really like the attempt given the circumstances.

My best guess is that Steen will be the starting right guard in 2024 but there’s a lot we don’t know yet.

First, is the future of Jason Kelce. If Kelce decides to come back next season, the Eagles will welcome him with open arms and it means at least one more season of Cam Jurgens at right guard.

But if Kelce does indeed retire, then Jurgens will slide to center and will be replaced by Steen at right guard. While it did raise an eyebrow when the Eagles kept going with Sua Opeta over Steen at right guard during Jurgens’ absence this season, I understand wanting to play a veteran in a season with such high stakes. Of course, in an ideal world, Steen would simply have been the better options.

There are two other possibilities that I have thought about:

1. There’s a decent chance the Eagles use another high draft pick on an offensive lineman. In fact, it’s probably time to start thinking about Lane Johnson’s eventual replacement. The Eagles love to get ahead of these things. So if the Eagles were to take an offensive tackle on Day 1 or 2 then there’s a chance that player could compete with Steen for the right guard spot.

2. We saw a little tiny bit of Landon Dickerson at center this season and he looked really good. I certainly would never move him from left guard, where he’s been a back-to-back Pro Bowler but there’s a very slight chance the Eagles could feel like they can replace left guard easier than center.

It’s also important to remember that Jack Driscoll and Opeta are pending free agents. They’re not big-name guys but losing both of them would be quite a loss to the Eagles in the depth department.

I don’t think it’s that simple. Because before the 2023 season if we said the Eagles would get to 11 wins, it might have been a tad disappointing but nowhere near grounds for firing. It was the way they got to 11 wins last year that led to major changes.

In general, though, the Eagles have to be a contender in 2024. If Howie Roseman puts together a roster that is expected to be in the mix to win a Super Bowl and the Eagles aren’t close to living up to that expectation, then the Eagles would probably move on. If they get into the playoffs and win a game or two, it should be enough for Sirianni to stick around, depending on how it plays out.

I’ll start with the question about Swift. I find it unlikely he’ll be back if he gets any kind of significant deal from another team. The Eagles showed their thinking last year when they let Miles Sanders walk and then traded for a much cheaper option and got a different running back to have a Pro Bowl season. That’s the way they go about it. The only chance I think Swift has to be back is if a market simply doesn’t materialize for him. In that case, if he has to take a short-term deal that underpays him, he’d probably rather do it in Philly.

The position that seems to stand out to me is safety. Their two biggest needs on defense are linebacker and safety and I just don’t have a ton of faith that the Eagles will change their philosophy and spend big money on linebacker. So maybe they’ll go with another position that will be important in Vic Fangio’s defense. The top safety on the market will be Antoine Winfield Jr. from Tampa. The Buccaneers shouldn’t let him leave but he would be incredible in Fangio’s defense. There are some other options too like Kam Curl, Xavier McKinney, Geno Stone and even old friend C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

Whenever things go as wrong as they did in 2023, we’re all looking for answers. But that soft practice schedule got the Eagles to a Super Bowl with 22 of 22 starters the year before. So I don’t expect that major change is going to take place this year. Now, could the Eagles have more of an offseason program this year? That might make sense with new coordinators and schemes coming in. But I really doubt we’ll see many significant changes in training camp or during the season. Maybe some minor tweaks to the practice regimen would help but it’s not worth it if guys are getting hurt.

The Eagles had high hopes for Dean in 2023 but he got hurt in the opener and ended up playing in just five games and ended the season on IR. Even when he played, Dean wasn’t very good … although he didn’t seem quite healthy, so it’s a tough evaluation.

At the year-end press conference, Roseman talked a bit about Dean:

“I have a lot of belief, and I know Coach does, as well, in Nakobe Dean,” Roseman said. “I believe in the player. I believe in the person.

“We lost two linebackers at that spot, two good players from our Super Bowl team, and we had Nakobe waiting in the wings. We drafted him for that role. Obviously, it didn’t work out perfectly for him this year. That doesn’t change the belief we have in the player.”

The Eagles should still believe in Dean. They drafted him with the 83rd overall pick, which is a significant resource in that position for this team. But they probably can’t rely too much on him as a starter. They at least have to have a better backup plan than they did in 2023. Because they just went too thin at the position last year.

Without Dean, the Eagles’ solution at linebacker was Zach Cunningham, who was signed in August, and Nicholas Morrow, who didn’t even make the initial 53-man roster. Even if you concede that Cunningham out-performed expectations in 2023, that’s still not good enough. Linebacker is a position that matters in a Vic Fangio defense. Not saying the Eagles have to throw big money at a free agent or draft one in the first round, but they really can’t afford to ignore the position anymore either.

Obviously, the draft “needs” can change a bit once we get through free agency. But there are plenty of positions on defense to watch. I think cornerback is a spot to watch. Even if Kelee Ringo ends up being a starter, Darius Slay isn’t going to play forever. So replenishing at a premium position on that side of the ball makes sense. The Eagles also need linebackers and safeties. I wouldn’t expect the Eagles to suddenly use a first-rounder on linebacker but they could try to add there. I kind of like the idea of getting a safety in free agency.

On offense, there aren’t pressing needs but it might be a good time to draft an offensive tackle as Johnson’s eventual replacement. The Eagles like to keep a constant flow of offensive linemen coming and try to get the replacements before they need them. They could also use another infusion of depth with Driscoll and Opeta set to be free agents.

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