10 areas the Eagles need massive improvement in 2022 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Nick Sirianni was asked a few days ago about Jalen Hurts’ lack of completions across the middle of the field.
But he could have been asked about any number of things and the answer would have been the same.
“You don't ever want to be in the bottom part of the NFL on anything, so we're very conscious of what our numbers say,” he replied. “You never want to be at the bottom of the NFL on anything.”
But last year, the Eagles were near the bottom of the NFL in a lot of things. Which isn’t surprising for a team with a new head coach coming off a four-win season.
Sirianni’s comment about being at the bottom of the NFL got us thinking about areas where the Eagles were among the 10 worst in the NFL last year. So let’s take a look at 10 of those areas and their chances of making dramatic improvements this year.
Opposing completion percentage [32nd]
Quarterbacks completed 69.4 percent of their passes against the Eagles last year, 11th-highest in NFL history. And while they were middle of the pack in yards allowed per completion – 14th at 6.9 – that 69.4 percent figure has to come down. And there’s no reason it won’t. James Bradberry replacing mediocre Stephen Nelson is going to make things tougher on quarterbacks and receivers, and the anticipated improvement in pass pressure should also help bring this number down. The NFL average last year was 64.8 percent, and there’s no reason the Eagles shouldn’t be around or even under that figure in 2022.
Takeaways [tied for 28th]
The Eagles forced just 16 turnovers last year – 12 interceptions and four forced fumbles. That was the second-fewest in franchise history, and they became only the 10th team in history to reach the playoffs with 16 or fewer takeaways. They’ve had 20 or fewer takeaways in four straight seasons, one of only six teams in NFL history that’s done that. But the defensive additions of Bradberry, Haason Reddick and Jordan Davis in particular should create more havoc in the pocket, make life more difficult for quarterbacks and lead to more turnovers. The Super Bowl team forced 31 turnovers. Somewhere in the mid-to-high 20s is a realistic goal.
First-half scoring margin [24th]
How many times last year did the Eagles find themselves in an early hole, then recover a bit in the second half but it wasn’t enough? Too many times. The Eagles were outscored by 35 points in the first half last year. And they were among the best second-half teams – plus-78 was sixth-best – but that's not an ideal way to play. The last four years the Eagles have been minus-20, minus-36, minus-42 and minus-35 in the first half. Amazing that they reached the playoffs three of those years, but they’ve really made life tough on themselves. You’d love to see them jump on teams early for a change.
Completion percentage [25th]
This is mainly a Hurts category. Hurts completed 61.3 percent of his passes last year, and Gardner Minshew brought the Eagles’ figure up to 62.1, but that was still 25th-best in the league, and that’s got to improve. A.J. Brown will help. Another year in Sirianni’s offense will help. A healthy offensive line will help. But it really comes down to Hurts just continuing to grow in the offense and throwing the ball more accurately and with more anticipation. The difference between 61 percent and 65 percent is 20 completions over the course of the season. That’s where Hurts has to be, and it's a realistic goal.
This is one of the big ones. Twenty-nine sacks in 17 games is ridiculous. Even with an extra game, that’s tied for fewest in Eagles history since sacks became an official stat in 1982, and second-fewest in the NFL, ahead of only the Falcons. And it was 20 fewer than 2020. Honestly, with this defensive front, there’s no reason the Eagles can’t get close to 50 sacks, which they last did in 2011 in the glory days of Jason Babin. Anything below 40 would be a huge disappointment.
Big plays [tied for 31st]
The Eagles only had five offensive plays of 40 yards or more last year, tied with the Panthers for fewest in the league. Those five were three Hurts passes to Quez Watkins and one each to Dallas Goedert and DeVonta Smith. That’s their fewest 40-yard plays since 1999, when they had four (Doug Pederson passes to Dietrich Jells and Torrance Small and Koy Detmer passes to Jells and Small). Needless to say that number has to increase exponentially. Brown has 16 catches of at least 40 yards the last three years, third-most in the league (and the most 50-yard catches with 10). So help is on the way. Hurts has looked better throwing the deep ball so far this summer, and he's got to make it happen in games.
3rd and long [23rd]
The Eagles were one of the NFL’s better 3rd-down teams last year, converting 46 percent, which was fourth-best in the league. Thanks to the NFL’s best running game, they generally had 3rd-and-short, which made that conversion rate so gaudy. Their average third down was 3rd-and-6.2, third-shortest in the league. BUT … there’s always a but … on third and long they were terrible. On 3rd-and-7 or longer, the Eagles converted just 24 percent of the time (20 of 84), which ranked 23rd in the league. Hurts was 24-for-44 for 347 yards (one TD, no INTs) on those 3rd-and-7 snaps and 11-for-90 rushing, converting just 10 of the 44 passing and 4 of 11 rushing. Hurts has to be significantly better on those third and longs.
Arryn Siposs was one of the NFL’s worst punters last year with a 38.8 net and 43.9 gross average, both among the bottom six in the league. From Week 12 on, he was the worst punter in the league. A poor punting game means good field position for the other team and that means a tougher time for the defense. The Eagles’ opponents began their average drive just inside the 30 (17th-worst), and Siposs wasn’t the only reason for that but he sure didn’t help. Siposs is the only punter in camp, and if he really does end up punting for the Eagles this year he has to be a much more consistent player.
Return game [26th in punts, 29th in kicks]
The Eagles were one of only three teams ranked 26th or worse in both punt return average (7.2) and kick return average (18.5). This was the first time they were ranked that low in both return categories since 2011. They just had no firepower in the return game. Maybe Britain Covey can help, although he has to make the team first. But it’s not just the returner. There really wasn’t any room last year for the punt and kick returners to run. Both units have to improve across the board for the Eagles to improve on their No. 26 ranking in offensive drive start.
Penalties [tied for 22nd]
The Eagles finished the season as the NFL’s 10th-most penalized team with 107 infractions. But they did show improvement as the season went on. The first five games, they committed a league-high 50 penalties, or 10 per game. The last 12 games they committed 57, or just under 5 per game, which was sixth-fewest in the league. The biggest culprits: Jordan Mailata [7-for-55 yards], Derek Barnett [7-for-47], Lane Johnson [7-for-45], Andre Dillard [7-for-25], Steven Nelson [5-for-78] and Landon Dickerson [5-for-35]. The Eagles gave up 35 penalty first downs and 50 penalty yards per game. Too much. Not enough discipline. The improvement we saw the second half of the season has to continue.