By Pete Baxter
The Philadelphia Eagles have had a turbulent beginning to the 2021 season. They jumped out to a great start in a week one beat down of a bad Atlanta Falcons team. After back-to-back tough losses to the 49ers and Cowboys, expectations were understandably low as the mighty (though clearly mortal this season) Kansas City Chiefs came to town. The Eagles were huge underdogs entering the game, but there was still a relatively high level of anticipation as legendary former Philly coach Andy Reid came back to town.
In the end, the better team won. In a game virtually devoid of defense, the more experienced and more talented Chiefs’ attack outgunned Jalen Hurts and company to a score of 42 to 30. Patrick Mahomes threw for five touchdowns and 278 yards. For the second week in a row, a shorthanded Philly defense could not slow down their opponent’s running game. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams combined for 144 yards and touchdown.
Obviously not the ideal result for Philly fans. It certainly should not have been a surprise, though. In fact, the Eagles kept this game closer than they had any business doing. If viewed through a realistic and logical lens, there were several silver linings in this loss.
Let’s take a look at two critical truths that Eagles fans must accept as we reflect on weeks one through four and march on to the Eagles’ week five matchup against the Carolina Panthers.
Truth #1: This Was Never Going to be a Winning Season in Philly
As an Eagles fan since childhood, I can admit that, entering the season, I held out a sliver of hope that this team could skip some of the learning curve that typically comes from a franchise reset. I had serious hopes that they could challenge for control of a mediocre NFC East. Step one to growing is admitting your faults. I was blinded by personal bias to some degree. Amongst Eagles nation, I was far from alone.
The truth of the matter is that first-year head coach Nick Sirianni needs this season to develop his own system and build his own culture. He will face a ton of growing pains as he makes the jump from offensive coordinator to head coach. This ugly truth has shown its face in the form of undisciplined play by the team (penalties and more penalties), questionable game planning (handing the ball off to his running backs just three times in week three), and inconsistent-at-best time management (he bungled the use and non-use of timeouts on multiple occasions in week 4).
The same is true for first-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. His defense had a relatively strong start to the season in weeks one and two but has been completely unable to overcome key injuries against high-powered offenses in weeks three and four.
Things Are on The Right Track
Philly fans. Remember last season? The chaos, lack of continuity throughout the organization, and complete lack of direction? Yes, the Eagles are still losing games. But they have a future and gameplan at this point, which is a huge step in the right direction after last year’s dumpster fire.
Keep expectations low. Enjoy the small victories. Take pride in watching a young, star quarterback on the rise. Speaking of which, onward to our second truth:
Truth #2: Jalen Hurts is the Real Deal
Jalen Hurts has the second most total yards ever through a quarterback’s first eight starts at 2,584. For the third straight week, he led the Eagles’ offense in rushing while also putting up big numbers through the air. Yes, he, like his head coach, has experienced growing pains and made the occasional bonehead decision that comes with inexperience.
However, through the first four games of his second season, Hurts has thrown seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. He has averaged 292 yards per game through the air. He has completed almost 67% of his passes, a massive increase from his 52.0% completion during his rookie year. Extrapolating those early numbers across a full season, and Hurts is on pace for well over 4,000 yards passing, nearly 30 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. Those are Pro Bowl numbers before you even take in to account the touchdown and 226-yards he has put up on the ground so far this season. He is on pace for a 1,000-yard rushing season.
The Eagles Are Not Losing Because of Jalen Hurts
The Eagles are, in fact, losing in spite of Jalen Hurts’ massive effort and overall strong play. The numbers we just discussed have been put up through this young man’s fifth through eighth starts of his career. He is just getting started and will only get better and more consistent with time.
Jalen Hurts can be the franchise quarterback for this team. It is imperative that Eagles treat him as such and stay the course. They must allow him time to continue to develop. With Hurts entrenched as their quarterback, the team can use their plethora of upcoming draft picks to rebuild their defense and get younger on their offensive line (a very strong unit overall that has been cursed with injuries in recent years).
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Trust the Process
Just kidding. I know those words are like poison to Philly sports fans ears. Flashbacks to the decade of despair for the Philadelphia 76ers are inevitable. But for real…
If the Philadelphia Eagles stay the course and build this team with patience and calculated moves, they are not that far off from being a winning team. They have the financial flexibility (especially with a starting quarterback on a rookie deal) and draft capital to make major upgrades in the offseason.
Eagles fans, for their own sanity, must take the same approach. Question the powers that be, but don’t overreact. Trust Hurts. And most importantly, don’t run a talented young quarterback out of town before his time.
Things will only get better from here. Hope is on the horizon. More to come from Philly.
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