With the start of the Philadelphia Eagles’ regular season just five days away, let’s make predictions about how things will go in 2022.
1) The Eagles will transition from the run-heaviest team in the NFL to a middle of the road run:pass ratio
The Eagles were one of three teams that ran it more than they passed it in 2021.
Nick Sirianni will say that he doesn’t care how the Eagles win, as long as they win, which is no doubt a true statement. However, Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman have communicated in the past that they feel that the way to win Super Bowls is to have a deadly passing attack.
Heading into the 2021 season, it seemed clear that the Eagles’ offensive personnel was better suited toward a run-heavy attack. They had a great run-blocking offensive line, a quarterback who could make plays with his legs, and young, unproven receivers. The Eagles’ staff could certainly see what we all saw, too.
Still, through the first six or so weeks of the season, they tried to be something they weren’t set up to be, which was an offense built around the passing game. It did not go well, and after the first month and a half of the season, they transitioned into the most run-heavy offense in the NFL. That version of the offense got them to the playoffs.
Teams like the Titans, 49ers, and Ravens are fine with owning that kind of identity, but make no mistake — that is not what the Eagles want to be, long-term.
Heading into 2022, they for sure want more balance, at a minimum. It will be a juggling act between (a) the continued evaluation of Hurts as a passer, (b) keeping guys like DeVonta Smith, A.J. Brown, and Dallas Goedert happy with their target allotments, and (c) knowing when to lean heavily on their rushing attack to win games in the short-term.
My guess it that their run percentage will be more in the ballpark of 45-46%.
2) A.J. Brown will be a star in Philadelphia
Prior to the start of training camp, I cut up video of Brown’s 114 targets in 2021, and analyzed his game. While my takeaways were mostly positive, I did have some nitpicks.
After watching Brown over the course of 16 practices this summer, I’m convinced that he is the best receiver the Eagles have had since Terrell Owens. Brown is known for being a tough, physical, tackle-breaking, contested catch beast, but he showed more than that during training camp. He exceeded my expectations in other areas, notably:
- He is a savvier route runner than I anticipated.
- He does an outstanding job on contested catches not just with his physical nature, but also with his “poker face,” so to speak, when the ball is arriving. He does not show his hands until the last moment as the ball approaches, thus not tipping off opposing corners to put their hands up an try to break up the play if their back is turned to the ball.
- He did have a few rare drops, but overall his hands were fine.
Brown quickly built rapport with good friend Jalen Hurts, and was Hurts’ most voluminous target this offseason. His greatest value to the Eagles is that Hurts doesn’t have to be perfect when throwing Brown’s way. He finds a way to make catches that Eagles receivers in recent years wouldn’t, even if he’s covered or the pass is somewhat off target. He is the type of player who can bail out a quarterback still trying to find his accuracy.
Oh, and because the Eagles also have other dangerous weapons in DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, and Quez Watkins, not to mention their elite rushing attack, there’s only so much added attention opposing defenses can give Brown.
3) Dallas Goedert will have over 1,000 receiving yards
Not far behind Brown on the target front this summer was Goedert. Like with Brown above, when the ball went Goedert’s way, good things happened.
After the Eagles traded Zach Ertz in 2021, Goedert averaged 4.3 catches for 64 yards per game in 11 games the rest of the season. Extrapolate that over a 17-game season and you get 73 catches for 1,091 yards, and that was when the Eagles were at their run-heaviest.
Goedert probably had his best camp as an Eagle in 2022. He is an already good player who seems poised to make another leap. If he plays all 17 games, he’s a lock for 1,000 yards.
4) The Eagles will have a top 10 defense
The Eagles faced a lot of bad quarterbacks last season. But they also faced some good-to-great ones too, like Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott x2, and Derek Carr.
Each year, Mike Sando of The Athletic publishes quarterback tiers, the results of which “reflect voting from 50 NFL coaches and executives, including six general managers, eight head coaches, 10 evaluators, 12 coordinators, six quarterback coaches and seven execs whose specialties include analytics, game management and the salary cap.”
The Eagles will only play one game against a quarterback in 2022 who was able to crack the top 10 on that list. They’ll play 10 games against quarterbacks who rated 20th or worse:
|1||Jared Goff, Lions||22|
|2||Kirk Cousins, Vikings||15|
|3||Carson Wentz, Commanders||20|
|4||Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars||23|
|5||Kyler Murray, Cardinals||13|
|6||Dak Prescott, Cowboys||11|
|7||Mitch Trubisky, Steelers||33|
|8||Davis Mills, Texans||27|
|9||Carson Wentz, Commanders||20|
|10||Matt Ryan, Colts||14|
|11||Aaron Rodgers, Packers||1|
|12||Ryan Tannehill, Titans||17|
|13||Daniel Jones, Giants||30|
|14||Justin Fields, Bears||25|
|15||Dak Prescott, Cowboys||11|
|16||Jameis Winston, Saints||24|
|17||Daniel Jones, Giants||30|
Any decent quarterback was able to pick apart Jonathan Gannon’s soft coverage defense last season. Of course, the Eagles’ personnel on defense is much better in 2022 than it was in 2021, so even if nothing changes within Gannon’s scheme, the defense will be better. Ideally though, lessons will be learned from that milquetoast approach in 2022.
5) They’ll increase their sack total of a year ago by at least 50%
The Eagles had the second-lowest sack total in the NFL last season, with just 29 of them. A 50 percent increase would be 43.5 sacks. Can they get to 44? The NFL average a year ago was 39 sacks per team. The median was also 39. Eight teams had at least 44 sacks.
The Eagles certainly have the talent to get there, and there are plenty of differentiators between 2021 and 2022.
- Haason Reddick should make a big difference on the edge.
- Brandon Graham is returning to the lineup after missing 15 games in 2021.
- Josh Sweat will be able to focus on playing his edge position instead of having to play the BG role.
- Milton Williams will be in his second season with the team.
- Jordan Davis gives the Eagles more depth and talent on the interior.
The only thing that can potentially hold them back, again, would be an aforementioned vanilla scheme.
6) Injuries won’t have catastrophic effects (at most positions)
The Eagles’ second-team offense looks like this:
QB: Gardner Minshew
RB: Kenny Gainwell
WR: Quez Watkins
WR: Zach Pascal
TE: Jack Stoll
LT: Andre Dillard (whenever he returns)
LG: Sua Opeta
C: Cam Jurgens
RG: Josh Sills
RT: Jack Driscoll
Their second-team defense looks like this:
DE: Derek Barnett
DT: Jordan Davis
DT: Milton Williams
DE: Tarron Jackson
SAM: Patrick Johnson
LB: Nakobe Dean
CB: Zech McPhearson
S: K’Von Wallace
S: Reed Blankenship
CB: Josh Jobe
SCB: Josiah Scott
I feel like that team could win a small handful of games. Maybe go like 2-15?
But I guess the point of listing the names above is to show that the Eagles have good depth at most positions. My one big concern would be in the secondary.
7) The Giants and Commanders will continue to suck, while the Cowboys will have significant regression
Back in June, we published our NFC East dumpster fire series. In case you missed that, you can catch up here:
We publish that series every year, whether I think each team is going to be bad, or not. This year, it was very easy coming up with plenty of compelling reasons for each of the Cowboys, Giants, and Commanders.
The Giants and Commanders will continue to suck. We can all agree on that, right? Good? Good.
But the Cowboys are also primed for a dropoff this season. They have major issues both along their offensive line and at wide receiver, turning their once elite-level offense into one with a boatload of question marks. They still have plenty of talent on defense, but they are extremely unlikely to duplicate their interception, takeaway, and defensive touchdown totals from 2021. Oh, and Mike McCarthy remains their head coach. Put me down for 9-8 for the Cowboys, 6-11 for the Commanders, and 5-12 for the Giants.
8) The Eagles will finish with an 11-6 regular season record
Let’s go game-by-game, submitted without explanation:
• Week 1, at Lions: Win, 1-0
• Week 2, Vikings: Loss, 1-1
• Week 3, at Commanders: Win, 2-1
• Week 4, Jaguars: Win, 3-1
• Week 5, at Cardinals: Win, 4-1
• Week 6, Cowboys: Loss, 4-2
• Week 8, Steelers: Loss, 4-3
• Week 9, at Texans: Win, 5-3
• Week 10, Commanders: Win, 6-3
• Week 11, at Colts: Loss, 6-4
• Week 12, Packers: Loss, 6-5
• Week 13, Titans: Win, 7-5
• Week 14, at Giants: Win, 8-5
• Week 15, at Bears: Win, 9-5
• Week 16, at Cowboys: Win, 10-5
• Week 17, Saints: Win, 11-5
• Week 18, Giants: Loss (resting starters), 11-6
• Wildcard round, 49ers: Win
• Divisional round, at Buccaneers: Loss
9) The Eagles’ pick from the Saints will fall somewhere in the teens
Sean Payton is gone, and Dennis Allen is moving from defensive coordinator to head coach, which could have negative effects on both sides of the ball. The Saints also lost starting LT Terron Armstead in free agency, while Jameis Winston attempts to come back from a torn ACL with no physical limitations. And then there’s Alvin Kamara and Marcus Maye, a couple of important starters who have serious legal issues. There are plenty of reasons to believe the Saints might be in trouble in 2022.
Still, their roster is decent enough, particularly on defense, that they should be able to win a fair amount of games, and maybe even make the playoffs as a 7 seed in an absolutely dreadful NFC. But they’re not going anywhere in the playoffs, should they get that far.
My guess is that the Eagles’ first round pick in 2023 from New Orleans will land somewhere in the same ballpark as the picks the Eagles owned from the Dolphins and Colts in the 2022 draft. I’d set the over-under on that draft slot at somewhere around 16.5.
10) Jalen Hurts will play well enough to be the Eagles’ starting quarterback in 2023, and then an even more important debate will begin
Hurts is better player right now than he was when the Eagles entered the the 2021 season. Couple that with the fact that the Eagles made major improvements to their wide receiving corps, and Hurts is primed to have a significantly better season in 2022 than he had a year ago. However, an important question the Eagles will have to consider is whether Hurts is able to show that his perceived ceiling should be higher than it is at present time.
If the Eagles win the division and the Saints don’t fall flat on their face, then the Eagles may not have the ammo to get an elite quarterback prospect at the tippity-top of the draft, especially when there are three other teams with multiple first-round picks in 2023.
That’s when the conversation could shift from, “Should Jalen Hurts be the starting quarterback next season?” to “Should the Eagles pay Jalen Hurts franchise quarterback money?”.
The latter will be the big 2023 offseason debate, and I’m sure everyone will have calm, rational opinions.
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