Roob's Obs: Sirianni struggles, DeVonta disappears, and more originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
We all knew it was going to take a perfect game to beat the Bucs. So much for that.
Hey, good for the Eagles for getting here. Good for the Eagles for winning nine games and making the playoffs in Nick Sirianni’s first season. It’s something to build on. It’s more than most people expected.
But, wow, they just weren’t ready to play football Sunday.
There’s no shame in losing a road wild-card game to a 13-win defending Super Bowl champion with the greatest quarterback in history.
There’s plenty of shame playing this brand of football.
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Turnovers. Mistakes. Penalties. Dropped passes. You name it, they did it. And Brady and Company made them pay. The Bucs raced out to a 17-0 lead and then coasted the rest of the way.
Here’s our 10 Instant Observations from a disappointing 31-15 loss to the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa:
1. Let’s start with Jalen Hurts. This was as much of a disaster as you could imagine for the 23-year-old quarterback. He rushed through his progressions, threw sideways too much, tossed the ball up into traffic, didn’t see guys running open, threw late and behind guys, showed terrible pocket awareness, threw two interceptions and really just looked overmatched while the game was still in the balance. That goal-line INT just before halftime was an absolute killer. Chance to go into halftime down 10. Just cannot make that throw. I’ve been pretty clear about giving Hurts 2022, and maybe that still makes the most sense. But this was such a regression it has me wondering. He came up so small in such a big game, and what’s most alarming is that the mistakes were self-inflicted. It’s not that the Eagles didn’t win, it’s just how lost Hurts looked. Every one of his limitations was on full display Sunday. Now, Hurts ran around and made some plays late in the game, and you see why he’s such an intriguing player. But honestly, when this game ended I asked myself, “Can this team win a Super Bowl with Jalen Hurts at quarterback?” And I feel less confident about it than I did before the game. I expected a lot more from him.
2. And the Eagles’ inability to get DeVonta Smith involved was fatal. Your best playmaker, your rookie record setter, your prize 1st-round pick, and he was an afterthought. How does that happen? I blame Nick Sirianni and Hurts equally for Smith’s complete absence on offense until the game was out of hand. Smith finished 4-for-60 but had one catch for six yards until it was 31-0, and most of his targets were plays where he literally had no chance. How many times did we see Smith running free and Hurts never even looked his way?
3. Let’s talk defense. If there’s one thing this game showed us – and it’s something we all really knew – it’s that the Eagles need playmakers up and down the field. They need edge rushers who can generate consistent pressure. They need linebackers who are more than just hard-working special teamers. They need young, fast playmakers in the secondary. They need all these things so desperately that I’m ready to say forget all this best-player-available nonsense. The Eagles need to use all three of their 1st-round picks on defense. Period. End of story. And maybe their 2nd- and 3rd-round picks too.
4. How many times have I written this year that Jalen Reagor should not be playing. Ten? Twenty? Fifty. He can’t catch the football. He can’t get open. He can’t run the jet sweep. He can’t return punts. He doesn’t just fail to help you win games. He helps you lose games. He did it again Sunday and at the worst possible time. The Eagles’ defense had finally gotten its sea legs and held the Bucs to three straight punts and four straight possessions without a touchdown. The offense was about to get the ball near midfield. Finally a chance to gain some momentum. And then Reagor just sprints under a punt and does what Jalen Reagor does. The ball sailed through his hands, the Bucs recovered and you can’t give Brady second chances like that. Touchdown. Ball game. OK, we all know it was a wretched draft pick. But instead of cutting their losses, the Eagles just keep making it worse by giving Reagor chance after chance after chance. He never should have been on the field Sunday. It’s inexcusable he was even given an opportunity to fumble that ball away.
5. Bad day for Nick Sirianni. He did a heck of a job this year taking a four-win team and turning it into a playoff team. But he was overmatched Sunday. Just look at the Eagles’ first three drives: 12 yards, one first down, no points. I didn’t like the botched RPO on 3rd-and-2. I didn’t like running Miles Sanders wide instead of up the middle. I didn’t like that he couldn’t get Hurts into any sort of rhythm. We talked earlier about his inability to get Smith involved until late. By the time the offense started doing much of anything the game had long since been decided. I didn’t think the Eagles had the defensive personnel to compete with the Bucs, but I did expect the offense to put a lot of pressure on Tampa, and it just never happened.
6. One thing Sirianni has to figure out by next year is the slow starts. How on Earth is this team not prepared to play week after week after week? The Eagles got away with it against the Jets, Giants and Washington a couple times, but against a real NFL team you can’t fall behind double digits in the first quarter and come back. For some reason, they’re just not ready to play. On either side of the ball. And that’s a reflection on the coach as well as the players. This team hasn’t played a decent first quarter since the Saints game in Week 11. In their last six meaningful games – including Sunday - the Eagles were outscored 49-7 in the first quarter and then outscored their opponents 129-56 the rest of the game. On Sunday it caught up with them.
7. I actually blame the offense a lot more than the defense for this loss. Giving up 14 first-quarter points was not ideal, but after that the defense actually was pretty good, pressuring Brady, stuffing the run and giving the offense the ball back. The Bucs did score two late touchdowns on short fields - one after the Reagor muff, one after a failed 4th down - but the Bucs had 15 first downs on their first four drives and six on their next eight. I watched this game thinking the defense played just about as well as it possibly could given the personnel. I sure didn't feel that way about the offense.
8. I do know Kenny Gainwell has to have an expanded role next year. His role this year changed week to week, and there some games he barely played or was even inactive. But every single time he got an opportunity he responded, and his 16-yard catch-and-run touchdown Sunday may not have really meant much in the big picture but just showed the kind of ability he has. Don’t think he’ll ever be a full-time running back, but he has to play more.
9. We have plenty of time to talk about the future, but the Eagles’ need for another outside weapon is so glaring. It’s just painful. They’re playing football with two NFL-caliber wide receivers, and in the modern NFL you’re not going to get away with that for very long. Reagor handicaps this offense so much because he keeps getting playing time, he keeps getting targets and he flat-out doesn’t produce. Smith is a stud. Quez Watkins is terrific WR3. Since we're focusing on defense in the draft, there will be some decent younger veteran WRs available in free agency this offseason, and if edge rusher is priority No. 1, finding a fast dude who can catch the football is priority No. 1A.
10. All this said and as disappointing as this loss was, I do believe the Eagles are trending in the right direction. They finally have some young players who are producing. They have a loaded offensive line. They’ve got a coach who’s shown he’s got what it takes to build a winning culture. And they’ve got those three 1st-round picks. There’s a lot to like about where the franchise is right now. There’s a lot of work to do and a lot of areas they need to get better. But they have the draft picks, they have the cap space, and if Howie Roseman can nail the 2022 draft like he finally nailed this year’s draft there’s no reason to think the Eagles can’t be significantly better next year.