The Eagles track record of hiring offensive-minded head coaches continued when they grabbed Nick Sirianni away from Frank Reich's staff in Indianapolis. Sirianni, who will turn 40 in June, was the Colts' offensive coordinator for the past three years. Not only has he never been a head coach at any level before, but he has never called plays at any level before.
The Eagles don't seem to mind -- Doug Pederson never called plays before coming to Philadelphia, nor did Reich when he started in Indianapolis. Philadelphia hopes Sirianni will be just as effective without the experience.
But without that experience, it's impossible to uncover tendencies that could transfer into the Eagles' new offense. That doesn't mean we can't try to figure some things out based on who Sirianni has learned from, and who he'll work with in Philly. So although this will venture into different waters than our previous play-caller series, there's a lot to unpack and let's get right into it.
The receiving game
Sirianni, a three-time NCAA Division-III champion wideout at Mount Union, is highly regarded as a receiving specialist. From game plans to technique improvement, Sirianni has been very detailed in his work with all of his pass catchers.
"You can definitely tell he played receiver," wideout Zach Pascal told CBS Sports about the former Colts coordinator. "If he is not with the QBs, he is with the WRs. Every route ran in practice by everyone gets watched by him and critiqued. Everything and every route is detailed to the 'T'."
You can get a glimpse of the level of detail Sirianni looks for in a 2018 video posted by the Colts. He went over some concepts designed to exploit matchups, which is the name of the game in every offense. At one point, he highlighted the importance of fast receivers making plays near the line of scrimmage.
"Another thing we really like to do is get the ball to our players, within 5 yards from the line of scrimmage, get the ball to our players (while they're) running," he said with clicker in hand while watching a Tyrell Williams crossing route. "Who's our fast guys, who do we like to get the ball to in their hands and let them make a big play from there. ... There's times where we want to let the playmakers get the ball in their hands early and then see what (they) can do with it."
It's a quarterback-friendly concept straight out of the West Coast offense, which is unsurprising since Sirianni's been dealing in that playbook for the past eight seasons. It's not a stretch to assume that the Eagles playbook will have plenty of West Coast passing concepts flush with easy-read throws for, presumably, Jalen Hurts to make.
Here's Jalen Reagor doing exactly what Sirianni is talking about.
The Eagles' three rookie receivers from 2020 -- Quez Watkins (8.1), John Hightower (6.0) and Reagor (5.6) -- led the team in yards after catch per reception. Only Reagor had more than 30 targets, plus he had at least 6.0 yards after catch per reception in two of his three seasons at TCU. He's also the most polished of the three. Aside from Greg Ward, who has been a nice complementary receiver, the rest of the wideout room is up for grabs. Sirianni should enjoy working with Reagor, a Fantasy sleeper who has worlds of potential as both a short-area catch-and-run guy and as a deep threat.
Sirianni also spent time in the Colts video talking about the mismatches tight ends can create. They were consistent contributors in the offenses he worked on in Indy and Los Angeles. Surely, Dallas Goedert will continue being built into the Eagles' game plan as a 6-foot-5 chess piece. While his 4.3-yard after catch per reception average won't wow anyone (it ranked 24th among qualifying tight ends), his 5.7 target-per-game average in three games with Hurts has room to increase if there isn't a second tight end consistently taking work away from him like in the past.
The passing game
Ultimately, pass game success hinges on whatever improvements Sirianni and his staff can make with Hurts. He ranked dead-last among quarterbacks with at least 120 attempts in Pro Football Reference's on-target rate (60.7%) as well as in Pro Football Focus' adjusted completion rate in clean pockets (67.7%) and overall (65.1%).
Maybe his propensity to throw it deep played a small role -- 13.5% of his throws traveled 20-plus yards and only 7-of-20 were completed. But Sirianni and new Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, who Hurts says he's known since he was 4 years old, will be tasked with making a much more efficient passing game.
Expect quick, well-defined reads and pre-determined throws, but also expect plenty of mobility and rushing from Hurts. The RPO offense Indianapolis ran with Andrew Luck will be merged with what Philadelphia has already been doing. That's what caters to Hurts' strengths, and that's what provides the top-12 Fantasy upside for however long he's the Eagles' starting quarterback.
The run game
According to The Indianapolis Star, one of Sirianni's game-day tasks was to remind Reich to run the football and stay balanced. The Colts called pass plays 55% of the time in 2020.
Whether or not this means Sirianni will keep himself in check when it comes to being balanced remains to be seen.
When they do run, the Eagles' blocking philosophy figures to stay the same. Sirianni retained offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, signaling they'll likely stick with what's worked for the Eagles when they weren't ravaged by injuries. Capable of zone or gap scheme blocking, the front five for Philadelphia has the potential to be a top-10 unit in the league. Sirianni would be nuts to not lean on them.
And Miles Sanders figures to be the lead back working behind them.
That's a good start.
Maybe it's simplistic to say this, but Sanders' stats proved what kind of running back he is.
|Miles Sanders through two years|
|15+ yard runs||7||6|
|PFF Elusive Rating||33rd||18th|
|Yards after contact/att||3.25||3.38|
|Yards per rec||10.7||7|
|Targets per game||3.9||4.3|
Let's be clear: These are good, consistent rushing numbers with disappointing receiving results. It's not to say Sanders can't see over 250 touches -- a back has hit that mark in four of the past five years on teams Sirianni's coached on. Actually, Sirianni has been exposed to run games that utilize one stud workhorse (Melvin Gordon in L.A.) or multiple backs in defined roles (Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines in Indy).
It'll come down to how much Sirianni trusts Sanders as well as who else on the Eagles roster can handle a passing-downs role. Boston Scott was a more efficient pass-catcher in 2020 and just as effective as Sanders in pass blocking -- he could become Sirianni's new version of Hines.
On top of all that, there's also Hurts stealing rushing opportunities, including near the goal line. And, 15% of Hurts' throws went to running backs last season. All of that will hurt whoever plays running back for the Eagles.
With 1,200-total-yard potential, Sanders will get drafted as a Fantasy starter. That's a given. Whether or not he finds a ton of catches and touchdowns remains to be seen, which is why Fantasy managers shouldn't race right back to draft him with a top-15 pick. Scott also carries sneaky late-round value in PPR formats if he carves out that passing-downs role that Hines and even Austin Ekeler had under Sirianni.