Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Sirianni doesn’t know how to call an NFL game

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

At his heart, Nick Sirianni is a wide receiver.

He played the position in college at Mount Union, coached them before transitioning over to quarterbacks in 2014, and was lauded for knowing how to get the most out of the position when he was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles.

After suffering through a horrible stretch of wide receiver play for, well, for what feels like forever, hopes were sky high that Sirianni would finally deliver onto the City of Brotherly Love the sort of sophisticated passing game that breeds success at the NFL level.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case so far this season.

No, in a cruel twist of fate that feels woefully obvious in hindsight, it would appear that Nick Sirianni, who has never called a full football game at the NFL level, has no idea how to call a full game at the NFL level.

The Philadelphia Eagles need a radical, on-the-fly offensive identity shift.

According to Statmuse, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the record for the fewest rushing attempts in an NFL game at five. This happened on November 8th, 2020 and unsurprisingly resulted in a loss.

Actually, of the 30 games in Statmuse’s system with nine or fewer rushing attempts since 1951, all but one resulted in a loss, with the lone exception coming in a 30-23 New England win over the New York Jets back in 2015.

Unfortunately, I have some bad news for fine folks over at Statmuse; they have to change their graphic. Why? Because the Philadelphia Eagles just set a new low in rushing attempts per game, only recording a ghastly three rushing attempts to running backs versus 39 passing attempts.

Now grunted, technically, that isn’t correct. Technically, the team’s rushing total was 12, as Jalen Hurts ran the ball nine times for 35 yards, but either way, is that really a winning formula in 2021 or really any era of NFL history?

While it may not be as enthralling as a flashing passing concept, running the ball is crucial in the NFL. It dictates the pace of play, picks up predictable yards, and, most importantly of all, controls the finite time left on the clock.

Why, you may ask, is this important? Well, because once again, the Eagles found themselves with a near-10 minute deficiency in time of possession versus the Cowboys and were forced to play catch up from midway through the first despite keeping the game fairly close through the first half of action.

And, in the weirdest twist of fate you can imagine, the Eagles actually did have a chance, however small that might have been, to win the game versus Dallas on their home astroturf.

Once Jonathan Gannon’s defense settled in and the Cowboys’ offense started ending drives with punts instead of points, the Eagles had a golden opportunity to get the momentum back into their court and make things interesting.

*spoiler alert* that never quite happened

Had Greg Ward blocked that punt, maybe the momentum would have shifted. Had Landon Dickerson, Andre Dillard, and seemingly every other lineman on the team not recorded illegal man down the field penalties on screen passes, maybe the momentum would have shifted. Had Miles Sanders been a featured player instead of an afterthought, maybe the momentum would have shifted, but, again, it wasn’t meant to be.

Nick Sirianni entered the biggest game of his coaching career thus far without a clear plan, and the results will live in memories of Cowboys fans forever, much like Super Bowl 52 does for fans in Philly.

But why? This isn’t how things were supposed to be.

In Indianapolis, the Colts ran the ball a lot. They, too, had a plus offensive line who could move bodies and exploited that offensive feature with an effective ground game. From Marlon Mack to Jonathan Taylor and even Nyheim Hines, the Colts found success with a variety of different backs with different styles, which many assumed was due to the coaching staff’s innate ability to get the most out of their players.

That still might be the case, but it’s clear Sirianni wasn’t the guy responsible for that facet of the game.

*sigh* and the worst part? It really doesn’t have to be this way. In camp, the Eagles were absolutely loaded at running back. They had power in Jordan Howard, speed in Justin Huntley, they had a pair of hybrid options in Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell, and a legitimate number one rusher in Sanders who was looking to finally break out in this, his contract year. While some quibbled with the decision to only keep three of the five heading into camp, surely the Eagels had a reason for it, right?

Well, as it turns out, they did. Why keep five running backs when you are barely going to use one?

Can Sirianni turn things around? Yes. Even if he’s a receiver at his core and loves to throw outs, screens, and comebacks more than seemingly any coach in the league, his particularly passing preferences can be offset by a few strong voices in the room who are willing to hold him accountable to running the ball. But who will that be? 32-year-old Shane Steichen, who oversaw some good rushing attacks in Los Angeles but has no play-calling power in Philly? How about Jemal Singleton, the team’s running backs/assistant head coach who seemingly has no say over the number of rushing attempts in any given game either.

Really, the only coach on the staff that I would hope could get through to Sirianni is Jim Bob Cooter, the former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator who oversaw some of Matt Stafford’s best seasons as a pro, but he doesn’t even have a page on the Philadelphia Eagles’ coaching staff page, let alone any real power in the coaching hierarchy.

Tell me, has any team ever hired a senior offensive assistant four games into a season? If not, can the Eagles be the first?

Next. The Philadelphia Eagles have a time of possession problem. dark

From 2016-20, fans quibbled with Doug Pederson’s tendencies. You just knew that the team would have an uneven run-to-pass ratio, would run the ball on second down if they got nothing on first, and could run the same handful of passing concepts over and over and over again. But even a pass-happy ex-quarterback like Pederson never turned in a game for the Philadelphia Eagles with only three rushing attempts by non-quarterbacks over a full 60 minutes of action. If Nick Sirianni wants to match the length of Pederson’s tenure, if not surpass it, he has to learn from his predecessor’s errors, not become even more militantly anti-run. Otherwise, the most consequential run of his head coaching career may just be the mob running him out of town.