As the Eagles prepare to host the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night, Inquirer Sports columnists Marcus Hayes and Mike Sielski will debate four issues facing the Eagles, today through Saturday.

Today’s issue: Has Nick Sirianni exceeded expectations?


Consider the circumstances surrounding the Eagles’ decision in January to hire Nick Sirianni as their head coach.

They were coming off their worst season in eight years. They had fired Doug Pederson, the only Super Bowl-winning coach in their history. They were reconciling themselves to the reality that they would soon have to trade their franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz. Now they had picked, as Pederson’s replacement, someone who had never been a head coach at any level of football, who had rarely been mentioned as a viable candidate during the NFL’s period of head-coaching hot-stove scuttlebutt, who hadn’t been chosen as much as he had been settled on.

What were the expectations for Sirianni then?

Consider the first time Sirianni spoke publicly after his hiring. He was alone in a room in front of a laptop, little squares of faces Zooming questions at him, and he appeared overwhelmed: stammering, repeating himself, obviously nervous. He became, for a while, a national punchline.

What were the expectations for Sirianni then?

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Consider the early part of the Eagles’ season. After a decisive Week 1 in Atlanta, they lost five of their next six games. The succession of good-to-great quarterbacks they faced – Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Derek Carr – toyed with Jonathan Gannon’s defense. Jalen Hurts was the alpha and the omega of the offense, but he wasn’t equipped, didn’t have the experience yet, to shoulder so much responsibility for his team’s fortunes. The Eagles were 2-5. Sirianni, in a bit of a tortured metaphor, compared them to a flower. And the primary reason to think things would improve for them, maybe the only reason, was that their schedule looked to be lighter in the season’s second half.

What were the expectations for Sirianni then?

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Consider that, while the Eagles’ schedule has indeed been easier over these last nine games, it hasn’t been just the relative weakness of their opponents that caused this recent 7-2 surge. If you expected the Eagles’ offense to continue struggling, well, Sirianni reoriented it to emphasize its strengths: the offensive line and the depth at running back – the kind of adjustment that an inexperienced coach is often unequipped or reluctant to make. If you expected Sirianni’s sometimes-corny press conferences to cost him cachet in the locker room, well, he seems to be getting plenty of respect and buy-in from his players now.

So ask yourself: If someone had told you back in January that the Eagles would be 9-7 ahead of a mostly meaningless regular-season finale against the Cowboys, that they already would have clinched a playoff spot, and that no one would be snickering at Nick Sirianni anymore, would that scenario have exceeded your expectations for this team and its coach?

Of course it would have.