Forget, for a minute, about the offense’s chronic obsession with passing the football despite featuring an inept quarterback, young receivers, and a patchwork offensive line.
Set aside, for a moment, the timidity witnessed weekly by Jonathan Gannon’s marshmallow defense.
Focus, if you will, on the head coach’s complete lack of awareness and his exquisite ignorance of situational football.
With just two plays, Nick Sirianni on Sunday proved how ill-equipped he is, at this moment, to be the head coach of a Pop Warner football team, much less the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. We now know why no other team even offered him an interview. He had never called plays. He’d never been a head coach at any level. Every week, that inexperience shows.
There is no escape for Eagles fans. Owner Jeffrey Lurie won’t fire Sirianni during this season, and he probably won’t can him even after the season, no matter how badly the Birds play. Consider Lurie’s history.
Lurie took bold risks on all of his head-coaching hires: Ray Rhodes, Andy Reid, Chip Kelly, and Doug Pederson. None had NFL head-coaching experience. Lurie loves to prove himself smarter than the other owners, and while that’s not particularly difficult, Lurie hates to be proved wrong. Therefore, he won’t abandon Sirianni after one season in which the team was crippled with salary-cap damage wrought by Carson Wentz’s treachery — treachery that also left Sirianni with second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts, who is years away from NFL proficiency.
» READ MORE: Eagles should bench Jalen Hurts | Marcus Hayes
Nick the Quick seems years away from NFL proficiency, too.
In Sunday’s 33-22 loss to Las Vegas, he accepted a penalty instead of allowing the Raiders to punt. Then, with half of the game remaining, he tried an onside kick — in an era when rule changes have made onside kicks obsolete.
Let’s focus on the second one first.
Vegas, baby. Vegas.
Just because you’re in Sin City, it doesn’t mean you have to make stupid bets.
Sirianni called an onside kick to start the second half. The Eagles trailed, 17-7. Their record was 2-4. They were on the road. The defense hadn’t stopped the Raiders once. On its face, the strategy seemed plausible. Look deeper; you’ll see it was absurd.
Since the kickoff rules changed for safety reasons before the 2018 season — the new rules mandated five men be on either side of the kicker, thereby eliminating overloads, with no running start, thereby eliminating momentum — only about 8.1% of onside kicks worked from 2018-20.
Sirianni noted that the onside kick stats include all onside kicks, including those in situations in which the receiving team anticipates them. And when teams don’t anticipate them, Coach?
“I can’t tell you that,” Sirianni said.
That probably because he knows that the stats aren’t much better: It’s about a 15% success rate.
Sirianni also said that on previous kickoffs, the Raiders had taken a step backward before impact. There had been one previous kickoff and the Raiders did not step backward before impact. They did not step backward before impact when he tried the onside kick, either. They opened their hips toward the ball and charged it.
So, in effect, Sirianni was saying he believed his defense had less than a 15% chance of stopping Derek Carr and the Raiders. To be fair, anyone who’d watched the first half probably couldn’t blame Sirianni for his lack of faith, and anyone who’d watched Gannon run the Eagles’ defense in the first six games probably endorsed the decision, but the decision is utterly indefensible.
For one thing, Sirianni tried it against a special teams guru Rich Bisaccia, who was coaching special teams when Sirianni was 1 year old. One.
Bisaccia wakes up nights in cold sweats at the nightmare prospect of an ambush onside kick. You could see him smirking when the Eagles’ try failed. He knew that only kicker Jake Eliiott had any chance of recovering it. Since the ball had to travel more than 10 yards before Elliott could touch it, Elliott had a 1-yard window in which to secure the ball. He then had to retain possession and survive the impact from onrushing fullback Alec Ingold, who outweighs the 167-pound Elliott by 73 pounds.
It is the sort of call made by desperate, foolish men.
“We didn’t feel like we were getting enough stops in the first half on defense,” Sirianni said.
Really? So you’re going to try a play with a 92% chance of failure, after which the defense in which you have so little faith must defend 41 yards of the field instead of 75 yards?
The defense, probably furious with Nick the Quick, promptly surrendered a touchdown.
“I’d do it again,” Sirianni said.
If that’s true, then he shouldn’t get the chance.
On their first drive, the Raiders faced fourth-and-3 at the Eagles’ 47-yard line, but they’d committed a holding penalty on the previous play. Carr left the field, assuming Sirianni would decline the penalty and let the Raiders punt.
Incredibly, though, Sirianni appeared to tell the official, “Move them back,” waving with his laminated play sheet, which recalled another play-sheet debacle involving Rich Kotite, the last Eagles coach who was this bad. The official couldn’t believe it; he assumed Sirianni would accept the punt, and even announced that the penalty had been declined. The official had to announce a correction.
The Raiders’ offense had to return to the field and try to convert a third-and-15. The Eagles’ defense had to return, too. Carr immediately completed a 43-yard bomb.
Why’d he accept the penalty?
“Because our chart said ‘Go for it’ there,” said Sirianni, who even acknowledged that he saw the punt team coming on the field after he’d accepted the penalty. “I felt good about accepting it. ... I was playing it like I was playing it.”
Sirianni actually said that.
To reiterate: His reason for accepting the penalty, even as the opposing quarterback left the field, was that he would have gone for it.
Accepting the penalty didn’t cause much controversy after the game because Carr threw an interception four plays later and the Raiders didn’t score, but the momentum had swung. The Raiders scored 30 unanswered points.
Sure, other plays were there to be made on both sides of the ball. But how can players be expected to trust a first-year coach who makes these sorts of mistakes, again and again and again?
This is nothing new.
Sirianni didn’t call a timeout when Chiefs star Tyreek Hill, the NFL’s most explosive receiver, lined up against a linebacker and, as you might expect, caught a touchdown pass. In that same game, Sirianni, on the opening drive, chose to kick a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-3 at KC’s 11-yard line — after calling a timeout.
There were other, lesser sins Sunday.
Sirianni failed to call a timeout on third-and-3 early in the third quarter, which resulted in a delay-of-game penalty that turned it into third-and-8. Sirianni later had to call timeout before the first play of a fourth-quarter possession.
In the middle of the third quarter, leading by 17, Carr completed a 5-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow that left the Raiders with fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line ... or did he? Renfrow appeared to never have control of the pass. Avonte Maddox got a hand on it immediately and it came loose as they fell to the ground. Sirianni failed to challenge the play.
The Raiders ran it in for a TD on the next play, but they would almost certainly have tried a field goal had the call been overturned.
So what, you say?
Well, a 20-point lead might be daunting, but a 24-point lead is 20% more daunting. Do the math.
Sirianni apparently can’t.