Maybe someday Nick Sirianni will look back at his early head-coaching foibles and have a chuckle. Maybe he’ll have so many NFL wins — and possibly even a Super Bowl title — that the play-calling or game-management blunders in his initial outings with the Eagles could be a source of whimsy.
But right now it’s difficult to envision such a scenario.
Sirianni, as a first-time coach, may warrant some patience after just four games, but doubts about his readiness seem increasingly valid. He devised a sound offensive game plan to keep pace with the explosive Chiefs, but timeout errors, questionable red-zone tactics and penalties (again) offset any progress as the Eagles fell, 42-30, on Sunday.
“You’re furious that you go to 1-3, but we can also see there’s things to build on,” Sirianni said. “The self-inflicted wounds have to stop, and I know I sound the same, but it’s still true. … We’re putting ourselves in holes with penalties.”
The Eagles committed nine total penalties, three of which negated touchdowns. It could be argued that the second — a pass interference on wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside — should have never been called. But the other two were legit, as have been most of the team’s NFL-high 44 this season.
Sirianni needed to be near perfect because the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs marched up and down the field on coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s defense. The Eagles aren’t the first team to get torched by Andy Reid’s offense, but allowing six touchdowns on seven possessions was egregious.
“It was a tough challenge for our defense today,” Sirianni said. “When a team rushes for that many yards, you’re always going to look at that and say, ‘We got to stop the run.’”
Gannon, to no surprise, played a lot of Cover 2 zone, which in turn, resulted in a balanced Kansas City offense. But the Eagles were a sieve up front, and allowed 200 yards on the ground. That’s partly on Gannon, but it’s also on the defensive personnel, which has been exposed since defensive end Brandon Graham’s season-ending Achilles injury in Week 2.
The unit did force a turnover on the Chiefs’ first possession of the second half when defensive end Josh Sweat hurried Mahomes into throwing an interception to linebacker Eric Wilson. But the Eagles had to settle for a field goal off the giveaway when the Arcega-Whiteside penalty nullified a Zach Ertz 3-yard touchdown reception.
Few could question Sirianni taking the points then, which narrowed the lead to 21-16. But his first-drive decision to kick a field goal was preceded by a comedy of errors. The Eagles faced a fourth-and-3 at the Chiefs’ 11, but Sirianni said he got the call in too late, and rather than take a delay penalty, quarterback Jalen Hurts said he called a timeout.
“I didn’t get the call in quick enough,” Sirianni said. “And so, once we got to that, I thought it was important we got points on the board at that particular time. I thought it would be too much of a momentum swing if they stopped us on fourth-and-3.”
But even Sirianni isn’t that conservative. Why not just use the timeout to call another play? Hurts offered a more plausible explanation for why Sirianni sent the field goal unit out.
“I think there was a miscommunication,” he said. He added: “It was an assumed delay of game.”
Was Sirianni told by the official there was a delay? The coach kept that conversation private. There was a flag thrown by the back official, but it was picked up. Nevertheless, why not just send the offense back out, unless Sirianni really is that indecisive.
Instead, the Eagles settled when they needed to be aggressive. Every other decision made by Sirianni, who dubiously punted on two first-half fourth downs last week against the Cowboys, suggested he understood that he had to keep his foot on the pedal.
He went for it on fourth-and-2 a series later and was rewarded when Hurts connected with tight end Dallas Goedert for a 3-yard touchdown. And after Kansas City went ahead, 21-13, with 56 seconds left before the break, he had Hurts throwing downfield.
But Sirianni didn’t use his last timeout on third-and-9 at the Chiefs’ 39 as the clock ticked down from 27 to 15 seconds.
“We felt like we could get a play off that was going to go out of bounds for that,” Sirianni said. “So we wanted to save that timeout. … I’ll double down on that call.”
Hurts rushed the offense to the line, but he didn’t see the blitz, was strip-sacked, and after a game of fumblerooskie, the Eagles were well out of field-goal range and the clock ran out.
“We’ve run that play a bunch in my past, not just here in Philadelphia,” Sirianni said when asked if the rush job led to the protection issues. “We’ve run it a lot in Indianapolis and San Diego. When I was in Kansas City, that was our out-of-bounds play. You know what? It didn’t work this time.”
But why run the out-of-bounds play when you have the timeout?
Sirianni’s game-management miscues overshadowed what was probably his best game plan so far. He effectively used pre-snap motion, jet motion at the snap and play-action to free up receivers for short timing routes that allowed Hurts to regain his confidence.
He ran enough to keep the Chiefs’ leaky defense honest. And the Eagles drove inside the 20 on six of their eight possessions, and did so with an offensive line that was without four starters after right tackle Lane Johnson was a late scratch because of a “personal situation,” per Sirianni.
Hurts had some errant passes, particularly in the red zone when he overthrew Ertz on the first series, and later when he tossed wide of receiver Greg Ward. But he had also had a number of impressive throws — three that would have been touchdowns if not for penalties.
The Eagles’ mistakes weren’t all on Sirianni, of course, but as the head coach, most are. He needs to do a better job teaching what’s illegal man downfield and what’s not, or how to run a route without getting pushed out of bounds.
The coaching hires are also his. Reid, in his first go-round with the Eagles, hired veterans as his defensive and offensive coordinators. Sirianni, Gannon and special teams coordinator Michael Clay are all newcomers to their jobs.
Reid, of course, made his share of errors in his first season. He went 0-4 to start, and has gone 223-128 and won a Super Bowl since. On Sunday, he became the first coach to ever win 100 games with two franchises.
Reid’s success doesn’t mean Sirianni won’t be a failure. But his first four games also don’t mean he will be one.
“I think Nick is doing a nice job with this team, so people here need to be patient with him,” Reid said. “He’s new to town and you saw what he’s capable of doing there and I think the Eagles are in good hands here.”
Well, that makes for at least one person.