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?


Anyone could see that the team was good enough to contend for the NFC East title.

Before the season began the Eagles looked like a 12-win team, even with a rookie head coach who’d never called plays. They had the league’s weakest schedule, the NFL’s best offensive line, a top-five defensive line, a stable of capable running backs, one of the best tight-end tandems, a promising, polished rookie wideout, and a veteran receiver who’d caught 53 passes and six touchdowns.

The formula was obvious: feature Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, ride wideout Greg Ward until young DeVonta Smith figured things out, and, above all, use those rhinos along the offensive line and run, run, run.

Not even Nick Sirianni could screw that up.

Then, he did.

It’s easy for the recent 7-2 run to bias your judgment of Sirianni’s inexcusable 2-5 start, but beating a bunch of awful teams playing for nothing late in the season only proves that more was possible early.

The Eagles lost five of their first seven games due more to Sirianni’s obsession with the pass than to anything else. From his corny catchphrases to his wardrobe, Sirianni was much more style than substance in his first four months. Coach-centric issues abounded: penalties, discipline, and an unwavering commitment to not blitz the opposition’s quarterback.

This is why the Eagles earned only a wild-card slot. This is why they’ve forfeited home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs next week. Rejoice, if you like, that Saturday’s game against Dallas means nothing, since they punched their postseason ticket in 16 games ... but acknowledge, at least that Game 17 should mean something. If not for Sirianni, it would.

It took Sirianni seven games to realize that the only way he could win with Jalen Hurts as his quarterback was to ask less of Hurts and run the football. The result: Nine consecutive games with at least 135 rushing yards, the team’s longest streak since 1945.

Hurts threw the ball less than 30 times in each of those games. The one exception was Nov. 28 at the Giants. Hurts threw three interceptions, finished with a 17.5 passer rating, and the Eagles lost.

Rather, Sirianni lost.

There were plenty of other miscues.

Sirianni blew an early goal-line chance against a beatable 49ers team in Game 2. The Birds were completely unprepared to face Dallas and Kansas City in the next two games.

Sirianni looked like a fool when, in an episode of rank unprofessionalism, he wore a “BEAT DALLAS” T-shirt to a press conference the week before the game. He then lost by 20.

He botched Game 7 in Las Vegas when he accepted a penalty he should have declined -- even the refs thought he’d decline it -- and, trailing by 10, he absurdly tried an onside kick to start the second half.

» READ MORE: Nick Sirianni’s clumsy coaching is dooming the Eagles | Marcus Hayes

These aren’t mistakes born of inexperience. They’re errors of arrogance.

Sirianni ignored the defensive side of the ball and allowed first-time defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon to mismanage that side of the ball for a month before finally erupting after four games.

Sirianni continues to go to Jalen Reagor, a first-round enigma who has 61 catches and three touchdowns in his first two seasons, while he ignores Ward, an undrafted success story who had 81 catches and seven touchdowns in his first two seasons. Reagor has been targeted 54 times this season. Ward: Nine.

T.J. Edwards always was their best linebacker. It took Sirianni & Co. almost half a season figure that out.

Derek Barnett, 25, and Josh Sweat, 24, the defensive ends they paid a combined $21 million this season, combined for one half-sack against opponents with winning records.

The 2021 season was all about developing Hurts, and, to a degree, Reagor, but Hurts has proven he’s only marginally better in Week 18 than he was in Week 1. Reagor is worse.

The Eagles led the league in penalties early this season. There was little discipline and less accountability. You don’t need a learning curve as a coach to enforce discipline and demand accountability.

We’ve seen remarkable play from young offensive linemen, but that credit belongs to line coach Jeff Stoutland, whom Sirianni inherited and was told to leave alone.

It’s not that Sirianni achieved nothing. He endured some discord, mainly from Fletcher Cox, the team’s highest-paid and most accomplished player, but Sirianni never lost the locker room. He managed to win despite the early season losses of guard Brandon Brooks and end Brandon Graham to injury, and he endured the three-game absence of Lane Johnson.

He got veterans like Jason Kelce, Darius Slay, and Rodney McLeod to buy in to his strange, often sophomoric motivational strategies, from Sirianni’s “Dawg Mentality” to flower power. He even got better at representing the team at press conferences.

But any coach, even a first-year coach, needs to recognize more quickly what strategies are sound, what his players can and cannot do, and what he can and cannot say.

That’s not too much to expect.