The firing of Doug Pederson and subsequent cleaning house may have taken both the Eagles front office and the fans by surprise, but the team has moved quickly to put a new coaching staff in place and there will be a lot of new faces on the sidelines for the Eagles next season.

Doug Pederson? Gone.  Press Taylor? Duce Staley? Rich Scangarello?  Marty Mornhinweg? Justin Peelle? All gone.  And that is just the offensive side of the ball.  On the defensive side, the Eagles also lost Jim Schwartz, Ken Flajole, and Nathan Ollie with Dave Fipp also potentially on the chopping block.

Countless new coaches and assistants will be hired in the coming days, but today let’s dive into the big 3 of the Eagles 2021 coaching staff.

Head Coach Nick Sirianni

I already gave some initial reactions to the Nick Sirianni hire in a reaction video that you can check out below…

 

The Eagles certainly have a type when it comes to head coaching hires. 

After the Chip Kelly debacle, they hired an offensive coordinator from a former coach’s staff who had no experience calling plays and wore visors on the sideline.  After firing Doug Pederson, the Eagles went to that well again, hiring an offensive coordinator from former coach Frank Reich’s staff who has no experience calling plays and also wears a visor (although I’m not sure the visor thing was that important in the decision-making process).

As offensive coordinator for the last 3 years in Indianapolis, Sirianni was tasked with developing an offense for 3 very different QBs: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brisset and Philip Rivers.  In those 3 years, the Colts offense ranked 10th, 19th, and 12th respectively.  That’s not a bad body of work considering that he was working with a banged-up Andrew Luck, a guy who shouldn’t be a starting QB, and the shell of Philip Rivers.  

Sirianni adapted his offenses to each quarterback so it isn’t easy to get an exact read on the kind of offense that he wants to run.  However, there are a few common threads that you can find across those 3 seasons for the Colts.

Multiple TE sets

In 2020 the Colts had 2 TEs on the field for 22% of their offensive snaps.  In 2019 the number was 26%.  Sirianni likes to use TEs to create mismatches that favor the offense.  This is great news for the Eagles who have both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert under contract for the 2021 season.  

Manufacturing touches for WRs

Sirianni also had a penchant for getting the ball to fast receivers in space in Indianapolis.  He loves to coach speed and use it to get yards after the catch.  Many have pointed to the Sirianni hire as a move that was made to placate/was beneficial for Carson Wentz.  While that may be true, no member of the offense will benefit more from Sirianni’s play-calling than Jalen Reagor.

Pass Catching RBs

In 2020, the Colts targeted running backs 144 times in the passing game, good for the 3rd most in the league.  When targeting RBs, their passer rating was 105.2, 4th best in the league.  Miles Sanders showed some upside as a pass-catcher in his rookie season but struggled mightily in the passing game in 2020.  Much of that fact was related to the lack of chemistry with Carson Wentz.  A top priority for the Eagles offense will likely be getting them on the same page in 2021. 

Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen

Steichen worked with Sirianni from 2014-2017 with the Chargers.  He was a QB coach for the team from 2016-2019 before becoming the offensive coordinator in 2020.  Under his direction, rookie QB Justin Herbert had an incredible rookie campaign, completing 67% of his passes for 4,336 yards and 31 TDs while throwing only 10 INTs.

You would likely expect that Chargers fans would be disappointed to see Steichen go after such a good season from their quarterback, but you would be wrong.  The Charger fan base grew increasingly frustrated with Steichen as the year went along over the lack of designed roll out plays for QB Justin Herbert.  Sound familiar?  

The other big complaint from Chargers fans was the frequency with which the team ran the ball on early downs, often putting them behind the sticks.  The Chargers ran the ball on 53% of their first downs, the 9th highest rate in the league.  They were also the only team in the top 10 that averaged under 4 yards per carry in those situations.

Head coach Anthony Lynn wanted the team to have an identity as a team that ran the ball a lot, so his influence undoubtedly led to increased rushing attempts, but ultimately the buck stops with Steichen as the play-caller.  

With Sirianni expected to call the plays in Philly, it should help mitigate a lot of the negatives from Steichen and after the Eagles continually going away from the run game in 2020 it might be nice to have a coach high up in the organizational structure who is devoted to the running game.

All the talk of running the ball aside, I believe the most important thing that Steichen brings to the table in Philadelphia is his background working with quarterbacks, a background that both he and Sirianni share.

Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon

Jonathan Gannon comes from Indianapolis where he has worked with Sirianni for the last 3 seasons.  Gannon was the secondary coach for the Colts under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.  

During the time that Gannon was in Indianapolis, the Colts ran a 4-3 defensive scheme and spent a lot of time with split field safeties rather than the single-high look that Jim Schwartz preferred.  What that means for Philadelphia is that how the front 7 is deployed on a week to week basis is unlikely to change, but the coverage shells behind it likely will.

Split field safety looks allow corners to be more aggressive underneath, knowing they have safety help over the top.  This makes straight speed less important for cornerbacks while lateral quickness and physicality become more important.  With safety help over the top, it helps prevent overmatched corners from being exposed the way that Eagles fans are used to seeing.  

I have seen a lot of people talking about the addition of Gannon making the Eagles more likely to take a cornerback at #6 overall in the draft, and I simply don’t think that is true.  If anything, I would argue that Gannon’s hiring makes it less likely that the team spends an early pick on a corner.  In fact, in the 3 years that Gannon was in charge of defensive backs in Indianapolis, the team never spent a 1st round pick on a defensive back nor did they make a marquee free agent signing (unless you count Xavier Rhodes, who signed a 1 year $3 million deal with the team last offseason).  Speaking of Rhodes, Gannon had experience with Rhodes in Minnesota and was able to revitalize his career last season in Indianapolis.  

CB2 is still a major need for the Eagles, but I think they have a likely candidate to fill the position on the roster already in Jalen Mills. 

Mills has prototypical size for an outside cornerback and extensive experience at the position.  Eagles fans will likely remember the number of times a receiver was running free 15 yards behind Mills after he bit on a double move, but that aggressiveness would work in his favor in a split field safety scheme where he has help over the top from a safety.  The biggest knock on Mills has always been his speed and getting beat deep, neither of which is a concern in the type of defense that I expect Gannon to employ.

Subverted Expectations

The hiring of Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon is not what people expected.  After Sirianni was hired, it was expected that the team would bring in veteran coordinators with more experience, but instead, they have allowed Sirianni to assemble his own staff made up largely of younger coaches with whom he has previous relationships.

This is a departure from the approach the team took with Doug Pederson, saddling him with a defensive coordinator in Jim Schwartz who had extensive head coaching experience, forcing him to fire offensive coordinator Mike Groh, and generally meddling in his staff.

That isn’t to say that the team wasn’t justified in how they approached Pederson’s staff.  It is fairly obvious to say that hiring staff was the biggest weak point of Doug as a coach.  In 2016 he kept the majority of Chip Kelly’s staff rather than hiring his own, and after the 2017 season when Frank Reich and John DeFilippo got promotions elsewhere, Pederson was always content to just promote people already on his staff.  So while the change in approach from the front office when it comes to meddling in coaching staffs isn’t necessarily surprising, it is very refreshing to see.

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