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Top 5 questions surrounding Eagles going into opener


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Top 5 questions surrounding Eagles going into opener


Expectations are high for the Eagles in 2022. And they should be.

After all, the Birds are coming off a nine-win season and playoff berth a year ago and have added quite a bit of talent this offseason. Give Howie Roseman credit; he really bolstered the roster.

But there’s a reason even Roseman doesn’t want to talk about expectations. Because that kind of talk can set up massive disappointment.

With that in mind, here are the five biggest questions that need to be answered about the Eagles as we get ready for the 2022 season:

How much will Jalen Hurts improve?

Everyone in the organization, including owner Jeff Lurie, has talked about Hurts’ work ethic. They truly believe that whatever Hurts’ ceiling is, he’s going to reach it because of how much work he puts in. But that’s not the question. The question is about how much he’ll improve this season and whether or not it’ll be enough to make the Eagles’ serious contenders.

There’s no question that Hurts improved last year in his first full season as an NFL starter from the glimpse we saw of him late in his rookie year in 2020. We know that Hurts has a ton of athletic ability — he rushed for 784 yards and 10 touchdowns last season — but he still needs to get better as a passer. Hurts completed 61.3% of his passes for 3,144 yards with 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 2021.

When talking about the 2022 Eagles, the first big question is always going to be about the quarterback.

"I don’t hear it,” Hurts said. "I know there are a ton of different things that are said but I don’t hear them. I don’t listen, I don’t look for it. I just come here, I come to work, I do my job. I strive to grow in doing my job every day. That ain’t nothing but an external factor. I do me.”

For the Eagles to make a serious run, Hurts will have to be better. And his play will not only determine the Eagles’ outcome this season but the future of the franchise, whether or not he’ll be the long-term quarterback of the Eagles.

What will the run-pass ratio be?

The Eagles didn’t plan to be a super run-heavy team in 2022 … but it kind of worked out that way. After getting off to a slow start, the Eagles realized that their best bet to win games was to run the football behind one of the best offensive lines in football. It worked.

Through seven weeks, the Eagles were 2-5 and were 26th in the NFL in rushing attempts, averaging just 23.4 per game.

In their next nine games, the Eagles went 7-2 and led the NFL in rushing attempts and yards by a wide margin. The Eagles averaged 39.2 attempts per game and 194.3 yards per game. The Eagles had 353 rushing attempts from Week 8-17; the next closest team was the 49ers, who had 300 in one fewer game.

You can win in the NFL by being a run-first team, but it makes things a little harder. And Nick Sirianni has mentioned several times since the end of the 2021 season that being ranked 25th in the NFL in passing isn’t going to cut it. Adding A.J. Brown and Zach Pascal to the mix in 2022, ought to help the passing offense.

But it’ll be up to Sirianni and OC/play caller Shane Steichen to strike the right balance for the offense in 2022. We just don’t exactly know what that is yet.

Will Eagles get more from their pass rush?

When asked which two areas he wants to see his defense improve in 2022, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon mentioned turnovers and affecting the quarterback. That would be a good start.

While sacks aren’t everything in terms of pass rush, the Eagles still didn’t have enough in 2021. They finished the season with just 29 sacks, the second-lowest total in the NFL. It also tied their lowest total as a franchise since sacks became an official stat in 1984; the 2005 team had 29 sacks in 16 games.

The Eagles added a bunch of talent on the defensive side of the ball but no addition will help more in this area than Haason Reddick. The Temple product and former first-round pick had a rough start to his NFL career but has exploded the last two years with 23 1/2 sacks, good for fifth in the NFL during that span. He also did it in two different defenses — with the Cardinals and Panthers — so the hope is that Reddick will get after the quarterback at the same rate in Philadelphia.

There are questions about just how the Eagles will use Reddick in Gannon’s defense, but if he isn’t asked to get after quarterbacks, it would be egregious mismanagement of talent. The Eagles need their pass rush to be better in 2022 and Reddick will be a big part of that. But they’ll also be relying on a pretty good group of defensive linemen in the rotation, including Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, Jordan Davis and more.

How quickly will C.J. Gardner-Johnson catch up?

The Eagles have a revamped secondary heading into this season. Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox return as starters, but the Eagles have also promoted Marcus Epps and brought in James Bradberry and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The latter of that group, came to the Eagles in a trade on Aug. 30, giving him less than two weeks to prepare for the opener.

Gannon has praised Gardner-Johnson’s football IQ but there is still a learning curve for a player entering a new defense and at a new position with just 11 days to prepare for a game.

"He's intelligent,” Gannon said. "His skill set fits to what we want to do, and when he's ready to play, he'll play.”

Gannon said the week in practice will let them know about Gardner-Johnson’s readiness for Week 1 but even after that, there will be an acclimation period for the 24-year-old defensive back. It’s even more important because Anthony Harris isn’t even on the practice squad anymore, which means the Eagles’ best backup options at the safety position are K’Von Wallace and Reed Blankenship.

Is Jonathan Gannon a good DC?

This past offseason, Gannon was a legitimate candidate for three separate head coaching jobs. That shocked a lot of Eagles fans who didn’t love the way Gannon managed his defense in 2021. By the end of the season, the Eagles had the 10th-ranked defense in the NF. But the way they got there wasn’t always pretty. They feasted on awful quarterbacks and were torched by the great ones.

The style of defense is what really seemed to bother Eagles fans and they have a legitimate gripe. While it makes sense to play passively to keep everything in front when facing great QBs, it can be a tough style to watch and be proud of.

But last year was just Gannon’s first as a defensive coordinator and the theory is that perhaps he didn’t have the talent needed to run his defense the way he wanted. No excuses anymore. The Eagles this offseason added Reddick, Kyzir White, Bradberry, Gardner-Johnson, Davis and Nakobe Dean. Not only is there more talent on this roster, but Gannon should have the right pieces to be as multiple as he desires in 2022. Time to find out what kind of DC he really is.


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