As the bye week begins – and, to be clear, it isn't a full-week-bye-week, let's-go-to-the-Islands kind of deal as the Eagles will get on the practice field late in the week and work on fundamentals, technique, self-improvement, etc. – we all take a deep breath and consider the season this team has had and what lies ahead. Winning 14 games is a significant feat and is an impressive next step in the program Head Coach Nick Sirianni along with Howie Roseman and his personnel staff are putting together.
It is a step. It is certainly not the final step because, as an Eagles fan you know to keep one eye on the present and another on the future and the Eagles have some valuable NFL Draft capital at their disposal, including the 10th overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft and their own first-round selection, to be determined by what happens in this postseason. The Eagles have six draft picks overall, a salary cap picture that is bright, and a Roseman-led personnel department that has a great understanding of what the coaching staff wants to fit the schemes and the culture of this football team and this City.
Coming into 2022, it's fair to say that the looming question for this franchise revolved around the quarterback, as in: Is Jalen Hurts the franchise quarterback for the Eagles? He had certainly shown talent in his first and second seasons – starting four games in 2020 in the Doug Pederson offense and then becoming the full-time starter when Sirianni became head coach the following year – and '22 was to be the reckoning for Hurts. An entire offense returned intact from 2021 and Roseman added wide receiver A.J. Brown via a trade with the Tennessee Titans and, pronto, the Eagles had themselves, on paper, a potentially potent offense.
For that to come to fruition, the Eagles and Hurts had a lot of work to do. The importance of Hurts returning to an offense for the second consecutive season for the first time since his high school days was an early theme as Sirianni was asked repeatedly about "where he has seen the most improvement from Jalen." And he was consistent with his answers, starting with this press conference from back in early June.
"Jalen is, in my opinion, more comfortable in the offense, right. That's just the part of the process the second year. He knows where the receivers are going to be versus different looks. He knows where to go with the football a little bit quicker," Sirianni said. "We've done our job as coaches, and I don't want to say we've done a good job, but what we've done as coaches is figured out what he likes and what he's good at and all these different things. It's just accumulating those reps. Like we talked about, I think you guys asked me that last year, was some of these quarterbacks that have been played for so long, they're in Year 15, 16, 17, they're getting better at reading it, why, because they've seen the play over and over and over again. That's the same progression Jalen has.
"The reason we know Jalen is going to continue to get better is because of the character, and the football character and the personal character that he has. He's just the type of guy that's going to reach his maximum potential because of all the off-the-field qualities he has. I've also noticed just the crispness of the drop. It's been the fundamentals -- his fundamentals have improved, and he's really worked hard at that. He's working every day to get better, and I'm really pleased where he is right now, but we have to continue to lay the groundwork. That he went 11-of-12 yesterday in 7-on-7 means nothing. He has to continue to get better and better and better."
Hurts did that, and everything Sirianni said then became truth, and the offense took flight and set a record for most points scored, most touchdowns, all of that. It was an explosive attack that, with the exception of a couple of games, minimized mistakes and had excellent ball security.
The defense, bolstered by an influx of new talent – linebackers Haason Reddick and Kyzir White and cornerback James Bradberry in free agency, safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson via trade, and defensive tackle Jordan Davis and safety Reed Blankenship at the top of the draft (Davis, round 1) and at the very end (Blankenship, signed after the draft), and veteran defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph added during the season – became a voracious attacker of quarterbacks, a ballhawking machine and one that ended up leading the league in quarterback sacks, tackles for loss, second in yards allowed and plays of 20-plus yards permitted, eighth in points allowed … you get the idea.
When you're 14-3, a lot of things went right. Very right, even though there were injuries and challenges along the way that the Eagles answered in a positive manner and that's why they are here.
The important part now is taking advantage of the bye week and the few extra days of preparation afforded the team. There is a need to self-scout and examine, for the first time since the regular-season bye week in mid-October, what the Eagles have done well and what they need to change for the playoffs.
This team needs to play its best football in the postseason; that is the mandate. That is the expectation for an experienced roster that understands what is ahead.
"I've been fortunate, out of four years, I've won the division three times," said Brown, taking into account his three seasons with the Titans. "I just want more. I've been here before. I want more. The playoffs, they're different. Every drive counts. Every drive matters. The most physical team is going to win. You've got to put your blue-collar hat on and go to work.
"That's how I want to play, and the refs will let you play, so I know we'll be ready. That's the kind of team we are."
The Eagles are full-throttle focused on what is here, at this very moment. They'll spend this week working on themselves and then they will focus on an opponent, one they won't know until Saturday at the earliest.
Then they can gameplan for the Divisional Round. Until then, it's all about the Eagles and improving internally, one percent at a time.