NFL 2022: Eagles have elite-level roster, but quarterback questions abound

·7-min read

Having snuck into the playoffs last season, the Philadelphia Eagles were one of the NFL's surprise packages in 2021 but will have to shoulder larger expectations heading into 2022.

A 9-8 record from last year presents a solid platform to build upon as the Eagles seek to wrest the NFC East crown from the Dallas Cowboys.

Their heavy playoff defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card Round illustrated how far the Eagles were from legitimate contention in 2021.

Philadelphia have made a series of significant moves to put themselves in position to challenge the elite.

Indeed, theirs is a roster that appears among the most complete in the NFL, piling the pressure on both quarterback Jalen Hurts and a well-rounded roster to make the strides that will be anticipated by Eagles fans in one of US sports' most demanding cities.

Can defensive additions pay dividends?

There is obvious room for improvement on Philadelphia's defense following their efforts of last year on that side of the ball.

The Eagles had opponents have a 10-play drive on 38 occasions, with only the Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants having more, while the percentage of opponents converting on third down and short was the highest in the NFL at 74.2 per cent.

As well as struggling to get off the field on third down, the Eagles also had issues stopping significant plays on first down, with opponents passing for at least four yards 59.4 per cent of the time, again the highest rate in the NFL, while opposing offenses found the endzone on 45 of 74 drives on which Philadelphia allowed them inside the 30-yard line. Only the Las Vegas Raiders (61.2) allowed a touchdown on a higher percentage of such drives than the Eagles (60.8).

Philadelphia focused a lot of energy on improving performance in both of those areas.

The Eagles traded up in the first round of the draft for Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, who at 6ft 6in and 341 pounds put on one of the most remarkable displays of athleticism the Scouting Combine has seen.

Davis will look to be an immediate force against the run and use his massive frame to make life easier for a talented group of pass rushers that now includes hometown hero Haason Reddick, whose 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons are the fifth-most in the NFL.

The addition of Reddick is a significant one to a defense that was eighth in pass rush win rate last year, and the Eagles have also done plenty to boost their chances of slowing down opposing aerial attacks.

By signing James Bradberry to pair with Darius Slay at starting cornerback, the Eagles now have the only two players in the NFL to register at least 15 interceptions and 80 or more pass breakups since 2016.

And their recent trade for C.J Gardner-Johnson gives the Eagles an ultra-versatile safety with the ability to play slot corner at a high level. Gardner-Johnson lost 33 of his 111 man coverage matchups last year, his open percentage allowed of 29.73 on the right side of the league average of 30.89 for corners.

The Eagles were a top-10 defense by yards per play allowed (5.20) in 2021 and their additions should theoretically help address the issues that prevented from faring even better.

However, defensive efficiency is famously volatile. Success is no guarantee despite the raft of impressive additions, and that is why the microscope will predominantly be focused on Hurts and the offense.

Hurts stat
Hurts stat

Will Philly love Hurts after 2022?

More consistency will be the order of the day for Hurts, despite the Eagles racking up 28.5 points per game between Weeks 8 and 18 as they went 7-3 over the last 10 regular-season games.

In 2021, Hurts' pass completion percentage stood at 64.1 from 449 attempts. Of quarterbacks to have more than 300 passing attempts, only Baker Mayfield (63.9), Trevor Lawrence (63.4) and Zach Wilson (58.4) had a lower figure.

Hurts' well-thrown percentage for 2021 was also below the league average of 78.1 for QBs with a minimum of 100 attempts, but that was in part a product of his aggressiveness. He averaged 9.3 air yards per attempt, fifth among signal-callers with at least 100 passes. Among quarterbacks to meet the 300-throw threshold, his average was only bettered by Russell Wilson (10) and Lamar Jackson (9.7).

The Eagles look to have assembled the talent around Hurts to deliver more stable production.

Philadelphia's marquee move of the offseason was to send a first-round pick to the Tennessee Titans for wide receiver A.J. Brown, who offers Hurts a physically imposing true number one option who excels in creating separation. His burn rate, which measures how often a receiver won his matchup with a defender on plays where he was targeted, of 64 per cent and his burn yards per route average of 4.0 yards was tied for the best among receivers with at least 100 targets (inc. playoffs).

But Hurts won't solely be able to rely on Brown. Though he displayed good chemistry with DeVonta Smith last year, Hurts needs his former Alabama team-mate to step up in terms of defeating coverage. Smith burnt his opponent on 55.7 per cent of his 115 targets. Of receivers to be targeted more than 100 times, only seven had a lower percentage.

TE Burn rate
TE Burn rate

Tight end Dallas Goedert was Hurts' most reliable passing game option last year, posting a 77.3 per cent burn rate from 88 targets that was the highest of any player in the position to be targeted on at least 80 occasions.

Yet Hurts was at his most dangerous on the ground in 2021, his 80 carries the most of any quarterback. Sixty of those came on scrambles – a tally only bettered by Patrick Mahomes – with Josh Allen (7.48) and Mahomes (6.27) the only signal-callers with at least 100 attempts and 50 scrambles to average more yards per carry on such runs.

His 29 explosive runs of 10 yards or more were the fourth-most in the NFL and nine more than Eagles running back Miles Sanders, who was second among running backs with at least 100 carries with a yards before contact average of 3.65. Sanders, despite failing to find the endzone in 2021, was also fourth in the league in yards per carry on runs that were disrupted by a defender, putting up 4.17 per attempt.

Playing behind an offensive line that ranked fifth in pass protection win rate and second in run block win rate last year, all the ingredients are there for Hurts to be centre stage in what could be one of the NFL's most dynamic and diverse offenses.

The Eagles will be aided by a schedule that sees them face only five teams that made the playoffs last season, but there are potential potholes on their path to contention in the NFC.

Backup tackle Andre Dillard has already suffered a fractured forearm in a blow to the depth on an O-Line featuring a veteran in Lane Johnson who has consistently dealt with injury issues.

While the Eagles acquired one of the league's more underrated coverage linebackers in Kyzir White, there remain doubts over the spine of the defense, particularly at the safety position.

On paper, the Eagles have almost everything required for a deep playoff run, but rarely are NFL seasons straightforward. A season of defensive regression or further injuries to the trenches could leave the onus firmly on Hurts to elevate those around him.

The overarching question in Philiadelphia is whether Hurts can be their franchise quarteback. Given how impressive the Eagles' roster is, it may take some adversity for the team to get a definitive answer.