The 2021 season is fast approaching, and the Philadelphia Eagles will be hoping to do much better than last year. There are many new pieces and parts to this Eagles team, and a few key improvements can catapult this team into a contending spot in the NFC East. The bones of the roster, especially on offense, really aren’t that bad, and the Eagles could be in prime position to surprise some people if they can limit turnovers, get the screen game going and run the ball more.
3 Offensive Improvements the Philadelphia Eagles Must Make
Improvement One: Limit Turnovers
It’s no secret that Carson Wentz didn’t have the best season last year, and that’s why he’s not on the team anymore. His biggest flaw was the absurd amount of turnovers he committed both through the air and on the ground, game after game after game. The terrible decision-making, the carelessness and the stubborn adherence to hero ball cost the Philadelphia Eagles so many drives that could have been promising, which then cost them games. In total, Wentz threw 15 interceptions and lost four or of 10 total fumbles, for 19 total turnovers in just 12 games played. Half of his games he had multiple turnovers, and he had only one full game where he didn’t turn the ball over at all. If we are strictly talking about just drive-killing plays, Wentz also absorbed an eye-bleeding 50 sacks. Again, in just 12 games!
The thing is, Jalen Hurts wasn’t much better in either department. In his four starts at QB, Hurts threw three picks and lost two fumbles out of six. Overall, it’s better than Wentz, but for QBs averaging more than a turnover per game, it still isn’t great. He also took 10 sacks, so his overall “score” is 1.25 turnovers per game and 2.5 sacks per games. Again, not horrible, but far from ideal.
Besides the quarterback position, the team didn’t turn it over much more than any other team, with their next highest guy being Miles Sanders, who lost two fumbles out of four total. Overall, the team was ranked 30th (out of 32) in total turnovers, 18th in fumbles lost and 31st in interceptions. Unsurprisingly, they had the second-highest percentage of drives that ended in an offensive turnover.
You simply aren’t going to win many games turning the ball over that many times, and limiting negative, drive killing plays will be step one to becoming a competitive team again.
Improvement Two: Get the Screen Game Going
Screens are an integral part of any passing offense. They allow the QB to get into rhythm with easy completions, they get dynamic playmakers into space and they punish aggressive pass rushes, which makes the defense have to think about more things. The Eagles were essentially missing this entire part of football.
The screens the Philadelphia Eagles ran were dismal. Despite screens generally being short throws, often behind or at the line of scrimmage with no defenders around, the completion percentage was horrible. Miles Sanders had a bafflingly low 53.8% catch percentage, and most of a running back’s catches are screens. His percentage was by far the lowest of any starting running back in the league. Most of the blame can again be shifted towards Wentz, who inexplicably missed on multiple screens, but Sanders had more than a few drops and certainly didn’t help Wentz out.
The few they did complete rarely went for any extended yards, except one or two at the end of the season. Many of the completions were off-balance catches that led to losses or 1-2 yard gains, or were awkward tight end screens that really didn’t have a chance to go anywhere at all.
Screens aren’t just limited to running backs either. Jalen Reagor’s whole schtick in college was a dynamic playmaker in space, but the Eagles never used him like that in 2020. DeVonta Smith is also a capable screen receiver with his shiftiness and burst. Getting both of those guys involved in the screen game (and Quez Watkins, recipient of one of the few successful screens the Eagles had last year), will boost the passing attack tremendously.
Improving the screen game from terrible to usable will already be a huge improvement, and moving forward to an elite screen game (entirely possible, as the Indianapolis Colts were a top screen team) would be massive. A better screen game will also benefit Jalen Hurts a lot. Screens are rarely intercepted, and they help a QB avoid sacks due to its quick nature and its use in throwing off opposing defenses, which will help point one.
Improvement Three: Run the Ball More
Another improvement that feeds into the first about limiting turnovers, running the ball more will play to the Eagles strengths and cut down on potential mistakes. The Philadelphia Eagles were third in the league in yards per attempt, but 23rd in rushing attempts. That’s a disconnect that shouldn’t really happen. Miles Sanders was seventh in Y/A, with 5.3, and Jalen Hurts’ 5.6 would’ve been tied for fourth, if he had enough rushes to qualify. Both of these guys are talented runners and the Eagles would be foolish not to lean on the run game, especially when you consider their elite (when healthy) line. If they want to be successful, the Eagles should become one of the league’s top rushing teams and they have the capability to do it.
The Eagles also have a strong running back stable beyond Sanders. Boston Scott has excelled when he’s needed to fill in, Jordan Howard had a solid 2019 and Kerryon Johnson is still young and talented, if hampered by injuries. That’s not even mentioning Kenneth Gainwell, a fifth-rounder in this year’s draft that had 2,069 yards from scrimmage in his only full college season. He’s already drawing comparisons to Nyheim Hines, and could be a real injection of playmaking for the Birds in 2021.
Not only that, more rushes will lead to less negative plays. Hurts did fumble quite a bit, but Sanders didn’t and you can’t take many sacks if you’re running the ball a majority of the time.
Lean on Strengths, and Avoid Weaknesses
That sounds obvious, but a lot of seemingly obvious things were missed in 2020, and that’s why the Eagles went 4-11-1. If they want to improve on that record, focusing on their strengths will be key. They’ve got a strong line and a great running back room, and a capable running quarterback. Using those three things to their fullest extent will lead to a more efficient, less mistake-prone offense, and that will lead to wins.