Eagles analysis

Top 5 questions surrounding Eagles going into 2023 opener

As the Eagles prepare to begin their 2023 season, here are five of the biggest questions surrounding the team.

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As the Eagles prepare for the 2023 season, expectations are high. And they should be.

A year after getting all the way to the Super Bowl, the Eagles still have a strong roster, a proven head coach and the best quarterback in the NFC. There are plenty of reasons to think the Eagles can make it all the way back to the game’s biggest stage.

But we don’t know everything about the 2023 Eagles just yet.

Here are five of the biggest questions about the team heading into the opener:

Can Eagles remain as healthy as they were in 2022?

Sure, the Eagles had their bumps and bruises along the way to Super Bowl LVII. Jalen Hurts missed a couple games, C.J. Gardner-Johnson suffered a lacerated kidney, Dallas Goedert missed a month with a shoulder injury, Avonte Maddox had a few different injuries that ailed him throughout the season.

But all things considered, the Eagles were incredibly healthy last season and suited up all 22 opening day starters in the Super Bowl. That’s pretty unheard of. The only season-ending injuries were to Derek Barnett and Marlon Tuipulotu, two rotational defensive linemen.

It’s hard to imagine the Eagles will be as healthy in 2023. Already in training camp, they lost a couple of special teams aces (Shaun Bradley and Zech McPhearson) to Achilles tears. The Eagles do everything in their power to limit injuries. They keep the players off their feet and they use sports science to minimize risk as much as possible … but this is still football. And guys are going to get hurt.

The Eagles just have to hope they can avoid a major injury bug this season. Because this is an extremely talented roster on paper — the best roster in the conference — and it would be a shame to see it get decimated by injuries.

Will losses on defense be too much to overcome?

The Eagles lost Javon Hargrave, T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White, Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps in free agency, which means the Eagles will have five new starters on defense in 2023. So this question isn’t just about losing the guys we just mentioned; it’s about how ready their replacements are to take over.

The Eagles used the No. 9 overall pick to draft Jalen Carter out of Georgia and the hype has been building after a strong summer. It’s unfair to expect Carter to step into a starting role and be a star but he won’t have to do it alone. The Eagles also brought back Fletcher Cox in free agency and are hoping to get good snaps from Jordan Davis and Milton Williams in the defensive tackle rotation.

At linebacker and safety, it’s a total overhaul. Nakobe Dean and Reed Blankenship are the returning players taking over as starters. Dean basically had a redshirt season but will be the MIKE linebacker in Year 2. And Blankenship started four games as an undrafted rookie but has now taken over the top safety spot. Next to Dean, expect to see veteran Zach Cunningham, who wasn’t even signed until Aug. 6. Next to Blankenship, it’ll be either Justin Evans, Terrell Edmunds or Sydney Brown. The Eagles have some options and aren’t in a rush to divulge that information.

In any case, the Eagles might show some regression on defense in 2023. And it might just come down to facing a better schedule after losing a bunch of key players.

How will the coordinators fare?

The Eagles’ coaching staff got shaken up this offseason when Jonathan Gannon and Shane Steichen left for head coaching jobs with the Cardinals and Colts, respectively.

To replace Steichen, the Eagles simply promoted quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. It seemed likely that a promotion was coming for Johnson whether or not it happened in Philly, so the Eagles were lucky the timing worked out the way it did. Johnson has a long-standing relationship with quarterback Jalen Hurts, which should help both of them in 2023. 

The Eagles’ offense isn’t changing either; it’s still Nick Sirianni’s scheme. But one of Johnson’s major responsibilities will be calling plays on game day. While the importance of this task has been downplayed by Sirianni at times, it’s still important and Steichen had a knack for it. We won’t really know how Johnson will be as a play-caller until we see it. But his description of it — “part art, part science” — makes it seem like he’s ready for the responsibility.

On defense, the Eagles replaced Gannon with Sean Desai, who comes from the Vic Fangio school of defense. Because of that, it’s probably fair to assume many of the same concepts Gannon used in 2022 will be back this season. That’s not a coincidence. Sirianni had a vision of what he wanted his defense to look like.

So how will it be different? Good question. Desai talked about having a palpable defense; one that you can feel when you watch. That sounds great but is a little light on specifics. I wouldn’t expect this to be a super heavy blitz, hit-you-in-the-teeth defense but it would go a long way if Desai is willing to try some different things, especially against top quarterbacks. There’s nothing wrong with dictating and not being reactionary all the time. A problem for Desai is that the bar was set pretty high last season when the Eagles had an incredible 70 sacks. It won’t be easy to duplicate that type of success in 2023.

And then there’s special teams. The only coordinator of the three to return in 2023 is special teams coordinator Michael Clay. And his unit has been the weakest of the three over the past two seasons under Sirianni. Some of that is personnel. The Eagles don’t seem to put as many resources into special teams as they once did. But Clay’s units have underperformed and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about it going into 2023.

How will running back rotation shake out?

The Eagles went into last season with a clear-cut No. 1 running back and Miles Sanders looked the part. He had a Pro Bowl season and had over 1,200 rushing yards. (Of course, by the Super Bowl, things weren’t as clear-cut.)

It’s not as easy to figure out in 2023. The Eagles bring back Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott from last year’s team but also added D’Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny, giving the Eagles an apparent running back-by-committee approach in 2023.

“We’ll see how it plays out,” Sirianni said on Tuesday. “I can say it's by committee and then somebody gets hot, and we stick with them. We'll see how it plays out. But what I love is the depth in that room and the capabilities of the guys in that room.

“I don't think it's like you force anything because I think they're all good at inside zone. I think they're all good at pin/pull schemes. I think they're all good at toss/crack schemes. I think they're all gap schemes. I think that gives you some flexibility and some abilities to say we're not predictable going in because they all have a very wide, broad skill set.”

While these backs have different abilities, the Eagles have to guard against being predictable. But they do think there’s a high enough baseline for all of them at everything to avoid that. This has the recipe to be a good backfield for the Eagles but a nightmare for fantasy football owners.

Will Jalen Hurts have another MVP-caliber season?

The Eagles are not without their concerns in 2023 but great quarterback play is a great way to overcome them. And Hurts was great in 2022, finishing second in MVP voting and putting on a spectacular performance in Super Bowl LVII.

This offseason, Hurts signed a $255 million extension and enters his fourth NFL season as a no-doubt franchise quarterback. He took a huge jump in 2022 and there’s just simply not enough room to take an identical jump in 2023. But the Eagles still expect him to improve like he’s done every year he’s been in the league. That might seem lofty but Hurts and the team agreed there was more meat on the bone in 2022 and they’re right, especially in the passing offense.

Based on what we saw from Hurts this summer, those expectations are realistic. Hurts looked like a dynamic passer during training camp and was consistently playing at a high level. He also has most of his offensive line back, his top three pass catchers and will enter his third year in Sirianni’s offense. The offense might need to carry the Eagles a tad more in 2023, but Hurts seems poised to make that happen.

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