Roob’s Observations: A unique challenge facing Eagles coach Nick Sirianni in Year 3

In Roob’s Observations, a unique challenge facing Nick Sirianni in Year 3 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

How the third year has been so pivotal for Eagles head coaches, why Bijan Robinson might be more appealing to Howie Roseman than most 1st-round running backs and an obscure Eagles draft pick who became a Hall of Famer.

We have a loaded 10 Random Eagles Offseason Observations this weekend. But if you like this one, just wait till next week!

1. In Rich Kotite’s second year as head coach, the Eagles went 11-5 and won a playoff game. It was their last winning season under Kotite. In Ray Rhodes’ second season, they won 10 games and reached the postseason. It was their last winning season under Rhodes. In Chip Kelly’s second season, the Eagles went 10-6. He was fired before the next season ended. In Doug Pederson’s second season, the Eagles won the Super Bowl. They dropped from 13 to 9 wins the next year and he was fired two years later. The only Eagles head coach in the last 30 years that didn’t experience a significant decline in Year 3 was Andy Reid. And the last Eagles coach to do better in Year 3 than Year 2 was Dick Vermeil and that was nearly half a century ago (throwing out the strike-shortened 1987 season for Buddy Ryan). By Year 3, head coaches have made all their motivational speeches, opened up their entire playbook, given the rest of the league a pretty good idea of how they’re going to play offense and defense. When you can remain innovative and constantly reinvent yourself and your scheme – and keep finding good players – you have a chance at sustained success. But it’s crazy that Kotite, Rhodes, Kelly and Pederson all had terrific Year 2’s but never matched that success again. Those four coaches were a combined 44-20 in Year 2 and 52-73-2 in the rest of their Eagles coaching careers. Sirianni goes into Year 3 with the same critical thing Reid had – an elite young quarterback – and that gives the Eagles an opportunity to have another big year in 2023. But there’s still a real challenge facing Sirianni as he approaches his third season. Don’t get stale. Don’t sit still. Don’t continue doing exactly what you’ve been doing, even though it worked. We’ve seen what can happen in Year 3. Several times.

2. Seventeen Eagles running backs have rushed for 2,000 yards. Only three of them finished their career with the Eagles: Steve Van Buren, Anthony Toney and Heath Sherman.

3. One of the things that sets Bijan Robinson apart and in my mind makes him a bit safer in the first round than most RBs is his tremendous receiving ability. We know about his elite running skill. But Robinson is one of only two backs since 2000 (as far as Stathead goes back) to not only rush for 3,000 or more yards but catch 50 passes and average at least 13 yards per catch (the other was Reggie Bush). This past year, Robinson only caught 19 passes – they just don’t throw to the backs much at Texas – but he averaged a ridiculous 16.5 yards per catch. If he was a wide receiver, he would have ranked 74th out of more than 500 WRs in the BCS in yards per catch. That receiving ability does two things. First, it gives him a dimension of versatility rare among running backs, but it also gives his coaches in the NFL the ability to get big-time production without just hammering him on the ground 20 times a game. Injuries and short careers are why GMs like Howie Roseman don’t draft running backs in the first round. It’s just not a value pick, no matter how talented a kid is. But if they’re smart, backs just don’t get hit as much when they’re catching passes out of the backfield, and in theory using a player like Robinson as a receiver for a good chunk of his touches could extend his career and keep him healthier. And with his power, speed, vision and elusiveness he should be an incredible receiver on the pro level. That raises his value and makes it more likely a team like the Eagles might draft him.

4. Since the advent of NFL free agency in 1992, only four wide receivers have caught 100 passes for the Eagles without ever playing for another team: Todd Pinkston (184), Reggie Brown (179), Riley Cooper (169) and DeVonta Smith (159).

5. It’s a little weird that we still don’t know who the Eagles’ secondary coach is. We know secondary coach Dennard Wilson left for the Ravens when he didn’t get the defensive coordinator job, we know the Eagles added Ronell Williams with the reported title “nickel coach” and as far as we know assistant secondary coach D.K. McDonald is still on the coaching staff. Will Williams or McDonald be the secondary coach? Will there even be a secondary coach? New defensive coordinator Sean DeSai has coached d-backs in the past (Bears safeties coach in 2019 and 2020), so will he handle d-backs? The Eagles’ web site lists most of the new coaching hires but doesn’t mention Williams and still lists McDonald as assistant d-backs coach. It’s been six weeks since the Eagles hired DeSai, so it’s surprising his staff hasn’t been finalized yet.

6. In the 26th round of the 32-round 1948 draft, the Eagles drafted a two-way lineman named Lou Creekmur out of William & Mary. Creekmur was a New Jersey native – he attended Woodbridge High in Middlesex County – but instead of signing with the Eagles, he stayed in college and played for William & Mary in 1948 and 1949. At some point between the 1949 and 1950 seasons, Creekmur’s rights shifted to the Lions. I have no idea how or why. This was such a minor transaction – Creekmur was a 26th-round pick who had never played in the NFL – that not a word of it appeared in the Inquirer, the Detroit Free Press or any other newspaper available on (which archives over 20,000 newspapers). But when Creekmur got out of college, he was a Detroit Lion. In August of 1950, a team of college all-stars faced the Eagles in Chicago, and according to an article in the Detroit Free Press, Creekmur was the star of the game and “consistently racked Steve Van Buren on the ground and Tommy Thompson in the air.” But the story never mentions that the Eagles had drafted Creekmur two years earlier. Whatever happened to Creekmur? All he ever did was make the Pro Bowl as a rookie, earn 1st-team all-pro honors six times, play in 168 straight games and finish his career with eight Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996. Creekmur was 82 when he died in 2009.

7. Here’s a list of every quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 1,000 passes, complete 62 percent and average at least 12.2 yards per completion: Steve Young, Jimmy Garoppolo, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Jalen Hurts.

8. We’ve spent so much of the last two months talking about how much the Eagles are going to miss Javon Hargrave and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and they will. But I feel like they’re going to miss T.J. Edwards as much as anyone. He never got a bunch of sacks like Hargrave or interceptions like Gardner-Johnson, but even without the splash plays he was a real force at linebacker for this defense last year. So steady, so consistent, so reliable. You can take PFF grades with a grain of salt, but Edwards was the 6th-highest graded linebacker in the NFL last year out of 101 linebackers who played at least 200 snaps. And as hard as it will be to replace Hargrave and C.J.G.J., at least the Eagles have some proven interior linemen and promising safeties. Nakobe Dean is loaded with potential but remains unproven and Nick Morrow is experienced but has been a middle-of-the-road starter, and neither is the type of 240-pound smasher that Edwards is. There’s plenty of time to add to the position, but Edwards is an under-rated big-time loss.

9. How good was Tommy Thompson in 1948? His 98.4 passer rating stood as the Eagles franchise record for 56 years, until Donovan McNabb had his career year in 2004 and finished with a 104.7 passer rating. Even now, 74 years later, Thompson’s 98.4 rating remains 7th-highest in Eagles history, behind Nick Foles in 2013 (119.2), McNabb in 2004, Carson Wentz in 2017 and 2018 (101.9, 102.2), Jalen Hurts last year (101.5) and Michael Vick in 2010 (100.2). Thompson’s 98.4 was also the highest passer rating by an undrafted quarterback until 1994, when Dave Krieg of the Lions had a 101.7 mark. To this day, Thompson is among only four undrafted QBs to record a passer rating that high. The others are Krieg, Tony Romo (twice) and Kurt Warner (twice). Thompson was the Eagles’ QB for half the championships in franchise history. And someone needs to explain to me why he hasn’t been inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame.

10. How clutch is Jake Elliott? He’s now 15-for-15 in his career in the postseason. The only kickers in NFL history with more postseason attempts without a miss are Robbie Gould (29-for-29), Evan McPherson (19-for-19) and Chris Boswell (16-for-16). Elliott is the only kicker in history to attempt multiple field goals in multiple Super Bowls without a miss. 

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