Why has Nick Sirianni struggled to rally the Eagles?

A NUMBER OF questions swirl around coach Nick Sirianni as the Philadelphia Eagles begin the postseason on a 1-5 slide. Following a 10-1 start coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the third-year coach has sought to lift the Eagles out of their rut, but they've only sunk deeper.

The offense -- chock-full of Pro Bowl-level talent -- has underperformed and shown its frustration. Sideline spats have carried over to tension in the locker room, where team sources say disagreements have occasionally devolved into finger-pointing. Demoting defensive coordinator Sean Desai and elevating Matt Patricia to defensive playcaller on Dec. 17 only made matters worse for a unit that eventually finished 30th in points allowed.

On top of those struggles, Jalen Hurts' desired direction for the offense has not materialized, which has been a source of disappointment for the franchise quarterback, according to a source with direct knowledge of Hurts' thinking. A disconnect between the visions of Sirianni, Hurts and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has affected the offense's ability to land on an identity, the source said.

Philly's offense posted above-average numbers relative to the rest of the league during the season but didn't match the lofty standards set in 2022. The Eagles (11-6) slipped from third in points per game (28.1) to seventh (25.5), went from ninth in passing (241.5 yards per game) to 16th (225.5), and fell from fifth in rushing (147.6) to eighth (128.8). The feeling that they were underperforming weighed on players even after wins.

"Yeah, we got 11 wins. I'm not happy," receiver DeVonta Smith said after the Eagles' Christmas Day victory over the Giants -- Philadelphia's only win since November.

"It needs to be better for what I want to do, what everybody else in here wants to do, what we want to be. We're nowhere near that, so no, I'm not happy."

Hurts, meanwhile, threw as many regular-season interceptions (15) in his fourth season as he did in his past two seasons combined.

Still, he was an MVP favorite through the Eagles' first 11 games. Then the wheels started coming off for Philly and questions around Sirianni's job security arose. Blowout losses came against the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys in back-to-back weeks before the Eagles fell to the Seattle Seahawks on a late score.

The freefall culminated in a 27-10 loss to the 6-11 New York Giants in Week 18. Hurts dislocated the middle finger on his throwing hand, and receiver A.J. Brown exited early after sustaining a knee injury. With his team down 24-0, Sirianni pulled his starters before the half and conceded the division to the Cowboys.

"No," said Sirianni, when asked whether he second-guessed his decision to play the starters in Week 18. "At that time I did what I thought was best for the team, and I'll stick by it. So I don't regret it."

Sirianni and the Eagles will begin their postseason without Brown, whose injury will keep him out of Monday's wild-card game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN+), and with a team performance that has left much to be desired down the stretch.

Publicly, players remain supportive of Sirianni, and their quarterback is especially not one to make waves -- Hurts is a coach's son with firm respect for the chain of command.

"I have a lot of confidence in Coach," Hurts said following Sunday's loss to the Giants. "He puts his heart into it. He has a will to win, and that's really all you can ask for."

But there is a difference between operating an offense as designed and being convicted in it.

THROUGH THE LATTER part of the season, Sirianni has been conscious about trying to control his emotions. He acknowledged he could have handled himself better during the fourth quarter against the Giants on Christmas Day, when cameras showed him exchanging heated words with linebacker Haason Reddick and Smith, among others.

"There were moments in that game ... where I felt like I was too tense on the sideline, and I need to be better about that," he said. "I have to do a better job. If I'm going to ask the players to do a better job themselves, then I have to do a better job myself."

Players have noticed a shift in recent weeks.

"He's not as animated on game days," left tackle Jordan Mailata said. "We notice that he toned down a lot. I think that just shows the leadership of our head honcho, knowing it could be detrimental to the team. That's great awareness by Coach, and that's why we love him."

Players take their cues from Sirianni, Mailata said. He agreed the perceived shift in Sirianni's behavior likely came after the team's Dec. 3 loss to San Francisco, a game in which head of security Dom DiSandro was ejected and later barred from the sidelines for the rest of the regular season after getting into a scuffle with 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw.

After a stunning 35-31 loss to the 4-12 Arizona Cardinals in Week 17, Mailata was asked whether the locker room was still with Sirianni.

"Yes. Why would you say that? It's the NFL. It's any given Sunday. We got our teeth punched in today because we went out there and we thought they were going to be a pushover? No," Mailata said.

"No, Nick has not lost the locker room. I'm going to end it there because that last question just pissed me off."

Sirianni being on the hot seat seems unimaginable on the surface. He has a 34-17 record as head coach, took the Eagles to the Super Bowl last year and has made the postseason three times in as many years.

Players like his emphasis on connecting and the passion he has for his job.

It's the same passion that led him to scream at Chiefs fans on his way off the field following a Week 11 win over Kansas City. The passion that fueled a dressing-down of a reporter who picked the Chiefs to beat the Eagles that week.

When speculation of a possible beef between Sirianni and Brown began swirling in recent weeks, the star receiver affirmed he and his peers are "riding with Nick" and credited the coach for taking the blame on a questionable play in the loss to Seattle. With 13 seconds left in the game and the Eagles down 20-17, Hurts attempted a downfield throw to Brown that was intercepted by defensive back Julian Love.

Sirianni took serious heat, as Philadelphia could have gotten into field goal range with a safer and shorter completion. The coach said part of the thinking was that they were hoping to draw a pass interference call -- a bizarre explanation that drew even more criticism. But Brown revealed he and Hurts "improvised" and "went on our own" on the play.

"Nick came out [afterward] and said, 'I wanted to try to get a flag.' He made himself look like a fool for us," Brown said.

"I can tell you that there may be things that Nick probably wants to fix about himself, but one thing I can respect: Loyalty is not one of them."

But there has been a level of unrest to this team all season, and the first cracks were seen on the defensive side. At 10-3, the Eagles stunned outsiders by demoting Desai and elevating Patricia. The move was met with relief among some defensive players, believing they'd be able to think less and attack more under Patricia. But it has had disastrous results, with blown assignments and confusion over the past two games in particular.

Sirianni said the decision to make the change was his alone and supported by the front office.

"I talk to those guys about everything, but [owner Jeff Lurie] from day one, [general manager] Howie [Roseman] from day one, have always said to me, 'You're tied into this. Do what you think is best to do to help us win football games. We've got your back.'"

During the same week as the switch, a team source described what they believed to be "too much finger-pointing" among teammates on both sides of the ball and not enough focus on the collective good of the team. Ideas for how to fix the offense varied by position group and came with natural biases, a team source said.

Multiple players-only meetings followed. Some found them productive, and others thought they devolved into more of the blame game.

Team sources confirmed Brown spoke during a meeting leading into the Jan. 7 game against the Giants, delivering the message that the players have to "start trusting our coaches" and what they call on game day.

THE EAGLES HOPED to maintain a level of continuity by elevating Johnson from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator after Shane Steichen left to coach the Indianapolis Colts.

Johnson has a long-standing relationship with Hurts that dates back to when Hurts was 4 years old and Johnson played high school football for Hurts' father, Averion. Johnson's football acumen is well regarded around the league -- he is expected to interview with the Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans for their coaching jobs -- and he has Hurts' trust.

The offense, though, has struggled to find an identity. With Hurts dealing with a knee injury for part of the year and the Eagles looking to keep their newly minted $255 million man healthy for the long haul, Hurts ran less frequently and wasn't quite as effective on the ground, which didn't help a scheme based on run-pass options that defenses were already getting a better bead on.

The offense became largely reliant on its gifted skill position players -- namely Brown and Smith -- to win their one-on-one matchups on the perimeter, with less of a focus on scheming players open.

In the early stages of the Eagles' skid, Hurts was hoping the direction of the offense would change, the source familiar with Hurts' thinking said. He believed they were overly reliant on vertical routes and not utilizing short-to-intermediate throws, particularly over the middle of the field, where Brown has thrived in his career. In short, the belief was there was too much flash over substance -- a sentiment others on the offensive side of the ball shared. Some examples:

  • 5.2% of Hurts' pass attempts were between the hashes during the regular season, the lowest rate of the 30 QBR-qualified quarterbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

  • 27.2% of the Eagles' routes were verticals, the 10th-highest rate in the NFL.

  • Philly threw downfield 20-plus yards on 11.4% of its passing attempts, the 11th-highest rate in the league.

  • Hurts had 77 attempts to receivers running vertical routes. He completed 30 of them (39%) with 11 touchdowns to eight interceptions and 10.8 yards per attempt.

Others close to the situation said they believe any disconnect is less about the particular routes that are being dialed up -- the deep ball, after all, has largely been an asset for Hurts throughout his young career -- and more about adjusting to a new offensive coordinator. Hurts made note on several occasions last season that it was his first year having the same playcaller for consecutive seasons since high school, when he was playing under his dad. The results spoke for themselves.

Hurts and Johnson have acknowledged at various points through the season that there has been an adjustment period to the new quarterback/offensive coordinator pairing, and Johnson has sounded bullish about what he has seen out of Hurts of late despite the poor team results.

"To be completely honest with you, I think the last couple of weeks Jalen has been playing some really, really clean football in terms of what he's seeing, what he's processing, how he's looking at it," Johnson said.

But when it comes to the blitz, Hurts' numbers have gone backward. He had 10 touchdowns to two interceptions last season against the blitz compared to five touchdowns to eight interceptions in 2023. Those eight picks are the most in the NFL against the blitz this season.

"A lot of it comes down to execution," said Hurts of succeeding against the blitz -- a must against a Tampa team that has the third-highest blitz rate in the league (40%), "and everybody really being on the same page."

A source described Johnson as having to fit his own philosophy within an offensive structure belonging to Sirianni. And just how much autonomy Johnson has as a playcaller is unclear. Sirianni has acknowledged that he'll step in to overrule a call on occasion, as he did on a critical third-and-long play against the Washington Commanders in Week 4, when Johnson wanted to pass and Sirianni dialed up a run, which didn't pan out. The line is blurred enough that some offensive players don't know for sure who is calling the plays and when, a team source said.

Hurts, meanwhile, is trying to find the groove in the middle as he navigates his fourth NFL season.

As the uneven play hints, the Hurts/Sirianni/Johnson triumvirate has struggled to get fully aligned.

A victory over Tampa could get the focus off Sirianni's job security and the ailments of this team that have come to light in recent weeks. But those conversations might only be put on hold.

"I believe whatever happens Monday," a source said, "the problems and issues are still there."