Eagles' Keys to Success in 2021 NFL Season

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIAugust 30, 2021

Eagles' Keys to Success in 2021 NFL Season

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    The NFC East appears to be wide-open entering 2021. Any of the four teams could win the division crown, even the Philadelphia Eagles, who had a disappointing 2020 season in which they finished in last place with a 4-11-1 record.

    The Eagles have some exciting young players to build around, and they have brought in Nick Sirianni as their new head coach. Philadelphia's focus will be on getting back to a level where it can compete for championships.

    With some question marks and youth on their roster, the Eagles could have varying levels of success in 2021. They could make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years or they may be in store for another long fall/winter but with promise for the future.

    Here are three keys to success for Philadelphia entering the 2021 season.

Hurts Needs to Avoid Turnovers, Keep Offense Moving

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Joe Flacco and Gardner Minshew II are on the Eagles roster, but their offense will be Jalen Hurts' to lead. The second-year quarterback flashed his potential late in the 2020 season, showing he has the arm and mobility to be a star in the NFL.

    However, one focus for Philadelphia's offense this season needs to be holding on to the football. That was a major concern when Carson Wentz was leading the unit early in 2020, and it still was an issue once Hurts took over. Over the final five weeks of the season, he had four interceptions and six fumbles.

    The Eagles' 29 turnovers last season were the third-most in the NFL. That's not a formula for success, and Philadelphia needs to find ways to keep the ball in its possession.

    Hurts was a rookie last season. Not only that, but there was also no preseason and an unorthodox training camp because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now that he has had a regular leadup to a season, and with NFL experience under his belt, he could be ready to take a huge jump in 2021.

    But if Hurts and the Eagles offense are going to be successful, they can't be giving away the ball to the other team so frequently.

Young Wide Receivers Need to Step Up and Produce

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    Philadelphia's lack of depth at wide receiver was exposed last season, when it had to rely on unproven players such as Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward to fill big roles. There were times when those receivers fared well, but the offense would have been much better off with some bigger-name playmakers out there.

    The Eagles knew this was a group they needed to upgrade, which is why they traded up to take DeVonta Smith with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. The former Alabama standout has the potential to quickly become a factor in the pros after a Heisman Trophy-winning campaign last year.

    But Philadelphia needs more than Smith to excel in order to have a strong passing attack. Jalen Reagor was the team's first-round draft pick in 2020, but he underperformed as a rookie. If he can break out and play closer to the level that the Eagles expected from him, he would be a great option alongside Smith. Quez Watkins, a sixth-round draft pick in 2020, may also become a solid target for Hurts.

    "They're big-time playmakers. They're fast, they can catch the ball well and they're taking steps every day," Hurts said of the young receivers, per Dave Spadaro of the team's official site. "They're growing, they're learning, like myself, and it's good to see and I'm happy to be a part of that with them. I'm excited for them all."

    Hurts could be even more excited once he's connecting for big plays with these young receivers if they continue to improve throughout the season, which would make this offense much more productive.

New Faces in Secondary Need to Provide Boost

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Entering the offseason, the Eagles' biggest strength on defense was their pass rush. They also had a solid linebacker corps. However, their secondary was a clear weakness that was missing standouts besides veteran cornerback Darius Slay.

    But Philadelphia gave its secondary a much-needed boost by bringing in a pair of experienced players, signing safety Anthony Harris and cornerback Steven Nelson. That's the kind of talent that was missing a year ago, and it allows other defensive backs to slide down the depth chart and not have to be relied on as heavily.

    Harris is a proven difference-maker, as he had six interceptions in 14 games in 2019 and then recorded a career-high 104 tackles in 16 games last season. The 29-year-old got off to a slow start in his NFL career, but he's played consistently well the past two years.

    Nelson has missed only two games over the past three seasons, notching seven interceptions over that span. After four years with the Kansas City Chiefs and two with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 28-year-old should be a great cornerback for Philadelphia to pair with Slay in its secondary. Meanwhile, Avonte Maddox and rookie Zech McPhearson could also be solid contributors at corner for the Eagles.

    Assuming that Harris and Nelson play at the levels they demonstrated in recent years, the weakest part of the Eagles defense should be much better in 2021, which will be a key to defensive success.