PHILADELPHIA - During the Eagles’ less-than auspicious start to the 2021 season Nick Sirianni took his share of hits.
Of all the barbs the rookie head coach endured, ranging from the usual and cliched fare of unprepared and overmatched, stood one which the head coach took to heart.
Sirianni didn’t like the spin that labeled his team “soft” in a city that had long ago defined its pronouns as hard-nosed and tough.
You know the narrative: Sirianni’s offense was too college-ish and built on RPO’s designed to fool the opposition not run them over while Jonathan Gannon’s defense was passive, willing to take punches in the hopes that the opposition would eventually tire themselves out and make mistakes.
To Charlie Lunchbox from the Northeast, Sirianni had turned the Eagles into the worst thing anyone ever could - a finesse team.
Sirianni isn’t a finesse guy, however. He’s a Western New York kid from a coaching family with an old-school mentality.
When idiots throw their $100-plus jerseys at him or a bouquet of flowers they are lucky they are not within 18 inches because a punch in the nose would have been the immediate reaction.
Sirianni was just like Eagles’ fans, he wasn’t happy with the early results so he changed, and one of his tweaks was a move away from the finesse to smash-mouth football.
Unlike the weekly gear from the Phillies, Sixers of Flyers, however, this was not about pandering.
Sirianni spent too much time worrying about building around Jalen Hurts at the expense of other areas and wanted a more physical team even in an era where the NFL is doing its best to legislate the physicality out of the game.
“At the end of the day - I was taught this a long time ago - the tougher and more physical team wins in football,” Sirianni said after Sunday’s 30-13 win at Denver. “It was good to be on that side of it and see our physicality take over.”
Ironically, readjusting the GPS has only helped Hurts.
On offense, the Eagles have become Jordan Howard and Boston Scott hitting the hole hard behind a massive offensive line opening up the unique playmaking skills of the quarterback.
“We’ve got some big boys on the line now,” star right tackle Lane Johnson understated. “You go to the left side– Landon [Dickerson] and Jordan [Mailata], those guys getting healthy, and those humans are moving people.”
On defense, it’s been the 242-pound T.J. Edwards moving downhill and “sticking” people instead of the undersized Eric Wilson reading and reacting seven yards down the field.
"Really had a stinger, edge, whatever you want to call it," Gannon said on Tuesday about the way his defense played in Sunday's win. "We felt like we did a good job outhitting them and we played hard. That was some of the challenges to our guys that 'we need to play harder than these guys,' which it always is but I think they kind of rallied around we are gonna outplay this team and I think we did that."
On Michael Clay’s special teams, meanwhile, Temple-minted Shaun Bradley and Howard ignited the sideline against the Broncos by playing the bully.
“I think we try to rely on everyone to play with a chip on their shoulder and be physical,” special teams coordinator Michael Clay noted. “But Shaun [Bradley], brings a certain edge. ...And I think it helps bring the energy to everybody else."
Howard also was lauded, for not only backing up linebackers with his punishing running style but also using his power on special teams.
"I know it’s not something that is seen, but Jordan Howard, on the last punt, he's running down there and the guy tried to give him a shove and Jordan pitchforked – like, he lifted this guy and got him out the way and our sideline got so energetic and energized by it," Clay said. “... And so, just bringing that physicality and a chip on your shoulder is just going to bring that energy that allows you to play fast and gives that momentum swing for the whole team.”
All of this actually started the night before, according to Sirianni.
“[On Saturday night], I said we need to out physical this team or something like that, and [Eagles backup QB] Gardner Minshew was very quick to tell me how to say, ‘We need more physicality than them,’” said the coach.
To highlight what he meant Sirianni pointed to Edwards and the linebackers.
“The physicality of that group - the linebackers - I just felt that TJ was just sticking people and I just felt how physical we were out there,” Sirianni said "It was with TJ, with Davion [Taylor], and Alex [Singleton]. They were playing really physical ball.”
As the steward of a city’s biggest passion, the three certainties of life for Sirianni, as a head coach in Philadelphia, are death, taxes, and criticism but next time you feel like calling out the coach, scratch soft off the list.
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.