“I think that’s the sign of a good coach, that you’re going to change based off of your personnel, right? We have a certain personnel in place. We’re going to figure out what they can do well and what their strengths are, and we’re going to play to their strengths and we are going to try to keep them out of situations that they don’t excel well at.”
That was Nick Sirianni’s response to a question on his offensive philosophy, during his introductory press conference back in January.
Since being named the 24th head coach in Eagles history, a common sentiment communicated by not only Sirianni, but his staff as well has been that of playing to the strengths of his personnel.
6 weeks through the season and outside of week one against the Atlanta Falcons, his offense has done anything but this.
Statistically, the Eagles rank 9th in total offense, but the it doesn’t take long to watch the current iteration of the Eagles offense and realize the unit is struggling. And the solution is in the hands of the 1st-year play-caller and 2nd-year quarterback.
There have been several stretches early on in the 2021 season that have displayed the hodgepodge that is Eagles offense under Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts.
Both men have taken accountability for the offensive inconsistencies that have plagued the team.
“I think I haven’t executed well enough to win, clearly,” Hurts said. “I take responsibility for that. I always take responsibility for that because the ball is in my hands every play, and I enjoy that and I like that. I have to be better.”
“When it’s stalling out, you’ve got to think players, players, players over plays,” Sirianni said. “I’ve got to do a better job at that, and that’s my responsibility. That’s me holding myself accountable because when we all need to do that, we all need to look in the mirror and hold ourselves accountable before we can hold others accountable.”
But the same issues continue to hinder the unit week in and week out. And each man undoubtedly has a piece of the pie but it’s important to understand why and how.
Jalen Hurts was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL draft. Reports suggest that the Eagles viewed Hurts as a, “high end” backup as the ceiling for his NFL career.
Throughout Hurts’ draft process, detractors cited Hurts, (Per CBS Sports’ Dave Richard’s pre draft profile of Hurts) “inconsistencies at pretty much everything,” or inability to effectively go through progressions, manage the pocket, throw with decisiveness, and ball placement on throws in the intermediate-to-deep areas of the field.
These sound familiar?
That’s because they are.
The same issues that stymied Hurts at the collegiate level of football have stymied him at the professional level as well.
Here, Hurts inability to make decisive throws doom him. The outside receiver (Reagor) has his man beat at the two second mark. Hurts bounces and bounces in the pocket before winding and throwing. Yes, the play ends up with a long pass interference penalty, but it should’ve resulted in a touchdown.
In the intermediate level of the field, DeVonta Smith also has his man beat on a deep comeback route at about the 40-44 yard line.
The decisiveness and timing with which Hurts throws with must improve.
In the play above, Hurts senses pressure up the middle from the defensive tackle, panics, and escapes early to the right. He flips the pass to Zach Ertz for a short gain, but had he kept his eyes downfield while rolling, Quez Watkins had a step on his defender over the middle of the field.
This is one of the more egregious misses Hurts has had thus far in the season solely because it demonstrates most of his current issues as a quarterback.
There are throws starting level NFL quarterbacks must be able to make. Hurts sails this pass to Zach Ertz on the out route. Yes, Ertz has beaten his defender but on this play, the down and distance was 2nd and 5.
The defense gave him Gainwell on the Texas route over the middle, which would’ve been an easy 1st down.
Hurts’ accuracy and inability to effectively decipher defensive coverages doomed this play.
In the play above, the Eagles utilize a mesh concept to free up DeVonta Smith on a crosser. Hurts rolls right and has Smith wide open, yet still decides to force the pass to Zach Ertz who is defended well. The play was schemed up well but Hurts made the wrong read.
Finally, in the play above, Hurts pocket mismanagement again rears its ugly head. Jalen Reagor runs a go route. Ertz and Watkins utilize a Portland concept (Post by Watkins; Dig by Ertz). This also develops into a levels concept at the bottom of the screen with DeVonta Smith also running a dig route.
The play to make here is hitting Smith underneath or Reagor who is breaking free at the top of the screen. Instead, Hurts gets jittery, drops his eyes and escapes the pocket early.
One of the main debates amongst those that watch Hurts is that of his arm strength.
In the NFL, there are very few elite arms. The Josh Allen’s, Jay Cutler’s, Carson Wentz’s, Patrick Mahomes’ of the world don’t grow on trees. It’s rare that you find a quarterback with rocket like arm strength. But if you don’t have the strongest or most powerful arm, it just means the mechanics and timing of throws have to be that much more decisive.
And for Hurts, this is spot on. The mental processing and timing of his throws are the two biggest individual hurdles for Hurts to climb right now.
The saving grace with Hurts is, though, the evidence that he can correct these mistakes are there. While it’s been sporadically, we’ve seen him hit Quez Watkins for deep gains on separate occasions. We’ve seen him climb the pocket, step into throws, and deliver strikes with anticipation to DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert.
It’s just a matter of consistently putting it all together for the 2nd year quarterback.
And the man that can undoubtedly do a better job of helping Huts put it all together is the focus of the next segment of this article.
The Head Coach (& Offensive Play-Caller)
The prevailing offensive philosophy communicated by Nick Sirianni throughout the offseason was that his offensive scheme would be one that put his players in positions to succeed.
On the field, however, it’s been a stark contrast.
Per SHARP, the Eagles currently have a 220:131 pass-run ratio.
They’ve called the 5th fewest runs in the NFL but possess the 4th highest successful run rate.
I’d be remiss to not bring up the infamous 3 carries game by Philadelphia running backs in week 3 against Dallas or the single carry in the first half of last Thursday night’s matchup (the team ultimately had 9 called runs in the game).
It simply isn’t a winning recipe.
With the rudimentary (not a slight to Jalen, but in all honesty he is what he is at the moment) quarterback that Jalen Hurts is right now in terms of his ability as a passer, running the football as little as the Eagles sets everyone on the offense up for failure.
It creates a lack of physical assertion in your offensive line, it impacts the starting quarterback, but most importantly (in this specific situation), it limits what you can do offensively.
The Eagles have shown themselves to be an extremely RPO heavy offense. In his senior season at Oklahoma, Hurts and the Sooner offense ranked 3rd in the nation in RPO success rate, so it makes sense why it would be a staple concept of the offense Nick Sirianni is trying to build.
However, when the offense is as unbalanced as the Eagles’ currently are, it creates a world of problems for the entire unit.
The RPO is immediately blown up because there is no threat of the run. The defensive end crashes and the linebacker drops down to cover the gap voided by the DE and Tampa Bay brings the safety down to create a mismatch with the passing concept and there is no where for Hurts to go with the ball.
This is the result of not running actual called run concepts (mainly inside zone here) and relying solely on zone reads and the RPO game as the basis for your running game.
Even on zone reads, teams can crash the defensive end and bring a linebacker down to fill the gap left by the crashing defensive end which blows up the play.
The key is seen in 2 ways. 1) Attempting to block the crashing defensive end (as shown in the tweet above) or 2) becoming a more balanced offense.
Per NBC Sports Philadelphia, through 6 games Jalen Hurts accounts for a mind boggling 77.3% of the Eagles offense.
Objectively speaking, it is miraculous that quarterback with the pre draft flaws that are listed above for Hurts is expected to drop back 34.6 times per game.
It’s unfathomable for an offense with this (current) level of quarterback to be this dedicated to throwing the football, especially when the running back on the roster is more than capable of handling a heavy workload.
It’s especially startling when you begin to dive into it. As stated, in 2019 at Oklahoma, the Sooners offense with Jalen Hurts ranked 3rd in the nation in RPO success rate, but that same Sooner offense ranked 4th in the Big 12 in rushing attempts per game.
So yes, Sirianni is using some of what Hurts is comfortable with but, he’s doing so and abandoning variation within his offense thereby making his unit one dimensional all on his own.
Hurts is expected to first read the defensive end on RPOs then determine (at his own discretion) whether it’s best to run or pass. Sirianni has stated that Hurts is making the right reads. But the defense gets paid too. The Eagles have made themselves one dimensional by creating an imbalanced pass to run ratio. Opposing teams are aware that the Eagles utilize RPOs at the highest rate in the NFL (46 pass attempts out of RPO concepts–most in the NFL through 6 games). They know the Eagles base their running game off zone reads and RPOs, and they know Hurts’ current deficiencies as a passer — all of which makes the offense incredibly predictable.
As Jordan Mailata said after the Tampa Bay game, “I feel they came out there and knew what we were doing right away.
In the simplest of terms the keys to fixing the offense is take the onus off the shoulders of Jalen Hurts.
Yes, Hurts has has displayed some capability as a passer and playmaker but we are still in the infancy stages of his development as a passer. The Eagles brass knew it when the drafted him and they knew the deficiencies when they went into the 2021 season with him as the starter.
The relationship between a QB-HC is one that must always move and be in lockstep. Otherwise, the issues compound and bleed over into the rest of the unit.
One of the quotes Sirianni loves to invoke is, “a wise man avoids all extremes.”
However, with both the play-calling, design, and overall current philosophy of the offense with the current quarterback, it looks anything but wise. And slightly into the realm of extreme.
Cover Image Credit: Getty Images