Hurts, Birds Pass Attack Will Need Signature Game
If anything, the past three weeks of the Eagles’ season has taught us Nick Sirianni can adjust and that some pre-conceived notions should be reexamined.
Like any good coach would, Sirianni, the Eagles’ first-year coach, decided three weeks ago to rip up the playbook he thought would be best for his developing quarterback and crafted a new strategy around what he knows is best for his quarterback.
The widespread impact of Sirianni’s decision to keep the ball on the ground is undeniable.
There isn’t an offensive line in the sport opening lanes as wide as the ones Jordan Howard and Boston Scott have ran through. Hurts is evolving and improving at a much more feasible pace.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this new identity is the defense. Average on a good day, coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s group is seeing less time on the field as a result of a ball-control offense gobbling up time-of-possession minutes.
The Eagles, who lost three games by double digits during their 2-5 start, have won two of their past three games by double digits and their only loss during this three-week span has come by a field goal.
With over 600 rushing yards in the past three games, Sirianni has turned back the clock a decade or two, orchestrating an offensive concept designed around bullying the opponent into submission.
Surely, owner Jeffrey Lurie can set aside his personal feelings about building an elite passing program to appreciate his handpicked coach’s sudden reverse. It’s a calculated decision that’s reversed the trajectory of the season to the point where a playoff berth is, amazingly, within arm’s distance.
Owners don’t cringe at playoff appearances and opportunities for the franchise to play beyond December, especially owners who less than seven months ago had fired his Super Bowl-winning head coach and signed off on trading away the franchise quarterback.
For the first time since perhaps “The Great 4-0 Finish of 2019,” the Eagles’ offense has pleased the eyes, and there’s few faults to find with this revised blueprint except one: It’s simply not sustainable.
As fundamentally sound and clean and powerful as the Eagles’ run game is, it’s nothing more than a life preserver that’s kept a season from spiraling out of control.
If the Eagles bring the hammer to the Saints and their No. 1 rush defense on Sunday at the Linc, they’d be another step closer to the postseason, but no closer to their long-term destination than they were seven weeks into the season.
The reality is that win-by-ground isn’t a roadmap, but more of temporary detour on the way to somewhere else.
Eventually, Sirianni will have to open the offense, whether it’s Sunday against the Saints, sometime in December, or perhaps the postseason if they can rally down the stretch.
Eventually, the Eagles will need another evaluation of Hurts’ ability to win a game by air before they head into this anticipated offseason of major change.
There’s zero chance the team’s brain trust goes into 2022 roster-planning mode under the belief that the Eagles will ground-and-pound teams to death each week en route to Super Bowl contention.
No question Hurts has shown steady improvement since the team’s ideological offensive shift. He’s allowed to make a mistake, like his second-half interception against the Broncos, without completely imploding the team’s chance to win. He’s also showing better pocket presence, timing and field vision.
“Again, I just see him making strides in all aspects of his game,” Sirianni said Monday. “My job here and Jalen’s job is to not focus on franchise quarterback moving forward. It’s about, ‘What can we do today to get us ready for Sunday and what can we do tomorrow to get us ready for Sunday.’ And I know I sound like – I say this every week – but my message isn’t going to change, right?”
Lately, that focus has led to Sirianni placing the fate of the offense on his offensive line and ball carriers. At some point, the Eagles’ ground game will come to a screeching halt from an opponent that’ll sell out to stop it.
Then it’ll be up to Hurts to deliver in the moment, his personal signature win.
It’ll take more than 16 completions in a game – certainly more than 1-of-3 in the second half – to showcase Hurts’ chance to be a game-changer.
The sooner they encounter this situation, the better. At least for the long haul.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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