Birdfeed: Vol. 23.6; Hurts-ing the Team

Jalen Hurts needs to be better. There is no simpler way to address what ails the Eagles most right now. Yes, there are a multitude of issues, but a higher level of quarterback play overcomes most, if not at all of them. Unfortunately, the Eagles are getting just average quarterback play from the guy they just gave a quarter of a billion dollars.

We’ll dish other pieces of the blame pie later. For now, the biggest slice goes to the quarterback. The Eagles beat the Jets Sunday if Hurts is not slow (reads), late (throws), high and short. Here we go…

The Eagles lead is down to two points about midway through the 4th quarter. They’re driving down the field. Hurts has DeVonta Smith coming open across the middle. As you can see (picture below), Hurts has about six yards before the stunting defensive end reaches him. The safety is streaking to AJ Brown on the outside. As soon as Smith turns, he’s open with room to run. Instead, Hurts bails and Smith is left wide open and stranded for what would have easily been a 20+ yard gain. Hurts didn’t have to bail. He could have hung in, took the hit and fired the ball. Or, even better, he could have stepped to his right behind Sua Opeta and Jack Driscoll to take away the end’s angle and easily thrown the ball to Smith. Hurts scrambled for a 1st down on this play, so it wasn’t a horrific play, but it’s another example of him fleeing the pocket too early and not capitalizing downfield.

The worst play of the game was unquestionably the interception in the final minutes. If the Eagles simply punt there, they probably win the game. New York’s previous three possessions went for 16 yards, -5 yards and 8 yards. The pass rush was getting home. It’s unlikely the Jets drive into field goal range for the win. Punting was not a death sentence by any means.

For a seasoned quarterback like Hurts to be so careless with the ball in that situation is inexcusable. What’s worse, he made a horrible read and missed AJ Brown for what would have sealed the game. Take a look…

As you can, Dallas Goedert was never open. He was blanketed on both sides. Furthermore, Hurts did not need to rush the pass, so throwing off his back foot and not driving the ball is middle school nonsense. Even worse (see how it’s a comedy of errors here?), Brown’s curl comes open 6 yards beyond the sticks a quarter of a second later. Hurts could have easily waited. He had the time. It was simply a horrific read, poor mechanics and a panicked throw. What happened to cool, “everything is under control” Hurts?

That wasn’t the end of the Hurts mistakes. On the four final plays for the Eagles offense, Hurts was bad on three of them. On first down Brown is running a drag. The Eagles need yardage. Brown is great with the ball after the catch. As you can see, he’s open and has space. The dot represents where the ball finally got to Brown. Hurts is late and high with the throw. Brown was clearly unhappy after the play and rightfully so.

On Second down the same thing occurs but this time with Smith. The throw is late and Smith has nowhere to go. Again, the dot shows where the ball finally got to the receiver. These plays are designed to accumulate yards after the catch, so the receiver needs the ball in stride and as soon as possible. The longer Hurts waits, the more time the defense has to sniff it out and the less space the receiver has available because he’s running across the field and the sideline becomes a defender.

This is basic football stuff, not rocket science. Hurts is in his head right now and it’s definitely a problem. I get he’s looking downfield for bigger plays, but the play is clearly designed to go to the drag because both were run to the team’s best receivers. End of game rally drives need momentum. You have to get some yards on those first couple of downs to get the rhythm going. It’s not an official thing but if you watch football you know this.

And finally, the 4th down heave (below) to Smith was too late, too inside and too short. A trifecta of failure by Hurts. As you can see, Smith is even with the safety. As they say, “if we’re even, I’m leaving.” With a better throw, Smith converts for 40+ yards, and with a great throw; may even score to win the game. Instead, Hurts is late (despite time and a clean pocket), he throws the ball outside the hash when it should’ve been up field just inside the numbers, and he’s woefully short, which allows both the safety and corner to catch up. Maybe Hurts can’t throw the ball that deep. I don’t know, but he’s limiting what the Eagles can do offensively and the defending NFC champs have little shot of repeating if he isn’t substantially better.

Other thoughts:

> The Eagles were so desperate to help a floundering Jack Driscoll that they were pulling in pass protection. After snapping the ball, Jason Kelce pulled all the way out to pass protect at right tackle. It didn’t work all too well but it speaks to the desperation and also to Kelce’s versatility.

> Anyone who has watched the Eagles in recent years knows Driscoll can’t pass protect at right tackle. Anyone who has watched the Eagles in recent years also knows Lane Johnson isn’t playing all 17 games. Why didn’t this get addressed in the offseason? The only benefit of the doubt I can offer is maybe the plan was to bounce Cam Jurgens out to right tackle and insert Driscoll in at right guard. With Jurgens hurt that plan obviously is a no go. On the other hand, Jurgens was a center in college, so I very highly doubt that was the plan, but it was the only possible benefit of the doubt I could come up with for the Eagles. Bad job, Howie.

> I can’t remember what game it was last year, but the Eagles did that thing where they saw something on film they wanted to exploit and did so again and again to moderate success and ultimately got them away from what they do best. Throwing the football to receivers and backs out of the backfield is fine, but the Eagles have a bruising offensive line and talent on the outside. Every time they step on the field they are probably the more talented team with very few exceptions. Do what you do and make the other team stop you.

> Am I the only one who cringes every time Dallas Goedert has the ball? That “interception” was on Goedert 100% and there’s no excuse for it. Hang on to the ball. Strong hands. Come on.

> It felt like the whole game swung on the Smith drop. So many careless mistakes for a team that prides itself on being disciplined and reliable. Kenny Gainwell had another crucial drop on 3rd down after a tremendous scramble and throw by Hurts.

> The offense needs some familiarity. They look lost and completely out of sync from where they were last year. Hurts looks frenzied and everyone is clearly frustrated. If I’m Nick Sirianni, I’m thinking long and hard about taking over the play calling duties.


Thursday Night Pick; Jaguars +1.5

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