The Eagles were all but unbeatable until Dec. 18, when quarterback Jalen Hurts sprained the SC joint in his right shoulder. Everything changed.
Without Hurts, reality hurt.
In this week’s coaches’ critique — where we look at the performance of Eagles’ coaches, good and bad — we look at the perplexing game plan of head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, the offense’s architects.
Sirianni famously turned over the reins of the offense to Steichen over the summer. Steichen would call the plays, with input from Sirianni.
In the last two games, Gardner Minshew, a far less talented player than Hurts, took over at quarterback. Did the Eagles’ offensive game plans react accordingly?
Sunday’s game against the 6-9 Saints was the Eagles’ most important one of the season. A Philly victory meant the NFC East title and home-field for the playoffs.
The Eagles’ offensive game plan looked eerily similar to the one they cook up for Hurts. What works for Hurts doesn’t necessarily work for Minshew — or most NFL back-up quarterbacks.
Hurts’ skill-set is unique — not only to the Eagles but in the entire league. Minshew’s is not. He’s not mobile, nor does he have a rocket arm. He’s a solid back-up but it didn’t look as if the Eagles played to their offensive strengths with Minshew starting.
With Minshew, it seemed logical to attack with the run. The Eagles have the league’s best offensive line — not as strong without Lane Johnson — a thousand-yard runner in Miles Sanders and the NFL’s fourth-ranked running attack. The Saints’ defense was 23rd against the run.
Without Johnson, there should have been more incentive to run. Johnson hasn’t allowed a sack in 27 games. His replacement, Jack Driscoll, is solid but he isn’t a four-time Pro Bowler.
In the first half, the Eagles ran only 12 plays. Ten were Minshew passes; two were rushes by Sanders for nine yards.
The Eagles logged two first downs — on the final two plays of the half. The initial first down came with 12 seconds to play. On the Eagles’ first four possessions, they went three-and-out.
RUN THE BALL
Philly is famous for Flyers’ fans yelling “shoot the puck” on the power play and Eagles’ fans shouting “run the ball,” when the Birds get infatuated with the pass.
Yeah, run the ball.
In that first half, the Eagles couldn’t get out of their own way. Without a running threat, the Saints teed off on the immobile Minshew and sacked him five times. The 13-2 Eagles heard boos, down 13-0, at halftime.
The Eagles abandoned the run in the first half, at a time they needed the run the most. They should have run the ball and kept running the ball. They needed to establish *any* kind of offense.
NFL analyst Brian Baldinger, a former Eagles offensive lineman, posted this on Twitter:
- “I think we didn’t play well enough as an offense in total, right?” Sirianni said about the Eagles’ 20-10 loss to the Saints.
- “When you score 10 points, there’s a lot of blame to go around and it starts with me.”
The Eagles ran with some success in the second half — gaining 58 yards on 13 rushes. With the run game working, the passing lanes opened up. Minshew was 12-of-22 for 205 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Brown.
But with the Eagles down, 13-10 in the fourth quarter, Minshew threw a pick-six that iced the game. Sirianni took responsibility for the interception.
- “We came back to a play that we had run earlier in the game, and they recognized it, and they made a play off of it,” Sirianni said.
When Hurts played, the Eagles watched him make the right decisions, run out of trouble and use his precise passing to keep the chains moving. The coaches could game-plan accordingly.
There would be called runs for Hurts and he always was a threat to take off when a running lane wasn’t there on RPO or the pass wasn’t there.
Those options weren’t available with the Minshew. The Eagles knew that and should have coached accordingly.