Nick Sirianni was supposed to design his offense around the strengths of Jalen Hurts.
Instead, he made Jalen Hurts the offense.
The whole offense.
And after the Eagles’ 28-22 loss to the Buccaneers, it’s becoming increasingly evident that it’s not going to work. Hurts is struggling and instead of Sirianni doing what he can to take some stress off his 23-year-old quarterback, he’s doubling down on the wonky offense in place. That means a ton of drop-backs, a ton of RPOs … a ton of Hurts out there shouldering the load for a floundering and aimless offense.
It’s gotta stop.
Not only is this offense struggling, but it makes you wonder about the effect this stress will have on Hurts’ development. The last thing the Eagles want to do is stunt his growth.
The most obvious way for Sirianni to take some stress off his young and struggling quarterback is something that through six games seems like a foreign concept to him. He could run the damn ball. With a running back on designed calls. At least occasionally.
There’s a reason that during the second half the loudest cheer of the game came sarcastically when Miles Sanders was handed the rock for a five-yard gain and first down. The crowd gets it. Hurts seems to get it. Sirianni doesn’t.
Because when asked about the lack of designed runs, the coach’s answer hasn’t changed. The run-pass option game is leading to some out-of-whack ratios — Sirianni has said he’ll live with that — and it’s putting more stress on Hurts.
Even if Sirianni doesn’t want to admit it.
“No, I don’t think so,” Sirianni said. “He’s been doing that a long time … his RPO game and how he reads things, so I don’t believe that’s an issue.”
The problem is that there are no physical or mental breaks built into this offense for Hurts. Either he’s dropping back to pass or he’s making a read on every play. That has to take a toll.
This Eagles’ offense clearly has a ton of issues. It looks broken at times and against the NFL’s 32nd-ranked pass defense, Hurts managed to throw for just 115 yards. Now, he wasn’t good on Thursday. In fact, he was pretty awful. But that’s the thing. If Hurts is playing so poorly and this offense is designed to basically be all about Hurts, where do they go from here?
Through six games, Hurts has accounted for a staggering 77.3% of the Eagles’ offense.
Down in Baltimore, Lamar Jackson has accounted for 71% of the Ravens’ offense. You know, Lamar Jackson, the former MVP of the league, the best multidimensional quarterback in the NFL.
Does Hurts think this offense is putting too much on him?
“I think this offense is executing well enough,” Hurts said. “I think I haven’t executed well enough to win clearly. I take responsibility for that. I always take responsibility for that because the ball touches my hands every play and I enjoy that. And I like that. I have to be better.”
Sirianni’s background is with drop-back passers, but he identified RPOs and zone-reads as a way to build this offense around Hurts. What we’ve ended up with is an awkward Franken-offense that has its moments but has also become predictable and ineffective more often than not.
Using RPOs instead of designed runs puts it all on Hurts to not only go out there and make plays but to also make decisions. While it’s true that the RPO reads are generally easier than some other QB decisions, it basically forces Hurts into a stressful situation on just about every play.
“If he was consistently making poor decisions, I wouldn't be feeling comfortable to call them,” Sirianni said. “ … I believe he's been making good decisions as far as where he's going with the football and the guy he's reading.”
Sirianni said on Thursday night that he’d like to see the offense have a lower percentage of unscripted plays. Basically, he’d like to see Hurts stay in the pocket more. And that’s a fair criticism, although it further points out the awkward football pairing between the young coach and quarterback.
Through six games, it still feels like Sirianni and Hurts are simply not on the same page. That’s scary as the franchise faces some major decisions looming after this season.
Because they played on Thursday night, the Eagles have a mini bye week and Sirianni needs to take a long, hard look at his offense. Through six games, they’ve scored 22 or fewer points in four of them. Their average of 22.8 points per game ranks 17th in the league and is barely above the 20.9 figure that got the last coach fired.
On Thursday night, Hurts struggled to define the identity of the Eagles’ offense. Sirianni previously struggled on that same mission.
If anything, their identity might be this: Good luck, Jalen. Hope you make a play.
And that’s not good enough.
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