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Eagles offense preview: 5 questions and answers

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NFL season is nearly here! As well as looking at the preseason games, I wanted to write something looking back at the Eagles offense and defense and considering what schematic changes we will see this season. Up first if the offense.

For this article, I spoke to Ryan Sasaki (known as @ChipWagoneer - if you’re a long time reader on here you probably remember the blog and his contributions to BGN!) who is one of the brightest football minds around. I asked him 5 questions about the Eagles offense moving forward and we discussed each topic. It was a great football conversation and I have tried to convey our conversation the best I could in this article, with some film clips to help explain what we are talking about.

1. Will the Eagles continue to run a run-first offense and is it sustainable?

The Eagles complete changed their offensive identity after 7 weeks last season and it had pretty extraordinary results. The ‘successful’ part here is based on Sharp Football Analysis and whilst it isn’t perfect, it still gives you a good idea of the improvement.

The numbers are absolutely absurd. I’m not sure I can remember a team changing their identity so clearly halfway through a season. It is pretty obvious what happened too. The Eagles wanted to run a pass first offense and find out if Jalen Hurts was ‘the guy’ to run Sirianni’s ideal offense. It became pretty clear that due to an average set of receivers and a below average passer at quarterback, that running the ball was the answer. Sirianni deserves credit for not being stubborn but it was pretty clear what had to change. Hurts is one of the best running quarterbacks in the league and the Eagles have the best run blocking offensive line in the league. So, for once, the shouts of ‘RUN THE BALL’ made sense!

The new approach was obvious when you go back and look at the Lions game.

A run rate of 61% is pretty much unheard of in the modern NFL. The next highest was the Saints with a run rate of 49%. My own opinion is that there is absolutely no chance the Eagles can continue to run at that high of a rate. The addition of AJ Brown makes it pretty clear that the Eagles know they will have to throw the ball more this year. But this does not mean the Eagles should change their identity. The Eagles have the top run blocking offensive line in the NFL and one of the best running quarterbacks. It is clear to me, that if the Eagles want to win this year, they should continue to stick to the run first approach we saw during the second half of last season. I asked Ryan if he agreed with this premise…

“The Eagles already know that Hurts it not the guy to run Sirianni’s ideal offense and they worked around him. 2022 is all about winning with the QB we have and not about finding out what he can do. Sirianni found the winning formula and how to put the QB in the winning position. The passing game needs to be built off of the running game and not the other way around”.

I thought Ryan was pretty clear in his response that in order to win now, the Eagles need to continue to build the offense around the running game. Ryan also made an interesting point about two of the wide receiver additions we saw this off-season and how they fit in this offense.

“An under the radar thought I have is that, although the Zach Pascal signing was so predictable, I think that it is a sign that they are going to stick with the offensive approach that we saw last year. Pascal won’t be super productive but gives them something different and is one of the top blocking wide receivers. AJ Brown has always been a very good run blocking WR and was asked to do it a lot with the Titans”.

In both my film rooms on AJ Brown and Zach Pascal, I highlighted their ability to run block so this is an interesting point from Ryan and gives me more hope the Eagles are sticking with a similar approach this year.

2. Can Jalen Hurts take the next step into being a ‘Franchise Quarterback?’

I’m not going to go into too much detail on Jalen Hurts here as I wrote about him at length earlier, which you can read here. In case you need a reminder, here was part of my conclusion on Hurts.

‘Hurts is a fascinating talent due to his extremely unique blend of athleticism, speed and power at the quarterback position. He clearly progressed as a passer from last year, yet the Eagles are still running a pretty basic passing game and Hurts has some huge weaknesses that he needs to improve on if he wants to reach the next level. In particular, using his eyes more to move secondary defenders and speeding up his process post snap is something he simply must improve. Teams will now have a whole season of film on Hurts and they will know exactly what is strengths and weaknesses are.

Personally, I think Hurts has clearly proven himself to be a ‘starting calibre’ quarterback. You do have to run a specific style of offense with Hurts but you simply cannot evaluate Hurts as a passer without ignoring what he gives you in the running game. He completely alters the Eagles running game and is a huge reason why the Eagles had an elite running game throughout the second half of last season. In the modern game though, is a ‘starting calibre’ QB enough to challenge for the Super Bowl?’

We all have our opinions on Jalen Hurts, so of course I asked Ryan what he thought of the Eagles quarterback.

“My opinion on Hurts hasn’t really changed. ‘The question I’ve always had with Hurts is how will he improve on the fundamental parts of playing quarterback despite his age and playing experience. He was very accomplished in college, had some of the best coaches in college football, and when you have a quarterback like that with that many starts… yes there’s still upside and things you can develop… but we are still talking about whether he can process quicker or read the defense better. It is likely that he won’t dramatically improve the fundamental parts of playing quarterback and this means the Eagles are going to have to win in a different way with Hurts as their quarterback”.

This quote leads perfectly onto our next discussion, this I personally think is the most interesting!

3. How can Nick Sirianni make things easier for Jalen Hurts?

Following on from Ryan’s previous answer, I think we all know at this point that Hurts is more of a point guard at quarterback and Sirianni needs to present him with easy options by scheming open receivers and using the option game. Last year, we saw Sirianni use simple half-field reads and tried not to have Hurts just dropping back, throwing into windows and reading coverage post-snap as we know he doesn’t excel here. I asked Ryan what else he think Sirianni could do to help Hurts improve as a passer.

“Sirianni needs to design more plays where Hurts hits his back foot and the ball comes out on time. It hardly ever happens in this offense and the offensive design has to be better. Get someone open right on time. Part of that is Hurts inability to use the middle of the field but it was also a schematic issue last year”.

I went back and looked at some of Hurts best throws of the year last year and a lot of them come when he hits his back foot and gets that ball out on time, without any hesitation. This links back to why Hurts struggles to throw over the middle of the field, because these throws are normally timing throws as there is less space in the middle of the field.

But Ryan is spot on, this did not happen nearly enough last year. Firstly, when you go back and look at some of Hurts’ poor throws from last year, it was when he held the ball too long and didn’t get rid of it on time.

Additionally, Hurts time to throw last year was 3.12 which ranked as the highest amongst all starting NFL quarterbacks. That number has to come down next year.

Ryan also had one other area that Sirianni needs to improve on in order to help Hurts succeed and develop

“Secondly, Sirianni needs to get Hurts on the move more and coach him to keep his eyes downfield and use his mobility to create explosive plays out of structure rather than looking to run first. Hurts is poor at extending passing plays, he needs to channel his young McNabb and must create more explosive passing plays. He can be poor at extending plays because his eyes go down and he starts to run first and he also does this annoying thing where he goes backward when he feels pressure. Sirianni has to teach Hurts to break the pocket, move forward, while keeping his eyes down the field. He should have a highlight reel of these broken plays because his mobility is outstanding”.

There are a lot of examples from this past year that highlight this. Hurts mobility and running ability is outstanding, but it would be nice to see him try and extend plays and create explosive passing plays, rather than taking off and running.

I will counter Ryan’s point here slightly though and make the case that the Eagles inability to create explosive passing plays outside of structure was a fault of the entire coaching staff. The Eagles did not look well coached in these out of structure moments last year.

We also know that certain teams practice these moments more than others. The Eagles need to make sure they are doing this more frequently

4. Will the offense use motion more effectively this year?

I had to ask Ryan this question because Nick Sirianni recently said this in a press conference.

“Yeah, that’s a good question, Jeff. I think that if you look at the history of offenses that I’ve been around and Shane [Steichen] has been around, that we typically haven’t been a big motion team. That doesn’t mean to say that’s right.

But with that being said, I don’t want to be 24 and below ranked in anything in the NFL. There is a balance to that. We want to motion a little bit more. There is no secret in that because, again, there is nothing… there are some stats that don’t mean anything, but we’re looking at all the analytic stats, we’re looking at all the stats and be like – that’s something you do at the end of the year… That is an emphasis. We want to motion a little bit more”

I’m going to give Sirianni the benefit of the doubt here and hope he just misspoke, because this quote is pretty stupid in all honesty. You don’t simply do things in the NFL because other teams are doing it. You have to do things for a clear reason.

There is a very bad narrative out there at the moment (because of how good Shanahan/McVay have been recently) that all motion = good! This is far too simplistic. Motion has to be used for a specific reason and to help specific players.

Ryan and I agreed that the Eagles should use motion more next year for two main reasons.

1) To make the defense freeze just a beat in the run game, which is exactly what you want with a mobile quarterback like Hurts. This is a fantastic example of what orbit motion can do to a defender.

2) Motion should be used to help receivers like Devonte Smith and Quez Watkins, who aren’t physical at the of scrimmage, get free releases which is when they excel. I complained about this when watching the Eagles playoff game this year, as Sirianni did not help Smith get off press coverage enough.

I hope the Eagles use motion more this year for these specific reasons and not just to be in the top 24 teams who use motion.

5. Will we see more wide-zone, boot-action or play-action next year?

The NFL has seen a wide-zone and boot-action explosion these past few years. We are in the era of McVay, Shanahan, LaFleur and there are many more wide-zone coaches around the league. Teams are running wide-zone more than ever and pairing this with numerous play-fakes and boots. The Eagles have not jumped on this trend - yet. The Eagles run one of the most diverse run games in the NFL under run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland, but they didn’t run much wide-zone this past season. The Eagles favored inside zone, power and pin-pull concepts. And they were very, very good at these concepts!

Listen, I am not complaining about the Eagles run game. It was exceptional and it is already incredibly diverse. I do wonder however, if the Eagles could run a bit more wide-zone in order to create more opportunities for boot-action which would get Jalen Hurts on the move (see question 4!).

Why should the Eagles consider running more wide-zone, boot-action or play-action you ask? Well, they were very good at it last year and didn’t do it enough! The stats back this up too.

Hurts also proved that he could turn his back to the defense and deliver on play-action throws.

Following on from this, these were Hurts numbers on play-action last year, all rankings are from PFF and include only QB’s with at least 20% of their teams snaps.

His YPA on non-play action throws, was all the way down to 6.3, which ranked 21st. So personally, I would like to see the Eagles continue to develop their offense from last year and start to run more play action looks.


That will do for this one, a pretty long one this week! Any feedback or comments as always, are much appreciated. I will do something similar for the defense next week so let me know if you liked the format.

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