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Eagles Season Preview: Can Jalen Hurts seize the play?

There’s one theme surrounding the Eagles’ question marks this year: No Excuses

What’s up, BGN? I’m back with the first of my 2022 season series! In past years, with 16 games, I’d write in quarters. That doesn’t make too much sense anymore with 17 games, so I’m moving to trimesters. Look for my “State of the Eagles” posts after Week 6, 12, and 18.

Because Howie is a complete mad-lad, a lot has happened since my last post, and I’ll address that (and more!) here. In this post:

  • Odds and ends from training camp and preseason
  • Carpe Diem, Jalen Hurts
  • Looking ahead to Weeks 1-6

Enough exposition - let’s dive in!

Let’s Go Camping

Give me the slant. While following training camp through the various sports outlets, there were times when it felt more like I was reading CNBC or the Wall Street Journal. Light ribbing aside (you’re the best, BLG!)... I can appreciate the holistic evaluation of Hurts’ performance boiled down to a simple concept, but I was more interested in whether he was willing to work the middle of the field over anything else. I could not be more pleased with the rapport he’s formed with A.J. Brown on slants.

Last season I’ll admit I was excited to see Minshew play against the Jets because I just wanted to see like, one slant. (Of course, Minshew didn’t really throw slants that game, but I was hoping he might.) I’ll die on the hill that modern NFL passing offenses should be built around the seven yard slant. They are fast, high-percentage plays that can demoralize a defense when executed consistently. If Hurts can add those throws to his regular repertoire, it might be enough by itself to take this offense to the next level.

We’re into the shallows now. It’s easy to feel electrified by the Eagles’ starting lineup. I’ve seen many comparisons to the 2017 squad, which on paper does not appear to have the same star power as the current one. Howie’s moves to build a strong roster across the board has been masterful. But it’s hard to say now whether this roster has the same depth that was crucial to the 2017 Super Bowl run. Based on what we’ve seen so far in the preseason, the depth is questionable at safety, cornerback, tight end, wide receiver, and quarterback. I would even throw in running back if the offensive line wasn’t able to make street free agents look like Pro-Bowlers.

It’s premature to condemn the depth of the roster, of course. In 2017 Patrick Robinson overcame an atrocious preseason to be one of the best slot corners in the NFL that season. But I think we should temper expectations about the roster until we see some of the second stringers step up when needed.

A last Chaunce for Gannon? I’ll confess that I am a bit of a Gannon apologist. I can sympathize with the concept that you should keep the offense in front of you and prevent the long score. The more snaps you force the offense to take, the more opportunities you have to make a big play. Of course, Gannon’s defense was unable to make those plays and halfway competent offenses could chip their way down the field for time-consuming scores. You can give him sort of a pass for the talent on the defense, but he still took far too long to make adjustments with the personnel he had.

Now, with a full complement of cornerbacks, a deep and versatile defensive line, and an athletic linebacking corps, Gannon does not have that excuse. He should be able to run the defense he wants with the weapons he has. But he still needs to put his players in a position to succeed.

Which brings us to Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, or CJGJ. The energetic slot corner is moving to safety in Gannon’s defense - a position he wants to play for financial reasons. It’s fair to wonder how CJGJ’s full-time transition to safety will play out, but ultimately it will come down to Gannon’s delicate balance between trying to execute his philosophy and making the most of the players at his disposal.

CJGJ is a talented player that is worth the question marks at safety for the cost to acquire him. His utilization in Gannon’s defense will be emblematic of the coordinator’s ability to maximize the talents of his players. If he fails in 2022, he should be shown the door.

Seize The Play!

We are all well aware of the worst-case scenario for Jalen Hurts this season: he leads the Eagles into the “Cousins Gulch,” where he makes significant strides in development, but not enough to say that he has become a Super Bowl quarterback or confirm that he has hit his ceiling. While I do think the Eagles part ways if any doubts remain, it remains possible that what constitutes “doubt” falls into a gray area by season’s end.

All offseason we have discussed what perspective best mitigates this risk, and there’s no easy answer. Statistics are objective, but lack context (garbage time, anyone?). Tape study is subjective, but allows for context. While that seems more ideal, it has one potential pitfall: missing out on opportunity cost.

Opportunity cost is a facet of quarterback play that is not discussed enough, at least not directly. It’s also probably the most important facet to assess, because it encompasses all traits of quarterback effectiveness (as defined by Nick Sirianni): accuracy, decision making, ability to create, and arm strength. It really comes down to answering three questions whenever a traditional dropback passing play is called (no RPOs, screen passes, etc.):

  1. Does the quarterback consistently diagnose the best option available to him on the play? This not only includes who to throw the ball to, but also whether to hang in the pocket, step up in the pocket, scramble to buy time for a pass, or tuck and run. (Decision making)
  2. Does he have the physical capacity to execute the best option? (Accuracy, arm strength)
  3. Can he consistently make a positive (or neutral) play when no “best options” are available? (Ability to create)

More simply put, can your quarterback seize the play? If the answer to this question, and the three questions above, is “yes,” then congratulations! You’ve got a franchise quarterback.

Sounds easy, right? Well, not always. The trap of film study is focusing too much on what the subject player did. Just because a quarterback made a great play doesn’t mean he made the best play possible given the circumstances. This can be easy to miss, especially if the play was exciting. For example, I’m sure we all remember this incredible DeVonta Smith catch from last year:

A great play, right? It sure was. But it could have been better. Here’s a snapshot of the All-22 a few seconds before (I pulled it from this video, around the 13:00 mark):

Here we see Jalen winding up to pass right before he tucks and scrambles. My suspicion is that Goedert is the target, and perhaps the primary read, but he stumbles out of his break. Hurts panics and abandons a clean pocket.

Now look at Smith. He’s streaking on a go route, and the trailing cornerback is turning to hand him off to the deep safety. Smith is suddenly wide open:

Hurst has started to scramble here, but the ball should be out at this point, thrown towards the boundary to avoid the safety. If it’s an accurate pass, that’s a touchdown. Instead, Hurts initiates a scramble drill, and Smith bails him out by running from the WAS 8 back to the 18 for the toe-tap catch.

If you’re wondering about the downstream impacts of the opportunity cost here, Hurts fumbled the ball away two plays later.

This is just one example, but there are many others from Hurts’ 2021 campaign. If he can reasonably shore up this weakness in 2022, he should silence all doubts on whether he’s “the guy.” Of course, it would be unfair to expect Hurts to choose the best option every time, but the great quarterbacks choose the best option on most plays. This would not include plays in which Hurts throws to the open primary read even if there was a better play to be had - quarterbacks are coached to hit their first read.

By couching evaluation in Hurts in terms of the opportunities he costs (and creates) for the team, we should be able to get a definitive stance on his ability to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl by season’s end, regardless of his stats, highlights and lowlights, and the team’s record.


Will Hurts be the Eagles’ QB in 2023?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    (599 votes)
  • 21%
    (161 votes)
760 votes total Vote Now

Game Predictions & Closing Thoughts

In contrast to 2021, the Eagles have a manageable schedule heading into the season. Here’s how I see things shaking out over the first six weeks (home games in italics):

  • Detroit: I think the Lions will be much feistier this time around than last year’s 44-6 drubbing, and I like Dan Campbell’s energy, but they are too inexperienced and limited at quarterback. This has the potential for a trap game with the home opener against the Vikings next week on MNF, but the Eagles don’t fall for it. Eagles win, 27-20.
  • Minnesota: This is a tough one. On one hand, Kirk Cousins’ record on MNF is abysmal. On the other hand, he saves his best games for the Eagles. I like how the talent in the Eagles’ secondary lines up with the Vikings’ high-powered receiving corps, but the Eagles have not beaten them since the 2017 NFCCG. I need to see it to believe it. Eagles lose, 31-24.
  • Washington: I’ve seen the reports on Carson Wentz in training camp, and that’s really all I need on this one. Eagles win, 30-17.
  • Jacksonville: I like Doug Pederson’s chances on turning the Jaguars around, and I haven’t given up on Trevor Lawrence yet (not like he’s on my dynasty team or anything...). I don’t think they’ll have turned the corner by Week 4, though. Really looking forward to the crowd reaction to Doug’s return to Philly. Eagles win, 28-13.
  • Arizona: This is another tough one, as Eagles-Cards games always seem to be weird. Kyler Murray has spent the offseason in headlines for the wrong reasons, and nobody will be sleeping on the Cardinals anymore. I think they stumble out of the gate this year, especially without Hopkins, and for that reason the Eagles will edge them out in the desert. Could easily go the other way though. Eagles win, 24-21.
  • Dallas: The Cowboys have also had a tumultuous offseason, and I am expected a fairly significant regression from a team that won 12 games last season. Still, they field the best quarterback in the division, and the Eagles have never beaten a healthy Dak and Zeke together since they entered the league in 2016 (remember Dak had a bum shoulder in 2019). I think this could be the season that changes, but like the Vikings I’ll believe it when I see it. Eagles lose, 28-26.

I have the Eagles going 4-2 heading into the bye. On the season, I think they go 11-6 and take back the NFC East crown. But ultimately that will come down to whether Hurts and Gannon acquit themselves this year (I have enough faith in Sirianni and Steichen to field an exciting offense).

Will they? With this roster around him, I think the answer for Hurts is “yes”. He seems to be working the whole field with greater confidence. If he can consistently get into a rhythm on timing passes and slants, it should lower his barriers to remaining calm and “seizing the play” when needed.

For Gannon, I think that’s a tougher question, but also less impactful in the long run. If he doesn’t take this defense to the next level, the Eagles likely stumble and he is shown the door. If he succeeds, he’s probably landing a head coaching gig and will be gone anyway. In either case... Vic Fangio, come on down! (Overall I think the latter outcome is more likely than the former.)

But that’s enough of my rambling for now. It’s time for the rubber to meet the road. The Eagles play in five days, people!

See you at the bye.

Go Birds.


Will Gannon be the Eagles’ defensive coordinator in 2023?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    (193 votes)
  • 51%
    No, he will get a head coaching gig elsewhere
    (344 votes)
  • 19%
    No, he will get fired
    (131 votes)
668 votes total Vote Now


How many games will the Eagles win before the Week 7 bye?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    (365 votes)
  • 45%
    (307 votes)
  • 1%
    2 or fewer (get out)
    (7 votes)
679 votes total Vote Now


How many games will the Eagles win this year?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    (87 votes)
  • 82%
    (588 votes)
  • 4%
    (32 votes)
  • 0%
    6 or fewer (boo)
    (4 votes)
711 votes total Vote Now
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