Despite the shocking coaching changes on the defensive side of the ball this week, it’s pretty easy to understand why Sean Desai/Matt Patricia’s unit has struggled this season.
Age has caught up to James Bradberry, the 30-year-old No. 2 corner who was so good last year and appears to be so cooked in 2023.
Darius Slay was hurt last night, Bradley Roby is a poor substitute for the injured Avonte Maddox, and the Eagles invested far too few resources at linebacker and safety. The defensive line, once so feared and ferocious, looks like a small child trying to survive a rough surf down in Atlantic City, flailing and failing to generate pressure on opposing QBs in high leverage situations, and there’s really no explanation for that.
The change in coaches didn’t matter. The Eagles’ spineless defense gave up a 92-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive to Drew freaking Lock with less than two minutes to go, and there is no world in which that should ever happen. But one look at the personnel helps one understand what’s happening on that side of the ball.
Less clear is what is ailing the Eagles’ offense, a group that, aside from right guard Cam Jurgens’ absence last night, had all their players on the field, led by a supposed MVP candidate in Jalen Hurts, the supposed best offensive line in football, and some of the best supposed skill position players in the league.
I say “supposed” because none of that is actually the truth right now.
After a beautiful opening scoring drive to grab a 7-0 lead on the Seahawks, Hurts and his teammates sputtered and stalled throughout, despite facing one of the league’s worst defenses. Seventeen points against that defense? Yikes.
Right now, it sure doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
Jalen Hurts’ regression cannot be denied. While still an able passer in the pocket, his decision-making this year has taken a step backward. It’s clear he’s not as healthy as he was for most of last year — the explosiveness in his running is gone — but he’s also making poor decisions with the football, harkening back to his uneven 2021 season. His two crucial interceptions in the 4th quarter last night doomed the offense from trying to salt the game away when they had a late lead and to try and position themselves for a game-tying field goal.
Jalen Hurts is tied with Joshua Dobbs, Josh Allen and Sam Howell with a league-leading 17 turnovers this season.
Too often, Hurts has tried to hit the home run ball at inopportune times when simply taking what the defense has given them would be the clearer path to success. When Drew Lock is on the other side of the field and you’re holding the lead, just do the simple thing. Make the simple play. But as with his ill-advised deep ball to Quez Watkins or his one-on-one try to A.J. Brown with time winding down, Hurts had devolved into post ACL-reconstruction Carson Wentz, unable to avoid the lure of hero-ball when the game script simply calls for moving the chains.
You don’t get extra points for being splashy.
Certainly Hurts’ illness was a factor in his play last night. That’s important to note, but the issues we’re discussing were not a last night-only-thing. Unlike last year, Hurts’ pocket presence is non-existent. When pressure comes from the edge, he’s unwilling or unable to slide up in the pocket, instead bailing at the first sign of trouble. Unfortunately, he seems to lack the extra gear when he is flushed from the pocket to create a splash play on his own, so most of those plays either end up as low-percentage passing plays, small gains on a QB run or, worst of all, slides behind the line of scrimmage.
Although much of Hurts’ regression is undoubtedly on him, Nick Sirianni must get the lion’s share of the blame for the unproductive offense of the last three weeks. The next time the Eagles scheme open a wide receiver, running back or tight end this season will be the first. There is no creativity to what the Eagles are doing. Everyone in the NFL knows what’s coming.
Christian McCaffrey calling out the exact play the Eagles are running tells you everything you need to know about how predictable this offense has become https://t.co/pierbgq2V8— Patrick (@PhillyPMC) December 19, 2023
Situational football is an understanding of what’s needed in the moment. When you’ve had success methodically moving the football down the field and have gone 30 yards in 3 plays, that’s not the time to dial up a deep ball to a receiver who has done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING over the last two seasons.
Yes, we don’t want Hurts targeting only three players in an entire game, like he did against Dallas. No, dialing up a low-percentage deep ball to Quez at that point in the game is not the alternative. Something in between those two extremes would be awesome.
One would like to think Sirianni is a good enough head coach to try something different. How many more weeks can the offense throw one failed wide receiver screen after another out there? How many more weeks can they ignore the running backs in the passing game? How many more weeks can they find absolutely zero rhythm on offense?
The last time the Eagles had back-to-back touchdown drives was in the 3rd quarter against the Buffalo Bills. The last time they’ve had to scoring drives back-to-back was later in that game, Jake Elliot’s game-winning field goal and Hurts’ overtime touchdown run.
The offense should have scored 30+ points last night. There is absolutely no excuse for them not to have. But more than the play on the field, most concerning is that the locker room doesn’t appear to be the land of maturity and cohesiveness that we were led to believe when the team was 10-1.
#Eagles QB Jalen Hurts mentions he doesn't think the team is 'committed enough' right now.— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) December 19, 2023
When asked what he means: "Commitment. I don't have a dictionary on me now."
An eye-popping answer...pic.twitter.com/iscJpkukcm
During his news conference, Hurts also said, “Ain’t really too fond of ‘You practice the same habits, you’re getting the same results,’” Hurts said. “We have to make an internal change in how we attack things, how we come to work every day. It starts with the little things, how committed we are to what we’re doing, and that all starts with me the quarterback.”
Yes, Jalen says it “starts with him,” but what does that mean? What does it mean that the team isn’t “committed enough?” What kind of “internal change” are we talking about? Practice habits? More coaching changes? Are players not doing their jobs? Are they not paying attention in meetings? Are they not supporting each other off the field? Are they taking shortcuts? Are they badmouthing the coaching staff? Is the coaching staff failing its players in some way?
While Hurts didn’t appear to be able to explain what he meant by his “committed enough” comments, there is a concerning question that must be answered.
Are the Eagles really so mentally soft as a team that they allowed two really bad losses to the 49ers and Cowboys ruin their season and their much-celebrated clubhouse culture?
Hurts is talking about commitment. Fletcher Cox has talked about needing to “find out who the real dudes are.” The team removed their defensive coordinator from play calling duties and replaced him with another failed defensive coordinator. There were reports of finger-pointing in the locker room over the past week. Hurts and Sirianni like to talk about accountability and responsibility, and while those are both wonderful sentiments, it’s easy to be accountable when you’re winning. It’s more difficult when faced with adversity.
The last time Sirianni and the Eagles were in a spot like this was during the 2021 season. They were 2-5. Sirianni’s flowers speech resonated with his team and they went on a run. Over the next three weeks, the Eagles play the Giants twice and the Cardinals. This should be easy pickins’ for a 10-4 team with Super Bowl aspirations that fade with each passing week.
But after 14 games, it’s unlikely the Eagles offense and Hurts are going to flip a switch and be what we thought they were three games ago. Turns out, those hand-wringers we mocked so mercilessly online talking about point differential and troublesome trends weren’t wrong.
Like with most teams, it all starts with the quarterback and head coach. Right now, both are shells of their 2022 selves.