For a moment, the Eagles appeared to be up for the challenge of keeping up with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ high-octane offense.
As they did for most of Thursday evening, the Bucs made quick work of the Eagles defense — with Brady floating a 2-yard touchdown completion to tight end O.J. Howard to begin the game. But Jalen Hurts responded with his own opening act. The second-year quarterback orchestrated an impressive seven-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a passing touchdown to his own tight end, Zach Ertz.
Upon reaching the end zone, Ertz emphatically spiked the football, which caused the selloutcrowd at Lincoln Financial Field to rise to its feet.
However, that ecstatic feeling soon vanished, and 2021 version of the Eagles offense made its return. The challenge ultimately proved to be too large, with the defending Super Bowl champs claiming a 28-22 victory over the Eagles.
None of the six possessions that followed the opening score lasted longer than three plays. During that span, the Eagles had five three-and-outs and Hurts threw one interception. Facing the 31st-ranked passing defense in the league, the Eagles’ play-calling, mixed with the lack of execution, was puzzling. The home team was out-gained 233 to 73 yards and running back Miles Sanders had just one carry at that point.
“We didn’t execute early on,” coach Nick Sirianni said. “We’ve got to put the guys in better spots. We have to do a better job to get off to a fast start. After that, it fluttered all the way to the second half.”
Thus far this season, the Eagles offense — under Sirianni’s direction — still has no identity.
While it’s worth noting the offensive line is missing three starters, Sirianni has done Hurts no favors by refusing to incorporate any type of traditional running game.
Sirianni has previously said he counts run-pass-option reads as rushes — despite the actual decision — in his coaching staff’s stat sheet. But Hurts has frequently preferred to take matters into his own hands rather than feed Sanders, who by the way, has the fourth-best rushing average in the NFL.
“I have confidence in how he’s reading those,” Sirianni said. “There’s no doubt our offense needs to get better to give our team a chance to win.”
This troubling trend has become too predictable for opposing defenses over the team’s first six games, which has produced a 2-4 record.
Asked about the possibility of revisiting his offensive philosophy, Sirianni said: “Always thinking about that. We have to make sure the running backs get their touches. But again, we’re trying to call the best play at that particular time.”
As a passer, Hurts completed 12 of 26 throws for 115 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He rushed 10 times for 44 yards and two touchdowns, while Sanders had nine rushes (eight in the second half) for 56 yards. But neither of Hurts’ rushing scores occurred until the second half, when the offense finally showed up when playing from behind.
Despite his tendency to keep the ball in RPO situations, even Hurts hinted at his frustration with Sanders’ lack of touches.
“He’s a big-time player for us,” Hurts said of Sanders. “It’s kind of gone the way it’s gone. We saw the production later on in the game.”
Sirianni concluded his postgame press conference with a quote that even he could self-evaluate as the offense continues to attempt to establish its identity.
“You want to to be able to take things off the quarterback,” he said. “We want to be able to get our balls to our playmakers. Miles is a playmaker.”