Eagles pass offense better with Gardner Minshew in win vs. Jets, but Nick Sirianni still riding with Jalen Hurts | Jeff McLane
Minshew might have looked great against the Jets, but this season was all about evaluating Hurts.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The differences between Gardner Minshew and Jalen Hurts run deep, from personalities to choice of clothing, from college pedigree to NFL entry.
It’s no wonder that stylistically they are incomparable as quarterbacks and that the Eagles offense would look different with one under center vs. the other. Minshew finally got that opportunity as a starter on Sunday. And the backup delivered an intriguing performance.
With Hurts sidelined with an ankle injury, Minshew completed 80 percent of his passes — 11 straight to open the game — and deftly executed Nick Sirianni’s balanced offense for 418 total yards as the Eagles breezed past the New York Jets, 33-18.
The Eagles scored touchdowns on their first three drives, kicked field goals on their next four, and punted only on their last possession. If it weren’t for a shaky first half on defense and special teams, the outcome might have been all but decided by the intermission.
The 3-9 Jets had little answer for the Eagles through the air before the break, and after they eventually relented on the ground. Minshew dropped to throw only slightly more than Hurts had over the previous five games, but when he did the pass offense looked more in rhythm.
Overall, he completed 20 of 25 passes for 242 yards and two touchdown passes to tight end Dallas Goedert. His 133.7 passer rating was the highest for an Eagles starter since Nick Foles (141.4) in the 2017 NFC championship game against the Vikings.
It’s not the first time Minshew played well enough to at least entertain the notion of a quarterback controversy, especially considering how Hurts played last week at MetLife Stadium. Ironically, it was Foles who would be supplanted by Minshew in Jacksonville two years ago.
But the pre-game messaging from the Eagles that Hurts would remain QB1 no matter how his backup performed was reiterated by Sirianni after the game.
“Of course,” he said when asked if Hurts was still the guy.
“I think he’s played good football. I think he’s played really good football,” Sirianni said. “There’s been times when he’s one of the best in the league with the way he’s moved around and made plays. We look at his quarterback rating (83.9) and what he’s had there.”
Hurts has played well in spurts, and was showing signs of improvement as a passer before last week’s setback against the Giants. He hasn’t yet warranted a demotion. But there are also logistical reasons that Sirianni can’t state as to why Minshew won’t be elevated, even if he may give the 6-7 Eagles a better chance at making the playoffs.
For one, this season was always going to be about evaluating Hurts’ potential as the long-term answer. Owner Jeffrey Lurie decided it to be so, and even if there has been outside disagreement with his decree, drafting Hurts in the second round, trading Carson Wentz and subsequently passing on quarterbacks in the draft, all but dealt the Eagles their hand.
Minshew was acquired just before the season from the Jaguars for a sixth-rounder. There was already documentation about his experience as a starter, even if it wasn’t in Sirianni’s system. But now there is a record.
On the surface, he was more efficient in certain downfield throws and more willing to check down when his first few reads weren’t open. Minshew’s processing appeared a tick quicker than Hurts, too. It sometimes needs to be to account for what he lacks in arm strength.
His first touchdown toss was a beauty. Goedert blew past a linebacker, and Minshew floated the ball in before the safety and the tight end did the rest for a 36-yard score. On the second, Goedert benefited from a Boston Scott rub route, and Minshew hit him on the wheel route from 25 yards out.
Could Hurts have made those same reads/throws? It’s possible. Goedert was wide open on both. There were also a few early screens to the tight end that would have likely been carried out the same.
But Minshew was efficient when forced to look off his first reads, and the throws often gave his receivers the chance to run after the catch. Hurts may not often get that far into his progression and leave the pocket, but he can often do as much damage or more with his legs.
The biggest change in the offense was the absence of zone read. Hurts is a plus-one in the run game and defenses often have to account for his mobility when he reads an unblocked defender.
“People are going to play us different when Jalen’s back there,” Eagles running back Miles Sanders said. “So I can say it was much, much tougher yards to get.”
There were stretches when it was tough sledding on the ground. But Sirianni kept feeding Sanders (24 carries for 120 yards) because it has been a successful formula of late, but also because the Eagles were comfortably ahead for most of the second half.
All told, though, the Eagles rushed for 185 yards.
Sirianni gave credit to his offensive line, as he should. But he did the same when asking about the Eagles’ air success, likely to temper what is inevitable in Philadelphia: over-enthusiasm for a backup quarterback.
Minshew, naturally, said he wants to start when asked.
“Yeah, I think anybody that’s halfway competitive wants to play,” Minshew said.
Hurts’ injury seemingly couldn’t have come at a worse time for the second-year quarterback. After tossing three interceptions against the Giants, there were already cries for Minshew. But that is only if he listens to voices outside the NovaCare Complex.
“When it comes time for it, he’ll be our quarterback,” Goedert said. “Ultimately, I don’t know. I don’t make those decisions. But everybody rides with whoever the quarterback is going to be.”
The bye week should provide ample time for Hurts to recover. He had said Wednesday that he would start against the Jets, but as the week progressed it became increasingly clear that he wouldn’t be able to go.
“Obviously, the competitor in him wants to play,” Sirianni said. “I’m not saying he was fighting us in there to get out there. He would have probably just knowing Jalen.”
Minshew didn’t get a full week of first-team repetitions, so that should be factored into any assessment of his outing. He did have a few loose moments, once fumbling out of bounds on a red-zone third down. The Eagles converted only 1 of 3 possessions inside the 20 into a touchdown.
But the Jets were hardly a threat against the clock. Their lone chance to mount a serious comeback came late in the third quarter trailing, 27-18. A Minshew sneak on fourth-and-1 at the Jets 34 was ruled short. Sirianni challenged, though, and a bad spot was reversed.
“Maybe it’s just because I’m strong as hell,” Minshew said after the ruling, per Sanders.
The quarterback was asked to confirm.
“Yeah, dude. That’s why I wear short shorts,” he cracked. “Them legs, bro. … Felt it right there.”
Minshew is as much a jokester as Hurts is serious, although not when it comes to playing quarterback.
“A lot of energy. I love him,” Sanders said of Minshew. “Gardner’s a character. He’s cracking jokes in the huddle. He loves to compete and you can see it. He took this game very seriously. He looked at it as he was the guy.”
But he’s not yet the guy — despite the impressive case he made.