Joe Banner: Time will tell if it’s Nick Sirianni’s scheme or Jalen Hurts’ limitations making Eagles offense conservative
Banner details his impressions of the coaching staff so far, the role Sirianni and Hurts individually play in the team’s offensive struggles, and the lack of production from Fletcher Cox.
Former Eagles president Joe Banner is doing a weekly Q&A with Inquirer Eagles reporter EJ Smith. In the second part of this week’s dialogue, the two discuss Banner’s impression of the coaching staff so far, the role Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts individually play in the team’s offensive struggles, and the lack of production from Fletcher Cox so far this year.
EJ: What have you learned about the team in the last few games?
JB: I think they’re kind of settling in more toward what I expected compared to the ebbs and flows of what we saw in the first four weeks. I generally felt the team wasn’t as bad as some were making them out to be, but at the same time not ready for primetime. I think that’s kind of what we’re seeing, although hopefully I’m the voice of reason here, because the reality is even the best teams in the league are going up and down on a weekly basis. It’s not a straight line in either direction.
EJ: What about the coaching staff? I know you’ve been consistent in your opinion that the Eagles’ heavily skewed run-pass ratios are overblown. Why is that?
JB: The run-pass ratio to knowledgeable, current winning NFL teams is over. We do know that two plus two is four. If someone needs to go over in the corner and have an argument, go over there and do it, but everybody else already knows it. This is just a resolved question. Anyone that doesn’t know that, they need more information. I know that sounds kind of know-it-all, but that’s what we know. If you throw the ball, you’re going to average about 7.5 yards per pass attempt if you’re a good passing team, and about 4.5 yards per run attempt. That’s not speculation, that’s fact.
It’s also fact that if you throw the ball early, you’re much, much more likely to get the lead. If you get the lead, you’re much more likely to win the game. Those are just truths, they’re not debating points, and like all things in football, they’re not absolute or always right. We’re talking about what gives you a better chance.
EJ: The last time we talked, you said the lack of pre-snap motion was a bigger concern than the lack of runs. We’ve seen more motion from the offense in recent weeks, but still not a significant amount. Do you still view that as a problem with the offense?
JB: We probably should have explained last time, the reason that things like motion are so important. It’s a little bit more of a sophisticated offense that helps provide your players, especially your quarterback, more pre-snap information to increase the chance that he’s in the right play, and it has a realistic chance to work.
In fact, the really good veteran quarterbacks will not only know that, they’ll also know which one of their guys is most likely to be the one they have to go to. So we probably should be making sure a fan understands why something like motion actually is important and indicative. And what’s happening with the Eagles is exactly what you said, they are doing a bit more of it.
To me, it’s predictive to a degree when you evaluate a young coach. If we were going to evaluate in that context, I would tell you that I think there’s some hope in seeing that they’re moving more toward that direction, because if the only reason they weren’t doing more of it was because they’re just young and not together that long, that’s a reasonable answer. If the only reason is because they don’t believe in it that much and it makes it more complicated to prepare for the game, if it’s something like that, to me that’s worrisome in projecting the long-term success of the coach. If it’s because they’re realistic about where they are and how long they’ve been together, it’s nothing to worry about, probably wise to be careful about.
I’m not sure we know which is which yet. That’s probably a better job of explaining why something like that is important and can frequently be predictive with young coaches. I think we’ve seen some improvement there, but hopefully we’re still just kind of seeing the beginnings of what they intend to do in the long run.
» READ MORE: Joe Banner: Nick Sirianni’s scheme more ‘worrisome’ than run aversion vs. Cowboys
EJ: What do you think, particularly from a schematic standpoint, is causing the offense to undergo the significant droughts we’ve seen them endure this season?
JB: The most important stat in football, despite what most people say and write, is average yards per pass attempt. The team that wins the battle on any given game on average yards per pass attempt has a massively higher chance of winning the game.
If your offense is predicated on a modest number of passes in general and a very modest number of the passes being downfield to give you a true chance to create chunk plays, then you’re going to have exactly what you have. You’re going to have meaningful gaps in success in terms of offensive performance.
I think it’s one of the reasons why the Eagles have put such an emphasis on speed. They understand the importance of this stat. Quick wide receivers, running backs that can help in the passing game, and tight ends that control the middle of the field are major contributors in the outcome of the yards-per-pass-attempt stat.
I don’t know yet whether it’s because Nick doesn’t have a lot of confidence in Jalen, or if because he’s building all this in over time, or if this isn’t Jalen’s strengths. We don’t know any of those three things, but one of those three things is causing him to not consistently be, in my opinion, aggressive enough in calling plays to give you a strong number in average yards per pass attempt.
EJ: If you think with your experience as an evaluator of coaches and quarterbacks, how do you determine where Sirianni’s faults start and where Hurts’ faults begin? It seems impossible to evaluate one independent of the other.
JB: It’s hard for us to know if what we’re seeing is an inexperience-based lack of confidence in Jalen in some areas causing the passing game to be conservative, or if it really reflects Nick’s fundamental beliefs in what he wants the offense to be. For me, there’s a huge difference in the long-term joy Eagles fans should feel about that.
If he’s doing it because Jalen’s young and inexperienced and they don’t want to put too much on his plate too quickly, I applaud that. It’s smart, I think it’s the right answer. If the reason he’s doing that is because it’s what he believes in — even if Jalen had been the quarterback for three years and knew everything very well and executing very well, and he’s still calling these kind of plays, I’d be first in line to criticize the coaches and the way they were approaching the game and calling the plays.
We’ll know that as the season goes along. Actions speak louder than words. We’ll know better which of those two things is. I think right now, the most likely answer is both. He doesn’t want to put too much on Jalen’s plate, he has some nervousness about how he’ll do with those 20-yard routes across the middle you need to convert. At the same time, I don’t believe he’s a really aggressive, consistently down-the-field play-caller. I think we’re seeing both.
» READ MORE: Bad fit? Jalen Hurts and Nick Sirianni might not be right for each other
EJ: On the defensive side, there was a belief that the group could overachieve this season, but the results have been uneven for most of the year. Both from a coaching and personnel perspective, what’s surprised you?
JB: I have to be fair, there are some things that I anticipated and got right and there are some things that I really missed on. My evaluation of what I hoped and thought the defense would be and what it’s been are very far apart.
I don’t think the defense is playing well, I don’t think they’re playing well individually, I don’t think they’re playing well collectively, and I don’t think the coach is giving them the best chance to be successful. I was hopeful they’d be able to overcome all three of those things, but they’re not overcoming any of them.
I’m surprised that, other than a couple of glimpses, the defensive line is not nearly as dominant as it could be. I’m surprised, even though I’m not a huge Derek Barnett fan, that he hasn’t developed a little bit more than he has. I think that Josh Sweat has played well and Javon Hargrave has played well; everyone else has either played under what I thought or similar to what I would have thought. The scheme is way too passive, way too predictable. Again, is this his fundamental belief or is he laying the foundation and then get more aggressive? We don’t know and that would be a reasonable thing to do.
If this is what he fundamentally believes in and this is the philosophy behind how he’s going to build his defense and call his game, that would be very disappointing to me and concerning.
EJ: Fletcher Cox has played a bit better in the last two games, but he hasn’t been as impactful as years past. Especially since they restructured his contract to push money into future years, how worrisome is his play?
JB: This is something we talked about in this same column last year. I have felt for a couple of years, whether it’s age, injury, or drive. He’s still a good player, you still want him on your team, but he is definitely not what he was. It’s happening often enough that it’s legitimate to at least wonder if it’s age related, but we are not seeing what we expect to see out of him. I don’t think we have since the beginning of last year, and they need that out of him.
On paper, he’s a massively better player than Hargrave, who I’m a huge fan of. On tape, right now, it’s the opposite. That shouldn’t be the case. Part of that is just because Hargrave is just playing so well, but part of it is Cox hasn’t been playing the way we know he’s capable of and has in the past.
That’s a category of player that I would not extend his contract and create future additional charges. If I’m at a point where I’m starting to worry if a player is descending, if I’m seeing enough to start worrying if I’m on the front end of seeing this player descend some, that’s not where I’m pushing future costs. I’m not using that player to lessen my current cost and increase my future cost. I’m finding somebody else [to restructure.]