Jalen Hurts’ second career start of the Nick Sirianni era didn’t go as well as the first. The quarterback was uneven in the Eagles’ 17-11 loss to the 49ers. Of course, the same could be said of his play-calling coach.
The marriage of Hurts-Sirianni always had the potential to be a mismatch. The coach, after all, wasn’t on the staff when the quarterback was drafted. After the Week 1 stomping of the Atlanta Falcons, it appeared he could scheme a game plan that accentuated Hurts’ skills. But the dubious play-calling in Week 2 suggests the opposite.
It would be unwise to make judgments based on either performance. Two games simply isn’t enough of a sample, and even if public elation has turned into frustration in just a week, the season was likely always going to be more about the future than the present.
The Eagles knew a little about Hurts, but they knew nothing about him as Sirianni’s instrument. There will be a trial. And to no surprise, there has already been some error. Hurts didn’t exactly make a lot of mistakes Sunday. He had zero turnovers. He was only sacked twice.
But he missed a few throws in key spots, wasn’t effective enough with the deep ball, and had to scramble more than Sirianni would prefer.
“Without watching the tape, he made some big plays with his feet,” Sirianni said. “There’s always this fine line of throwing in rhythm but also extending plays if something’s not there. I think he did a really good job, though.
“There [were] a couple times they did a good job covering it, or they got a guy through the line and he escaped.”
It was an odd game. The Eagles outplayed their opponent through most of the first half. They drove inside the 49ers’ 30-yard line on three of their four first-half possessions. But they came away with only three points.
If Hurts wasn’t especially sharp on passes that stalled those drives, Sirianni didn’t exactly put his quarterback in the best position to succeed. He had Hurts roll to his left and throw across his body on third-and-4 on the first series. Dallas Goedert appeared open underneath, but Hurts instead overthrew a covered DeVonta Smith.
Hurts had pinpoint passes on the next drive. He hit Quez Watkins for 26 yards on third-and-7, and Jalen Reagor on the next play on a 36-yard floater that appeared to be a touchdown. But the score was reversed by a replay of the receiver first stepping out of bounds.
“If it’s a touchdown,” Hurts said, “it’s probably a whole different outcome to the game.”
But it wasn’t, and when Sirianni elected to try another field goal on fourth-and-3 at the 49ers’ 29, the 47-yard attempt was blocked.
The coach’s most egregious decision-making, though, came a possession later. Hurts connected with Watkins for 91 yards on his lone deep completion. On first-and-goal at the 1, Sirianni had his quarterback roll out to his right. Hurts was pressured and threw behind Zach Ertz.
On second down, Miles Sanders was stopped in the backfield for a 3-yard loss. And on third down, Hurts kept on a zone read play and picked up only a yard. While analytics might not have supported Sirianni’s first two fourth-down choices, going for it there didn’t seem reckless.
Nevertheless, Sirianni’s call was dubious. He dialed up a double-reverse trick play — “Philly Un-special” seemed an apt title — that had receiver Greg Ward throwing to Hurts. Linebacker Fred Warner followed the quarterback-turned-receiver, though, and Ward inexplicably threw the ball out of the back of the end zone.
Could he have run into the end zone? Maybe. Would it have made more sense to give Hurts that option? Probably. Asked if he was frustrated to not have the ball in his hands in that situation, the quarterback didn’t throw his coach under the bus.
“It’s frustrating to lose the game,” Hurts said.
He certainly had his chances, although not as many as usual. The offense ran only 55 plays. Hurts dropped to throw only 30 times. But he completed just 52% of his passes (12 of 23) for 190 yards after hitting on 77% last week.
Aside from his two passes to Watkins, he was 10 of 21 for 73 yards. He rushed 10 times for 82 yards, but five were on scrambles that netted 69 yards. All yards are essentially created equal, but you win in the NFL through the air far more than on the ground.
“I was really just going out there trying to execute the play,” Hurts said when asked about Sirianni’s “fine line.”
Sirianni wants to have an explosive, quick-strike offense when necessary. Hurts had four attempts that traveled more than 60 yards in the air. On the first, Smith created separation, but there was hesitation and the safety recovered for the breakup. Hurts was precise to Watkins on the second bomb.
But on the third, his heave to a double-covered Smith was short. And on the last, he underthrew a single-covered Reagor. It was unclear if his receivers could have run better routes.
“I wanted to give the guys an opportunity,” Hurts said. “Some of those, I failed to hit them.”
The Eagles had relative success on the ground, but they lacked an effective intermediate game. No tight end had a catch until midway through the third quarter. Goedert didn’t see a target until the fourth. The 49ers’ reserve cornerbacks were there for the picking, but Hurts just wasn’t accurate on the few chances he had.
He did have positive moments with his arm. The 14-yard strike to Goedert that set up the Eagles’ lone touchdown — a Hurts 1-yard sneak — was a dart.
But he made questionable decisions. He checked to a run on third-and-6 on the first drive that was stopped well short. He missed an open Reagor on his second read on a pivotal second down in the fourth. And on third-and-2 a play later, he failed to get the ball out of his hands and was sacked when the pocket collapsed.
Did he have options after his first read was covered? A review of the film may tell. The lack of execution didn’t fall on one set of shoulders, just as it didn’t fall on two sets. But the Hurts-Sirianni marriage will decide the Eagles’ success, or lack thereof, this season.
It failed to produce the desired results in Round 2. The bell has yet to ring.
“The biggest thing is finish,” Hurts said. “Finish. Finish.”