Jalen Hurts has one trait already that most starting NFL quarterbacks possess: accountability.
The 23-year old took sole responsibility for the Eagles’ 41-21 loss on Monday night — “This one’s on me,” he said then. And his message two days later remained essentially the same.
“It starts with me,” Hurts said. “I will be better for this team.”
While he was hardly the only one at fault for the drubbing in Dallas, Hurts didn’t perform well in his seventh career start. He threw two ugly interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, missed easy throws, held the ball too long and perhaps most troubling, left the pocket too early and too often.
As is often the case, however, Hurts wasn’t as bad upon a review of the film, at least according to coach Nick Sirianni.
“I don’t think he played his best game,” Sirianni said Wednesday. “I don’t think he played a bad game. There’s improvement. We all need to improve.”
Indeed. Sirianni and his staff didn’t scheme up a winning game plan, and in certain respects, one that accounted for the inexperience and skills of Hurts. But there were successful plays or thoughtful ones that the quarterback torpedoed on multiple occasions, with either poor execution or decision making.
“It’s the same old thing with the execution,” Hurts said. “Some of it comes from preparation throughout the week, some of it comes from attention to detail.”
Hurts is far from a finished product — at least that is the hope. The Eagles want to see him progress over the course of his second season to at least give them some idea as to whether he can be their long-term answer.
The concern is that perhaps Hurts can’t be coached out of bad habits or improve his current deficiencies. Is he scrambling because that has always been his instinct, or is it a product of his inability to read defenses and see the entire field or make certain throws?
In either case, Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen should be able to coach Hurts out of leaving the pocket when it’s unnecessary, or draw up a game plan that doesn’t ask him to throw too often from the pocket early in downs.
They did so in Week 1. Not as much in Week 2. And hardly in Week 3.
The Eagles must account for their opponent. But they should first consider their players’ strengths and weaknesses, and certainly in regards to the most important player on the field. Sirianni wants an offensive identity that emphasizes explosive plays, as he said Wednesday.
But he has placed the cart ahead of the horse. Hurts needs a more simplified, college-based system that accentuates his talents, while slowly incorporating the pro-style elements he will eventually need to be a sustainable starting NFL quarterback.
That should be the Eagles’ offensive identity this season, as painful as it might be to Sirianni and Steichen.
“We’re still creating one,” Hurts said when asked the identity question. “It’s coming, though.”
Here’s a closer look at why both the coach and quarterback were at fault for Monday night’s offensive failure:
The Eagles came out on their first play in “11″ personnel (three wide receivers) and used a route concept that freed tight end Dallas Goedert [No. 88] in the immediate middle of the field.
Hurts threw in rhythm — Goedert was his first read — and the Eagles hit pay dirt with a 38-yard gain. He hit receiver Quez Watkins for five yards on a run-pass option play on second down. But he killed the drive when he under-threw receiver Jalen Reagor on the next play and was intercepted.
On the Eagles’ next series, they were backed up at the 1-yard line. On first down, Hurts threw out of an empty set to Zach Ertz. The pass was slightly behind the tight end, but he could have caught it.
A play later, Sirianni had his quarterback drop into his end zone again with running back Miles Sanders staying in initially to help block. Hurts hit receiver DeVonta Smith for five yards.
On third down, the Cowboys dropped into a zone and with no one initially open and eventual pressure, Hurts escaped and threw the ball away.
There isn’t anything wrong with having Hurts throw when backed up. But all three concepts were relatively the same, and the Eagles didn’t have any pre-snap motion or motion at the snap, and in fact, didn’t have any of the latter for the entire game.
“We motion for a very distinct reason,” Sirianni said. “We’re going to motion if we can create an advantage, if we can figure out what defense they’re in … [and] if we can get a guy in position to do his job better.
“We’re not a team that’s just going to motion to motion.”
It’s true that some defenses have done a better job of disguising their pre-snap looks to cover whether they’re in man or zone coverage. But most of the top offenses in the league have increasingly utilized motion at the snap as misdirection.
When asked Wednesday if Hurts was leaving the pocket too early, Sirianni noted that his off-schedule throws on first and second down were “like 50 percent” vs. the “like 14 percent” of Philip Rivers, his quarterback with the Colts last season.
“They were at the vast difference of the spectrum; one was No. 1 in the league, one was 32, whatever it was,” Sirianni said. “My point was to him is, ‘Hey, we’ve got to bring that from 50 to 35. And by no means do I want you to get to 14 because you guys are different players.
“But get that to 35.’”
In other words, Sirianni is fine with Hurts using his athleticism, as long as it’s necessary and/or it can result in productive plays. But the quarterback left far too much money on the table, as he likes to say, on Monday.
On this third-and-3 play, the Eagles ran a mesh concept pass play. It can typically beat man or zone and in this case, Dallas was in man. But before Smith [No. 6] even broke free, Hurts flushed right when there wasn’t any pressure from a three-man rush.
He still had Smith, but threw incomplete to a covered Ertz [No. 86].
Asked about Sirianni’s 35-percent request, Hurts gave a superficial answer. But it’s fair to wonder based on his performance whether the message is being heard.
A series later, the Eagles ran the ball for the first time and Sanders gained 24 yards. A play later, Hurts dropped and had a two-man route concept to his right that Dallas covered in man.
He probably left the pocket early again, but he had options as he scrambled and didn’t pull the trigger for whatever reason.
Two plays later, on third-and-5, there was a pre-snap motion with Greg Ward [No. 84] that may have revealed zone, but the Cowboys were in man. Nevertheless, safety Malik Hooker [No. 28] was late to cover Sanders [No. 26] on a wheel route.
Hurts, though, didn’t recognize the late coverage and forced a pass to Goedert that was also thrown behind his target.
Sirianni started off the fifth possession with two RPOs — the first in which Hurts kept for a 3-yard rush and the second a 19-yard pass to Smith. On the next play, the quarterback took a deep drop off play-action. But right guard Landon Dickerson [No. 69] was beaten, and Hurts was sacked.
There was a holding penalty on second down, and another Eagles series was over.
The Eagles came out in “12″ personnel (two tight ends) to open the second half, and they went back to Goedert on another zone beater. The protection was there, the first read was open, and Hurts made the easy throw.
A play later, the Eagles stayed in “12″ and ran a two-level route concept with Ertz and Goedert. Hurts looked off the former over top and had the latter wide open underneath. But his pass was wide and high.
On the next play, he tossed a pick six.
Hurts had little time to digest his second interception. He was back out on the field, and Sirianni had him dropping to throw again. Hurts missed running back Kenneth Gainwell out of the backfield on first down, and on second down, the quarterback left the pocket less than a second after he received the shotgun snap.
Clearly, Hurts’ eyes were looking at the rush — a tell-tale sign of doubt. The O-line picked up the four-man rush, but the quarterback was already gone and gained only one yard to show for it.
“We want him to throw in rhythm, but we don’t want to limit him to who he is and what he can do,” Sirianni said. “Again, it’s a fine line there. I think he’s done a better job. Are there plays that I thought he got out of the pocket too quick? Sure, there’s going to be a couple of those, but those are things that we’re constantly talking about.”
Hurts drove the Eagles to a touchdown a series later, and Dallas’ lead was trimmed back to 13 points. After the defense held, the offense got the ball back late in the third quarter.
But on third-and-11, Hurts’ hesitancy reared its head again. He had Smith out of the slot — and seemingly saw it the entire way — but he was late and behind his receiver as cornerback Trevon Diggs [No. 7] recovered to break up a contested ball.
“You got to hit him,” Hurts said of developing chemistry with Smith. “We’ve had little things happen on my end. I got to be better for him.”
He has the quarterback accountability thing down, but it pales in comparison to having the on-field genes. Is Hurts lacking in the latter, or can Sirianni teach him that? The jury is still out.