If the Eagles care about winning Tuesday night, then they will start Gardner Minshew.
If they’d rather find out if an injured Jalen Hurts can operate efficiently from the pocket with limited mobility, then they will start an injured Jalen Hurts. If they want to avoid a quarterback controversy, they’ll start an injured Jalen Hurts.
If winning is not a priority, they’ll start an injured Jalen Hurts.
Shame on them if they do.
Let’s be clear: This season is still about winning. Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Darius Slay, and Jason Kelce didn’t sign up to nursemaid a long-shot franchise quarterback. Thirty-somethings play to win.
The Birds are 6-7, same as Washington, which occupies the final playoff slot. The Birds have two chances to beat the Football Team in the next three weeks. They can’t waste one of those chances trying to save face by starting a less-than-whole, square-peg QB in Nick Sirianni’s round-hole offense. Because the square-peg quarterback only fits the scheme when he can run.
And, apparently, even after rehabilitating and resting over a bye week, Hurts can’t run like he used to. He was “limping around a lot less,” earlier this week, according to tight end Dallas Goedert, who, clearly, would make a horrible spy.
Of course, Goedert also caught two touchdown passes and had 105 receiving yards, the best game of his career, when Minshew replaced Hurts two weeks ago against the Jets. You can’t blame a guy for hoping.
If Hurts wasn’t fully healthy on Wednesday, then he shouldn’t have taken a first-team snap all week. This isn’t football day camp.
Is Hurts really hurt? Neither Hurts nor Sirianni would say. Both continued their charade, which makes no sense unless Hurts is completely healthy, which no one believes. Washington won’t be preparing for the weapon who already has gained more rushing yards in a single season as an Eagle than either Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb. They’ll prepare for something less.
Hurts’ 695 rushing yards rank second among quarterbacks this year, but Hurts, limited, poses no measurable threat as a runner and is a sitting duck as a passer. Minshew, healthy, does pose a real threat.
He clocked a 133.7 passer rating against the Jets two weeks ago. That’s better than Hurts’ career high of 126.4, set at Atlanta in the 2021 opener, but it’s not even Minshew’s best day, when he hit 142.3 in last season’s opener for the Jaguars against the Colts.
Minshew might not be a 10-year, franchise-QB answer, either — both his arm and his mustache resemble Uncle Rico’s — but he knows his business under center.
Starting Hurts, diminished, would waste the Eagles’ best chance to beat a well-coached, but lesser, Washington team emerging from a COVID-19 outbreak, which, thanks to a blatantly unfair two-day postponement, saw its defensive line return to nearly full strength.
If Hurts is less mobile against the WFT’s powerful defensive line, and he will be, he’ll have to throw more often, as he did against the Giants, when he threw three interceptions. You say, “OK, let’s see what he’s got” — but really, what is there left to learn?
We already know that he lacks polished footwork, proper mechanics, and the arm strength to consistently make throws at the NFL level with NFL precision and NFL pace from an NFL pocket. All of this may come in time. Now is not the time. This is not his fault. It’s nobody’s fault.
Hurts lost two preseasons to coronavirus precautions. He is, essentially, the same quarterback he was when everyone, including the Eagles, pegged him as a long-term project when they drafted him in the second round two years ago. COVID made long-term two years longer.
Why pretend that he’ll make some sort of step forward when he can barely make steps at all?
Hurts, through 16 NFL starts, and Minshew, through 21 NFL starts, give you about the same value when each is at 100%. Hurts demands extra attention that paralyzes pass rushes, discourages blitzes, and occasionally requires a “spy” — a linebacker or safety in the middle of the field -- to abandon all other defensive responsibilities to mirror Hurts.
But Hurts at 80%, with a bum ankle is — what — Minshew at 60%? After all, Hurts has to use his ankles a lot more than Minshew does.
Minshew recognizes coverages better, anticipates receivers coming open better, and adjusts to a defense’s reactions immediately after the snap better — he more quickly realizes which targets are more likely to come open.
All of this, too, might one day come for Hurts. But it hasn’t come yet. And it won’t come because of anything that happened over the past 17 days.
It’s December. It’s time to win football games. It’s time to play the best players.
Minshew, healthy, is better than Hurts, hindered.