He has bad mechanics. Bad footwork. He throws bad passes and he makes bad decisions. These lead to bad losses.
Bench Jalen Hurts.
At 2-4, the Eagles’ season can be salvaged. Every remaining game is winnable, if they do this one, simple thing.
Hurts has had his chance. He’s been the starter for more than one-third of this season, and he was the starter for one-fourth of last season, and he’s proved one thing: He’s not ready to be a starter. In fact, at this moment Hurts might be the worst passer of any regular starter in modern Eagles history.
This is not an indictment of what Hurts can be. It’s an honest assessment of what he is.
It’s also an honest assessment of what the Eagles are: a team of fading stars, but stars with enough brilliance left to win. If that means starting Joe Flacco, then swallow hard and do it.
Howie Roseman won’t like it, since it will devalue the second-round pick he used in 2020 to snag Hurts as Carson Wentz’s backup. But then, Hurts always was just that: a developmental player, a four-year understudy to a player with true franchise-QB potential. He remains that still.
Nick Sirianni won’t like it, since it will prove that he can’t turn a college star into an NFL starter, but, frankly, that would have taken divine intervention; Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren couldn’t have transformed Hurts in just two COVID-compromised offseasons.
Last season, the Eagles dithered with Wentz, who should have been benched after he threw his 14th interception in Game 10 at Cleveland, which left the team 3-6-1. He got worse.
Hurts isn’t as bad as Wentz was, but he’s close. He’s thrown four interceptions, but he’s been lucky; he should have at least eight. He’s thrown eight touchdown passes, but he’s been awful; he should have at least 12. He’s a hard-working, driven, professional, mature, fine young man. He’s just not a fine young quarterback.
There’s hope for Hurts, but this the the NFL, and the NFL is no place for on-the-job training when your accomplished, highly paid coworkers are battling Father Time.
Fletcher Cox and Darius Slay are 30. Rodney McLeod’s 31. Jason Kelce’s 33. Brandon Brooks, if he returns from his pectoral strain, is 32. Lane Johnson, if he returns from his personal leave, is 31. These are impactful, productive players on the backside of their prime, making very good money.
The Eagles are wasting the players’ prime, and wasting their own money.
After Thursday night’s loss to the Buccaneers, Hurts’ passer rating was 24th out of the 30 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. His quarterback rating — ESPN’s more comprehensive (if flawed) analytic that incorporates designed runs, running in general, turnovers, and throwing distance, and generally benefits — also ranked him 24th.
The Birds can’t win like this. Even Hurts knows it.
“I think I haven’t executed well enough to win, clearly,” Hurts said Thursday. “I’m not doing enough. I’m not doing enough right now to win. I’m not doing enough to start fast.”
Optimally, Flacco isn’t anyone’s preferred option. But Hurts is missing so many throws and making so many slow reads and wrong reads and non-reads that even Joe Cool can’t be worse.
Hurts has value, just not as a starter. When the Eagles drafted Hurts, they cast him as a poor man’s Taysom Hill — a third-down, red-zone weapon who lacked a complete quarterback skill set. Indeed, Hurts has scored five rushing touchdowns this season, four of them in the last two games. He’s a weapon in small spaces. Want to bring in Hurts for plays inside the 10-yard line? Fine. Flacco gets the first 90.
Sirianni keeps getting criticized for not running the ball more. Fine. If you want to see the Eagles run the ball more, then insert a quarterback with an NFL arm. Teams are daring Hurts to throw. They’re begging him. They’re jamming the box with eight or nine defenders on almost every play that’s likely to be a run.
They’re not blitzing him. Why bother? He might get free, but he’s no Lamar Jackson. Defenses would much rather have him pass it than run it.
RPOs don’t work, either. Defenses see the run-pass option, commit to the running back, spy Hurts in case he runs, and invite whatever pass he’d like to try.
Because he’s bad at passing.
He underthrew Jalen Reagor in the first half by 10 yards; so badly did he underthrow him that Reagor had to stop running and the defender unwittingly committed pass interference.
He underthrew Quez Watkins in the second quarter by 5 yards; so badly did he underthrow him that the defender almost failed to make the catch. He also threw the ball to the defender’s side of the route.
He didn’t notice a defender diagnose a short pass in the backfield to Miles Sanders in the fourth quarter, which, but for the defender’s drop, would have been a pick-six.
Even some of the completions look bad. In the second quarter, Later, Hurts threw a 16-yard “out” route to Zach Ertz that Ertz had to stop to catch, which erased the two-step lead he had on the defender, who immediately tackled him. Hurts’ first throw of the third quarter was a designed rollout to his right, with Ertz as his target. Ertz was completely undefended, but Hurts’ throw was behind him, and high. Ertz twisted and caught it with one hand, a brilliant play. The ball traveled just 5 yards in the air. It was a horrific pass.
These are basic throws. These are passes every offense must execute.
Hurts’ receivers are getting open. Reagor was open deep. Watkins was open deep. Kenneth Gainwell was open deep, too, and Hurts overthrew him. He finished 12-for-26 for 115 yards. At 46.2%, it was his lowest completion rate of his nine career starts in which he’d played the whole game, and it was the fewest passing yards as well.
He’s getting worse, not better.
His offensive line is playing fine, despite being reconfigured in four of the five spots.
He had plenty of time to throw on each of the plays listed above and was sacked just twice, and had four seconds to throw on the first one. He too often makes the first and second read, then looks at the oncoming pass rush, then runs, ignoring open receivers running short routes. That’s exactly what happened on the second sack. Sanders had leaked out into the left flat and was was wide-open, but Hurts never looked his way, and instead tried to juke a defender at the line of scrimmage.
That doesn’t mean that this is who he will always be. But to keep sending him out there does him no good, and it actively harms every other player on the roster. They’re here to win. They’re not here to shepherd a high-risk prospect through his ups and downs. Hurts has never shown that sort of promise. He lacks the size and the arm strength to warrant that sort of risk.
These young receivers are better than we’ve seen. These coaches — head coach Nick Sirianni, coordinator Shane Steichen, and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson — look worse than they are.
Hurts says “Rome was not built overnight.” That’s true. This, too, will take years.
Don’t compare him with Russell Wilson, or Dak Prescott, or other quarterbacks with perceived deficiencies who didn’t get drafted on Day 1. Hurts never had their power, their accuracy, or their ability to read and react to defenses before or after the snap. Again, that doesn’t mean he can’t develop accuracy, improve his arm, and make better decisions. But to ask Fletcher Cox to squander his 10th season while Hurts figures out his footwork makes no sense.