Do you blame the quarterback, who threw bad passes? Or do you blame the coach, who called bad plays?
Today, we’ll blame the QB. The coach did.
After 39 minutes of play Jalen Hurts had thrown three interceptions, two of which cost the Eagles points. They were bad throws, bad decisions, or both. The picks were why, with just under 3 minutes left, the Eagles trailed the Giants by six; why, instead of moving to 6-6 and one step closer to the playoffs against a hopeless Giants team that just fired its offensive coordinator, the Birds fell to 5-7.
Professor Nick gave his star pupil the harshest possible grade.
“It’s never going to be an A, B, C, or D if you turn it over three times,” head coach Nick Sirianni said.
F might be generous.
Hurts finished with a career-worst 17.5 passer rating, which is the worst rating of the season by any NFL starter and the third-worst performance by a starter since Hurts entered the league in 2020. He accepted his coach’s grade with grace.
“I put us in a bad situation,” he said. “I should’ve just took what they gave me.”
He tried. He couldn’t.
Hurts offered his confession in a smart green blazer and a white turtleneck. It was the only time he looked good all day.
The Giants anticipated Hurts’ struggles: “Make him throw the ball,” said Giants safety Julian Love. “He’s very talented, but we wanted to make him beat us throwing.”
Hurts couldn’t have beaten anybody the way he threw the ball Sunday: 14-for-31, 129 yards, three picks, no touchdowns.
You can argue that Sirianni called too many pass plays, considering, over the previous four games, the team had run the ball more than 60 percent of the time, averaged 217.5 rushing yards, averaged 34.5 points, and won three times. They were about 50/50 on Sunday.
Why throw more passes? Because, Sirianni said, his staff saw passing plays to be made — simple plays that any NFL competent NFL quarterback has to make. Hurts just didn’t make them.
Hurts’ teammates didn’t always help him. Greg Ward dropped a diving touchdown catch on the play before Hurts’ second interception. Jalen Reagor took the blame for two dropped passes, but one — a late, deep ball down the left sideline — was underthrown, and so invited contact from the defender. Reagor’s second drop, on the Eagles’ last offensive play, was preceded by a horrible pass from Hurts that should have been intercepted. Running back Boston Scott also fumbled in the fourth quarter.
None of their miscues lost the Eagles the game.
His first pick, thrown from the Giants’ 20 late in the first quarter, was a lazy pass to Quez Watkins on which Watkins stopped after colliding with the defensive back who intercepted the pass. At best, Hurts threw high, soft, and wide to a well-covered receiver in the middle of the field.
The next interception was far worse.
With 8 seconds to play in the first half at the Giants’ 1-yard line, trailing, 3-0, scrambling to his right but in no danger, Hurts tried to force-feed Scott at the goal line. Giants linebacker Tae Crowder gobbled it up.
Even LeSean McCoy knew Hurts should have thrown that pass into the stands; he tweeted, “Throw it away and take 3 (points)... high school stuff.”
Coach Sirianni agreed with Coach Shady.
On that play, “We can’t really extend it too much, and if we do, make sure we’re throwing it away quick. On that one I know he’s trying to make a play but we’ve got to put it out of harm’s way,” Sirianni said.
“Bad mistake by me,” Hurts agreed.
The third pick was the sort that calls into question Hurts’ future. After standing in the pocket un-pressured for four seconds, he stepped up ... and underthrew Reagor by about 7 yards. Reagor was open by two steps. The play required 55 air yards. It flew 48. Hurts simply didn’t throw it hard enough or far enough. Giants safety Xavier McKinney glided over and made an easy catch.
Hurts suggested that he should have opted for a shorter, safer pass on that play, but he’s wrong. He just needs to make that throw, if he physically can. He threw at least five other passes that could have been intercepted, and that’s if you judge him with mercy.
He looked like what he always has looked like: A long-term project with intriguing potential who lacks the assets of a traditional franchise quarterback — size, arm strength, and a quick delivery. He looks like a guy you’d draft in the second round to back up a franchise QB like, say Carson Wentz. Which is exactly what the Eagles did in 2020, before Wentz whined his way out of town and left the Birds with Hurts.
There is potential here. Some of Hurts’ shortcomings can be coached away, but coaching shortcomings takes time. With a soft schedule, in a bad division, the Eagles still have a chance to make the playoffs. They do not, however, have time to coach away shortcomings.
His talent as a runner makes him a serviceable option, even now. His 77 rushing yards Sunday moved him into second place in single-season rushing by an Eagles quarterback, passing Donovan McNabb’s campaign in 2000 when he rushed for 629 yards. With 695, Hurts now trails Randall Cunningham, who had 942 rushing yards in the 1990 season.
Both McNabb and Cunningham made it to the playoffs and the Pro Bowl after those seasons, but that’s because they had spectacular arms to match their crazy legs.
It’s Sirianni’s job to ask only of Hurts what Hurts can ably do. But, at some point, Hurts has to properly complete basic NFL passes and properly make basic NFL decisions.
If he cannot, the Eagles won’t win.