It’s rare that an NFL playoff team can look to its backup quarterback and, from the proper angle, see an upgrade.
That might have been truer a few weeks ago, before Nick Sirianni’s polarity changed. Since then, the Eagles evolved into a run-first team, so the continuation of Jalen Hurts as the starter made more sense. Of course, the Eagles evolved to minimize the shortcomings of Hurts. But that’s neither here nor there.
What’s here is the Eagles’ chance to win a playoff game. What’s here is the time to have a serious conversation about how long Sirianni can afford to wait if Hurts again struggles early.
How long should the leash be, with Gardner Minshew on the sideline?
Argue the point if you like, but it’s hard to argue with results.
Minshew has scored 59 points in eight quarters as a starter, in a 33-18 win against the Jets in Game 13 and against the Cowboys in a 51-26 loss Saturday. The Eagles, notoriously slow to start with Hurts under center, have scored on 10 of their first 12 possessions with Minshew at the helm. He threw two more TD passes Saturday night. He looked like a starter.
Ever confident, Minshew wore a wise-acre “Who’s Nuts” T-shirt with an old-school Eagles emblem to his postgame press conference Saturday. He fears nothing.
Minshew on Saturday confirmed an ESPN report that, after the Jets game, he went to Sirianni’s office and asked what it would take for him to have a chance to start. Sirianni told him there would be no chance.
Minshew swallowed that, and, on Saturday, he scored on three of the first four possessions against the Cowboys, who played their starters.
Most of Minshew’s offense cohorts wouldn’t have started for Alabama.
Sirianni pointedly avoided speaking about Minshew after the game. He knows what he saw. What we’ve all seen.
Hurts’ passer rating in the first three quarters of all 15 of his games is 81.3. He has thrown nine touchdown passes and nine interceptions. His fourth-quarter numbers are outstanding, yes, but that’s largely because he faced prevent defenses in the Eagles’ losses or because he didn’t need to throw much late in the Eagles’ wins.
And we use the term “wins” loosely.
Hurts’ passer rating through his first 12 starts this season was 83.9. He’s improved to 87.2 by putting up a 101.3 rating in his last three games against the trash of the NFC East, Washington twice and the Giants once, both depleted, disarrayed, and irrelevant.
He won’t face trash in the playoffs.
No matter how badly Hurts plays in the playoff game, it’s hard to envision Sirianni pulling Hurts. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman will ride their questionable second-round draft pick of a year ago until all logic for playing him evaporates. Sirianni, a rookie coach with no power, will have no say in the matter.
But it’s hard to ignore results.
Minshew’s passer rating is 104.7. He looked calm in the pocket and made good throws. He has thrown four touchdown passes and one interception, which bounced off the hands of JJ Arcega-Whiteside. He got lucky with another pass that might have been picked, but Hurts gets lucky like that twice a game.
Diamond among glass
For most of the game, Minshew was a flower among weeds. He’s a solid second-stringer — and, in today’s NFL, a passable starter — but he was taking snaps with players whose NFL resumes would hardly fill a paragraph, much less a page.
His No. 2 running back, Jason Huntley, had touched the ball five times in his two NFL seasons.
His three tight ends had never caught a single pass in their careers.
His left tackle, 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard, made the ninth start of his three-year career, having been sidelined first by geriatric Jason Peters, then by injury, then by former rugby player Jordan Mailata.
His left guard, Sua Opeta, was undrafted in 2020 and has been cut by the Eagles three times in the past two years.
His center was Brett Toth, an undrafted, second-year, 25-year-old nuclear engineer out of Army whose only other start was in last season’s even more meaningless finale.
His right guard was seventh-round rookie Jack Anderson, whom they signed from the Bills’ practice squad and who hadn’t played an NFL snap before some mop-up time in Game 15 against the Giants.
His right tackle was fifth-year backup Le’Raven Clark, whom Sirianni brought with him from Indianapolis, mostly because of the name.
Anderson moved from guard to center after Toth got hurt in the second quarter, and undrafted rookie Kayode Awosika, signed from the practice squad, got his first taste of the NFL.
No worries. Minshew came from Jacksonville.
He’d played with worse.
We’ve seen how well he plays with the Eagles’ front-liners. Will we get to see it again?