Nick Sirianni-Jalen Hurts is like a bad science experiment. But there’s a solution for the Eagles. | Mike Sielski
This season should be a fact-finding mission for the Eagles. So it's time for them to create the conditions to get a better read on their coach and quarterback.
OK, grab your No. 2 pencil and fold yourself into that teeny-tiny desk. Yes, I know. Your knees are touching your chin, and your bones are creaking, and if you’re of a certain generation, you’re probably having flashbacks to Sister Mary Martin rapping your knuckles with her ruler. But bear with me. We’re back in sixth-grade science class, because when you’re talking about the Eagles, you have to get elemental. You have to approach this football team, with Nick Sirianni as its head coach, with Jalen Hurts as its starting quarterback, with this roster, from the most basic of perspectives, because only then can you figure out how to begin to fix it.
So … science class. One of the first things you learned there, maybe the first thing you learned there, was how to test a hypothesis. And the first thing you need to do to test a hypothesis is create a controlled environment or experiment. You set up conditions that are stable, generally unchanging. That way, when you introduce and manipulate a variable within those stable conditions, you’ll know how to evaluate the different results you get.
Let’s take a loose example of this principle that’s relevant to the Eagles, but not directly related to them: the quarterback they’ll face Sunday, the Lions’ Jared Goff. The control in Goff’s NFL career has been Sean McVay, who coached him for four seasons with the Rams and is regarded as one of the league’s sharpest offensive minds, maybe the sharpest. The independent variable is, of course, Goff.
From 2017 through 2020, Goff started 62 regular-season games under McVay. The Rams went 42-20 in those games, and Goff completed 64.3% of his passes, threw for 102 touchdowns and 48 interceptions, and averaged 7.7 yards per pass attempt. But over the two seasons in which McVay wasn’t his head coach – 2016, with Jeff Fisher, and this season, with Dan Campbell – Goff has lost all 14 of his starts, has completed just 61.1 % of his passes, has thrown the same number of interceptions as touchdowns (13), and has averaged less than 6 yards per attempt.
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Because everyone knows what kind of coach McVay is, that stark contrast in results – not to mention the haste with which the Rams upgraded at quarterback, trading Goff to the Lions for Matthew Stafford – gives everyone a pretty good idea of what kind of player Goff is. And that contrast demonstrates the problem that the Eagles have right now. Between Sirianni and Hurts, the Eagles don’t have a “control.” They have two variables, each of which is dependent on the other. Neither is well established in the NFL or has a long enough track record for anyone to make a definitive judgment about him.
Yes, Sirianni has inspired plenty of eye-rolling with his fondness for Rock, Paper, Scissors and his attempts to motivate his players by using botanical metaphors, and he has overseen a little shop of horrors for the last six weeks. Yes, Hurts tends to pile up gaudy stats after the Eagles already have spotted their opponents a two-score lead, and his limitations as a quarterback are apparent to anyone with eyes to see them. But the two of them have been at this together for just seven games so far. No matter how excruciating the Eagles have been to watch this season, no matter how poorly they’ve played, no matter how out of his depth Sirianni seems to be, seven games isn’t much, especially when it comes to what should be the primary purpose of this season: information-gathering.
The coach is making it difficult to gather information on the quarterback, and vice versa. Every assertion about one can be met with a question about the other. A core complaint about Sirianni has been that he has been running a “high-school offense.” OK, but is Sirianni calling plays this way because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or because he is trying to accent Hurts’ strengths, such as they are, and de-emphasize his weaknesses? A core complaint about Hurts is that he’s too inaccurate a passer, scattershot on throws that an NFL quarterback should complete with ease. OK, but would another head coach/play-caller minimize the effect that such a quarterback might have on the offense – by, say, being more reliant on and creative in the run game?
There is one way that the Eagles can at least get closer to a solution to this conundrum. They can find out a little bit more about Sirianni, about what kind of coach he really is, if and when they follow through on a course of action that became more likely after Tuesday, when they traded Joe Flacco to the Jets.
That move elevated Gardner Minshew to the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart. If the Eagles were to bench Hurts for Minshew, it would transform Sirianni, for a brief few weeks, into the “control” of a new experiment. It would give the Eagles and everyone else a whole new set of observations to evaluate. Would Sirianni still call the same number of run-pass options? Would DeVonta Smith find himself catching more slant passes in stride? Would the same problems persist? Would new ones present themselves?
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Those questions and their answers might seem – and turn out to be – unsatisfying. Benching Hurts might seem – and actually be – unfair to him. All true. But the Eagles are 2-5 and going nowhere. They can’t afford to have their coach and quarterback continue to be the mysteries they are now. So bust out the test tubes and the microscope. It’s time for this team, as much as it can, to science the you-know-what out of this.