Nick Sirianni abandoned the run, asked Jalen Hurts to win it, cost the Eagles their best playoff shot | Marcus Hayes
The coach said he wanted to "expose" some weaknesses in the Giants' pass defense. Three interceptions later, what was exposed was Jalen Hurts' poor arm and the coach's ego.
Don’t blame the quarterback’s three interceptions. Don’t blame the receiver’s two drops. Jalen Hurts and Jalen Reagor did their level best.
Blame the rookie head coach.
Nick Sirianni just had to show us all that he didn’t need a running game. Run the ball? That’s for Neanderthals. Rubes. Dummies.
The first tenet of good coaching is simple: Never ask your players to do what they cannot.
The second tenet is simpler: Play to your strengths.
Sirianni disobeyed both. And, so, more than anyone else, it is Sirianni who lost the game to the Giants, 13-7.
Eagles running backs had just 10 first-half carries against the Giants’ 23rd-ranked defense, and the team scored zero points. The previous week they had 18 first-half carries against the Saints’ No. 1 run defense and led, 27-7. And the week before that, against the Broncos’ sixth-ranked run defense, Sirianni called 14 running plays for his backs and led, 20-10, at halftime.
Late in the third quarter Sunday, Sirianni called runs on eight of 10 plays, and one of the pass plays turned into a scramble. The Eagles scored their only touchdown on that drive.
The worst transgression: After calling three running plays that netted 30 yards to start the second half, facing third-and-2 at the Giants’ 40, then fourth-and-2, Sirianni called consecutive pass plays, both of which failed. If you’re going for it on fourth-and-2, you have to call a run on third-and-2.
This is how you lose an un-losable game.
Did owner Jeffrey Lurie convince Sirianni to throw more? Possibly. But Sirianni says he’s his own man, contrary to reports that cast Lurie as meddlesome, down to suggesting scheme and philosophy.
My entirely unscientific Twitter poll that ran Monday and Tuesday and elicited more than 500 votes (don’t laugh, it’s a personal record), asked which entity deserved most blame for Sunday’s debacle: Hurts, Reagor, Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman, or Sirianni.
Hurts, who was awful, won, at 42%. Reagor had 23.9%, Jeff and Howie 18.3%, and Sirianni, 15.8%. It had to be rigged.
“I’ll always take the hit,” Sirianni said. “Put it on me.”
To feed his ego, Sirianni abandoned basic coaching rules and put his team’s playoff chances in peril. They should be 6-6 and primed to destroy the Jets on Sunday. Instead, they’re 5-7, praying that Dallas and Washington remain mediocre.
What a waste. The Eagles lost three days after Thanksgiving to a team that quit the day after Halloween.
When you hold the home team to 13 points, and when that home team can’t stop the run, you’re supposed to grind it into the ground then drive back down the New Jersey Turnpike with an easy “W,” sights set on late January football.
Instead ... coaching malpractice.
Sirianni seemed to have learned his lesson. After his running backs combined for just three rushes in a Monday Night Football loss at Dallas in late September, for nine runs in a mid-October loss on Thursday Night Football to the Buccaneers, and for 18 runs 10 days later in a loss at Las Vegas, Sirianni had the epiphany chanted by Eagles fans all season:
Run the ball.
Then, Sunday. Sirianni obviously saw Sunday as a chance to show that, over the past month, he’d turned Hurts into a viable passer. He hasn’t. Sirianni saw Sunday as a chance, against the 25th-ranked pass defense, to prove that he’s so analytically hip that he doesn’t need to run the football. He isn’t.
After running over four teams in four weeks, Sirianni asked Hurts to beat the Giants with his arm. Hurts not only threw those three picks, he nearly threw five more, and he finished with a 17.5 passer rating, the worst in the NFL this season and the second-worst since early 2020. Thank you, Jake “15.5″ Luton.
Sirianni, early on, abandoned the running game that had brought him three wins in four games and rolled for 870 rushing yards, the most for the Eagles in any four-game stretch in 71 years.
Again: The Giants had the 23rd-best run defense in the NFL. Twenty-third of 32. If numbers baffle you, let us translate into layman’s terms: They stank. They still stink. In fact, now, they actually stink worse.
The Giants now rank 26th against the run. Twenty-sixth.
Why? Because, eventually, desperately, Sirianni began to run the ball with commitment. And — surprise — the Giants couldn’t stop it. Eagles running backs finished with 128 yards on 24 carries. That’s an average of 5.3 yards per carry. Five-point-three yards. Half a first down per touch.
This math is so simple even Rich Kotite wouldn’t need a chart to figure it out.
The Giants defense couldn’t handle big, athletic tackles Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata, and it had no answer for Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce, even after Kelce got hurt.
It took Nick Sirianni almost 40 minutes of a 60-minute game to figure this out.
Sirianni finally stopped asking his inaccurate, inexperienced quarterback to throw, and he finally stopped asking his inexperienced, undersized wide receivers to catch it.
Why did he ask so much of them in the first place? Sirianni said he saw some weaknesses in the Giants’ pass defense.
Well, in the first seven weeks we’d all seen more dire weaknesses in the Eagles’ pass offense. Those weaknesses began with Hurts, who, at this point, is a run-first quarterback, and they continued to Hurts’ meager supporting cast — one decent wide receiver, one decent tight end, and one injury-prone running back.
Afterward, pundits pondered possible regression by Hurts, in his 16th NFL start. Maybe he did take steps backward. Or maybe he’s the same player, and was asked to do too much.
The only sure sign of regression came from the head coach.
We endorse the NFL’s current offensive production model: pass early, get a lead, then run the ball to protect it. That works great when you have the quarterback, receivers, backs, and tight ends to make it work. The Eagles haven’t had that all year. So, logically, they tried another, more archaic strategy:
You hand the ball to a fast, strong guy, who trots along behind some bigger, stronger guys, who run over some other guys, until everybody winds up a few yards downfield, sprawled all over the place. Then everybody gets up, and you do it all over again.
Sirianni called lots of these plays against the Saints’ No. 1 run defense. He did the same a week later against the Broncos’ No. 6-ranked defense. He’d switched from calling two-thirds pass plays in the first seven weeks to two-thirds run plays in the last four. Then, against the Giants, and the No. 23 run defense, he went 50-50, lost the time of possession battle, and, ultimately, the game.
Because, he said, he wanted to “hit some of our play-action chunks.”
Because, he said, “We saw some things in the play-action game and a couple of things in the drop-back game that we wanted to expose.”
Know what got exposed?
Jalen Hurts’ undeveloped arm.
And Nick Sirianni’s overdeveloped ego.