The Philadelphia Eagles returned home to Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night fresh off their biggest win of the season—a come-from-behind victory over the Panthers in Carolina. Young quarterback Jalen Hurts played a large part in that victory, rushing for a pair of scores in the second half.
If the Eagles could somehow upset the defending Super Bowl champions at home, Philly would be back to .500 and at least in the wild-card hunt in the NFC.
Instead, the Eagles were beaten 28-22, and, just like last week, it took the offense forever to get anything going. And with Philadelphia falling to 2-4 and the reality setting in that this team won't be going anywhere in January besides home, another hard truth is becoming evident.
Hurts isn't the long-term answer for the Eagles under center.
There had been some signs this season that maybe the former Alabama and Oklahoma standout was making real improvement. After completing just 52 percent of his passes as a rookie, Hurts was hitting on almost 65 percent of his throws over the first five games of 2021. His yards-per-attempt average was up relative to last year and the same (7.5) as that of Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills. Hurts' passer rating of 93.3 entering Thursday was over 15 points higher than a year ago and better than those of Ryan Tannehill and Ben Roethlisberger.
Never mind the 256 rushing yards (second only to Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens) that Philly fans and fantasy managers have so enjoyed this season.
But then the Buccaneers came to town. And all of Hurts' flaws and limitations were laid bare once again.
The Buccaneers have been a tale of two defenses this season. Entering Week 6, Tampa led the league in run defense, allowing a ludicrous 45.8 yards per game. But no team in the league had allowed more passing yards per game than the Bucs' injury-ravaged secondary.
If ever there was a game for Hurts and the Eagles to light it up through the air, this was it.
Simply put, Hurts was terrible throwing the ball against the NFL's worst pass defense. For the game, he was 12-of-26 for just 115 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Hurts averaged an anemic 4.4 yards per attempt, nearly threw at least two more interceptions and missed a number of open receivers.
Over the first 30 minutes of the game, the Eagles had all of one play in Tampa Bay territory. Philly's offense didn't hit 100 total yards until the fourth quarter. The team's two longest plays of the game were pass-interference penalties against the Buccaneers.
It was a pathetic offensive performance. The Buccaneers (for the most part) took away the RPO from the Eagles. And when they did, Philadelphia (and Hurts) fell apart.
Now, before Eagles fans (who are a, um, passionate lot) start heating up tar and bagging up feathers, this is not to say that Hurts is a bad quarterback. He's not. He's not the worst starting quarterback in the NFC East even.
He also had zero help Thursday—an issue that has pervaded much of the season. An offensive line that has been hit hard by injuries was dominated at the point of attack. Philly's wide receiver corps consists of DeVonta Smith and a who's who of "who?" Tight end Dallas Goedert missed the game on the COVID-19 list. The defense let Tampa running back Leonard Fournette gash it for 127 yards and two scores and surrendered 399 yards while allowing the Buccaneers to convert over half their third-down attempts.
Then there's the coaching. Great googly moogly the "coaching."
While we're on the subject of folks in Philly not being a long-term answer, there's a growing segment of fans in the City of Brotherly Love who would likely nominate head coach Nick Sirianni.
The play-calling Thursday was no better than Hurts' throws. Sirianni didn't remember running back Miles Sanders was on the team until the final quarter, and even then, I'm 88 percent sure I heard the coach call him "Niles Flanders." For most of the game, the plan was "have Hurts run around and hope for the best."
When Steve Smith of the NFL Network called the Eagles offense a "high school" scheme after the game, it wasn't especially hyperbolic.
Philly did make a game of it late, although Tampa head coach Bruce Arians gets an assist in that regard for a highly questionable decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 outside the Eagles 40 rather than pin Philadelphia deep.
But we've seen this movie before…last week. The miserable offensive showing early. The comeback late. The two rushing touchdowns (that fantasy managers liked). Against a flawed team like the Panthers, that might work sometimes.
Against good ones? No.
And that's who the Eagles are all too frequently now.
Maybe I'm wrong and we'll see a massive metamorphosis from Hurts over the next 11 games. Because so long as he's healthy, he should start those 11 games. Rolling out Joe Flacco's corpse is like dumping iodine on the open wound that is the 2021 season. It's just mean. It helps nothing.
But it's far more likely (especially given the coaches "developing" Hurts) that what we'll see in November and December is the same as what we've seen in September and October—an athletic but erratic quarterback who isn't especially accurate and struggles reading defenses and moving through his progressions. A so-so NFL starter at best.
Those flaws aren't new. They contributed to Hurts losing the starting job at Alabama to Tua Tagovailoa.
And, please, stop with the Lamar Jackson comparisons (as Willie McGinest made on the NFL Network's postgame show). Hurts is like Jackson in the same way that Melvin Gordon III is like Derrick Henry. They play the same position, but at entirely different levels.
Some will say that Hurts just needs time and better coaching. The latter is inarguable. The former just doesn't exist in the modern NFL, especially for these Eagles.
This is a franchise headed toward another 10-plus-loss season. It's also a franchise with at least two (and quite possibly three) first-round picks next year, all of which could be in the first half of the round.
That puts the Eagles in position to have any rookie signal-caller in the class of 2022 they want. Or to swing a trade for a veteran. There's a reason Deshaun Watson has been connected to Philly approximately 311 times.
The Eagles have options after this season. But if the franchise is serious about being a force in the NFC East again, waiting and hoping for Hurts to be more than that so-so starter shouldn't be one of them.
Keep him as a bridge to a rookie. Flip him to another team—there will be interest. But do not attempt to build the franchise around him. It's not going to work.