The Philadelphia Eagles entered the 2023 season with a potent offensive attack led by quarterback Jalen Hurts. Their 10-1 start hid issues that eventually reached the surface during a late-season collapse. The regression of their starting quarterback unquestionably played a major part.

The Eagles must properly acknowledge and address concerns about Hurts moving forward. Reports continue to emerge about his shortcomings on and off the field.

The simplicity of the Philadelphia offense under Nick Sirianni and Brian Johnson is also under fire in NFL circles. When the Eagles fail, the city of Philadelphia reacts with vehement disappointment and the demand for change and improvement. The immediate aftermath of a playoff disappointment makes outsiders think the sky is falling on one of the most successful organizations in the NFL.

Jalen Hurts didn’t come close to meeting expectations in 2023, but how much blame should he shoulder for the disappointment?

“I think truly every year demands a new version of a person, a new version of leadership, and I think this year has taught me so much in terms of the many blessings and lessons that have come with it. The first thing you do is you look yourself in the mirror and you look at what you could’ve been better at, how you could’ve led better, how you could’ve executed better. Those (are) all things that internally light a fire in me.” -Jalen Hurts

Analyzing the performance of an NFL quarterback in a single season requires careful scrutiny of a variety of facts. League broadcasts might simplify wins as a quarterback stat, but the convenient narrative doesn’t tell the full story.

Game breakdowns, statistical measures, careful examination of inside reporting, and consideration to the overall circumstances of an organization contribute to the success and failure of even the best quarterbacks in the NFL.


 

  • Jalen Hurts by the Numbers

    After finishing as the MVP runner-up in 2022, Hurts posted comparable statistics in 2023 with 3858 passing yards, a 65.4% completion rate, and 23 passing touchdowns. His counting stats don’t properly measure the execution of the passing game and the offense as a unit in 2022 versus 2023.

    Expected Points Added (EPA) and Quarterback Rating (QBR) measure performance by determining a league average gain for each play. The stats decide success or failure based on that average and assign a positive or negative value. Hurts’ QBR dropped from 68.3 (4th in the NFL) in 2022 to 60.0 in 2023 (12th).

    The two metrics measure performance beyond an individual quarterback. Nine of the 11 quarterbacks who finished with a better QBR than Hurts led their teams to the postseason, pointing to the overall success of offensive units as a major factor in the statistic.

    The Eagles finished with 180.23 offensive EPA, a statistic that also reflects on an entire unit, in 15 games with Hurts under center in 2022 (12.02 average).

    The total dipped to 109.97 (6.47 per game) in 17 regular-season games with their starting quarterback this season. Their individual game performances waned late in the season, indicating the ability of opposing defenses to adjust against simplistic offensive game plans.

    The most alarming statistical regression comes when analyzing postseason performances. NFL teams are supposed to find their rhythm by January and execute the things they do well after developing an identity during the regular season.

    The Philadelphia offense averaged 17.12 EPA per game in three playoff performances after the 2022 season. They posted -9.00 EPA against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card Round after the 2023 season.

    The lack of progress in the passing offense also manifested itself by counting stats later in the season. Six of Hurts’ eight highest totals in passing yards came between Weeks 3-8. 

    Some late-season opponents were stronger than the early-season competition. However, the offensive DVOA metric that adjusts based on opponent ranked the Eagles 10th in the NFL in 2023 after they finished 3rd in 2022.

    The Eagles only lost one offensive starter last offseason, and they dealt with relatively manageable injuries in 2023. Neither factor is a major root of the regression. Hurts unquestionably failed to lead a talented offense to another impressive performance that met the standard they set in 2022.

  • Regression As A Runner

    Nick Sirianni pushed back against the idea that the offense wouldn’t utilize Hurts as a runner in 2023 because of concerns about his long-term health on a lucrative contract. 

    “We didn’t pay him more to do less.” -Nick Sirianni

    The offense didn’t demonstrate Sirianni’s words well. The RPO game didn’t keep defenses guessing the same way it did in 2022. Hurts lacked the same agility as a runner that previously made him a dangerous weapon on the ground. He also showed a tendency to slide in front of opposing defenders with less hesitation in 2023.

    An early-season knee injury affected Hurts in the running game. Even medical professionals and individuals with inside knowledge will struggle to pinpoint the subjective extent of how much that type of injury limits an offense.

    Is it possible that he returns healthy in 2024 and solves a lot of the issues? Yes, but it’s tough to absolve Hurts or the Eagles just based on that explanation.

    The Eagles looked out of sync in the RPO game when Hurts needed to make quick decisions with the option to hand off to his running backs.

    They finished fifth in the NFL in third down conversion rate in 2023. However, the success of the “Tush Push” skews the statistics significantly. Success rate statistics don’t paint an accurate picture of Hurts on the ground because the notorious short yardage play moved the chains so often.

    Hurts deserves his fair share of credit for his power style in the trenches. The Tush Push isn’t an offensive formula that will lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl though. The success of the play also skewed his average yards per carry (YPC), which dropped from 4.6 in 2022 to 3.9 in 2023.

    The declining performance on third down conversion rates late in the season represented the offensive problems well. The issue bottomed out when the Eagles failed to convert on a single third down in the postseason.

    Jalen Hurts of the 2023 Philadelphia Eagles

  • The Effect of Coaching

    The lack of creativity in Nick Sirianni’s offense became a major talking point locally and nationally by the end of the season. The Eagles showed an overreliance on vertical routes without enough effective ways to disguise their plays before the snap. The simplicity was most obvious during the playoff loss in Tampa Bay.

    The struggles make it more difficult to identify the extent of Hurts’ regression and the coaching factor. While coaching unquestionably played a part, Ben Solak pointed out that offensive flow comes from a marriage of offensive system, offensive design, and player execution.

    The offensive system worked in 2022 with a similarly simple approach that relied on pure talent. The success of the offense in 2022 and the struggles in 2023 with a similar approach indicate that the lack of execution from the starting signal-caller played a major part, regardless of whether it was the root cause.

    Jalen Hurts couldn’t handle the blitz with poise in the pocket, especially late in the season. Too often, he let problems in blitz protection push him out of the pocket too quickly and throw the ball out of bounds.

    Tim McManus reported that Hurts, Brian Johnson, and Nick Sirianni never fully aligned on their idea of what the Philadelphia offense could be.

    Jalen Hurts and Nick Sirianni of the Philadelphia Eagles

  • Turnovers

    Hurts did not take care of the football well enough this season. He threw 15 interceptions one season after he only threw six on his way to a Super Bowl appearance. His interception rate of 2.8% exceeded his 2.1% rate in 2021. It more than doubled his impressive 1.3% rate in 2022.

    Although he fumbled nine times each in 2022 and in 2023, the perception of these fumbles changes naturally because he lost five in 2023 and only three in 2022. The increase has more to do with the reaction of the players around him in individual cases and simple luck.

    Turnovers at pivotal moments were a bigger concern. Hurts handed the New England Patriots a chance for a Week 1 upset with a late fumble that ruined Philadelphia’s opportunity to milk clock with a late lead. His interception against the New York Jets in Week 6 directly led to the first loss of the season.

    His fumble on the opening drive of the second matchup against the Dallas Cowboys set the tone for a brutal loss that contributed mightily to an epic late-season collapse.

    Sirianni stresses ball control as a fundamental necessity in the NFL. Hurts did not effectively take the emphasis into account in 2023.

  • Positive Takeaways

    Any quarterback who can make plays to lead his team past quality opponents deserves credit. Hurts helped the Eagles withstand two defensive letdowns against the Washington Commanders early in the season. His prolific performances feeding DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown showed exactly what the offense was supposed to accomplish in 2023.

    The offense limped through poor first half performances against the Chiefs and the Bills just before the infamous losing skid. Hurts, however, led two late touchdown drives to take down the defending Super Bowl champions and scampered to the end zone for an overtime touchdown to outduel Josh Allen against Buffalo.

    The Eagles set an incredibly high standard in 2022, especially on offense. Anything less than a Lombardi Trophy was inevitably going to lead to criticism in Philadelphia. Don’t lose sight of his incredible accomplishments as an NFL quarterback.

  • Insider Reports Raise Leadership Questions

    The Eagles consistently lauded the intangible qualities of their franchise quarterback before signing him to a long-term extension last offseason. His leadership didn’t help alter the course of the late-season losing streak when the team desperately needed it.

    Jeff McLane reported that the objective reality didn’t go unnoticed.

    “There is a belief from some key members of the organization that if Hurts could open himself up a little more, improve his body language, and take more ownership even when he’s not at fault, it could help the team in times of distress.” –Jeff McLane

    Joe Santoliquito separated Hurts’ shortcomings in 2023 from the problems the Eagles experienced with Carson Wentz. However, his report also suggested Hurts allowed his new long-term contract to impact the perception of his persona and leadership style within the locker room.

    Philadelphia is a passionate market. Both success and failure will always draw extreme reactions. Hurts’ stoic demeanor supposedly meant he could tune out distractions and focus on the game in 2022.

    A positive perception from media and fans when the Eagles win can change when the Eagles lose even if a player behaves the exact same way. 

    The reports indicate a problem that Hurts must work to solve in 2024. If the intangible qualities that helped convince the Eagles to spend a 2nd-round pick on him in 2020 amount to anything, there is opportunity for improvement.

    Hurts certainly needs to show that improvement to help the Eagles bounce back from an absolute disaster to end the 2023 season.

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