The week leading up to the Eagles home game against the Los Angeles Chargers, there were questions asked about why quarterback Jalen Hurts always threw to his right.
There were stats provided with those questions that Hurts overwhelmingly cut and threw to his right.
Those questions were asked directly to head coach Nick Sirianni and Hurts himself.
Sirianni took the question seriously.
“There are different scenarios of where the reads take you, right?” Sirianni said at his Wednesday press conference before the Chargers game. “Sure, we're going to have things designed for different parts of the football field. Without getting too much into it, we want to always do where he excels the most.
“Again, you don't want to do too much so you have to tell the defense. Again, different reasons bring him to places with the football. There could be something that broke down in the pass play. There could be something with the read that took it away from the middle or the left side. It could be something we're setting up that we don't want to let a good rush happen. We're playing (Chargers DE) Joey Bosa this week, so the play might be designed to one way because Bosa is right there.
“Again, I say all that to say – we don't want to show our cards in anything we do, so we're constantly trying to make sure we're balanced and fit out. There are different reasons why the ball goes to different places.”
Hurts kept it simple.
“Passing to the right…you have a lot of tendency for quarterbacks, they go to their dominant hand,” Hurts said. “So sometimes its unfolded that way, and certain times you’re in scramble situations. But in the end, I just try and go out to execute the plays that are called. If something didn't go right or a busted route or whatever it is. You have to find a way to make it work after that.”
Guess what? Hurts listened and adjusted.
He was just 11 of 17 for 162 yards, but with six minutes left in the fourth quarter against the Chargers, Hurts threw a stone-cold dime to DeVonta Smith that turned into a highlight reel 28-yard touchdown. The ball was thrown to Hurts' left.
The Eagles would go on to lose the game to the Chargers 27-24 on a last second 29-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins.
After the game, despite better play by the offense, Hurts would only talk about the plays he didn't make.
“It was very tough. I think for me, I always look at it like, ‘What could I have done better to change the outcome of the game?’ Hurts said . “That’s how I look at it all the time. Look at every opportunity you have and take advantage of every opportunity. There are some opportunities whether there’s a perfect situation or not, whether there’s a perfect pocket or not, whatever it was – I didn’t make the play early in the game. Those are the things that are on my mind right now. The things that I didn’t do to help this team win this football game. It hurts to see another team go out there and it not be in your hands at the end of the game to go out there and win it.
“That’s why you play the game, that’s why you play this position – to have it in your hands to go win it in the end. We put ourselves in a good situation, a good position, to obviously go tie and continue to keep it in the game. Ultimately, in the end we didn’t get the ball back and didn’t get an opportunity to go out there and score. It’s a really good football team we just played. I have a lot of respect for Justin Herbert, a guy that came out the same year I did. I have a lot of respect for him and a lot of respect for the team.”
The Eagles running game also improved. Against the Chargers, Hurts was reportedly under center 17 times. The Birds finished with 176 rushing yards as a team on 39 carries and two touchdowns.
The week before, Hurts was under center on most of the running plays.
The Birds rushed 46 times for 236 yards and four touchdowns. The Eagles won the game 44-6.
The Eagles offense saw the light a bit, and is trending up.
EAGLES DEFENSE CONTINUES TO TREND DOWNWARD
Against the Chargers, the Eagles tied an NFL record set by the 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers when quarterback Justin Herbert went 32 of 38 for 356 yards and two touchdown passes on November 7 at the Linc.
The second-year signal caller out of Oregon became the fifth player to complete at least 80 percent of his passes this season against the Birds. The Eagles have eight more games left to play.
Head coach Nick Sirianni was asked after the game about Herbert’s 84 percent completion rate and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon doing his job to the level he expected?
“Obviously any time you play a quarterback like Justin Herbert -- there is no surprise,” Sirianni said. “I think he's a good quarterback, we all know he's a good quarterback -- you have to be on your A game. It starts with us as coaches. So, I'm not going to say Jonathan anything because that's -- my name is on that, right? So, whatever happens on that field my name is on, offensively, defensively. I'm not the offensive coordinator, I'm the head coach.”
Sirianni continued to take the blame.
“So, again, it's all of us together,” he said. “So, it's first myself, getting the right calls and putting the players in position, then Jonathan, then the players executing. So of course, again, when a guy comes away and he’s 84 percent, you're going to say, ‘We didn't do our job,’ right? We just got to be better."
Herbert was not sacked, nor did he have a single one of his passes knocked down. The Eagles defense front seven managed exactly one quarterback hit over 60 minutes.
And yet they were in the game until the last play. In fact, the Chargers scored just 16 points through three quarters and trailed the Birds 17-16 after three quarters. But the Chargers outscored the Eagles 11-7 in the fourth.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t make enough plays,” Linebacker T.J. Edwards said after the game. “I can only speak for the defensive unit and special teams. We didn’t make enough plays to win the game. I thought we were in position at times and it comes down to the details of things. I thought all of the guys gave so much effort and put so much into it. To fall short, it hurts for sure.”
The Eagles defense could not get off the field on the Chargers final drive. Herbert and his offensive line drained the life out of the home team with a 15-play, 64-yard drive that led to the Hopkins field goal.
The Eagles had their chances with two fourth down situations. The Chargers converted both of them. The first was at the Eagles 39-yard line when Austin Ekeler dove for two yards. The second was at the Birds 28-yard line where Herbert snuck the ball for the yard he needed.
On the Tuesday after the Chargers loss, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was asked about the extraordinary completion rate opposing quarterbacks were recording against the Eagles.
The No. 1 criticism of Gannon's defense is that it is not aggressive enough. He wants to keep opponents from getting explosive plays on them.
So he keeps his defensive players back and while that may work to prevent big plays, it sets up a death-by-a-thousand cuts scenario for the defense.
"Yeah, that's what the numbers say,” Gannon said at a recent press conference. “We definitely have to get that completion percentage down and there's a number of ways to do that. It starts with us, as coaches, to detail out some things and change some looks. And rush and cover, cover and rush have to get a little bit better.
“But when you're playing good quarterbacks with good skilled people – we played well at times, but probably not consistent enough. So, that number has to come down. We have to improve that with our pass defense to be able to provide some resistance to good offenses."
Gannon was asked if these problems can be fixed and was he alarmed with the numbers. The Chargers ate up the last six minutes of a tie game setting up what was basically a walk-off chip shot field goal.
"Definitely fixable, absolutely,” he said. “I wouldn't say alarming to me. I would say that we know the areas that we have to get better at, and we've done that at times. We just have to be a little more consistent.”
After the Chargers loss, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was asked what the defense can do when a passer is hitting on 84 percent of his throws.
“We just have to keep rushing it and hopefully one time they give us a chance and we make the play.”
That's still not much of a plan. *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii
2440: Eagles rookie head coach Nick Sirianni seems to have been open to change in the offense. It has started to pay off. Photo by Andy Lewis
03549: Eagles fans have not been shy about the changes they want made on offense. Against the Chargers and Lions, the Birds rushed 85 times for 402 yards and six touchdowns. Photo by Andy Lewis.
06114: Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has been under fire since the third week of the season. Photo by Andy Lewis.