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John McMullen: Jalen Hurts season is here


Typically the Eagles’ calendar is split into two distinct categories, the so-called Howie season which then shifts into Nick season, a testament to the voice of the organization in the talent-gathering portion of the year vs. the on-field segment.

To some degree that remains true as head coach Nick Sirianni has taken the wheel back from GM Howie Roseman with some gray areas in that Philadelphia still needs to get from 90 players to 53 over the summer. Roseman has the biggest voice in the organization when it comes to that and any other roster tweaks up to the trade deadline and beyond.

Sirianni, however, will be the public face of the franchise until things wrap up with the expectation that playoff football will extend things in January.

On the surface, things will adhere to that loose definition of the football ecosystem, but if things seem a tad off-kilter, your perspective is sharp in that third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts is really what 2022 is about for the Eagles.

Fair or not, the presumption is that Roseman has built a roster worthy of a contender if Hurts takes another significant step in his second season as a full-time starter.

That doesn’t mean Sirianni is off the hook when it comes to accountability. The young coach will also be gauged on heightened expectations and the same rules apply in that Sirianni will get more credit than he deserves when the Eagles win and hear more noise than warranted when they lose.

That’s just the nature of being a head coach in the NFL, but Sirianni has got a firewall in the form of Hurts when it comes to culpability.

To be frank, it’s a cliched and lazy take to boil any football game down to quarterback vs. quarterback, but it’s also specious if you’re unable to see Aaron Rodgers gives you a better chance to win on a weekly basis than whomever you want to tab as the NFL’s worst starting signal-caller entering the 2022 campaign.

The QB position is widely regarded as the most important in professional sports and Hurts’ jersey number is reflective of his importance to an Eagles team with significant talent. In my own rankings of the top-25 best pure football players on the Philadelphia roster, tight end Dallas Goedert came out as No. 1, but as far as impact on the Eagles, Hurts tops that list and the runner-up isn’t particularly close.

Having a superstar quarterback doesn’t guarantee you anything, of course. What it does though is increase the margin of error when the real heat begins come playoff time.

For now, the Eagles don’t have Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, nor Josh Allen to lean on so they need to replicate what the San Francisco 49ers have been able to do under Kyle Shanahan and make significant runs in the postseason with a quarterback still feeling his way.

The Niners reached Super Bowl LIV against Kansas City after the 2019 season by building a very talented roster around the pedestrian Jimmy Garoppolo at the controls and should have won the big game, outplaying the Chiefs for the majority of the affair until the explosiveness of Mahomes and the Andy Reid offense was unleashed late resulting in a stunning comeback win for Kansas City.

It was actually a perfect example of the margin of error theory in that Shanahan understood his team needed to play a specific way to win and had the Chiefs on the ropes doing exactly that. Once the Niners fell behind late, however, the dream was over because they didn’t have a QB capable of erasing mistakes.

The same thing was highlighted in last season’s playoffs when the 49ers rode special teams to a divisional round upset over Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers before coming up short against the far more explosive and eventual champion Los Angeles Rams when new Eagles safety Jaquiski Tartt dropped a would-be interception that would have sent San Francisco to another Super Bowl.

The margin of error was and will remain razor thin with Garoppolo.

Shanahan, maybe the best offensive coach in football from a schematic standpoint, has understood what has been going on for years with his team. The 49ers have been winning despite the QB not because of him and the coach can’t wait to bid adieu to Garoppolo to bet on the raw and unproven but far more talented Trey Lance.

Labelling Garoppolo like that is an admittedly nebulous standard and is maybe best described by former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famed description of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

Most astute football fans know great QB play when they see it and even the most rabid of Eagles fans haven’t seen it from Hurts even if they have their passion prevents them from admitting it until the lights go out and they are alone with their thoughts.

The Eagles are currently trying to duplicate what the Niners have done by building the roster around a question mark at the game’s most important position.

In some ways, it’s been a bit easier for Roseman because Hurts is still very cheap on the third year of his rookie deal as an original second-round pick while Garoppolo had graduated to a $25 million-plus QB based on some early success and misevaluation.

Enter A.J. Brown, Haason Reddick, James Bradberry and Kyzir White not to mention rookies Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean, added to an already playoff-level roster.

The Eagles are almost surely starting September 11 in Detroit in much the same way they did last season when they were pass-heavy right up until the coaching staff realized there was simply too much on Hurts’ plate and scaled things back.

The leash, which was essentially six games last season until the shift to a more run-heavy approach started in Las Vegas, will almost surely be shorter this time around for Hurts because the expectations are so much greater.

“You know me, I’m going to be like, ‘How are we going to win this Detroit game?’ Sirianni claimed this spring. “… I’m trying to win the games that are on the schedule this year, starting with that Detroit game, and not have to worry about what’s going to happen in the future.”

The coach, though, also understands there are significant question marks with his QB, mostly centering on the two traits that Sirianni himself admits are the most important when it comes to NFL quarterbacks: accuracy and decision-making. The other two necessities, per Sirianni, are arm strength and the ability to create something out of nothing, boxes Hurts already checks according to the Eagles coach.

In fact, Hurts is so dynamic when it comes to off-schedule offense that Sirianni has bumped up that aspect of the skill set when it comes to value to the offense.

“If I’m ranking what’s important for a quarterback, it’s always going to be accuracy as No. 1,” Sirianni admitted. “And then No. 2, I went back and forth on whether I thought that would be decision-making or ability to create. And the reason I went back and forth with that was because of the dynamic playmaking ability Jalen has.”

Hurts is a unique player and perhaps, defaulting to that reality instead of trying to make him into something else is the better path.

“Sometimes you don’t know what you have until you got it,” said Sirianni. “You don’t know what’s important until you got it, right? And so, it’s like, ‘Wow, how many [plays] we made because of his athleticism.’ So whether it’s 2A or 2B with the decision-making. You saw that last year – how much ability he had to create plays for the offense when something wasn’t there.”

At times you get the feeling that Sirianni is rationalizing the hand he’s been dealt, however. After all, coaches don’t game plan off-schedule offense for a very good reason… they can’t.

You prepare to execute the plays designed and called, not default to “Hey Jalen, go make a play.”

A savvy communicator, Sirianni senses the doubt surrounding his QB and the spin the coach is using.

“I’m not BS-ing you guys,” the coach insisted.

Fair enough, but the coach then defaulted back to what we all know is most important to him.

“I’ve been really impressed with [Jalen’s] ability to process the plays that we’re going through, and to get [the football] out on time,” Sirianni said. “He’s making good, accurate decisions, and he’s making them on time.

“Now, with that being said, we’re running 7-on-7 [in OTAs]… But his processing speed has definitely improved… And then I really do see improved fundamentals. We talked about that. His fundamentals have improved because we had so much individual time. And then Jalen working with the guys he worked with in the offseason over in California [Tom House and Adam Dedeaux], and then Brian Johnson and how good of a quarterback coach that he is, I’ve just seen a better base to be able to make the throws accurately.”

Only Sirianni knows what the unfiltered thoughts are when his head hits the pillow at night and the calm of introspection takes over without the white noise to drown it out.

Every once in a while, though, you can dig through the talking points and unearth the same sentiment we all have when it comes to Hurts.

Uncertainty.

“it’s just gotta continue on the uprise, or else it’s just talk,” Sirianni said.

So go ahead and boil it down. The 2022 Eagles season is about Jalen Hurts.


John McMullen is a contributor to PhillyVoice.com and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Sports. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL, and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.comFollow John on Twitter here.





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