The Eagles were never the same team after their 44-6 win against the Detroit Lions in week 8. It wasn’t the fact that the Eagles won a game they were supposed to, it was the fact that they did so efficiently. The offense had been struggling to find an identity at that point and the QB play wasn’t helping the situation at all.
It’s not that Jalen Hurts was playing terribly, it’s the fact that the were deploying such a pass-heavy attack, forcing a relatively weak passer in between a rock and a hard place. People complained about how many times Hurts would hold onto the ball in RPO’s and force throws that weren’t there. During the opening seven weeks, Hurts was averaging 34 pass attempts per game at a very inefficient rate. He had only thrown for 200 passing yards on four of those seven occasions, which considering the high-volume of passes was very underwhelming.
Nick Sirianni knew that this wasn’t the way to win. Hurts was technically a rookie QB coming into this season, learning a fourth system in as many years. The Eagles coaching staff was also working at a very inefficient pace. Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen was working with Hurts after every drive leaving Sirianni with minimal time to gameplan for the next drive with his offensive coordinator.
That’s when the best move of the season happened. Head Coach Nick Sirianni asked QB Coach Brian Johnson to come down from the booth and help on the sidelines. The offense flourished from that point on, largely due to a new focus on rushing the ball, but more subtly due to the stark rise in efficiency by Jalen Hurts. Johnson is new to the NFL, having made the move from the University of Florida to the Eagles’ young coaching staff this past offseason.
Brian Johnson wasn’t new to everybody in the locker room. There was a face in the crowd that was beyond familiar to him and would then become his responsibility once hired. Jalen Hurts and Brian Johnson have a long-tenured history together. Johnson used to play football for Jalen’s father at Baytown Lee High School.
Hurts explained the impact that Johnson has when the move to the field was made, “I think it’s been good, first off, to get him on the field,” Hurts said (24/7 sports). “It’s a little different on the field than when you’re up top, in terms of seeing the game. It’s been good to have him out there, talking to him, communicating with him, considering he’s in the room and I spend a lot of time with him. To have him on the field, it’s good for me.”
The move has opened up room for communication for the Eagles’ offensive coaches. While Johnson started to assist Hurts after every drive, Shane Steichen was granted the freedom to gameplan with Sirianni and prepare with his Head Coach. Johnson’s familiarity has provided a level of comfort for Jalen Hurts and there’s no question as to how Hurts responded to his presence.
Outside of the loss to Tampa Bay, Hurts played efficiently and relied on his strengths as opposed to forcing the issue. He’s only thrown for over 30 passes once since the change and completed 61.5% of his passes since week 8. The offense relied on their dangerous run game that has been led by Hurts and his 784 rushing yards along with the 10 rushing touchdowns.
Johnson’s presence has allowed Hurts to play his game and taken some of the strain off of Sirianni’s shoulders.
“I think he’s been a great influence on Jalen on the sideline,” Sirianni said. “Brian just brings a wealth of knowledge in a lot of different areas; blitz protection, quarterback play, different styles of quarterbacks. …He contributes a lot to a lot of different aspects.”
Johnson has seen a lot and Hurts has a lot of trust in him. If the Eagles are to take that next step, then they’ll need their QB to be the best version of himself…and Johnson is the perfect man to help Jalen Hurts on that journey.
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire