Jalen Hurts is still not fully healthy which means Nick Sirianni and the Philadelphia Eagles have quite the conundrum on their hands. With two games left of the regular season, they have to decide whether or not to start their young quarterback who is recovering from a minor shoulder injury. The decision could potentially be one that carries heavy playoff implications regardless of which way the pendulum swings, but which call is the correct one?
The Gardner Minshew effect
The Eagles were unable to beat the Cowboys on Christmas Eve and there were many reasons for this. One of them, depending on who you ask, was the play of backup QB Gardner Minshew. The former Jag completed 24/40 passes, throwing 2 touchdowns and 2 picks in the loss and was scrappy at best. Minshew not only had a habit of launching passes from his back foot into dangeorus windows, but would almost default to escaping the pocket at the earliest opportunity. It acted as a stark reminder as to just how far Jalen Hurts has come this year, but Minshew was hardly the sole reason the team lost.
At the end of the day, Minshew guided the offense to a total of 27 points against a defense that many deem to be a top-10 unit in the NFL. The Saints may have a tougher secondary, but their run defense is porus and that should relieve some of the pressure from the shoulders of QB2. There’s no reason the Eagles should be anything less than confident in Minshew’s ability after the loss to Dallas and his performance that game shouldn’t have any impact on this decision.
Pros of resting Jalen Hurts
The Eagles still have one more game after this one and it’s not like losing to the Saints would suddenly expel the Birds from the playoffs. They can still secure both the #1 seed and homefield advantage with a win over the Giants, whom they beat 48-22 earlier in the year on the back of a ruthless rushing attack.
It’s easy to gamble with the idea of playing Hurts for a series or two, or even calling strict passing plays. But the RPO is the heart and soul of this offense and even calling designed passes won’t stop a QB as intelligent as Hurts from dashing for a hole if he sees one. If he is any less than 100%, it’s not worth risking making the injury worse for a victory against the Saints when the same reward could be snatched from the Giants a week later with a lot less risk.
Would you really want to risk Jalen Hurts missing time in the playoffs for the sake of playing a few series against the Saints when he really doesn’t have to? He’s arguably the league’s most valuable player and if we’re going off that value alone, it makes sense to bank on it when the team will need him most – the postseason and beyond.
Pros of starting Jalen Hurts
The Saints run defense isn’t exactly great. The secondary? Brilliant. The run defense? Meh. They’re allowing 143 rushing yards per game over their past three outings. Going into their 2021 clash, the Saints’ run defense had allowed only one opponent to gain over 200 rushing yards against them in the last 93 games. That same opponent also broke a streak that the Saints held for not allowing a 100-yard rusher in 55 games. Have any idea who that opponent was? Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles.
If Jalen Hurts and team doctors give a green light, there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t, for the third time in as many years, rip the Saints to shreds. He seems to have a knack for punishing the New Orleans outfit and if he’s able to do so on Sunday, it would allow him a large window of rest without stress.
Gardner Minshew could handle duties against the Giants, and then comes the first-round bye. That’s a three-week layoff for Hurts to get back to his very best and seems like a fairly reasonable price to pay.
At this point, it’s a coin flip. The Eagles have a tricky decision to make and there are pros and cons to both outcomes. Whatever happens, they can sleep safe in the knowledge that this injury isn’t threatening to the upcoming postseason debut of Jalen Hurts, and that they do have a solid backup in place if they need to lean on him.
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez