By Pete Baxter
Marcus Hayes of The Philadelphia Inquirer has become a leader of a movement composed of fans and select media members pushing the Philadelphia Eagles to bench second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hayes outlined his argument in his article last week entitled “Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts should be benched in favor of Joe Flacco” and elaborated further on Jakib Media Sports. His feelings have been echoed by Philly fans across social media.
Hayes’ specifically criticized Hurts for his “comically” bad accuracy and poor decision making. He explained that Hurts’ skillset limits the Eagles play calling potential, pinning the bulk of the Eagles’ offensive struggles on the young quarterback (more so than head coach and play caller Nick Sirianni). He essentially argued that Sirianni’s poor play calling must be a symptom of his lack of trust in his quarterback. Hayes essentially claims that Hurts has not shown improvement or development, and it is time for the Eagles to pull the plug.
While some of Hayes’ criticisms are fair, I wholeheartedly disagree with his overall position. The Eagles should not bail on Hurts and Joe Flacco is certainly not the answer in Philly.
Let’s take a closer look at why Nick Sirianni, Howie Roseman and company should stay the course with their young quarterback.
Joe Flacco is No Longer a Starting Quarterback
Honestly, Flacco has not been starting caliber in years. Over the past three years, starting from his last season in Baltimore and through his tenure with the Denver Broncos and New York Jets, Joe Flacco has not been good. Over that span, he has a record of 6-15 as a starter. He has a mediocre-at-best 20 touchdowns to 14 interceptions (barely better than a 4/3 ration). Flacco has a subpar career completion percentage of just 61.7%, which dropped to 55.2% last season in New York when he started four games in relief of Sam Darnold.
Even at his best, when Flacco won a Super Bowl with the Ravens, Flacco was a mid-tier starter. He could manage an offense just well enough to allow a great team to win. At 36 years old, Flacco is well into the downward descent of the back nine of his career. He isn’t going to get better, and he is not good now.
Flacco Would Be a Downgrade
Jalen Hurts has completed 62.5% of his passes this season with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions (a decent 2.5/1 ratio). His 89.5 quarterback rating this year is better than we have seen from Joe Flacco in years, and better than Flacco’s career 84.1.
Joe Flacco has never been an athletic quarterback. He has two 100+ yard rushing seasons since 2008, his last coming in 2013. He has not rushed for a touchdown since 2018. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts’ mobility and elite athleticism is essentially the one thing that has kept the Eagles from going winless on the season. Hurts has rushed for 361 yards and five touchdowns through seven games this season.
Let’s take a look at his end-of-year numbers if he stays healthy for 17 games and continues producing at his current pace. Do they look like viable starting quarterback numbers?
Hurts is on pace for 4,167 passing yards, 877 rushing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 12 rushing touchdowns, a 62.5% completion percentage and 10 interceptions. If you’re doing the math, that is 36 total touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Those numbers, for a second-year quarterback in his first year as a full-time starter, are more than good enough to deserve to keep the job.
Meanwhile, if you take Flacco’s five-game sample size from 2020 and extrapolate those numbers to 17 games as a starter, he finishes a complete season with less than 3,000 passing yards, 75 rushing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, zero rushing touchdowns, and ten interceptions. Where do we see any evidence that Flacco would provide an upgrade at quarterback? How would he provide any type of spark for this squad?
What About Gardner Minshew?
If anything, Flacco should not even be the second-string quarterback for this team. The Eagles have a younger, better (not historically, but in the year 2021 considerably better) quarterback behind Hurts on the depth chart. Hurts should not be benched for performance, but should he miss time due to an injury or otherwise, Gardner Minshew is a far more intriguing name to replace him.
Minshew is probably the most accurate passer on the team, having completed 66.1% of his throws on a terrible 2020 Jaguars team in his eight starts. He has an outstanding 37 to 11 touchdown/interception ratio for his two-year career. He isn’t nearly the athlete that Hurts is, but he has rushed for almost 500 yards in 20 career starts.
However, Minshew has limited arm strength and is undersized at just 6’1”. We have essentially seen his ceiling and it is that of a borderline starter. He is a great backup to have, though. That said, Hurts has a considerably higher ceiling if Nick Sirianni and company can help him reach it.
Let’s Be Realistic
This is a rebuilding year in Philly. The Eagles are not going win a lot of games this year, and it never should have been the expectation that they do so. This is a year for Jalen Hurts to learn the game and for Nick Sirianni to develop as a play caller and a head coach. The growing pains have been evident, and they will continue. However, the Eagles have a chance to build a complete team with three first-round picks next season.
Jalen Hurts has shown enough to prove to most of us that he is a viable starter. He still has major opportunities as a passer, particularly in terms of his accuracy, and he must learn how to read defenses and make better decisions (particularly out of RPOs, which should highlight his skills but sometimes only magnifies his lack of awareness). None of these are uncommon struggles for young, inexperienced quarterbacks.
Nick Sirianni needs to improve as a play caller for both his and Hurts’ sake. The Eagles can’t continue to abandon the run and hang Hurts out to dry in front of defenses. They have to be more creative and less predictable.
This is going to be a rough season, and we should have seen it coming. Eagles’ fans must be patient (as un-Philly like as that sounds). Turning to Joe Flacco at this point would not improve the team’s chances of winning games. It would more than likely make the team worse. It would also, for the second year in a row, crush the confidence of a young quarterback who should be the face of the franchise. The Eagles botched Carson Wentz’ development, and they can’t do the same with Hurts.
Stay the course. Roll with Hurts. Make the most of the team’s three first-round picks in 2022 and build a team capable of winning. Don’t pin this team’s struggles on a promising young quarterback and set the franchise back another five years.
More to come from Philly.