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January 06, 2024

Eagles mailbag: Is Jalen Hurts' and A.J. Brown's audible vs. the Seahawks an indictment of the coaching staff's play calling?

Ahead of the Eagles’ regular season finale, Jimmy Kempski answers fans’ questions about Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown and more.

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010324JalenHurtsBrianJohnson Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Hurts and Brian Johnson

A few days ago, we solicited questions for an Eagles mailbag via Twitter or whatever it's called now. Thank you as always for doing half the work for me. This is Part II of a two-part mailbag (Part I here). Let's just get right to it.

Question from @JohnKinkead: Does “going off script” by Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown at such a critical moment of the Seattle game show a lack of respect for the play calling? They took a major risk and I wonder what the other offensive players thought of their decision making, passing on an easy completion to tie game?

I was curious how Nick Sirianni would answer some version of this question, and I think his response was good.

"[Jalen] has total freedom to do what he needs to do to make a play," Sirianni said. "Sometimes that's going to work and sometimes that's not going to work... When you have success on offense, you're going to see different things that you didn't anticipate getting on tape.

"That's happened to us multiple times this year, where there are things that are happening that you don't anticipate on tape, and sometimes you make those adjustments on the sideline, sometimes the player makes the adjustments. That's what you work so hard through the training camps and OTAs, here is what we like versus this, versus this. Yes, this has answers versus this or this has answers versus everything, but this is an ideal thing to get to in these scenarios. So, you constantly talk about those things. Like I said, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's the right time to do it and sometimes it's not the right time.

"I always say this, and Frank Reich used to talk to me about this, one of the greatest backup quarterbacks of all-time, right, he's like 'A quarterback is going to make four to five plays in a game with his mind that are going to change the game.'

"Sometimes that's something that he sees and it's part of a check, and sometimes it's something that he sees that he gets to. I just think that's standard practice from high school football to — probably more so in college football, to NFL football."

The reality is that Hurts should have the ability to make a check at the line based on what he sees. If you tell your quarterback, "Run what I call no matter what," you're limiting your offensive ceiling. In the case of the Seahawks game Hurts probably just lost sight of what the offense needed to accomplish in that situation, which was to gain 15-20 yards, not 40-50, and he made a bad check. (Sirianni hinted at correcting the mistake non-publicly.)

One of the themes of the 2023 Eagles is that the fans think the play calling sucks. I don't know if that perspective is shared in the locker room. No players have really even hinted at that, as far as I know. I think Hurts just saw a chance to make a big play, and he (unwisely) took it.

On a side note, I think that the way Sirianni took the bullets for Hurts and Brown was an admirable — and correct — way to handle it.

I remember back in the day Mike Ditka took a steaming public dump all over then-Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh after Harbaugh audibled into a play that went badly.

Thereafter, the Bears' season spiraled out of control and Ditka was fired.

Question from Ryan (via email): It seems to me like the Eagles are suffering from not playing their younger players more earlier in the year (Kelee Ringo, Nolan Smith, Sydney Brown), and appear to be course correcting a bit to add the speed and hustle younger players tend to possess. Thoughts? Sydney has certainly made his share of mistakes, but is far more athletically gifted than [other players in the secondary].

I agree that the rookies should have gotten more experience earlier in the season, for two reasons:

  1. They could have gotten their feet wet early, adjusted to the style of play in the NFL, and perhaps been in a better position to contribute down the stretch and into the playoffs.
  2. The starters wouldn't have played such a high number of snaps, and wouldn't be as worn down as they now appear to be.

And I think that you correctly identified the three players that the Eagles could have done a better job of getting some experience.

• Smith averaged 6.2 snaps per game the first 9 games of the season and didn't play double-digit snaps in any of those games.

• Brown played 16 defensive snaps over the first 6 games. He didn't play any snaps at all in four of the first six games. He couldn't get onto the field for a meaningful role until Reed Blankenship, Justin Evans, Avonte Maddox, and Bradley Roby were all out.

• Ringo played 1 defensive snap the first 12 games of the season.

The Eagles shouldn't automatically play rookies if they just outright stink, but I think those three guys have at least shown enough raw talent that it would have been worth getting them some action, even if that meant having occasionally taking better players off the field for a few snaps here and there.

Now those guys are all playing because they have to, and well, of course they have struggled. That's something the Eagles need to correct going forward.

Question from Pat: I’ve hated watching almost every game this year. It would be interesting to rate the most unwatchable/unlikable teams over the last 20 years to see where this team lands on that list. I think they’re close to the top sadly.

The players' personalities on this team are largely likable, in my opinion, so I don't think they're "unlikable" in that way, but I do agree the brand of football they have played this season, given the huge expectations that accompanied this season, has made this a tough season to watch. There are five seasons to me that were definitively worse: 

• 2005: Pride, ego, and injuries sunk this team coming off a Super Bowl appearance.

• 2011: The Dream Team.

• 2012: They started 3-1, lost 11 of their last 12, and Andy Reid was fired.

• 2015: It was clear early on in Chip Kelly's third season that his offense had been figured out, and fans were forced to watch a season of Sam Bradford at quarterback. They were bad and boringly predictable.

• 2020: The Eagles hit something close to rock bottom after a steady descent from the Super Bowl victory in 2017.

I wouldn't necessarily limit it to those five, but they would be my five most unaesthetically pleasing seasons of the last quarter century, in whatever order you prefer.

Going back a little further, a number of people have mentioned the 1994 Eagles that started 7-2, and then lost their final 7 games of the season as a similar season. (I think that team was more miserable, for the record.)

Question from @ScottNewcomb4: Are the Eagles still getting a compensatory 3rd round pick for Javon Hargrave? I think he missed a couple of games?

Yes, Hargrave is very safely going to yield a third-round pick.

Question from @NFLGoEagles: What would give you more material to write about: A Nick Sirianni firing or Nick Sirianni staying?

A firing, obviously, but the last thing I need is more material to write about. I'd like some downtime when this season is over, lol. (Sirianni isn't getting fired, to be clear.)

Question from Old Chester: Which Philly sports team (professional or collegiate) is closest to winning a championship?

Ha, I love this question, and it always seems to arise when one of the Philly teams has just failed to win it all or the writing is on the wall that their season will soon end.

I'm not getting fooled by the Sixers again, so I'll go with the Phillies.

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