The Philadelphia Eagles head into the NFL Playoffs knowing a lot will be expected from them if they want to avoid an early exit, but luckily for head coach Nick Sirianni, he has his starting quarterback one step closer to being at 100% health.
Jalen Hurts did not play in Week 18 as the Eagles lost 51-26 to the Dallas Cowboys, in what truly was a meaningless game for the hosts at Lincoln Financial Field. Now with close to 14 days since his last competitive action, Hurts is ready to go for the Eagles, who will be major underdogs at Raymond James Stadium against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The second-year pro has taken positive steps forward in his sophomore season, totaling 3,928 combined yards, 26 combined touchdowns to only nine interceptions. Hurts might not have been one of the glamourous quarterbacks in the NFL this season, but overall he’s done well to put the Eagles in the playoffs and give them a fighting chance in Tampa this weekend.
“I think significantly,” Sirianni said when asked about Hurts’ development this season. “He has definitely gotten better throughout that time, which doesn’t surprise me at all because [QB] Jalen [Hurts] is a student of the game. Jalen wants to get better and craves to get better. He has high football character and, like I have said plenty of times, guys that are tough, guys that have high football character and guys who love football are going to reach their ceiling.
“I think you’re just seeing him grow closer and closer to his ceiling,” Sirianni added. “Yeah, he’s definitely better and he’s just going to continue to get better because of who he is as a person and as a player.”
Sure, Hurts has gotten the brunt for some of his turnovers during the first half of the regular season, but he’s completed over 60% of his passes and registered a QB rating of over 100 in four of his seven starts since Week 8. Hurts’ injury forced him to miss the lopsided victory over the New York Jets, before the former Alabama and Oklahoma starter returned to help the Eagles three-straight divisional victories to clinch a playoff berth.
Hurts was a winner at Alabama and excelled also at Oklahoma during his collegiate career and now has a golden opportunity to lead the Eagles past Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. The odds will be against Hurts, as they have been for most of the 2021 season, but Sirianni backs his relationship with his starter and admits that has helped the Eagles to their success down the stretch.
“I value the relationship that I have with Jalen and all the players on our team, but there is always something special about a head coach and quarterback relationship that I value that good organizations I’ve been around have that good, strong relationship between the two,” Sirianni said.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t get mad at each other here and there,” Sirianni added. “That doesn’t mean that doesn’t happen, that everything is nice and cushy at all times. But he’s awesome to work with. Couldn’t ask for a better guy to work with day in, day out. Look forward to continuing to have those Friday meetings as we continue through the playoffs.”
Standing in the Eagles way is future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, a team that will be favored to advance easily past the Birds on Sunday. Tampa Bay defeated Philadelphia 28-22 back on Week 6, ultimately controlling the game before a late surge from the Eagles closed the deficit to six points in the final minutes.
Hurts will be going head-to-head with one of the best gunslingers in NFL history, but the 23-year-old’s focus will need to be on himself and his offense for the Eagles to have a chance at winning.
“All we can do right now, and my message is to [QB] Jalen [Hurts] and my message is to the team, is control what we can control right now,” Sirianni said. “That’s getting a little bit better each day and hyper focus on the assignment and the fundamentals. What’s great about that is that’s been our hyper focus the entire year, so we’re not really doing anything differently.”