Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Gardner Minshew makes strong case to be Eagles starting QB: Will Nick Sirianni reverse course on Jalen Hurts?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The vibe amongst the Philadelphia Eagles was different Sunday. Not better, just different. 

This is what happens when Gardner Minshew graces the football field with his presence. No matter the situation, Minshew always has a joke in the huddle — as Miles Sanders admitted after the Eagles’ convincing 33-18 victory over the New York Jets. Despite appearing to be stopped short on fourth-and-inches in the second half (a call that was later overturned), Minshew couldn’t help but make a comment on the play — showcasing how well the Eagles’ vibe was in spite of playing with a backup quarterback. 

“They thought they stopped us on that sneak. When I pushed him, he goes, ‘Maybe that’s because I’m strong as hell,'” Sanders said with a huge smile. “That’s the type of guy he is. I’ve been a fan of his for a while. 

“Gardner’s a character. I love him.”

Minshew saw an opportunity to become the starting quarterback for the team that traded for him four months ago. An outcast in Jacksonville, Minshew brought the colorful personality that made him a folk hero across the NFL to Philadelphia. Walking into his press conference with his trademark strut and a Maverick jacket that had social media buzzing, Minshew wasn’t hiding any self confidence after his near-perfect performance filling in for Jalen Hurts.

There’s no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia, but that doesn’t mean Minshew wants to go back to the bench the next time the Eagles play, either.

“Anybody that’s halfway competitive wants to play. That’s why you play the game,” Minshew said. “But I know whatever role I’m in, I’ll give it 110% and do whatever I can for the team.”

No backup quarterback in the NFL could make a better case to start than Minshew. Starting for the injured Hurts (ankle), Minshew finished 20 of 25 for 242 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, ending up with a 133.7 passer rating. He completed his first 11 passes en route to an essentially flawless first half, going 14 of 15 for 188 yards and two touchdowns (a perfect 158.3 passer rating). Minshew’s 93.3% completion rate in the first half was the highest since Donovan McNabb in 2007 — tied for the best mark by any Eagles quarterback since at least 1991 (when those stats first were kept). 

The Eagles scored on their first seven possessions, the first time they have done that since at least 2001. The only possession Philadelphia didn’t score was when Jason Kelce had to leave the game and Nate Herbig filled in at center, snapping the ball well over MInshew’s head late in the fourth quarter when the game was decided. (The Eagles were driving on that possession, too.)

Which brings up the question that’s a tale as old as time with this franchise. Will Minshew be the starting quarterback once Hurts is 100% healthy from his ankle injury? This is the organization that has an amazing track record of backup quarterbacks succeeding during playoff runs (yes, Philadelphia is in one of them despite the Eagles’ 6-7 record). From Ty Detmer (1996), A.J. Feeley (2002), Jeff Garcia (2006), and ending with Nick Foles (2017, 2018), Philadelphia has a large sample size of success with the No. 2 quarterback — even winning a Super Bowl with Foles in a performance for the ages on the game’s biggest stage four years ago. 

Those situations involved quarterbacks filling in for the starter who suffered a season-ending injury. Hurts isn’t in that situation, having this week and a bye week coming up to rest a nagging ankle before the Eagles continue their playoff push. 

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni insists Hurts is the starting quarterback, saying the right things to ensure Philadelphia will go back to Hurts over Minshew in two weeks — or that’s when he thinks Hurts will be healthy again. 

“He’s played good football. He’s played really good football,” Sirianni said of Hurts. “There’s been times where he’s been one of the best in the league with the way he’s moved around and made plays. We look at that quarterback rating and what he’s had there, so he’s played really good football when he’s in.

“So when he’s healthy and he’s back, he’ll be our starter.” 

Minshew’s 80% completion rate is a mark Hurts has yet to hit this year. (Hurts’ highest is 77.1% all the way back in Week 1.) The Eagles established a commitment to the run in Week 8 against the Detroit Lions, rushing for over 175 yards in each game since — a mark that hadn’t been reached by the franchise since 1950. Much of that had to do with the success of Hurts, whose passing numbers (and attempts) were affected due to the team’s newfound commitment to the run. Of quarterbacks with over 50 pass attempts since Week 8, Hurts is 28th in completion percentage (57.8%), 24th in passing yards (719), tied for 25th in passing touchdowns (three), tied for ninth in interceptions thrown (four), and 30th in passer rating (71.6) — out of 36 quarterbacks. 

Those numbers aren’t ideal for a passer, but the running game also comes into play. The Eagles averaged an incredible 215.6 rushing yards per game, by far the most in the NFL as Philadelphia elevated to the top of the league in rush yards per game for the year (157.9). Its 5.21 yards per carry was third in the NFL during that stretch, while its 10 rushing touchdowns was tied with the Indianapolis Colts for the most in the league — and Indianapolis has the game’s best running back in Jonathan Taylor

Hurts was a major catalyst toward the run game’s success, rushing for 334 yards and three touchdowns since Week 8 — which led all quarterbacks. Of course, the Eagles ran for 185 yards Sunday without Hurts — the first time any team has rushed for 175-plus yards in six consecutive games since the 1985 Chicago Bears, who won the Super Bowl. The Eagles haven’t rushed for 175-plus yards in six consecutive games since 1949 — when they won the NFL championship.

This latest impressive rushing feat came with Minshew — not Hurts — at quarterback. Dallas Goedert, who had a career-high 106 yards and two touchdowns in his first game catching passes from the No. 2 quarterback, may have tipped his hand on who he wants throwing passes to him going forward.

“I think we all kind of know what to expect. Whatever it is, we gotta do our jobs to the best of our abilities. This is a very unselfish team — and whatever happens we’re all for it. 

“Ultimately, it’s not up to me. I don’t know, I don’t make those decisions, but everyone will rise with whoever the quarterback is going to be.”

Goedert also thought Hurts would be the quarterback “when it comes down to it,” yet it was an interesting choice of words from one of Philadelphia’s top playmakers. Minshew won’t fall into the trap, even if Hurts’ job is the one he wants.

“He’s welcomed me with open arms,” Minshew said. “We do a good job supporting each other, making each other better. He’s helping me (on the sidelines) whenever he could. He’s sitting back learning whenever he can. I’m super happy to have Jalen Hurts on this football team.

“Look, I’ve been in that situation. It’s really a good opportunity to sit back and see things from a different perspective. It’s awesome to have that chance.” 

The Eagles have two weeks to decide if Minshew is just a backup quarterback who did his job filling in for the starter, or if an exemplary performance against the league’s worst defense in points allowed (second-worst in yards allowed) is enough to reverse course on the Hurts experiment.

Minshew isn’t changing who he is — regardless what the Eagles decide to do. That’s the different vibe on the field he brings to the team. 

“I like to have fun, especially when we’re winning like we are,” Minshew said. “It’s fun to have fun out there. We got a great group of guys that I love competing with.”  

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