PHILADELPHIA – Nick Sirianni didn’t want to hear about backup quarterback controversies after an 18-18 deadlock in preseason action against the Cleveland Browns in which mettle-tested veteran Marcus Mariota paled in comparison to flavor-of-the-month rookie Tanner McKee.
Without Jalen Hurts to gush over, save for when the superstar proved to be Kellen Mond’s best receiver with a nice catch on the sideline, Eagles fans turned their attention to McKee, the sixth-round rookie who gave the offense the juice it was lacking when Mariota struggled so much that the boo birds got an early wakeup call.
“Way too early on this. Marcus is our backup,” Sirianni insisted when asked if McKee could push to be Hurts’ caddie.
For one evening at least that was a tough sell for the coach.
With Mariota the Eagles’ offense was a jumbled mess in the first half. The veteran finished 9-of-17 for 85 yards, with an interception and a 42.5 passer rating. Overall, the offense generated just 102 total yards with Mariota in the game and three false starts, three sacks allowed, and a Trey Sermon fumble.
“Tonight, yeah obviously not up to his standard, but it’s about us finding what works for him,” coach Nick Sirianni said of Mariota. “And that’s just us learning him. That’s us working together to figure that out.”
In the second half, things changed dramatically with McKee.
For the second consecutive game, the Stanford product played with rare confidence for a rookie, processing quickly and getting the football out on time with pinpoint throws. McKee finished 10-of-18 for 147 yards and a 22-yard touchdown to Brady Russell and an ensuing two-point conversion to Johnny King that tied the game. There were also at least four drops so the numbers should have been far better.
“I think for me a little bit of my game, my job as a quarterback is to get the football into the playmaker’s hands,” McKee told JAKIB Sports. “They are a lot faster and can make guys miss and a lot of other things when they have the ball in their hands. I feel like my job is a distributor to be able to put the ball in their hands and let those guys go do what they do.”
Clearly, Sirianni is trying to slow things down when it comes to the perception of McKee, though.
“I think what you’re seeing — now, are the defenses a little different now preseason than in the regular season? Of course. People are going to play more basic and safer,” Sirianni explained.
While that’s true, it’s also true for both QBs and Mariota is the one struggling not McKee, something Sirianni acknowledged.
“What I would say is, again, I would see the ball consistently going to the right spot on time — that’s what you want for your quarterback — with accuracy so he can make all the throws,” the coach said. “[McKee] can see it.
“So, he’s been doing good. To compare him to anybody else based off two preseason games, I don’t want to go there, but am I pleased with how he’s looked and what he’s doing? Of course.”
With Mariota, Sirianni shouldered some of the blame.
“It’s also us finding out what [Mariota] does well too. What he sees well, what looks good to him,” Sirianni said. “I know he didn’t play the way he wanted to [against the Browns]. I wouldn’t say he struggled the last game. You guys might have said that. I didn’t say that. He ran around and made some good plays and moved the ball really well with him in there against Baltimore.”
So in Sirianni’s mind, it remains “way too early” to discuss McKee over Mariota.
That said, the status quo for both against Indianapolis in the final preseason game would highlight it’s getting very late for Mariota way too early.