It’s pretty evident based on the first six games that the Eagles’ new offensive coordinator, Brian Johnson, likes to use his running backs in the passing game a lot more than the old offensive coordinator, Shane Steichen.
Last year, just 48 of Jalen Hurts’ 350 pass completions, or 13.7 percent of them, were air-mailed to running backs. So far this season, running backs already have 35 catches, which represents 24.8 percent of Hurts’ 141 completions.
D’Andre Swift has 23 catches, including eight in Sunday’s 20-14 loss to the Jets. Kenny Gainwell has nine, while Boston Scott has two and Rashaad Penny one.
One of the reasons the Eagles traded for Swift in April – maybe the biggest reason – was because of his pass-catching ability. In his three seasons in Detroit, the St. Joe’s Prep product had 156 receptions. He averaged 7.7 yards per catch, including a career-high 8.1 last year on 50 catches. Also averaged a first down every 3.12 receptions, and one every 2.82 catches last year.
Swift is on a 65-catch pace this year, which would be a career-high. But he’s not getting the same kind of production from those catches that he got in the Motor City. He’s averaging just 5.0 yards per catch. He only has four receiving first downs.
In defending the fact that Eagles running backs ran the ball just 22 times against the Jets on Sunday, Brian Johnson used the same explanation that Andy Reid often did, which is that short passes, including bubble screens to the wide receivers and tight ends and throws to the running backs, are basically an extension of the running game.
“When you start to add in some of the RPOs and the bubbles and the swing passes and things like that, it’s just space touches,’’ Johnson said earlier this week. “A lot of times, those are extensions of the run game.’’
He’s right. But the problem is, the Eagles aren’t getting nearly enough production from those “space touches.’’
You need more than five yards per catch from a player like Swift. You need more than the 4.8 yards per catch that Gainwell is averaging. Last year, Gainwell averaged 7.3 yards per catch. As a rookie the year before, 7.7. He averaged 12.0 yards per catch his last year at Memphis in 2019.
Swift doesn’t have a reception that has gained more than 11 yards. Thirteen of his 23 catches have gained five yards or less. None of Gainwell’s nine catches have gained more than eight yards and five have gained four yards or less.
The 49ers’ Christian McCaffrey has 23 catches and is averaging 7.7 yards per catch. Thirteen of his 23 receptions have been for first downs. Falcons rookie Bijan Robinson has 10 first downs on 26 catches and is averaging 7.6 yards per catch.
The Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, who led the league in rushing last season, has 10 first downs on 25 catches and is averaging 8.4 yards per catch. Jacksonville’s Travis Etienne has eight first downs on 21 catches and is averaging 8.2 yards per catch.
The Eagles’ quintessential dual-threat back, Brian Westbrook, averaged 8.9 yards per catch and a first down every 2.6 receptions during his career.
The Eagles’ screen game hasn’t been much more effective. They’ve run 21 screens in the first six games and gained a total of 82 yards from them. In the first six games last year, they ran 32 screens that produced 212 yards. Tight end Dallas Goedert gained 126 yards on 11 screens in the first six games last year. So far this year, he’s got six catches for 31 yards on screens.
Jack’s Bad Awful Day
When right tackle Lane Johnson injured his ankle on the ninth play of the game Sunday, Jack Driscoll was the next man up. Driscoll, a fourth-year player with 16 career starts, struggled mightily in the 20-14 loss to the Jets. He gave up eight pressures, which was the most by an Eagles offensive lineman since 2020. Pro Football Focus gave him a 43.5 pass-blocking grade and a 32.4 run-blocking grade. By comparison, left tackle Jordan Mailata got a 76.1 run-blocking grade and a 65.8 pass-blocking grade. So, we’re talking quite a discrepancy.
Driscoll, who can play both guard and tackle, is regarded as a better run-blocker than pass-blocker. He started three games last year – at left tackle against Arizona in Week 5 for Mailata, and at right tackle in Weeks 17 and 18 against the Saints and Giants for Johnson. PFF gave him an average run-blocking grade of 65.5 in those three starts and an average pass-blocking grade of 57.6. Not great, but certainly not as bad as Sunday when he had to step in after getting few, if any, first-team practice snaps during the week.
Adjustment? What adjustment?
The Eagles’ coaching staff didn’t seem to give Driscoll much help Sunday after he replaced Johnson. Johnson got hurt on the ninth play of the Eagles’ first possession. Driscoll played 60 snaps. For 49 of them, or 81.7 percent, the Eagles went with 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR). I didn’t count the number of empty sets the Eagles used, but it was quite a few.
“We’ve just got to do a great job of being ready to adjust on the fly,’’ Brian Johnson said.
Jalen Hurts completed 24 of 39 passes for 229 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions with 11P. He was 3-for-4 for 37 yards with 12P and 1-for-2 for 14 yards with 21-personnel (2RB, 1TE, 2WR). It was the first time this season that the Eagles used 21P. Ran three plays with it, including a nine-yard run by Boston Scott. Probably will be something they’ll come back to at a later date.
Hurts was pressured on 42.0 percent of his dropbacks against the Jets. That’s the highest pressure percentage since Week 1 against the Patriots (42.1). He was sacked just twice, but that is more a credit to his mobility than his protection. He did a good job of extending plays and also rushed for 47 yards on eight carries.
But he had his arm hit by the Jets’ Jermaine Johnson as he was throwing early in the fourth quarter, resulting in an interception. That was on Driscoll. Hurts later threw a game-costing interception late in the fourth quarter, partly because he was backpedaling to avoid pressure.
Is Julio’s tank empty?
The Eagles signed veteran wide receiver Julio Jones earlier this week. There’s a pretty good chance Jones will end up in Canton after he retires. He’s tied for 23rd in career receptions (903), is 16th in receiving yards (13,629), and is second in receiving yards per game (87.9). But it remains to be seen whether the 34-year-old pass-catcher has much left to offer the Eagles.
Nick Sirianni said he watched the tape of Jones and feels he still has explosion in his legs and still gets in and out of his breaks well. “He’s got a lot of pop in his legs,’’ he said.
Jones played in 10 games with Tennessee last year and had just 24 catches for 299 yards and 2 TDs. In 2021, he played 10 games with Tampa Bay and had 31 catches for 434 yards and one touchdown. In his last year with Atlanta in 2020, he had 51 catches for 771 yards and 3 touchdowns (15.1 yards per catch) in just nine games.
Jones once was one of the league’s top red zone receivers. The Eagles, who currently are 23rd in the league in red zone offense, could use help in the red zone. But Jones didn’t have a single red-zone reception with either the Titans or the Bucs, and had just four red-zone catches – none for touchdowns – in his last year with the Falcons.
From 2014 through 2019, Jones had 50 red-zone receptions, including 20 for touchdowns. But that was then and this is now.
Jalen Hurts has completed just 10 of 22 passes for 38 yards in the red zone in the first six games. He’s got just three red zone touchdown passes. Twenty-five quarterbacks have more red-zone TD passes than Hurts. Twenty-seven have a better red-zone completion percentage. The Eagles don’t have a receiver with more than three red-zone receptions (Dallas Goedert and D’Andre Swift).
By the Numbers
–The defense has zero takeaways in the last three games. It’s the first time the Eagles have gone three straight games without a takeaway since 2012. The Eagles are 14th in takeaways with eight. Their two interceptions are tied for the fewest in the league. Last year, they finished fifth in takeaways (27) and sixth in interceptions (17).
–Hurts has a 68.2 first-down passer rating this season, down nearly 27 points over last year. He’s completed just 63.7 percent of his first-down passes and has averaged only 6.1 yards per attempt, with two TDs and four interceptions. Last year, Hurts had a 65.4 completion rate on first down and averaged 7.8 yards per attempt. He had six TDs and just two interceptions on first down.
–Eagles running backs had just 14 carries for 31 yards against the Jets. Just four of those 14 carries gained more than four yards. Eight gained one yard or less.
–The Eagles blitzed on 13 of 38 pass plays against the Jets (34.2%). Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was 9-for-12 for 117 yards with one sack when the Eagles sent five or six rushers after him. He was just 10-for-21 for 69 yards with four sacks v. a four-man rush. The Eagles have a 31.2 blitz percentage in the last three games. They blitzed on just 19.4 percent of opponent pass plays in the first three games.
–Just six of the Eagles’ 20 sacks have come on third or fourth down. Last year, a league-high 34 of their franchise-record 70 sacks came on third or fourth down.