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Paul Domowitch: It’s time for Nick to bag the 3-wide receiver packages and go with multiple tight ends


Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

OCR Logo Color 300DPI 1The Eagles have used 11-personnel with three wide receivers nearly 71 percent of the time this season (708 of 1000 offensive plays). But they have gotten minimal pass-catching production from the third wideout in those personnel packages.

Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins, and 34-year-old Julio Jones, who all have taken snaps with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, have been collectively targeted by Jalen Hurts just 39 times in the first 15 games and have combined for only 22 catches, 220 yards, and three touchdowns.

That’s a significant drop from the 48 catches, 504 yards, and four TDs they got last year from Watkins and Zach Pascal, who split time as the third wideout in 11-personnel.

In Monday night’s closer-than-it-should’ve-been 33-25 win over the Giants, Nick Sirianni finally decided to try something different. He eased back the throttle on 11-personnel and turned to 12-personnel, which featured one running back, two tight ends, and two wideouts.

The Eagles used 12-personnel a season-high 36 of 74 plays (48.6%) against the Giants, and also used 13-personnel (1RB, 3TE, 1WR) four times. Twenty-eight of the Eagles’ 35 rushing attempts were with 12/13P.

Jalen Hurts completed just 13 of 26 passes with 11P against the Giants but was 11-for-12 for 121 yards with 12/13P.

Running backs D’Andre Swift and Kenny Gainwell combined for 133 rushing yards on 26 carries against the Giants. One hundred seventeen of those 133 yards came on their 22 carries with 12-personnel (5.3 yards per carry).

In the Eagles’ last six games, Hurts has a 70.9 passer rating with 11P, including a 53.1 completion percentage, 6.0 yards per attempt, six touchdowns, and five interceptions.

The Eagles like Watkins’ 4.35 speed, but it hasn’t translated into enough production. Jones, who the Eagles signed in mid-October, is a future Hall of Famer, but the needle on his gas gauge is almost at empty.

Grant Calcaterra, a 2022 sixth-round tight end who played at Oklahoma and SMU, is a very good pass-catching tight end. He played 14 snaps against the Giants and had his first two catches of the season, including a nine-yard reception on a third-and-three when he got open on a scramble drill following a bad snap.

Mike Quick, the former All-Pro wideout and longtime Eagles radio analyst hopes Monday night was a preview of things to come from Sirianni and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. He hopes the Eagles continue to use heavy doses of 12- personnel and pound the ball the way they did against the Giants.

“Mixing in multiple tight ends would really work well,’’ Quick said. “And it’s the perfect time to do that. Buddy (Ryan) used to say that when you see the cold breath coming from your mouth, that’s when it’s time to run the football. Well, that’s where we are now.

“This is the time when they really should use more 12-personnel. And by the way, with Dallas Goedert and Calcaterra, you have really good pass-catching tight ends who can create mismatches in the passing game. So you’re not losing anything. In fact, you’re actually adding to your passing game when you play 12-personnel with this group.

“It just takes them a while to make a shift in philosophy. The NFL is driven right now by 11-personnel. Fast-break football. But you’re in a position right now where this team could do so well when they’re running the ball the way they did against the Giants.

“Not everybody is going to give up the (rushing) yardage that the Giants did. But with this offensive line, throw in multiple tight ends and it’s hard to stop them from running the ball. Especially when you factor in Jalen as a plus-1 in the run game.’’

Tale of the turnovers

Turnovers continue to be the Eagles’ greatest enemy. They have 23 giveaways, which is the 10th most in the league. Jalen Hurts has 18 of them (13 interceptions, five lost fumbles), which is the third most by a single player. Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence and Washington’s Sam Howell both have 19. Buffalo’s Josh Allen also has 18 turnovers.

The Eagles had two more giveaways against the Giants, both of which were cashed in for touchdowns. Opponents have converted the Eagles’ 23 turnovers into 56 points. Four of their last nine giveaways have resulted in touchdowns.

The Eagles have had just three “clean’’ games without at least one turnover this season. They had seven last year.

It’s not just that the Eagles are turning the ball over a lot. They’re also not forcing turnovers. They’ve got just 16 takeaways, which is tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. Kelee Ringo’s game-clinching interception in the end zone against the Giants was just the Eagles’ seventh pick of the season. That’s the third-fewest in the league.

Since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, the Eagles never have had fewer than eight picks. The Eagles have had just one game with multiple takeaways since Week 3. That was their 21-17 Week 11 win over Kansas City when they had two.

Their minus-7 turnover differential is the fifth worst in the league. The only team in the league with a winning record that has a worse turnover differential is the Chiefs (minus-10).

The Hurts report

Last year, the Eagles outscored opponents in the second quarter, 207-91. Carried that second-quarter production into the playoffs where they outscored their three opponents in the second quarter, 45-14.

Jalen Hurts was a big part of that second-quarter success. He had a 113.0 passer rating in the second quarter in 2022, including a 65.6 completion percentage, 9.1 yards per attempt, 11 touchdown passes, and just two interceptions.

This season has been a very different story. The Eagles have been outscored in the second quarter, 90-135. Hurts’ second-quarter passer rating in the first 15 games is 82.0 (61.2 completion percentage, 6.9 yards per attempt, five TDs, four interceptions).

In the last six games, Hurts hasn’t been able to get out of his own way in the second quarter. He’s got a 53.8 second-quarter passer rating, that includes a 46.7 completion percentage, 5.8 yards per attempt, one TD, and two interceptions.

Hurts, who had the fourth-best passer rating in the league last season (101.5), is 18th this season (89.6). Many of his passing numbers have dipped this season, including yards per attempt (8.0 to 7.3), completion percentage (66.5 to 65.5), interception percentage (1.3 to 2.6) and touchdown percentage (4.8 to 4.0).

But a lot of his situational play has improved. His red-zone passer rating has jumped from 88.7 last year to 106.9, which is the fourth-best in the league. His red-zone completion percentage is more than eight points better than last year (from 50.0 to 58.3).

His third-down passer rating also is up (from 93.0 to 98.2). He has completed 67.2 percent of his pass attempts on third down, compared to 62.6 percent last year. His sack percentage also has improved. He was sacked once every 13.1 pass plays last year. So far this year, it’s once every 15.7. He’s been sacked just twice in the last three games.

He hasn’t had as many explosive plays — pass completions of 20 or more yards and runs of 10 or more yards — this season compared to 2022. He’s had 63 this year (46 completions of 20-plus yards, 17 runs of 10-plus yards). In 15 starts last year, he had 78 (52 completions of 20-plus yards, 26 runs of 10-plus yards).

His rush average has dropped from 4.6 to 3.9. But he’s got two more rushing touchdowns (15) than last year and just two fewer rushing first downs (65).

If you break down Hurts’ passing numbers by throwing distance, the biggest difference between last year and this year has been on throws of zero to 10 yards. Last year, he completed 77.6 percent of his throws at that distance and averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. This year, his completion percentage has dropped to 75.6, and his yards-per-attempt average to 6.44. He had eight TD passes and just one interception on 0-10 yard throws last year. This season: 4 TDs and six interceptions.

By the numbers

The Eagles gave up yet another third-and-long Monday when Giants quarterback Tyrod Taylor completed a 12-yard pass to tight end Darren Waller on a third-and-10 on the Giants’ final possession. Waller also had a 20-yard completion on a fourth-and-8 on that drive. The Eagles have given up 16 first downs to opponents on third-and-10 or more. That’s the third most in the league. Only the Lions (18) and Seahawks (17) have given up more.

–After giving up six touchdown passes to tight ends in the first 10 games, the Eagles haven’t allowed any in the last five games. Tight ends have caught 76 passes for 766 yards (10.1 yards per catch) against the Eagles. The Eagles, who have given up 31 touchdown passes this season, which is the second most in the league, haven’t given up a touchdown catch to a running back in 15 games. Running backs have 74 catches for 472 yards (6.4 yards per catch) against the Eagles.

–Josh Sweat has 6 ½ sacks, but none in the last six games. He already has played 771 snaps, which is 76 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. Both of those numbers are career highs for him. His previous high for snaps in a season was 655 in 2021. Last year, when he had a career-high 11 sacks, he played just 587 snaps (56%).

–D’Andre Swift has 38 catches this season, including 16 on screens. In the Eagles’ last five games, he has just five catches for 12 yards. This is a guy who averaged 8.1 yards per catch last season with the Lions.

–Just about every Eagles receiver has seen his yards-after-catch average drop this season. A.J. Brown’s has dropped from 6.1 in 2022 to 5.6 this year. DeVonta Smith’s has dropped from 5.1 to 3.6. Tight end Dallas Goedert’s has dropped from 6.8 to 5.4. Swift’s has dropped from 9.5 with the Lions last year to 7.2 with the Eagles. And Kenny Gainwell’s has dropped from 6.7 to 6.4.

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