Kellen Moore will define the Jalen Hurts/Nick Sirianni era (2024)

In the absence of real Eagles news in 2024, much has been made of both the their slow and agonizing collapse in 2023, and of the relationship between the head coach, Nick Sirianni, and his franchise quarterback, Jalen Hurts.

This article is not going to revisit those storylines, but it will review the past to shed light on how the Kellen Moore hire will impact the future. There has been discussion on what Moore brings schematically to the Eagles. I am going to explore what it means for the broader picture of the Sirianni/Hurts era of the franchise.

Since Sirianni was hired and Hurts was handed the keys to the offense, there have been many debates among Eagles fans and writers over the nature of the offense when assigning credit and blame. Who wrote the playbook? Who is really calling the plays? Who is the leader of the offense? How much of a “pro-style” offense has Jalen actually run? Does that even matter?

Kellen Moore will finally answer these questions. But to fully understand the implications of those answers, we must first understand how we got to this point, turning the clock back all the way to Fall 2021. So buckle up, it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride. (Or you can skip past all this to “2024: Looking Ahead with Closing Thoughts” if you just want the Cliffnotes.)

2021: A Budding Courtship

When Nick Sirianni was hired as the Eagles’ next head coach following the tumultuous departure of Doug Pederson, who brought the team its first Super Bowl win, team owner Jeffrey Lurie told Nick that he was “excited for...the coach [he could] become.” This was essentially a concession that Jeff was taking the long view and willing to give Nick a few seasons to grow into the role. The initial plan for 2021 reflected that.

Weeks 1-7: A Failed Experiment?

It was widely accepted that the strategy for 2021 was to see how well Jalen Hurts could perform as a starting NFL quarterback. If he excelled in the role, he would seize the title of “franchise quarterback.” If he didn’t, the Eagles would replace him in 2022.

I will die on the hill that this is why Nick ran such a pass-heavy offense early in the season. This isn’t to say his playcalling tendencies were always justified - the first Cowboys game comes to mind - but it did make sense overall. For all the clamoring to “RUN THE BALL,” the front office wouldn’t learn anything by doing so. Everyone knew the Eagles had the best run-blocking offensive line in football. Everyone knew Jeff Stoutland was the best offensive line coach in the game. Everyone knew Jalen could operate a run-heavy, option-based offense as a dual-threat quarterback. The question then becomes: what exactly do you learn about Hurts as a passer with a 70:30 run/pass ratio?

Practically nothing.

So the Eagles threw. They threw and they threw and they threw. And they largely failed. Nick received most of the blame for this as a first-time head coach who was in over his head. I even saw some people say that the Eagles’ milquetoast, overly-simplistic offense in 2023 was reminiscent of what they saw in the first half of 2021, an indictment of how far the team had tumbled from the graces of Shane Steichen’s genius (more on him in a minute).

I found this observation intriguing and decided to investigate. Because I am a football masoch*st, I rewatched highlights from the Panthers, Bucs, and Raiders games in 2021. The idea was that, as these were the last three games with Nick as the playcaller, these would be the games in which his offense was the most “mature.” Jalen should have been comfortable enough to operate most of the offense at this point.

What I found was that, at least superficially, the Eagles’ offense in those first seven weeks was not their offense in 2023. There are obvious caveats here, since this was not All-22 film and I was only seeing “impactful” plays. But what I saw was enough to suggest that 2023 was a completely different disaster from 2021, for two primary reasons:

  1. The offense seemed to have “standard” passing concepts at each level (flat, intermediate, deep) with routes both on the perimeter and over the middle. I can’t comment on how good these route concepts were, but even on obvious blitzing downs, there was usually a dumpoff option to give Hurts an easy out. This is a stark contrast to the Eagles offense of 2023 (and even 2022), which solely aimed to “make the blitz pay” with the big play.
  2. The Raiders game in particular featured a surprising amount of under-center plays. I can’t speak to the other two games since I was only watching highlights, but it was almost shocking to see Hurts line up under center so much for that game. This is a marked departure from the 2022-2023 offense, which essentially ran entirely out of shotgun unless it was a Brotherly Shove.

Of course, that offense eventually fell out of favor when Nick turned over playcalling duties to Shane Steichen in Week 8. And while that was the right call, what Shane did with the offense may have been more a response to a shift in direction from the front office than it was an overhaul of offensive philosophy.

Weeks 8-19: They Ran The Ball

We all know the story here. Steichen became the playcaller, and the Eagles instantly transformed into a nasty, smashmouth offense that ran and ran and ran some more. They became the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to run for 175+ yards per game for seven straight weeks, and tallied a 7-3 record in the process that earned them a wild card berth.

This success is mostly accredited to Shane’s savvy as a playcaller, but let’s revisit what the Eagles’ plan was in 2021: let Jalen prove himself as a passer or replace him. In that light, molding into a run-first team is more or less an indictment that you don’t believe in the quarterback. This checks out, as it was reported that the Eagles were interested in both Russell Wilson and DeShaun Watson in the 2022 offseason.

So why become a run-first team? Winning, storylines, media attention, and ticket sales are all one thing, but from a teambuilding standpoint there is another obvious reason: a bad quarterback draft.

At the onset of the 2021 season, the 2022 quarterback class looked to be much stronger than it turned out to be. Indeed, the first quarterback selected in 2022 wasn’t taken until the 20th pick, when the Steelers selected Kenny Pickett - whom the Eagles traded for to be their backup this offseason. It is more than plausible that Howie Roseman, astutely acknowledging that tanking for a quarterback in 2022 wasn’t worth sending an unwatchable product on to the field for 17 games, gave the tacit approval to salvage what they could in a seemingly lost season.

The Eagles did more than that, earning a wild card berth as the 7th seed, in which they were promptly eliminated by Tom Brady’s Bucs. But it was enough to reasonably justify giving Hurts one more year if the team couldn’t replace him.

That’s ultimately what happened, and boy, did he deliver.

2022: The Honeymoon Phase

The 2022 Eagles took the NFL by storm, led by Jalen Hurts’ meteoric development as a passer. Opposing defenses found themselves constantly on their heels, unable to predict the Eagles’ next move. It was a masterclass of misdirection and sleight-of-hand made possible by the acquisition of a matchup nightmare named A.J. Brown.

Kellen Moore will define the Jalen Hurts/Nick Sirianni era (1) Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Smoke Bombs and Flashbangs

I’m not an X’s and O’s guy, but I do enjoy the work of those that are, and feel I have a good idea of what made that 2022 offense so special on a broad scale: layered optionality. The 2022 Eagles had four core concepts that built off one another, and all shared the same common theme of forcing the defense to pick their poison, and always choosing incorrectly:

  1. The run game, first and foremost, was designed around Jalen’s threat as a runner. Even in straight running plays it was often difficult to tell who was getting the ball.
  2. The foundation of the pass game was built on the run/pass option, which put an unblocked defender in the impossible position of either tackling a running back who doesn’t have the ball or crashing on the quarterback as the ball carrier scampers through the hole for 4+ yards.
  3. When defenses gave up and sold out to stop the run, a 1v1 matchup with Brown, Smith, or Goedert was inevitable. Jalen was given the coaching to determine pre-snap who would be on an island and allow his guy a chance to make a play.
  4. And finally, even within the passing plays themselves there were option routes. It was common to see a passing play early in the game produce moderate success (or even failure), and then see a slight variation on that play later in the game result in a touchdown.

The complexity of these options allowed for simplicity elsewhere - a feature in 2022 that would later decay into a bug in 2023 (but more on that later). These simplicities all effectively masked Hurts’ weaknesses from 2021:

  • Because the run game forced defense into basic, single-high coverages, the Eagles were able to succeed with elementary passing concepts that have been college and pro staples for decades. It notably lacked the under center play-action and motion that were hallmarks of Shanahan-inspired offenses, instead relying on the talent of the receiving corps to win on islands. It was a gamble that paid off in a big way.
  • The basic defensive alignments Hurts faced meant that he was often able to dissect the formation pre-snap, when he was not facing any pressure to deliver the ball quickly.
  • Any post-snap reads Jalen was asked to do were largely simple, one-player reads of an unblocked defender. He was not challenged with many complicated, shifting coverages due to the threat of the run game.

For any other team with less talent, the simplicity of the offense masked by unpredictability would eventually be exposed as smoke and mirrors. But with the Eagles, they were using smoke bombs and flashbangs. They would not be figured out in 2022 - but they did rely on critical hinge points that secured their collapse in 2023.

The Razor’s Edge

For a simple but wildly unpredictable offense to be effective, the Eagles’ fate hinged on a razor’s edge composed of three factors:

  1. Jalen Hurts’ threat as a runner, and staying healthy when he carries the ball.
  2. Intelligent play-calling to keep defenses off-balance.
  3. Facing basic coverages that did not require complex post-snap reads.

The first two made the Eagles’ offense effective, but the third made it explosive. Hurts’ post-snap processing was often called into question in 2021, and the Eagles’ offensive brain trust essentially erased the need for it in 2022. Instead, by forcing opposing defenses to play their game, all Hurts needed to do (on most plays) was figure out who had the matchup in isolation. He was able to decide pre-snap where he was going with the ball, and the result was a high-octane, deep-ball passing game that would make Don Coryell proud.

Of course, one can only live on a razor’s edge for so long, especially when defensive coordinators have an entire offseason to dissect the offense. What goes up must come down - and down it came, even if it took longer than it should have.

2023: Trouble in Paradise

The 2023 offseason foreshadowed the Eagles’ eventual collapse. Jalen Hurts received a massive $255M contract extension, ensuring his role as a runner would be reduced to keep him healthy. Shane Steichen was hired to be the Colts’ next head coach, leaving the inexperienced Brian Johnson as the team’s playcaller. And as they always do, opponents did their homework on the Eagles’ offense, looking for counters to defend the run without making life for Hurts so easy pre-snap.

All three factors of the razor’s edge came tumbling down, and although it took a while, the Eagles’ season was dragged down with it.

Cracks in the Facade

Signs that the Eagles’ offense was running on fumes was apparent right from the starting bell in 2023. Both Bill Belichick and Brian Flores threw the kitchen sink at Hurts in the first two weeks, often crowding the line of scrimmage to disguise the look pre-snap and then dropping eight into coverage. Hurts, who was largely shielded from post-snap reads during his Super Bowl run, was caught flat-footed, and it showed as he regressed to looking more like his 2021 self.

This defensive onslaught was short-lived, as Johnson learned halfway through the Vikings game that dropping eight into coverage simply meant he would hand it off every play and pound the defense into dust. It was enough to scare future opponents away from relying on the tactic, and the offense once again hummed along. It wasn’t the same as 2022, but it was working, as evidenced by the high scores and record-breaking string of dominating performances by A.J. Brown.

But defenses knew this was a mirage, that the Eagles were not an unsolvable mystery. They were getting away with doing basic things - “running a high school offense,” as NFL film analyst Brett Kollmann noted. It wasn’t the kind of success that appeared to be unsustainable, and - spoiler alert - it wasn’t.

A Final Collapse

I won’t spend a lot of time on this, as what happened in those final seven weeks of the season has been beaten to death at this point. But essentially, defenses found the middle ground between disguising coverages and defending the run by disguising blitzes - blitzes that the Eagles never accounted for dating back to 2022 in their zeal to hit the big play. By the time the curtain was fully pulled back, it was too late to adjust, and the gamble that paid off so well in 2022 finally went cold. The only thing that was left was to watch it unravel, like watching a casino demolition in slow-motion. And all that remained was the fancy pit that the Eagles always were from the beginning of 2023.

And now we find ourselves back to where this article started, almost 2500 words later - the hiring of Kellen Moore.

2024: Looking Ahead with Closing Thoughts

Throughout that roller coaster of a recap, one detail missing was responsibility for the product on the field. And that’s something we simply don’t know. Whose offense was it actually - Sirianni’s? Steichen’s? Johnson’s? How much influence did Jalen have, either through improvisation or audibles at the line? Was the simplicity of the offense an attempt to be more clever than the competition, or was it really all Jalen was able to handle?

Kellen Moore provides transparency that we have been previously denied. Firstly, with Sirianni, his move to a “CEO” head coach mostly absolves him from the technical quality of the offense, but puts more on his shoulders in terms of having the team prepared and culturally aligned, especially when they face in-season adversity. If the playcalling is bad, or the offense is out of sync, we know that is Kellen’s wheelhouse. If the team looks unmotivated or undisciplined, we can look to Sirianni to pin blame, more or less rendering his role on the team useless.

The implications for Hurts are much more intriguing. Kellen Moore is an experienced playcaller and runs a “professional” offense developed independently of Jalen. While he is sure to add some wrinkles based on his personnel, Hurts will be expected to execute the basic tenets of that offense. His responsibilities will be clearly defined and it will be obvious whether or not he is able to fulfill them. As much as any good offense masks a player’s weaknesses, it’s worth questioning if that principle can be taken too far and stunt their growth. I personally can’t say how well Hurts conducted post-snap reads over the past three years - it seems the offense was designed to eliminate that necessity. He certainly has shown a tendency for happy feet and pocket abandonment when under pressure. That may have been acceptable in previous years, but likely won’t fly anymore. And that’s not to say it will even be an issue. Betting against Hurts has proven to be a fool’s errand for his entire career. There isn’t much reason to believe that will change now.

Exacerbating this intrigue is the success Kellen had with Jalen’s division rival, Dak Prescott. For all of Dak’s faults, he put up stellar regular-season numbers under Kellen Moore when he played out a full season. In his first year with Moore (2019), Prescott completed 65% of his passes for 4902(!) yards and 30 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, throwing to Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, Michael Gallup, and the ghost of Jason Witten. In 2021, he completed 69% (nice) of his passes for 4449 yards and 37 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Jalen and Dak are different quarterbacks, but fairly or not they will be compared during this season. It is at least reasonable to expect Hurts to produce a similar level of success, even if that is split between passing and rushing, given his superior supporting cast. Just as with Sirianni, if he leaves too many plays on the field, we will know where the blame ultimately lies.

When the Eagles left the field for the final time in the 2023 season, there were a lot of questions left unanswered, especially as it pertains to Jalen Hurts and Nick Sirianni. Questions that, for better or for worse, will certainly be answered in 2024.

All because of hiring a man named Kellen Moore.

Kellen Moore will define the Jalen Hurts/Nick Sirianni era (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Lakeisha Bayer VM

Last Updated:

Views: 5788

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (49 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Lakeisha Bayer VM

Birthday: 1997-10-17

Address: Suite 835 34136 Adrian Mountains, Floydton, UT 81036

Phone: +3571527672278

Job: Manufacturing Agent

Hobby: Skimboarding, Photography, Roller skating, Knife making, Paintball, Embroidery, Gunsmithing

Introduction: My name is Lakeisha Bayer VM, I am a brainy, kind, enchanting, healthy, lovely, clean, witty person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.