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Minshew Mania Arrives in Philadelphia—at Least for One Game

Gardner Minshew delivered a strong performance in the Eagles’ win over the Jets. But despite all the excitement, there’s no quarterback controversy in Philly.

AP Images/Ringer illustration

Few NFL players get such consummate, manic support as current Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew. Before he ever stepped onto an NFL field, he got a Mike Leach–led Washington State football program ranked in the top 10, took some shirtless flexing photos at the Senior Bowl, and became a Ryan Fitzpatrick–esque fashion icon. When he was thrust into the starting spot for the 2019 Jacksonville Jaguars after an injury to Nick Foles (an ex-Eagle quarterback of some notoriety himself), everyone hoped he’d play well, though nobody was certain the sixth-round pick actually would.

The “look good, play good” adage held for Minshew. He performed well enough in 2019 to clearly hold the starting job into 2020, when injuries of his own—and the general discombobulation of the Jaguars’ entire team— gave Jacksonville the first overall pick and, accordingly, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

So Minshew was traded to Philadelphia, a fan base known for lionizing likable backups. Many wondered if he would start outright over second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts; and even after Hurts’s solid season, the Eagles faithful were pumped to see Minshew play after an ankle injury laid Hurts up for their Week 13 game against the Jets. If there’s any fan base that expects its backup quarter to deliver, it’s Philadelphia.

And deliver he did. The Eagles put up 33 total points on the Jets, with 24 in the first half when they still had their foot on the gas. Minshew completed 20 of 25 passes for 242 yards, en route to a passer rating of 133.7.

The game of precise, mistake-free play was eerily reminiscent of Minshew’s season-opening performance last year. Against the Colts in Week 1, Minshew became the fourth quarterback in league history to complete at least 95 percent of his passes (minimum 20 attempts) in a single game. This game didn’t fall into that category at the final bell, but entering the halftime locker room, Minshew had completed 14 of 15 passes for 188 yards (93 percent), with two touchdowns and no turnovers.

Mistake-free football has long been Minshew’s calling card—he had a turnover-worthy play percentage of 3.2 percent in his rookie year (a top-15 number), and that dropped to 2.5 percent in 2020 (top 10), per Pro Football Focus. Throw in the occasional, timely scramble and an inability to drive explosive passes down the field, and you’ve got yourself the makings of a strong backup quarterback who can lurk around the starting job on a team in limbo, like the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles traded for Minshew—and traded away backup quarterback, Joe Flacco, to make room for Minshew in the QB2 slot—so they clearly thought he had some value. And because the Eagles’ offense has largely been powered by the running game with starting quarterback Jalen Hurts at the helm, Minshew’s starting opportunity for Philly presented a good opportunity to investigate Nick Sirianni’s more traditional offense.

And we learned a lot. We learned that Dallas Goedert’s extension—a four-year, $57 million deal that made him the third-highest paid tight end in the league—was a good gamble on future talent. Without Zach Ertz biting into his snaps, and with a more accurate quarterback in Minshew at the helm, Goedert exploded for six catches, 105 yards, and two touchdowns—the yardage and the touchdowns were both career highs.

We also learned that Miles Sanders could still thrive as a primary back without Hurts’s rushing ability boosting the ground game. Sanders carried the ball 24 times for 120 yards—a career high in carries, and only 2 yards off his career high in yardage. These individual records for Philadelphia’s playmakers are important to note, because they serve as a strong reminder: This New York Jets defense is one of the worst that the young Eagles players have faced in their entire career. Accordingly, Minshew’s performance must be graded on a bit of a curve.

But the case still remains: This was the best an Eagles quarterback had looked in the passing game all season. Minshew was more accurate than Hurts has been, with an astounding 14 completion percentage over expectation—multiple ex-Eagles remarked via Twitter on the improved passes they saw. Minshew underthrew more than a few passes, as is often the case with him, but he was able to account for his weaker arm strength with anticipation and accuracy.

The design helps here, too, and that’s another important thing to note. Sirianni is a young head coach and young play-caller, and the Eagles have been experimenting with a variety of formations, personnels, and route distributions in their efforts to unlock Hurts in the passing game. Several of those concepts translated over. The Eagles ran screens and RPOs in their quick game, and rub routes on third downs, like the touchdown above.

But how those concepts were executed changed: Minshew’s average depth of target came in at 6 yards for the game, far below Hurts’s mark of 9.3 on the year—that difference is substantial, especially since both Minshew (3.16 seconds in this game) and Hurts (3.11 on the season, the longest in the league) take an exceptional amount of time to throw the football. Both Hurts and Minshew are scramblers, which extends their time to throw, but unlike Hurts, who tucks and runs on a fair number of his extensions, Minshew was more likely to hit a checkdown or find an open receiver in the scramble drill. Those attempts inflate Minshew’s completion percentage while dropping his average depth of target.

In general, then, it’s pretty easy to argue that Minshew executed the passing game better than Hurts does. He did a lot more traditional things in and out of structure—exactly as we would expect from a player of his skill set. Plays like this one—an accurate touch pass, thrown to a spot, based off the movement of the deep safety, with pressure bearing down—aren’t plays that Hurts makes at this time.

But by the same token, you aren’t getting plays like this from Minshew— not now, not ever.

​​And that’s why Hurts is the starter. Minshew might be able to better execute the passing game now, but the Eagles know what Minshew is: a really good backup and solid spot starter, akin to a Taylor Heinicke or Teddy Bridgewater. Hurts very well might end up in the same bucket, but he has far better physical tools, and the Eagles would rather see if they can cash on that potential in future years than make a quarterback change and win now.

So there is no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia—not because of the play of the respective quarterback options, but because of the priorities in the Eagles’ building. The Eagles want to develop. Hurts is the young guy they drafted with the intent to develop, and he’s been improving this year, and when he’s available to go, he’ll be right back in the starting seat, just as Sirianni said after Minshew’s breakout performance.

If Minshew’s performance was nothing beyond a confidence boost for Goedert and a flashy advertisement for quarterback-needy teams entering the 2022 offseason, that’s okay. Minshew likely deserves another stab at a starting job somewhere, and no team is more willing to wheel and deal at the quarterback position than Howie Roseman’s Eagles. Everything that was true in Philadelphia remains true in Philadelphia: Hurts is the starter, and he’s running a pretty good offense; Minshew is the backup, and he can run a pretty good offense, too.

Oh, and Minshew is still one of the most magnetic personalities in the league. That’s still true, too.