PHILADELPHIA — By choosing to start Jalen Hurts at quarterback Sunday against the New Orleans Saints over Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson is going against the blueprint laid out by his mentor, Andy Reid.
With Donovan McNabb caught in a funk in November 2008, Reid, then the coach of the Eagles, benched his franchise quarterback for the second half of a Week 12 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in favor of Kevin Kolb after McNabb went 8-of-18 for 59 yards with a pair of interceptions over the first two quarters.
“You sit back an inch and maybe you go forward a mile,” Reid said in 2008 in explaining his decision.
That is exactly what happened.
Reid turned right back to McNabb for their Thursday night game against the Arizona Cardinals and McNabb played like he was shot out of a cannon, tossing four touchdowns and completing 69% of his passes in a decisive 48-20 Eagles win. He threw nine TDs to one pick over the final five regular-season games and helped the Eagles charge all the way to the NFC title game.
Wentz will not receive a similar opportunity. At least not yet. Pederson will start Hurts in Week 14, sources told ESPN, after the rookie provided a spark in the Week 13 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
It’s the right move by the Eagles (3-8-1) in this circumstance, even if it deviates from Reid’s once-successful tactic.
McNabb’s was more of a mini-slide: He played well over the first half of the 2008 season before hitting a rough patch, and just needed a jolt to get out of it. Wentz’s issues are more severe. There is now a 12-game sample size that points to the veteran quarterback being broken, from his mechanics to his field vision to his decision-making. Those are not issues that can be repaired in a week’s time. The best-case scenario is that it gets fixed over an entire offseason of work.
McNabb had already been to five Pro Bowls and had led the team to four NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance. It would have been impossible for Reid to sell to the locker room that a second-year player in Kolb, who struggled mightily in the second half of that Baltimore game (10-of-23, 73 yards, 2 INT), gave the Eagles the best chance to win moving forward.
The opposite seems true here in 2020. Wentz is accomplished in this league and Hurts is a rookie, but given the wind that filled the team’s sails when Hurts was inserted into the lineup Sunday, and the at-sea-without-wind-or-paddle feel this team has had for almost the entire season, can Pederson look his team in the eye and say Wentz gives them the best chance against the Saints?
Likely not, which is why Hurts is the right choice in the here and now.
Longer-term, this still needs to be Wentz’s show because the Eagles are financially tied to him. McNabb shook off his benching and said his confidence wasn’t affected.
“No different than basketball or baseball. If you’re a little off, you keep shooting. That’s the way I feel about it,” McNabb said at the time.
It remains to be seen whether Wentz will respond with a similar mentality, or if his confidence will be further shaken by an extended absence from the starting lineup. There’s also his relationship with the organization to consider. While McNabb reacted well on the field, the benching stirred questions about his long-term standing with the team. He played only one more season in Philadelphia before being traded to Washington on Easter Sunday 2010.
There are longer-term risks involved in this Wentz-Hurts decision, but it was the right one in the interest of the 2020 Eagles and the men who take the field each week. It’s not the job of the coach to look too far beyond that.