PHILADELPHIA — With MVP front-runner and starting quarterback Jalen Hurts dealing with a right shoulder sprain, signs are pointing to backup Gardner Minshew getting the nod for the Philadelphia Eagles (13-1) in their biggest game of the year against the Dallas Cowboys (10-4) on Saturday.
Hurts sustained the injury during the third quarter of Sunday’s 25-20 win over the Chicago Bears when he was driven into the cold Soldier Field turf by defensive tackle Trevis Gipson. He remained in the game and connected with DeVonta Smith on an out route on the very next play. Later, he hit wide receiver AJ Brown on a long ball.
If Hurts is ruled out for Week 16, here’s what it means for Minshew and the Eagles.
How worried are the Eagles about Hurts missing time?
Fortunately, there are no alarm bells ringing inside the Eagles’ NovaCare Complex about Hurts’ long-term availability. From the team’s perspective, any missed time will be about getting strength and functionality in his throwing arm back to 100 percent for the playoffs.
The Eagles have plenty of wiggle room, needing just one win over their remaining three regular season games to secure the top seed in the NFC. They entered Monday with a 99.7% chance to finish with the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a bye according to ESPN Analytics.
But they’d like to avoid any drama. A win over Dallas Sunday locks them in and allows coach Nick Sirianni to rest starters for the final two weeks as he sees fit.
What would Philly like to see from Gardner Minshew?
Minshew’s primary job might be to secure Philadelphia’s positioning for that playoff run.
Minshew has proven more than capable in spot duty. Last December during a start for the injured Hurts against the New York Jets, he went 20-of-25 for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 33-18 win. The roster has been upgraded since his last meaningful action from him, with Brown (1,201 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns) playing like a top receiver. Tight end Dallas Goedert has a chance to return from a shoulder injury for this one, too.
Operating behind one of the best offensive lines in football and alongside one of the better skill position groups, Minshew can play point guard and doesn’t have to worry about taking too much on his own shoulders.
What type of challenge will the Cowboys defense present for Minshew?
The opponent for Minshew’s likely first start of the season, granted, is less than ideal. The Cowboys have the second-best pass defense in the NFL (191.6 yards per game), are tops in takeaways (26) and second in sacks with 49. He’ll have his hands full.
“I think they’re the best pass-rush unit in the league,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “[Linebacker] Micah Parsons is a dynamic player. [Defensive ends] DeMarcus Lawrence, Sam Williams, all those guys across the board. So they’re no joke. They play hard, they play well.”
Is Minshew an effective QB stopgap?
Hurts has been performing at an MVP clip. His prowess as a runner (he has 13 rush touchdowns, just one behind the all-time single-season leader for quarterbacks, Cam Newton) has made life hard on defenses while his improvements as a passer (67.3% completion rate, up from 61.3 % in 2021) have made the Eagles offense explosive.
Still, Minshew is set up well for success. The offensive line ranks seventh in pass-block win rate (64 percent); Brown (first, 94 rating) and Smith (12th, 77 rating) are the highest-rated receiver combo in the league, per ESPN’s metrics; running back Miles Sanders is fifth in rush yards (1,110) and rush touchdowns (11); and the defense is tops in pass rush win rate (53 percent), sacks (55) and interceptions (15).
Nothing can take away from Hurts’ accomplishments this year. But with 41 career touchdowns to 12 interceptions and 22 starts under his belt, the 26-year-old Minshew has proven that he can get the job done. And he’s never been better set up in terms of a supporting cast.