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Robert Saleh Explains the 'Changes' in Eagles' Offense

The Jets head coach got what he expected but the Eagles' offensive line proved to be the difference

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With the bye week here for the Eagles much will be made about the differences in Nick Sirianni's offense with Gardner Minshew at the controls, as the backup quarterback ate up a hapless New York Jets defense during a 33-18 win at MetLife Stadium.

Sirianni himself downplayed any additional efficacy in the passing game with an eye on avoiding what Philadelphia has become famous for, quarterback controversies.

So we went down the hall to find out what was really going on through the eyes of the architect of that New York defense, Jets rookie head coach Robert Saleh.

A proponent of Seattle's vaunted Cover-3 heavy philosophy from the "Legion of Boom" era, where Saleh was once a defensive quality control before leaving with Gus Bradley to take over as linebackers coach in Jacksonville. From there it was four successful years as the defensive coordinator in San Francisco and now the big chair with the Jets.

On a conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters before the game, Saleh claimed he "wasn't buying" Jalen Hurts' ankle injury but the coach should have because  Minshew did in fact play and gashed the Jets with a 20-for-25 performance, including 11 straight completions to start.

At halftime, Minshew had accumulated a perfect 158.3 passer rating and finished at 133.7, the best for Philadelphia since Nick Foles in the 2018 NFC Championship Game.

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Saleh, though, claimed that the Sirianni and Co. didn't change all that much from an offensive perspective, other than the obvious part of playing to the quarterback's strength.

"A system is a system," Saleh said. "They weren’t going to change their entire system all in one week."

What the Jets' coach expected and did ultimately get was the focus on the intermediate passing game, Minshew's strength, vs. the plus-one aspect of the No. 1 ranked rushing offense that Hurts brings to the table.

"Obviously, the QB run game wasn’t there, but there were more RPO’s, more intermediate to short game, which we all knew," said Saleh.

The Jets might have known but they couldn't stop it. 

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Of Minshew's 25 passes, three were throwaways, meaning the third-year signal-caller connected on 20-of-22 throws when he was actually targeting someone with both hiccups being aimed at the Eagles' top receiver, DeVonta Smith, and one of those was a 50/50 ball in which Minshew gave his top playmaker a chance.

It all starts upfront, something both Saleh and Sirianni echoed.

"Their O-line is one of the best in football. They did a great job protecting him," The Jets' mentor said. "He was able to sit back there and find time and find check-downs as our zones expanded. All around, it just wasn’t good enough in terms of keeping him the pocket and getting after him from the pass rush standpoint."

"Obviously, it always starts up front and how the protection is going. I thought the protection was awesome," Sirianni added. "Not to take anything away from Gardner. He played a great game. He got the ball to the backs on check-downs when there wasn’t something there. He hit some chunks in the pass game. He had a couple to Quez (Watkins) on those deep overs. I thought he played a really good game."

RELATED: There is no Quarterback Controversy: It's Jalen Hurts' Job

For Saleh, it was as simple as it seemed.

The run game would have been a bigger part of things had Hurts played and the quick passing game took center stage with Minshew.

"It’s just, what were they going to call more of which we were very more familiar with?" he said. "Alright, you’re not going to get the QB runs, but you’re still going to get RPO’s. You’re still going to get more intermediate to short game, which is what they did. Everything that they did was expected. It’s all part of their game plan. The plays were all the same, it was just ‘Where’s the ball going to go?’

"Where Jalen might be a little more aggressive, we knew Minshew was going to be a little more intermediate, check down. Where Jalen would run, we knew Minshew would hand the ball off or be more RPO-ish, if you will. From a pass game standpoint, where Jalen would tuck it and run, we knew that Minshew would try to bide time. He just sat behind that offensive line and did a good job buying time and finding open receivers."

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.