Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is 11-2 with quarterbacks starting not named Carson Wentz. While this may be one of those factoids spewed out by talking heads and reactionaries to garner clicks and views, this year, Wentz has undoubtedly hindered the Eagles more than he has helped them.
After the former second overall pick was benched against the Green Bay Packers in Week Thirteen, Jalen Hurts was named the starter for the game against New Orleans. While Pederson may have put off benching the once considered ‘future’ of the franchise, Hurts is a much-needed breath of fresh air for everyone in the Eagles organisation.
Hurts led the Eagles to a 24-21 victory over the Saints. Despite Hurts not lighting up the box score through the air, the rookie looked composed in the pocket and decisive outside of it. It is too early to tell whether or not Jalen Hurts will dethrone Carson Wentz in the long run. However, for right now, Hurts, as demonstrated against New Orleans, should start for the rest of the 2020 season.
Inside of the pocket
A pattern found amongst first and second-year quarterbacks is that they all look ‘pro-ready’. Many of them are able to make checks at the line of scrimmage, recognise blitzes and become the face of the franchise. With that in mind, it is after the ball is snapped when we truly see whether or not a young quarterback will sink or swim.
Against the Saints, Hurts looked ten times calmer in the pocket and ten times more decisive outside of it than Carson Wentz has looked all season. Although Doug Pederson did call a number of designed roll-outs and play-action for the young quarterback, Hurts went through his progressions assuredly. Not once did Hurts recreate the Wentz charade of double-clutching the football before running into the back of his right-tackle and fumbling.
Take a look at this example from the second quarter. Its 1st&10 and the Eagles own 20-yard line. Philly is in an empty set, giving Hurts full command of the offence. At the bottom of the screen, tight-end Dallas Goedert wins his route convincingly; leaving him in acres of space. However, Hurts doesn’t immediately see him. Instead, he calmly proceeded through his progressions before finally coming back to Goedert and executing for a 19 yard gain.
Hurts’ head movement here and calmness in the pocket is fantastic.
Another example came on the Eagles opening touchdown. Its the beginning of the second quarter and the Eagles are on the verge of the endzone on 4th&2. Pederson goes empty again, showing a great deal of faith in Hurts’s ability to make the right read.
The Saints send six against with the Eagles blocking five. The line fails to shift over and the Saints have a free rusher coming off the edge. In that split second before the rusher gets home and crushes Hurts, the rookie quarterback recognises Alshon Jeffrey is in one-on-one coverage against the smaller Marshon Lattimore and throws it up.
It is a great adjustment in the air from Jeffrey, who despite being older and semi-washed up, is still a valuable weapon on this Eagles roster. Just goes to show that a quarterback is still reliant on a litany of talented receivers.
Also, with all the classic football cliches in mind, that play by Hurts, staying in the pocket and delivering a strike while getting crushed, cannot be overlooked. Outside of being a fantastic play on the field, that demonstration of guts is enough to rally a lockerroom behind you.
Outside of the pocket
Hurts finished the day with 167 yards in the air with 1 touchdown and a yards per attempt of 5.57. So Hurts didn’t exactly light the world on fire by throwing the ball; which is fine. However, the rookie did accumulate 106 yards rushing on 18 attempts with an average yards per rush of 5.89.
While Wentz can use his legs somewhat, an ACL tear in 2017 combined with various other injuries has decreased his threat as a runner. Even coming out of the draft, Wentz was never the type of talented runner Hurts is.
With this added dimension to Hurts’ game, Doug Pederson wasted no time implementing designed QB runs on short-yardage situations in order to gain first downs.
Take a look at this example. Its 4th&2 on the Eagles opening drive of the game. Pederson calls a QB power and Hurts executes perfectly. The rookie stays behind his right guard and even runs over the Saints defender in the process. Hurts is no Cam Newton, but having this type of athleticism and strength at the quarterback position is a luxury few can afford.
Another example comes at the two-minute warning at the end of the first half. With the Eagles backed up into their own endzone, Hurts changes the play at the line of scrimmage and calls his own number. It’s a read-option and Hurts reads it perfectly.
The linebackers collapse down and Hurts knows he can beat defensive end, Trey Hendrickson, to the edge in single-hi. Hurts sprints into the space ahead of him for a 15 yard gain. A few plays later the Eagles would score their second touchdown of the game.
An added dimension of Hurts’ scrambling ability is that defences can no longer just sit in man coverage all day blanketing the Eagles receivers. On more than one occasion against the Saints, Hurts took advantage of the Saints defender’s backs being towards him, gashing them for big gains.
As we all know, the NFC East is a hot mess. With a current record of 4-8-1, the Eagles are two games behind first place in the division. However, with the unpredictability of the Washington Football Team and New York Giants, anything can happen.
Outside of the performance on the field, the biggest takeaway from Hurts’ debut as a starter was a positive atmosphere that surrounded the Eagles roster. Tight ends and the offensive line blocked harder, receivers and running backs ran harder and the defence played tougher.
The largest point against Carson Wentz was perhaps not the play of Jalen Hurts, but how he got the rest of the team to play harder. And in the NFL, if your team does not play hard week in, week out then its usually game over for the head coach. However, in Hurts, Pederson has a lifeline. A lifeline that he is sure to take.