Learning to Fly: Can Jalen Hurts and the Eagles Find Offensive Sustainability?
In the four weeks that led up to Week 12, the Jalen Hurts-led Philadelphia Eagles had scraped together a record of 3-1 while averaging 34.5 points per game – the second most in the NFL over that stretch.
And while Hurts’ passing numbers weren’t all that impressive, he did manage Philadelphia’s attack in an efficient manner, completing 62.8% of his passes and turning the ball over just once.
We witnessed moments of brilliance earlier in the season. He showcased his elite mobility in Week 2 when he scampered for 82 yards and a score versus the San Francisco 49ers and his potential through the air in Week 4 when he threw for 387 yards and two touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs.
This past week, however, Hurts and the Eagles came crashing back down to earth in a 13-7 loss to the NFC East-rival New York Giants. Hurts completed a season-low 45.2% of his attempts and threw a career-high three picks. It could have been worse. He finished with the highest pickable pass percentage (13.79) in the league among those who had at least seven attempts.
So the question has to be asked: Can the Eagles find any sort of sustainability in their current mold with Hurts under center?
The appropriate place to start is with the offensive system itself. Philadelphia head coach Nick Sirianni has incorporated a ton of the same looks that Lincoln Riley did for Hurts in his only year at Oklahoma.
Most of what the Eagles are doing starts on the ground and attempts to utilize Hurts’ mobility – moving the pocket, running and boot-slide schemes, rub routes, read-option, and gearing deception off that. Another feature (or hindrance, however you look at it) of the offense, is the predominant number of half-field reads.
Hurts is not asked to work his eyes backside, and is often given the liberty to tuck the football away and run if he does not like what he sees. This, however, is where the negatives start to creep in.
Even with this catered offensive scheme that Sirianni has cooked up, Hurts’ eyes still tend to look stale and slow. There are times when looks are literally scheming guys open and Hurts’ eyes are inexplicably in the wrong spot.
Over the past three weeks, there have been looks in concepts like flood in which Hurts only has to read one defender and make a decision. But all too often in those situations his eyes float away from the concept in general. Part of that is due to Hurts’ willingness to take any one-on-one shot he sees.
This is not a bad thing in some down and distance circumstances when taking the open man in the concept is the right move. Sure, the linebacker in the clip below has his back turned and quarterbacks are trained to treat defenders whose chest is not exposed like they do not exist, but taking the open underneath route on a third-and-manageable is a preferable option.
Take the first down, keep the drive moving, and avoid settling for a field goal.
When Hurts gets the look he wants pre-snap and knows where he’s going with his first read, he’s excellent at throwing on time with anticipation. Timing out routes and comebacks along the boundary specifically is where Hurts thrives at driving the football at the top of his receivers’ routes.
He ranks 12th in the NFL with a well-thrown percentage of 79.2 on attempts to the outer portions of the field, while the league average on those throws is 77.2%.
But when Hurts has to second-guess his pre-snap diagnosis or move his eyes, the process begins to crack. His eyes and his feet are often not in sync, there’s an element of panic as he bails the pocket and struggles to get his head around to his checkdown.
Given his nature to take one-on-one shots and get his eyes stuck to his pre-snap assumptions, Hurts has to overcome the tendency to take ill-advised and predetermined shots down the field. Even in games the Eagles won by a wide margin against the Broncos and Saints, there were glaring red flags that give pause on Hurts’ long-term success.
We have already seen the big-play ability from Hurts on the ground, but his ability to extend a play and allow for a second window to open down the field is admirable.
Though Hurts has DeVonta Smith open as his primary read and does not pull the trigger, he does a good job of extending the play to his right. This allows for Quez Watkins to get into clearance.
There have also been some strong glimpses of Hurts’ ability to work the pocket and allow for shots to develop down the field. They may not be prevalent, but they exist to the point that the hope of development allows one to see the potential of a franchise quarterback.
Feeling pressure up the middle, Hurts does a splendid job of side-stepping, keeping his eyes downfield, and delivering an on-target ball to Dallas Goedert.
The wish, though, is for Hurts to have much more of this on tape and not as much reckless abandonment of the pocket – often times against a non-threatening pass rush.
Is there reason for hope? Absolutely. But as it currently stands for both Hurts and the offensive scheme in general, there’s plenty of reason for long-term skepticism.
Long story short: This is not a sustainable brand of football. A game plan designed to capitalize on mobility is, as we have seen with Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. However, the difference is that the majority of the Eagles’ limited success through the air has come from schemed looks designed to get the ball to playmakers in space.
This is not to say that Hurts cannot be successful. But the Eagles are going to have to open up the playbook and add some meat and potatoes to their currently watered-down offense to find any sort of long-term stability. Running the ball upwards of 38 times as they did against the Broncos or 50 times (WHAT!) as they did against the Saints is just not going to win you many games in today’s NFL.
It’s up to Hurts to develop. Can he grow into a quarterback you can trust to work through higher-level concepts and make the correct decision? Can you trust him to show patience in the pocket and make the big play when he’s given the opportunity? Can you add a heavier pre-snap workload and expect him to get his eyes in the right place in a timely manner?
We’ve seen glimpses of his ability to work the pocket, step up, and move it. He clearly is not afraid to push the ball down the field when he has one-on-one coverage. However, evidence of stale eyes, late throws, and ill-advised chances into double coverage also plague his tape over the past three games.
With the less-than-stellar crop of quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft class, the Eagles are almost without question going to run it back with Hurts. Only time will tell if Hurts and the Eagles can grow this offense into a sustainable attack.
Graphic design by Matt Sisneros.