Photo Source: Glenn Erby, USA Today
Despite losing to the Arizona Cardinals 33 to 26, the Philadelphia Eagles looked the best they had since the end of last season. Rookie QB Jalen Hurts is playing like a starter, the defense is playing remarkably well considering all of their injuries, and the players just seem excited now. Since Carson Wentz got benched in Green Bay, Hurts has provided the team and the city of Philadelphia a spark that they haven't felt in a long time. Football is fun again! With that said, let's get into some of my observations from this game.
Jalen Hurts, QB1?:
No one expects rookie QB's, let alone ones taken outside of the first round of the draft, to step into any game and be hugely successful. If you can get a baseline level of competency out of your rookie QB, that's a win for most coaches. So, when Hurts made his first NFL start against the New Orleans Saints last week, no one expected him to look average or even above average. When he ran and passed for 100+ yards against the league's best defense, Hurts got people excited. Reasonably, however, fans and analysts were still hesitant. The league had no film on Hurts, and a solid gameplan for a defense can make all the difference. A real test for Hurts would be when he went up against the Cardinals who had film on him and a top 10 defensive unit.
Hurts finished the night with 338 passing yards, 63 rushing yards, and four total touchdowns. He is the first Eagles QB to have that kind of stat line since Mike Vick in 2010. Besides putting up unreal numbers, the intangibles looked amazing too. Hurts just looks calm in the face of immense pressure. The two-minute Hurts drill is looking solid already. He also didn't let a poor first-quarter shake his confidence, something that rookie QB's are susceptible to.
Jalen Hurts wasn't perfect in this game, far from it. He took too many sacks and had a few bad fumbles. But, he did more than enough to elevate this team and put them in a position to succeed.
I don't want to declare Hurts the QB of the future after two wins, but it's hard to overstate how successful he's been. He's the only player in NFL history to have 500+ passing yards and 150+ rushing yards in his first two career starts. Sources have said that Carson Wentz doesn't want to be in Philly if Hurts is the starter. Given how bad Wentz has been, how good Hurts has been, and the fact that Doug Pederson is just better with non-Wentz QB's (11-3 record w/o Wentz), leaves the Eagles with a tough decision to make this offseason.
The defense is playing like they're healthy!:
Yes, the defense gave up 33 points this game. But that fails to take into account the state of the Eagles defense. Last week against the Saints, the Eagles lost the captain of the defense, safety Rodney McCloud, for the season due to an ACL tear. Their top corners, Darius Slay & Avonte Maddox, couldn't play this week due to various injuries. Some previous injuries to their depth backs meant that the Eagles were starting their 4th and 5th string options at outside corner tonight. Against DeAndre Hopkins & Larry Fitzgerald that's a recipe for disaster. Yet, those two players didn't have the night you'd expect them to have.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was able to employ a zone scheme that was able to keep the Cardinals within reach the entire night. Three turnovers, most of which came from guys you'd never heard of, helped keep the Eagles in the game. If Schwartz can continue to get career practice squad players to perform decently against guys like Hopkins & Fitzgerald, then the defense is in a good spot to help the team win their final two games.
Doug Pederson Has Got To Be Happy:
Before the New Orleans game, Doug Pederson's job was clearly in jeopardy. Every week, there was a different source claiming that Pederson was probably going to be fired at the end of the season. With Wentz, the offense was flat. Turnovers kept happening, they couldn't score, and everyone looked lost. However, since Hurts has started, the offense looks functional again! Players look like they know what they're doing, play design is looking fresh, and the team is putting points on the board. Now, the decision on whether to fire Pederson is a bit unclear. The Eagles offense under Pederson works when Wentz isn't the QB. As I mentioned before, Pederson is 11-3, when QB's not named Carson Wentz, are starting. So, why is that?
When the Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, a staple play concept of theirs was something called mesh. I won't go into what a mesh play looks like, but know that Pederson gashed the famed Bellichick defense with it that entire game. Mesh is one of the Eagle's most successful offensive designs. But, this past year, with Wentz, not a single mesh play had been called all season. Fans and analysts were clamoring for mesh and couldn't understand why Pederson wouldn't call it. After Wentz was benched, an anonymous source said that Wentz didn't want to run mesh plays because those were Nick Foles plays. Yeah, Wentz didn't want to run some of the Eagle's best plays because he was petty that Nick Foles had so much success with them.
In Hurts' first start last week, mesh magically re-appeared in the offense! With Hurts in at QB, Pederson can run the offense he wants to and run it successfully. He doesn't have Wentz changing the offense just to distinguish himself. Before Wentz got benched, the thought was that Pederson was to blame for the offensive struggles. Now that we have two straight games in which the offense is operating at a high level, one has to wonder, is Wentz largely at fault for the Eagle's early offensive struggles? To me, the answer is yes. I think this will become even clearer in the Eagle's last two games, as Hurts gets more accustomed to Pederson's system. Pederson is happy because the QB swap is slowly absolving him from the majority of the blame.
The Eagles have the Cowboys next week and the Washington Football Team to end the season. They need the Giants to lose two of their remaining games. and for Washington to lose to the Panthers next week to win the division. I want to see the Eagles win, what fan doesn't? But, if Hurts is your QB of the future, you want to start building around him this draft and a higher pick takes you further. Whether you want to see them win the division or secure a higher draft pick, every Eagles fan knows that this team is fun to watch again. I'm looking forward to these last two weeks of football.