An Eagles vs Saints Haiku
Hurts wins his debut
200 yards rushing is
really hard to beat
The Eagles finally played a football game that was entertaining to watch and capped it off with a win over the 10-2 Saints. What should we make of this win? Let’s dive in and talk about some of the individual performances and an overblown narrative.
Downfield Passing Game
This offseason the Eagles prioritized speed, speed, and more speed. The idea was to create a downfield passing attack that has been sorely lacking for the offense. I’m here to tell you that approach was a complete disaster. This team has no idea how to attack downfield. On Sunday, Jalen Hurts had the slowest time to throw in the NFL and yet had the 2nd lowest average completed air yards. The longest completion of the day for Hurts was 13 yards and only 2 passes over 15 yards were attempted, both of which fell incomplete.
Greg Ward now has 3 punt returns for -18 yards if you count the yardage he has given up after the bounce. The last time Jalen Reagor was back as the returner he ran it back 73 yards.— Shane Haff (@HAFFnHAFF_TPL) December 13, 2020
The Eagles’ special teams (sans Cameron Johnston) stinks. Jalen Reagor gave you a spark last week on a punt return TD? Better never put him back there again. Making a 22-yard field goal? Nah, let’s make things interesting. On the onside kick at the end of the game, it looked like the Eagles thought the ball had to go 10 yards before they could recover it. This is a poorly coached unit that messes up everything it touches.
As the coach of the aforementioned unit, Dave Fipp should be fired. He should have been fired weeks ago.
Jake Elliott has now missed an extra point or a 22-yard field goal in each of the last 3 weeks. He has missed a kick in 7 of 13 games this season. Fortunately for him, he has one of the most heavily guaranteed kicker contracts in the NFL so he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Boy am I glad I didn’t buy a Travis Fulgham jersey. Fulgham has seen his snap count drop from 65 to 37 to 25 to 11 over the last four weeks. When he has played, he has dropped passes, run poor routes, and largely been ineffective. It was fun while it lasted, but Fulgham doesn’t appear to be an answer for the future.
There is no denying the spark that the Eagles had yesterday with Carson Wentz on the sideline. The offense played better, the defense played better, and the special teams were still terrible so at least we know that wasn’t Wentz’s fault. That is mostly tongue in cheek, but you know Wentz has to feel like it is the truth. All nuance aside, Doug Pederson has a 35-33-1 record when Carson Wentz is the starting QB and an 11-3 record when Wentz’s backup starts the game.
Rodney Mcleod has been the most reliable defender in the Eagles secondary this season. He left the game on Sunday with what was later confirmed to be an ACL injury. He will miss the remainder of the season. That is terrible news for a banged-up secondary that foolishly cut Will Parks last week. Parks logged a sack, 6 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 QB hit in his first game for the Broncos this week by the way.
The Eagles Draft Pick
Sigh… The Eagles can’t even tank properly. A loss on Sunday would have given the Eagles the 4th spot in the NFL draft. It would have been a great spot to be in with the possibility of trading back with a QB hungry team or taking one of a few stud players at the top of the draft. Instead, the Eagles won the game, dropped to 9th in the draft order, and still sit a game and a half out of the playoff race with only 3 games to go.
After ripping the special teams unit above, I have to give Johnston credit. He has been great this season and was a factor again on Sunday, booming punts and dropping a gem inside the Saints’ 5-yard line. Take Jake Elliott’s money and give it to Johnston.
Jalen Hurts was far from perfect on Sunday, but he played a very good game for a rookie making his first start against the best defense in the NFL who was riding a 9 game win streak. Let’s break down what Hurts did well on Sunday:
- Risk Management – Hurts fumbled in a late-game situation (when he shouldn’t have been carrying the ball to begin with I might point out). He had 1 pass that should have been intercepted but wasn’t. Outside of that, he played a clean game. He got out of the pocket to escape pressure frequently and even threw the ball away several times. Hurts was playing in a big moment, but the moment wasn’t too big for him and he was always content to live to play another down.
- Playmaking – Hurts was pressured 14 times on Sunday. He took 0 sacks. There were 0 negative plays on those 14 pressures and the Eagles gained 82 yards. Wentz simply doesn’t possess the athleticism to make the plays that Hurts made with his feet on Sunday.
- Accuracy/Timing – Hurts repeatedly took his 3 step drops and hit targets on time, in rhythm, and in stride. I have questions about Hurts accuracy but it was on point on Sunday.
There are still things that I need to see from Hurts before I get too excited. I need to see him go through full progressions, something he was rarely if ever asked to do on Sunday. I need to see him able to push the ball downfield and throw between the hash marks.
Looking at Hurts’ pass chart, he only threw beyond the line of scrimmage and between the hashes 2 times. Everything was short and to the sideline. Hurts was protected by a gameplan that mitigated his weaknesses (processing and reading the middle of the field) and maximized his strengths (mobility and playmaking). The problem with designing an entire gameplan around quick, out breaking route concepts and QB running plays can be found on the other sideline in Taysom Hill. Hill lit up the Falcons twice before struggling against the Eagles on Sunday. When a QB can’t throw to the middle of the field defenses will figure out a way to stop them. The tape is out there on Hurts now. In the 2nd half, Jalen Hurts really struggled to move the ball against a Saints team that made halftime adjustments including extensive blitzing and spying on him. If the Saints were able to make those adjustments on the fly at halftime, you better believe the Cardinals will be ready for him from the opening kickoff. The question at this point is if the Eagles will begin to trust him to make more complex reads and open up the playbook.
For the third year in a row, Doug Pederson’s team has come up with a huge win late in the season when all hope seems lost. All questions of why they find themselves in these positions aside, it is clear that Pederson’s players respect him and will never quit on him. For that reason alone I want Pederson to be on the sidelines next season as the head coach of this football team.
Sanders was electric on Sunday, rushing for 115 yards and 2 TDs on 14 rushing attempts while adding 4 receptions for 21 yards. Sanders and Wentz were never on the same page in the passing game. Sanders and Hurts were. The Eagles should continue to lean on Sanders down the stretch as a weapon out of the backfield.
Inverted cover 2 play calls with corners I have never heard of aside, Schwartz called a good game on Sunday. His defensive line was on point and the back end of the defense was able to hang on despite losing their top 2 CBs, top safety, and moving their number 2 safety to corner mid-game. It was all done against a backup QB, but you can only play the team on the field in front of you and the Eagles did that to great success.
Josh Sweat has had a fantastic season. On Sunday he recorded 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QB hits, and forced a fumble on a key 4th down. Sweat will likely be the DE2 on this team next season if he can stay healthy, and he has played up to the billing this season.
It took him the majority of the season, but it looks like Javon Hargrave remembers how to play defensive tackle now. He was active all day on Sunday with 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QB hits, and a fumble recovery.
Doug Pederson Calling Games Differently
Everyone watching the game on Sunday knows that the offensive gameplan looked different for Jalen Hurts than it has for Carson Wentz. Many have criticized Pederson for failing to adapt his scheme to Wentz and used Sunday as the crown jewel of their argument. To do so is to miss the point of Sunday’s gameplan entirely.
The offense that the Eagles ran on Sunday was entirely predicated on the QB running game. It was exclusively based in the shotgun and relied on a lot of zone read/RPO type looks. That offense works because Hurts is a threat to run the ball. In fact, Hurts became only the 2nd QB in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in his debut (Lamar Jackson is the only other QB to ever do so.) Do you know how many times Carson Wentz has rushed for 100 yards? Zero. In fact, Wentz has only rushed for over 50 yards 1 time in his career.
Beyond the running ability differences, there are dramatic passing ability differences between Hurts and Wentz.
Wentz used to be a good passer so the offense was based around getting him going in the passing game, primarily with spacing concepts and leveraged throws over the middle of the field. With Hurts, the Eagles were avoiding the middle of the field like the plague and just trying to get any positive yards to get into third and manageable situations. That approach worked on Sunday, but it will become problematic once teams have it on tape if the team isn’t willing to allow Hurts to go through more complex progressions and throw between the hash marks.
The bottom line is that the Eagles gameplan on Sunday, while suitable for a rookie making his first NFL start, isn’t sustainable in the long term and is not the offense you should be asking your 5th year QB to run.
Wentz supporters (which should encompass all Eagles fans) who are outraged that Pederson did not install such a simple, rookie friendly offense for his 5th year, $128 million dollar QB, should ask themselves what such feelings say about that quarterback’s performance this season.
The reality is that the passing game didn’t get better moving from Wentz to Hurts. Hurts time to throw was up, average completed air yards was down, and despite holding the ball longer and throwing shorter passes his completion percentage was lower than Wentz’s was. The difference was Hurts ability to extend plays with his legs and avoid turnovers.
Before you think I’m down on Jalen Hurts I need you to hear me say that I’m not. Hurts performed admirably in his first start under tough circumstances. He passed the first part of the test with flying colors, but there are still many things that the Eagles have yet to ask him to do that are required of all successful NFL QBs. For that reason, and for the first time this year, I can honestly say that I am excited about next weeks’ game.