I won’t lie, as I watched Monday night I thought to myself, “why does 2023, 5 year $255 million Jalen Hurts not look like 2022, 4 year $6 million Jalen Hurts?” In fact, through three weeks, Hurts has more closely resembled the 2021 first year starter that couldn’t read defenses or locate open receivers. It’s been frustrating, to say the least, for Eagles fans. I also understand how no one cares to hear how upset we are because the defending NFC Champions don’t look perfect despite a 3-0 start.
Like any rabid fan with more important life obligations to complete, I ignored all my responsibilities to rewatch the game and then the All-22 for good measure. My completely unprofessional take: It wasn’t that bad. In fact, it wasn’t bad at all.
It’s important to note that defenses now respect Hurts as a more than capable thrower. The Buccaneers dropped eight in coverage multiple times Monday night. The Patriots and Vikings repeatedly blitzed Hurts. Opponents are going to relative extremes to try and slow the Eagle offense. Hurts needs to react quicker to an eight man coverage and exploit it with his feet. He did very little of that Monday night. Reports of him being under the weather make sense in hindsight because he looked sluggish. At the same time, I’ve thought the same thing after Week 1 and Week 2.
Anyway, I thought Hurts was pretty good Monday after watching the game again. Though there is still some work to be done before he’s back at his MVP-esque level. Here are a few examples…
It’s 3rd and 1 at the Tampa Bay 14. Olamide Zaccheaus runs a corner route to the right. The outside defensive back bites ever so slightly on either Hurts bootlegging or the Dallas Goedert out route. Either way, Zaccheaus has the angle with the inside safety trailing the play. As soon as that outside coverage hesitates, Hurts has to know he has the corner route. Hurts sees it, but (in my opinion) delays by about five more steps before throwing the football. What’s worse, the ball is thrown too inside rather than into the back corner. Both the delay and the throw allowed the outside coverage to get back in the play and deflect the football.
Furthermore, DeVonta Smith is wide open trailing the play underneath on a crossing route. Hurts would’ve needed to plant in order to hit Smith, but the time was there to do so. Smith converts the first down and may even score. I’ve included the play above. As you can see, there’s no pressure until later in the play. Quicker recognition and/or a better through and the Eagles have a touchdown.
Late in the 3rd quarter, it’s 1st and 10 for the Eagles. Smith is lined up to Hurts’ left in man-to-man coverage with the Buccaneers in single high. To Hurts’ right, AJ Brown runs a dig route. As soon as the safety plants as if he’s going to drive on Brown’s dig route, Hurts must recognize he has Smith for a touchdown. Instead, Hurts takes another step back in the pocket and again fires the ball short and outside instead of deep and up field where Smith has the corner beat and the safety desperately trying to get back in the play. Unfortunately, due to the slow read and poor throw, the corner is able to undercut Smith for the interception. In addition to the video above, I’ve included a screen shot of when the ball should’ve been released below. As you can see, the pocket is clean and Hurts should be able to fully step into this 50+ yard pass.
The only other noticeably missed opportunity was on the Eagles final scoring drive of the game. I don’t think this is entirely a miss by Hurts because he did have Brown on the out route for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Brown dropped it. However, I think any quarterback would rather throw to an open slant than a contested out. As I mentioned, I don’t believe this one is on Hurts. He made a great throw. It’s just that the easy slant was there, too. It felt like this choice was a result of added pressure to appease a clearly frustrated Brown through the first two weeks. I won’t include the video but here’s a screen shot. If you’d like to see it, the time stamp is 53:45.
Look, obviously I’m not in the meetings, and other than seeing where his head is facing, I can’t be sure that Hurts is actually looking at what I’m assuming he’s looking at. With that said, I think these are plays you hope/expect your quarter of a billion dollar quarterback to make. Yes, it’s only three plays, but these three plays alone resulted in only 3 points** instead of what could’ve been 21. These misses are obviously very impactful in a closer contest. (**Eagles failed to convert on subsequent 4th and 1. Interception is obviously a turnover. Kicked field goal three plays later.)
- On the drive after the Hurts interception, I found it interesting the Eagles ran the football two out of the first three plays despite only 24 seconds remaining in the 1st half. The Eagles had all three timeouts remaining. Everyone assumed the previous interception was a miscommunication between Hurts and D’Andre Swift, and that the newly acquired Swift was to blame. In hindsight, maybe it was Hurts’ fault, because the play calling in that situation clearly indicated that Eagles coaches did not fully trust Hurts to push the ball downfield in a clear passing situation. Maybe I’m overthinking this but it was unexpected for an offense that often pushes the envelope.
- Again, probably over thinking this one too, but how does Smith feel when the offense clearly made an intentional effort to get Brown the football more? Does Smith now need to complain to get his targets back up? Yeh, I am for sure overthinking this. I just don’t love the body language from Brown right now. Know what else? I think Smith may be the better receiver anyway. Brown is clearly superior after the catch, but Smith is often open more and open faster, which may not sound like a huge deal but it is crucial to an effective passing game
- On the safety late in the 3rd quarter, both Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis were doubled team and both obliterated their respective double. Davis’ was most impressive as he first stood up both interior linemen before driving them back into their own end zone and into the ball carrier. How awesome to have such a force inside from two players in their early twenties.