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December 13, 2020

Jalen Hurts led the Eagles to victory Sunday, and flashed some true NFL skill

In stark contrast to the quarterback play in Philadelphia over the last three-plus months, Jalen Hurts was a breath of fresh air in Sunday afternoon's 24-21 Eagles win over playoff-bound New Orleans, showing not only that he can play, but that he might have a future in the NFL.

With such a lack of competency through the air in the past weeks and months — and a thoroughly underwhelming playbook and decision-making to boot — it would be easy to fall victim to hyperbole. We'll try to avoid that trap when diving into the performance of the Eagles' second-round quarterback making his first NFL start. But man, Hurts under center was like an ice cold beer on a summer's day, a frosty lick of soft serve or a cool Jersey Shore breeze.

Hurts didn't do anything exceedingly spectacular through the air, going 17-for-30 for 167 yards, and added 109 rushing yards on 15 carries (not including kneel downs) — but he did the things quarterbacks are supposed to do. And he did them against one of the best defenses in the NFL, leading one of its worst offenses. 

First and foremost, behind a battered offensive line that once again had a new look in Week 14, Hurts was able to escape danger with impressive elusiveness (and perhaps the best offensive line play in weeks) avoiding a single sack after Wentz was brought down 50 times in 12+ games.

Maybe the game manager mentality Hurts brought to the offense isn't going to win games all by itself but certainly gives Eagles a chance to win. And it also shows that Doug Pederson and his offensive coaching staff can indeed adapt and change, something they failed to do to great effect with Wentz at QB and something that surely helped aid in his downfall.

Hurts made quick decisions and got the ball out decisively all afternoon long, rolling out frequently and taking off with his legs even more frequently. More than his agility, it was his awareness that made him look like a real NFL quarterback. And, for the first time perhaps all season, the Eagles were fun to watch. 

Sure, this is more of a Jalen Reagor highlight than a Hurts one, but late in the first quarter the Eagles did post a "splash" play, a catch and run for 39 yards that led to a touchdown a few plays later (more on that in just a second).

The play is noteworthy within the frame of assessing Hurt's performance, though, as the QB didn't have any problem locating and connecting with the wide open player in the secondary.

Wentz has missed more than a few times on "layup" throws such as these, and Hurts didn't hesitate all day long in finding the right receiver to target. 

He also, as we alluded to earlier, scored a touchdown on the Eagles' second drive, hitting Alshon Jeffery for six. So twice in the course of one possession, Hurts did two things for which Wentz has received criticism.

An interesting triumph for Hurts came very late in the first half. The Saints were faced with a fourth-and-1 at the 48-yard line and elected to punt, backing the Eagles inside their own five with 2:13 to play. Clearly, the thinking there was to try and create a turnover, or three-and-out and have good enough field position to score before the end of the half.

After a false start, Hurts gave Philly some breathing room by scrambling out to the 18, and two plays later Miles Sanders ran for an 82-yard score and 17-0 halftime lead. 

Hurts was completely unshaken with his back against his own end zone, and what do you know — running the ball is a good idea (especially with the Eagles among the leagues best in yards per carry). Ironically, New Orleans almost got beat at their own game, as a forced punt led to a six-play, 73 yard yard drive (headlined by 24 and 16 yard Hurts scrambles). Unfortunately for the Eagles, Jake Elliott missed the chip shot.

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The defense gave up a pair of touchdowns in the second half, but with the Eagles looking to be on the ropes, Hurts took command and led the Birds down the field on a six-play, 53-yard touchdown drive to put Philly ahead more comfortably, 24-14, to help ice the game.

Speaking of Hurts scrambles, it was with his legs that Hurts made most of his impact, running 14 times for 109 yards as well as converting seven rushing first downs. The Eagles had two 100-yard rushers for the first time since 2013 (Sanders collected 115 yards himself). They had a QB pass the century mark on the ground for the first time since Michael Vick did it in 2010. Having Hurts dart between tacklers adds a new element to the offense that even Wentz didn't add, as he occasionally was able to get a marginal run here and there.

Despite the positives, Pederson was hesitant to give Hurts credit for the victory.

"Jalen played well," he said. “Obviously we won the game but there were a lot of good performances out there tonight and the defense stepped up, the offensive line, some of our young receivers… It’s a start and we’re excited to get a win."

When asked about Miles Sanders’ postgame comments complimenting Hurts for being a born leader, Pederson simply said "that would be accurate."

As for who starts next week for the Eagles, early reports on Sunday suggest that Hurts would be the guy moving forward, but Pederson declined to comment one way or the other following the win over the Saints. 

There are no shortage of negatives, and Wentz apologists and football experts alike will point them out this week as Philly prepares to head west to Arizona to face a QB similar to Hurts in Kyler Murray next week. His commitment to rolling to one side makes him easier to defend. His speed to elect to run the ball sometimes comes at the detriment of waiting for a play to develop, something Wentz did and was sometimes criticized for. And his accuracy leaves some to be desired — he barely completed 50% of his passes. He also fell victim to the turnover bug, coughing up a fumble late in the fourth that led to a late Saints touchdown, an inexcusable misstep that nearly cost the team the game. But it didn't.

The Eagles remain just barely in the mix for a playoff spot, trailing Washington by 1.5 games with three to play. The win Sunday makes Doug Pederson a ridiculous 12-3 with backup quarterbacks, including the playoffs. 

Poor Carson Wentz.

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