When Doug Pederson named Jalen Hurts his new starting quarterback last week, he said he was looking for a spark.
In the team’s 24-21 win against the New Orleans Saints, Hurts delivered just that, throwing for 167 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 106 yards. Now, the Eagles coach wants more from his rookie quarterback the next time out.
“I’m hoping the spark is a little bit brighter and more of a flame now,” Pederson said. “Obviously coming off a win, we’ve got to continue to play well. He gave us the spark that I was looking for obviously, and I think the team was looking for, and we’ve got to do it again.”
The Eagles had their first practice Wednesday in preparation for their road matchup against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The challenge facing the offense, which struggled before Hurts’ promotion, now becomes replicating last weekend’s success for the former Alabama and Oklahoma star as teams start to get film on how the offense has changed with him.
The Eagles employed a handful of concepts and play calls that Hurts used during his college career, particularly with zone-read run plays and some run-pass options. They even utilized a mesh-route concept they seldom used with Carson Wentz, which led to Hurts’ longest completion of the evening, a 39-yarder to Jalen Reagor.
Now that the new wrinkles in the offense are on film, Pederson emphasized the importance of keeping things from becoming too predictable this week.
“We sort of have to reset,” Pederson said during his Wednesday news conference. “That’s why when we put the plan together and go practice today and the rest of the week, we do it in a way that is hopefully advantageous against our opponent each week. So, in Jalen’s case, he just has to study the tape. He’s got to study, obviously, himself. He really has to study his mannerisms too, right? No indicators to the defense and don’t give things away, whether it be by TV copy or film or coaches copy that defenses can really clue into and try to get an advantage on.”
The Eagles are likely studying how Arizona handled recent matchups against the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, and they might like what they see. Pats quarterback Cam Newton had 46 rushing yards on nine attempts in Week 12, gaining six first downs and breaking off a 14-yard run on a zone read that helped set up a game-winning field goal. The week before, Seahawks star Russell Wilson had similar success, rushing for 42 yards on 10 attempts.
Most of Wilson’s rushing attempts were the result of him scrambling on broken passing plays, but Newton had plenty of the designed quarterback-run plays the Eagles used last week.
The Cardinals, who use a 3-4 front in their base defense, have a tendency to use even more than the typical four-linebacker looks in their sub packages, sometimes having their pass rushers in a two-point stance hovering around the line of scrimmage in lieu of interior linemen.
“Jalen has to understand now it’s a whole new defense,” Pederson said. “It’s a different structure, different personnel. Scheme is [different] defensively and so what we did and had success against New Orleans may not apply this week.”
Hurts said if the offense does its job right, it won’t matter what adjustments the Cardinals make ahead of Sunday.
“We try to focus on us,” Hurts said. “I’ve always used that ‘execution’ word and I think that’s what it comes down to. Trusting the principles of the offense and the things that we do. Going out there and executing them. Everybody doing their job regardless of what the defense presents. Executing the intent of the play and always knowing what the answers are. My game, anybody’s game, everybody has to play on one accord. All 11 guys have to do their job to complement one another. It’s all about us as a unit going out there and playing good football.”