Soon after the Eagles’ latest loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, quarterback Jalen Hurts walked toward the 50-yard line at Lincoln Financial Field, where he met briefly with the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes, already a Super Bowl MVP at age 26 and arguably the league’s biggest superstar, had a quick, but lasting message for the 23-year-old Hurts.
“Keep playing, keep balling,” Hurts recalled Mahomes telling him. “[Success] is going to come. I’m going to see him again one day.”
First-year coach Nick Sirianni lauded Hurts, who completed 32-of-48 throws for 387 yards and two touchdowns to ago along with his eight carries and 47 yards, labeling Hurts’ performance as one of the best he’s seen from any quarterback.
Sirianni’s praise aside, heading into Week 5 at Carolina, the Eagles (1-3) have lost three consecutive games. The team has been plagued by penalties and poor defensive play. Overall, Hurts has been up and down. He’s showed promise in taking a step forward against the Chiefs, but the offense struggled in the red zone, where they finished 3-for-6.
Besides addressing their woes in the red zone this week, the Eagles have spent a considerable amount of time diagnosing what needs to occur on plays when Hurts scrambles out of the pocket.
The second-year Hurts boasts the unique ability as a dual-threat quarterback. Sirianni has said he still wants Hurts to stay in the pocket a second or two longer in most instances — which allows routes to progress and develop — but the coach can’t deny the quarterback’s ability to create on his own.
“I know what his strengths are,” Sirianni said of Hurts “I don’t want to cage him up on that. I don’t want to put anything on him that stops him from making plays. There’s a fine line there. We need to make those big plays on scrambles, and that’s a product of everybody – the tight ends, receivers and running backs - working to get open on the scrambles.
“I want to see more big plays happen with the scrambles because Jalen is so good at escaping, getting out of issues.”
Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said the team typically addresses scramble plays a couple of times each week, but ideally, he’d like to see them dial up scramble drills more often.
“We want to have good spacing when we scramble,” Steichen said. “When we scramble, receivers - where they’re running routes, one guy goes low, one guy goes high, one gets in the middle, and the other back guys - you are basically creating five on a dice. We want to have good spacing.
“Whenever he scrambles to the left, you flow to the left. He scrambles to the right, everyone flows to the right. But everyone’s got to have good spacing when we do that.”
When Hurts is considered under pressure, he is fifth in the league in quarterback rating (103.6) and sixth in yards (348), according to Pro Football Focus. He’s rushed 34 times for 226 yards and one touchdown. As a passer, Hurts has completed 66.21% of his throws for 1,167 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
Perhaps the most eye-opening stat is that Hurts has 2,642 all-purpose yards in his first eight starts, which ranks third in NFL history, behind only Cam Newton and Mahomes. Both quarterbacks are widely known for their abilities to create outside the pocket.
Tight end Dallas Goedert discussed the challenges of attempting to free himself up whenever Hurts decides to scramble.
“My goal is to see where Jalen is moving and work with him, be able to feel the defense on me and give them a move while I push up and come back down,” Goedert said. “If I feel green grass, I just try to run to it. I always try to stay in correlation with him, keeping my eyes on him, knowing he can extend plays and get anywhere at any time.
“ ... Jalen’s been doing a great job commanding the whole offense, going through his reads and making the right play. I feel like I can be an outlet for him whenever he needs.”
When the pocket breaks down - which can happen frequently with an offensive line that’s featured three different starting units in four weeks - Hurts has displayed the ability to create with his feet. At times, it feels as if scrambling has been an automatic decision, even when he doesn’t necessarily need to leave the pocket.
Ultimately, that will come down to feel and touch for Hurts. And when it’s time for him to create on his own, the Eagles had better hope the receivers downfield are ready.
“We’re close,” Hurts said. “Clearly we’re not there, we’re not winning. But we’re close. This team is not a finished product. We’re working.”