When looking over Jalen Hurts’ first stat sheet of the season, Shane Steichen’s favorite number was 77.1.
The Eagles’ offensive coordinator said he was impressed with several aspects of Hurts’ performance in the team’s 32-6 road win against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, but the bottom line was the efficiency, evident by his completion percentage.
“Any time you’re completing 77 percent of your passes, you’re putting your team in a position to win football games,” Steichen said Tuesday. “The way he created plays outside the pocket, I mean, we’ve seen it in training camp, but to see it live on Sunday was very impressive.”
At 77.1%, Hurts has the third-highest completion rate in the league, trailing only Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Denver’s Teddy Bridgewater. He completed 27 of 35 attempts for 254 yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons and gave reason for optimism going into Sunday’s home opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
Some coaches and evaluators value yards per attempt higher than completion percentage when analyzing quarterback stats, but Steichen said he prefers completion percentage as an indicator for overall performance.
“I think yards per attempt plays in, but I really do, I look at the completion percentage,” Steichen said. “When guys are completing balls, like I said, you’re moving the sticks. It could be a 5-yard completion that puts you at second-and-5, you complete another ball, you’re in a first down. When you’re completing balls, you’re moving the ball.”
Partly because of a heavy use of screens and short passes, Hurts’ yards per attempt wasn’t as eye-popping as his completion percentage. He averaged 7.5 yards per throw, which ranked 13th in the league.
Hurts’ accuracy against Atlanta was a welcome change for the Eagles. Last season, the second-year quarterback completed just 52% of his passes, which ranked last in the league among quarterbacks with at least 75 dropbacks. It’s worth noting that Carson Wentz didn’t fare much better, completing just 57.4% of his attempts before getting benched.
Coach Nick Sirianni and Steichen clearly prioritized getting Hurts in a rhythm early with plenty of run-pass options and screens. Some of those calls were Hurts’ decisions based on the Falcons’ defensive alignment, but the focus on underneath passes was prevalent throughout the game.
Hurts had a league-low 3.7 intended air yards per throw, according to Next Gen Stats. The metric measures how many yards a quarterback’s throw travels in the air before reaching their target on average. That doesn’t mean Hurts had nothing but layups, though. His completion percentage above expectation, according to NGS, was ranked fifth in the league, meaning he made a handful of difficult completions. Pro Football Focus credited the 23-year-old with two big-time throws as well.
“We wanted to execute some of that short control passing game, but still be able to take the ball downfield,” Sirianni said after the game. “And there were some other things that were down the field as well that Atlanta did a good job of taking away and forcing us to throw it underneath. But, we get a coverage that we want and we have the ability to go downfield; if not, Jalen did a good job with his reads and taking what the defense gave him.”
Steichen said the Eagles called plays designed for Hurts to be aggressive down the field, but Atlanta’s prioritization of limiting explosive-play opportunities at the expense of giving up underneath stuff forced Hurts’ hand.
“We had shots that were called and they took them away, so we had to check it down,” Steichen said. “We’re always going to have those. We’re going to have our schemed stuff where we’re trying to take a shot and if they take it away, we’re going to check it down. That’s the philosophy: If they’re not going to give us the big chunk, check it down to the tailback and keep completing footballs. Like I said, if you’re completing 77% of your passes, you’ve got a chance to win football games. As long as we’re completing balls, being efficient on third down, and scoring in the red zone, we’re going to put ourselves in a position to win games.”