Hold the phone, or in modern parlance, the Siri, on Jalen Hurts.
While the rookie’s first two starts showed promise and energized an Eagles team looking for competent quarterback play, his shaky performance against the Cowboys Sunday made clear that it’s too early to anoint him as next year’s starter.
Hurts has another opportunity to make his case. Doug Pederson said that he’s sticking with the quarterback for Sunday night’s season finale because he wants to “continue to evaluate” him.
It could be his toughest challenge yet. Washington has one of the NFL’s best defenses, and perhaps, its best pass rush. Hurts has done better than Carson Wentz in avoiding sacks, but he has often left the pocket too early, and increasingly so.
“Young players sometimes do that,” Pederson said Wednesday. “And this is where we can coach him up and show him exactly where his eyes need to be, for instance, how he can time the drop with the route combination or what he’s seeing defensively.
“And just trust the protection, overall, whether it’s a pressure look or not.”
Hurts’ mobility has brought a dynamic to the offense that it lacked with Wentz, and there have been occasions when scrambling was the best course. But he has also missed open receivers, something he got away with in college, but that evaluators were worried he wouldn’t outgrow in the NFL.
Pederson said he and his coaches need to help Hurts “calm himself in the pocket.”
He played well in the first half in Dallas, and overall in four games, considering his inexperience, has looked better than some were expecting. There is obvious talent and he appears to have many of the necessary off-the-field attributes for the position.
Hurts is clearly a work in progress. He was drafted in the second round to be the backup, but also with the expectation that he would have time to develop. Wentz’s regression, obviously, accelerated his learning curve.
But many of the issues scouts saw pre-draft have been prevalent, especially against the Cowboys, in a small sample of games. And it hasn’t just been Hurts’ happy feet in the pocket. He’s struggled some with the anticipation and timing of his reads. He hasn’t been accurate enough. And there are questions about arm strength and throwing mechanics.
» READ MORE: Five reasons why the Eagles lost to the Cowboys
It’s far too early, however, to make definitive evaluations. Hurts has a lot to learn and he knows it.
“It’s a big-time learning experience,” he said after Sunday’s game. “I got to go out there and make the plays when the opportunities present themselves that I take complete ownership on.”
Pederson noted that the Cowboys made defensive adjustments which may have affected Hurts. He also said the 22-year-old had lower body tightness in the second half. The Eagles’ porous defense also forced the offense to play catch-up.
But the offense scored touchdowns on each of its first two possessions. And they drove into Dallas territory seven other times only to come away with three points. Penalties played a factor, but Hurts, as he often likes to say, left money on the table.
The first possession, despite the end result, was a harbinger of opportunities squandered.
On this first down, Hurts (No. 2) had receiver Greg Ward (No. 84) break open over the middle downfield. But he had already dropped his eyes at the rush and escaped the pocket.
He picked up 11 yards, so there was a positive result, but scrambling should be a last resort.
The same applied several plays later on second-and-goal. Running back Miles Sanders (No. 26) was schemed open on a pick route vs. man coverage. All Hurts had to do was wait a tick and dump him the ball. But he left early again.
Hurts’ effort into the end zone was tremendous, but it wasn’t necessary and he took a hit. He also stepped out of bounds at the 4-yard line. The Eagles would score on the next play, but failing to capitalize on chances would come back to haunt them.
There were positives. After a run-heavy opening drive, Pederson dialed up a shot play off play-action. The design and execution were near flawless. The Eagles max protected for just a two-man route concept. Tight end Zach Ertz (86) drew double coverage, while receiver DeSean Jackson (No. 10) ran a double move and got beyond the secondary.
Hurts rolled to his right and hit Jackson in stride with enough loft for his receiver to run under and catch.
“We prepared for that, me going after Tampa [Two], getting that time in,” Hurts said. “It was fun to hit it. Should have hit a few more.”
The Eagles averaged five yards a carry, completed 6 of 8 passes for 197 yards off play-action, and yet, scored only 17 points. They also utilized the pistol formation to take advantage of Hurts’ versatility.
On this drop, he stood tall in the pocket and kept his eyes downfield with good protection. He may have waited a touch too long for receiver Travis Fulgham (No. 13) to come out of his break on a dagger route.
There was likely an opportunity for yards after the catch. But it was a 19-yard completion, nonetheless.
That drive stalled, but the Eagles traversed into Dallas territory a series later. Faced with third and three here, Hurts had receiver Jalen Reagor (No. 18) on a post route. The window was tightening, but those are still routine throws over the middle in the NFL.
Hurts’ pass sailed high -- he didn’t seem to step into his throw -- and the Eagles settled for a field goal.
The Eagles got off to a slow start in the second half. They faced another third-and-short on their first possession. Sanders’ pre-snap motion indicated zone coverage when no defender followed him. But it’s easy to disguise vs. backfield motion, and the Cowboys were actually in man.
Hurts, though, looked left at his zone-beating routes and missed receiver Alshon Jeffery (No. 17) running free over the middle after a man-beating rub route. Pressure forced him to escape and he threw the ball away.
A sack a series later forced second-and-23. The Eagles were looking to get half or more of the yards back for a manageable third down, or possibly a field-goal attempt. Dallas dropped into a Cover 4 zone, which allowed for Ward to break free on an intermediate route over the middle.
But Hurts’ eyes, again, dropped even though there was no apparent pressure, and he scrambled for only three yards.
He had a few bright moments in the second half. He hit Jeffery for 22 yards on this fade route. The Cowboys were in Cover 2 and that’s another pass Hurts has to be willing to attempt vs. that coverage.
But the Eagles’ comeback chances unraveled the more Hurts pressed down the stretch. On third-and-12 here, he had to throw, but his biggest mistake wasn’t the interception. It was, again, leaving the pocket too early, this time against just a three-man rush.
Hurts fumbled on the next drive. His knee was probably down before the ball came out, but he has to do a better job with ball security.
He’s had six fumbles -- two lost -- in just three starts. Wentz has fumbled as much as any quarterback the last five years and this year he lost four of 10 in 12 games. But Hurts has to clean up how he holds the ball, especially if he’s going to run as much as he has the last four games.
Cutting down on unnecessary scrambling should help.