Rival tribes of Eagles fans just don’t know what to do. The team has lost four in a row, then won. The Chosen One has fallen. The coach and general manager might know what they’re doing. Now, whom to hate?
The worst of all possible fates has befallen the Birds. The backup quarterback can play. The Heisman Trophy runner-up is, somehow, a good football player; that his unbelievable senior season that launched Oklahoma in to the College Football Playoff last year indicated talents that do, in fact, translate to the NFL. It’s horrible.
Jalen Hurts played so well in his debut as a starter in place of Carson Wentz that, in the absence of fresh meat, the fans have begun devouring themselves. Hurts was the best player on the field Sunday. His play won a game that saved the season.
To the dismay of millions.
Choose your fighter
You almost need a scorecard to track the factions.
The Carson Cult hates this development because Hurts’ success desecrates their Ginger Jesus.
The Doug Doubters hate it because it probably saved Pederson’s job.
The Howie Haters hate it because it validated Roseman’s use of a second-round pick to draft a backup quarterback when the team just spent $128 million on Wentz and still needed a safety, a linebacker, and 15 wide receivers – needs that remain unmet. Further, if Hurts plays well enough to win with this group of players Roseman assembled, then the quality of those players won’t have been the problem – at least, not as much as the problem was Carson Wentz.
The Draft Dummies hate it because wins for a 4-8-1 team mean a worse slot on draft day. Wishing your team out of a possible playoff spot, no matter how slim their chances, is the worst sort of stupid.
There is a quieter, happier sect. Let’s call them Normals. They’re pleased that Hurts played with poise and with grit. They delight that Hurts became the second quarterback ever to rush for 100 yards in his NFL debut, following reigning MVP Lamar Jackson. They’re thrilled that Hurts did so against the league’s No. 1 defense, which belongs to the Saints, and which powered the team to the top of the NFC with nine straight wins despite having lost its starting quarterback, Drew Brees.
These Normals understand that despite his modest passing statistics – Hurts completed 17 of 30 passes for 167 yards with touchdown, no interceptions, and no sacks – they might have witnessed the beginning of a new era.
Perish the thought.
What went before
Granted, the efforts of Hurts did not recall the debuts of Dan Marino (322 yards, three touchdowns), Jim Kelly (292 yards, three TDs) or the more modern efforts of Cam Newton, who managed 422 yards, two passing touchdowns and another on the ground. Those premieres by four first-round picks were, uniformly, spectacular. You know what else they had in common? They all lost.
Hurts’ first start went more like Russell Wilson’s in 2012: 18-for-34, 153 yards, a touchdown, a pick, three sacks. He resembled Dak Prescott as he began his 2016 campaign as Rookie of the Year: 25-for-45, 227 yards, two rushes for 12 yards.
Like Hurts, neither Wilson nor Prescott was a first-round pick; Wilson went in the third round, Dak in the fourth. Unlike Hurts, neither displayed the mobility in their debuts that became their trademark. Also unlike Hurts, both were roundly congratulated in their cities for their efforts.
Finally, unlike Hurts: Both lost.
It’s rather discouraging to hear all the qualifiers being attached to Hurts’ magnificent performance.
“Doug called more runs for Hurts than Carson. ... Doug called more rollouts for Carson. ... Hurts is a backup, so everybody played harder.”
The stats from Sunday show that the Eagles ran 36 times and passed 30. However, Pederson actually called 32 runs and 34 passes; Hurts scrambled four times. Hurts himself ran 12 times as a designed play – runs Wentz cannot execute. So yes, there was more running, but only because Hurts is a viable runner.
The “run it more” crowd shouldn’t count Hurts’ runs towards any sort of new philosophy. Its contention is that running backs should run more, not quarterbacks. Those running back advocates should realize, then, that the running backs only carried the ball 17 times against the Saints. That’s been about normal for Pederson. In the previous four games the backs carried it 16 times against the Packers; 19 times against the Browns and 19 times against the Giants. Eagles backs carried it just nine times against the Seahawks, but then, the Seahawks entered with the NFL’s worst pass defense.
Of course, it didn’t look so bad when it faced the NFL’s worst passer – Carson Wentz.
As for getting Hurts out of the pocket more than Wentz, both Pederson and Wentz have asserted that defenses actively scheme against those plays when Wentz is in the game, and that Wentz cannot defeat those schemes; he’s not fast enough. Pederson also said not all of Hurts’ rollouts were scripted:
“Don’t misunderstand kind of what you’re seeing. A lot of those were QB scrambles. So, they weren’t necessarily designed rollouts.”
Finally, if Wentz can’t get the team to play hard for him after five years, that’s a pretty damning indictment of Wentz.
Besides, how much “harder” can marginal players play? if you think Nate Herbig is going to play any harder at right guard for Hurts than for Wentz, then maybe you’d better realize Herbig is a second-year, undrafted, third-string guard/center whose future employment depends on every snap he takes. He’s not the sort of player who’s going to turn it up a notch because Wentz got benched.
Herbig only has one notch.
They’ll say anything
Look, Philly, it’s 2020, the worst year in America since 2019. Allow yourself some joy. Believe what you saw. This isn’t about Carson Wentz vs. Jalen Hurts. They’re on the same team, remember. At this point it’s about how good Hurts can be – and, more significantly, how good his team can be with him running it. Do not obsess over his imperfections.
Seen though a Hater’s lens: When the Saints blitzed and spied Hurts in the second half he completed just 5 of 9 passes for 38 yards, and ran for another 38 yards on 11 tries, and fumbled. The Birds scored only 7 more points.
Seen through a Normal lens: When the Saints blitzed and spied Hurts in the second half, he didn’t force any passes. He threw no interceptions. He also really gained 42 yards on eight carries, a 5.25 average; he lost 4 yards on three kneel-downs. Yes, he fumbled, but he never should have been carrying that ball in that situation. That play call was Pederson’s biggest mistake.
You know what else Hurts did in the second half? He converted a turnover into a 53-yard, fourth-quarter, game-clinching touchdown drive.
Jalen Hurts played winning football. That’s very good news for Eagles fans.
No matter what their tribe.