Through their first 16 offensive snaps Sunday against the Ravens, the Eagles averaged a robust negative-0.44 yards per play. Carson Wentz was sacked three times and lost a fumble. The Ravens were overwhelming the Eagles' shorthanded and overmatched offensive line. Having Wentz take a snap and take a knee would have qualified as a positive development. It was bad. It was ugly. It was both. It was bugly. Then Jalen Hurts entered the game and, on his first play, carried the ball for a 20-yard gain out of the wildcat formation, and everything changed.
“He’s part of the game plan every week,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Just felt it was the right time to get him in the game. At the time, we had been struggling a little bit offensively, especially running the football, and it gave us an opportunity to do that with him. It kind of calmed the defense down a little bit, too. There wasn’t as much pressure when he was in the game at quarterback. Had to find a spark.”
Had the game continued on its early trajectory and ended in a rout, had the Ravens continued bullying the Eagles' offense all afternoon, a quarterback controversy might well have developed. This is Philadelphia, after all. It doesn’t take much. As it turned out, though, the Eagles' 30-28 loss showed that the quarterback position is the least of their problems, and while Wentz is the main reason for that truth, he’s not the only reason. The Eagles really were dead as doornails until Hurts defibrillated them back to life. Two plays after his 20-yard run, he carried the ball again for a first down, juking and moonwalking for 3 yards. “Jalen was making people look silly out there today,” wide receiver Travis Fulgham said. “Gave some juice to the team.” Then he caught a throw-back pass from Wentz that gave a hint of the options and possibilities that he opens up.
“He’s a playmaker,” Wentz said. “You bring him in off the bench, and defenses have to be ready for where he’s at, where I’m at, all of the above. It puts a little stress, a little pressure, on the defense. There are some exciting plays there potentially to be had. It’s something we’re going to keep repping, keep working on, and hopefully find ways to supplement our offense and find ways to get some big plays.”
The mystery wasn’t why Pederson used Hurts to try to jump-start the offense. The Eagles frequently practice wildcat plays against their own defense with Hurts at quarterback. “You have no idea how they plan to attack when they have Hurts behind center and Carson on the outside,” Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said. The mystery was why Pederson used Hurts so little. He was on the field for just six snaps Sunday, but the Eagles produced 109 yards on those six plays, one of which was the 74-yard sprint/fumble by Miles Sanders that led to their first touchdown, on JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s end-zone recovery. “Yeah,” Pederson said, “I guess I could have put him in there one or two more times.”
In the weeks ahead, Pederson might not have a choice. Sure, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that DeSean Jackson would likely be back in the lineup for the Eagles' next game, this Thursday against the Giants. But Sanders injured a knee and Zach Ertz injured an ankle Sunday, and Dallas Goedert, Alshon Jeffery, and Jalen Reagor are still out, and four-fifths of the offensive line should be charged with reckless endangerment after the beating Wentz took from the Ravens. Pederson and the Eagles have to get creative here, to protect Wentz and to move the ball with any consistency, and Hurts has done nothing so far this season to suggest he can’t handle more responsibility and a greater workload.
“I expect Jalen to get himself ready to go play from Day 1,” University of Florida quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, who has known Hurts and his family for years and who recruited him before Hurts decided to play for Alabama, said after the Eagles drafted Hurts. "I think that’s any competitor, regardless of position, regardless of team. Quarterback gets treated differently, but it’s still a position of one of 11 guys. Every other position has to compete at a high level, and I think having a great competitive nature is one of the biggest attributes you can have at the quarterback position.
“Competition forces people to bring the best out of themselves. That’s something I’m a huge believer in — guys competing — and when you reach those highest levels of competition, it brings out the best.”
There’s no quarterback competition happening here, of course, not in the near future anyway. Through his toughness and his several spectacular plays, and the comeback he came so close to completing Sunday, Wentz reaffirmed his standing as the franchise’s centerpiece. This isn’t and doesn’t have to be an either-or situation with him and Hurts for these next 10 games. The Eagles were at their best Sunday when the two of them were together. The primary argument against the decision to select Hurts in the second round of this year’s draft was that the Eagles had wasted a high pick on a backup quarterback, that they should have picked a player who could help Wentz immediately. It’s time for them to start acting like they did.