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What advanced stats say about Jalen Hurts’ first start for the Eagles | Early Birds

There was some good, some bad, and some in-between, but don’t forget: It’s a very small sample size against the best defense in the league.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts scrambles with the football as offensive guard Isaac Seumalo blocks New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts scrambles with the football as offensive guard Isaac Seumalo blocks New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans! It’s a good morning, indeed. For the first time in almost six weeks, you’re reading the Tuesday newsletter after an Eagles win. It’s for the best; I was running out of lighthearted jokes about the bleak state of the team. The Eagles have generated some interest in the final stretch of this season with Jalen Hurts behind center. At the very least, seeing whether Hurts can make a case to compete for the starting job next summer will be worthwhile in the next three games. Best-case scenario? The Eagles somehow sneak into the playoffs and/or Hurts looks like the real deal.

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Behind the numbers

Jalen Hurts’ first day-after advanced metrics are in.

Below, let’s take a look at how the analytics viewed the rookie quarterback’s first start, but with one important caveat: It’s a very small sample size against the best defense in the league.

1. The good

There were a handful of promising numbers to come from Hurts’ first start, particularly his ability to avoid negative plays against the Saints’ pass rush. New Orleans was averaging three sacks per game before Sunday, but didn’t manage to sack Hurts once. The defensive front managed just nine pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and Hurts handled them well. He went 2-for-6 against the rush, with the most notable completion coming in the second quarter, when Hurts took a shot from Saints linebacker Kwon Alexander and threw a pinpoint pass to Alshon Jeffery for a 15-yard touchdown. Of Hurts’ four incompletions, three were throwaways. Hurts’ QBR against the rush was 87.5, which ranked sixth among quarterbacks to play this week, before Monday night’s game.

Another bright spot in Hurts’ stat profile was his speed. According to Next Gen Stats, Hurts reached 20.5 mph on a 5-yard run that gained a first down in the first quarter. It’s the fastest to speed a quarterback has managed since Week 7, when Daniel Jones hit 21.23 mph on his now-infamous 80-yard run and self-tackle against the Eagles.

2. The bad

The graders at PFF are not nearly as bullish about Hurts as many of the Eagles faithful currently are. Hurts got a 40.9 passing grade and a 49.7 offensive grade overall. Hurts was penalized heavily by PFF for not only his fourth-quarter fumble that got the Saints back into the game, but his errant pass that was nearly intercepted by Saints corner C.J. Gardner-Johnson. If Gardner-Johnson had made the catch, there’s a chance he would have scored and given the Saints a 21-17 lead. It’s a lot of “ifs,” obviously, but PFF accounts for turnover-worthy plays while most other grading metrics don’t.

The other reason for Hurts’ poor PFF grade is likely because of the valid observation that some of Hurts’ most explosive passing plays came against busted coverages. Hurts’ 39-yard completion to Jalen Reagor came on a mesh concept when the Saints blew a coverage assignment, possibly because Zach Ertz “picked” the Saints defensive back responsible for covering Reagor. On his 19-yard completion to Dallas Goedert, Goedert knocked Alexander over and was also wide open. PFF didn’t give Hurts much credit for hitting the wide-open guys, but did penalize him for missing other receivers, especially the play where Hurts and Reagor couldn’t capitalize on another busted coverage that left Reagor wide open down the field.

3. The so-so

Hurts’ expected completion percentage was middle-of-the-road for Week 14 quarterbacks going into Monday. He completed 0.7% fewer passes than Next Gen’s expectation, which ranks 19th, just behind Tua Tagovailoa’s negative-0.6%. Considering he was going against arguably the best defense in the league in his first start, it’s not a bad number.

While Hurts certainly seemed more decisive than Wentz has been for most of the season, his time to throw was actually longer. Hurts averaged 3.07 seconds between snap and throw, the longest in the league this week. Wentz averaged 2.91 seconds, which is ranked sixth in the league this season. Hurts’ being able to hold onto the ball so long is a credit to both the offensive line, which had one of its best games, and also to Hurts’ ability to navigate the pocket well when pressured. Still, he’ll have to get through his progressions faster to have sustained success.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Still trying to process exactly how the Eagles managed to beat one of the best teams in the conference? Paul Domowitch offers his weekly five reasons for the outcome.

  2. Doug Pederson announced Rodney McLeod will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, and Jalen Hurts was named the starter. Les Bowen has all this and the rest of the news from Pederson’s Monday news conference here.

  3. Also from Bowen: Jalen Hurts might need to rely on his arm more and his legs less in his second start Sunday at Arizona.

  4. Jeff McLane thinks the Eagles have a big choice to make for next season: Who stays? Carson Wentz or Doug Pederson?

From the mailbag

“Do you keep both [Andre Dillard and Jordan Mailata next year]? I can see them keeping both if Dillard wins the battle but do you keep him if he loses?” — From Paul (@Pz624) on Twitter.

Good question, Paul. Jordan Mailata has done more than enough to earn the starting left tackle job next season unless the Eagles take Penei Sewell in the draft, which I don’t think they’ll have the chance to because of their projected draft position. Mailata has been solid at left tackle, especially in the second half of the season once he reclaimed his job from Jason Peters.

Still, this is the Eagles we’re talking about, and they have a track record of letting things like salary and draft position take precedent over on-field performance. Look at Alshon Jeffery, Peters, and even Carson Wentz — the best players by our estimation don’t always play. Andre Dillard may have struggled as a rookie and continued those struggles during training camp last summer, but I’d expect the team to give him a real chance to beat Mailata in training camp. It’s still more likely that Mailata ends up the starter, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them give Dillard a legitimate opportunity at the job.

If Dillard loses the battle, the only way the Eagles could realistically cut bait with their 2019 first-round pick is to trade him, and even that hardly makes sense. He still has two years left on his contract and releasing him would cost the Eagles $7.3 million against the cap next season, which would further complicate an already bleak cap situation. If they trade him, they’d still have $5.2 million in dead money against the cap. Because of this, my best guess is Dillard ends up as a backup left tackle who could possibly learn to play inside for more positional versatility. If Dillard somehow wins the starting job, Mailata would be an excellent low-cost backup — he’s set to make about $942,200 next year, which is the final year of his contract. His ability to play both left and right tackle would make him the best the team could hope for as a backup swing tackle, but I think he’s more likely to be the starter.