An 83.6 passer rating. A 56.7 completion percentage. Sounds like evidence for a benching.
This is true even when you consider that it was the first start for second-round rookie Jalen Hurts, and that he was facing the Saints, winners of nine straight, thanks to the No. 1 defense in the NFL. But Hurts threw no interceptions, and he took no sacks, and he won. Ignore the numbers. It was a transcendent performance.
Now, for the question on everyone’s mind: What next? What’s good?
Let’s look backward. Let’s review a couple of similarly mobile quarterbacks who, like Hurts, were drafted outside of the first round, but who, like Hurts, were thrust into starting roles as rookies. Let’s look at Russell Wilson, the Seahawks’ third-round pick in 2012, and Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2016.
Wilson debuted with a 62.5 passer rating and a 52.9 completion percentage — in a loss. The next week @DangerRussWilson went 15-for-20 (75%) with a touchdown and no interceptions in a win and a passer rating of 112.7.
Prescott debuted with a 69.4 passer rating and a 55.6 completion percentage — again, in a loss. The next week @Dak went 22-for-30 (73.3%) for 292 yards, a 103.7 passer rating. He also ran for a 6-yard touchdown in a win, the first of 11 straight wins for the Cowboys, in which Prescott logged a 114.3 passer rating and earned his award as offensive rookie of the year and his first Pro Bowl spot.
Could Eagles fans see the same sort of improvement from Hurts?
First, do no harm
It is the Hippocratic Oath of quarterbacks: Don’t lose the game. Prescott threw just 19 TD passes in that 11-game winning streak, but he also threw just two interceptions. He didn’t put his team in a position to lose. He won, and won, and won.
The validity of quarterback wins, like pitcher wins, is a debate that will never be resolved. Dropped passes, no running game, penalties, and lousy defensive teammates can spoil a good quarterback’s record the same way great catches, a strong running game, tight discipline, and a dominant defense can inflate a bad quarterback’s record.
But nobody debates that quarterbacks and pitchers can often lose games on their own.
So, the first criterion for Hurts: Don’t lose the game. Carson Wentz got benched in the third quarter two weeks ago because Wentz often made winning impossible. His 15 interceptions and 50 sacks led the NFL, and many of both were his fault, and his alone.
Against the Saints, Hurts threw no interceptions. Hurts took no sacks. Hurts threw the ball away five times, which lowered his completion percentage and passer rating, but those decisions gave his team a chance to win the game.
He did virtually no harm.
So, no picks. Two sacks. No fumbles.
(That line isn’t actually a part of the Oath, but it’s part of our lexicon, and besides, it’s close enough.)
Go deep, young man
The most disturbing facet of Hurts’ outing Sunday was his reluctance to loosen the defense with long pass attempts. He tried just two of more than 20 yards, both to first-round rookie Jalen Reagor, and both hopelessly misfired.
He’ll be facing star defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker and a 3-4 defensive scheme this week, but if Hurts doesn’t display a bigger arm and a braver mindset, then defenses will begin to contract toward the line of scrimmage, and those 106 rushing yards he accumulated Sunday quickly will dwindle.
So, he should try three deep balls and three deep outs.
The Cardinals defense is mediocre across the board except for sacks, of which it now boasts 37, thanks largely to the immobility of injured Giants quarterback Daniel Jones last week. But then, the Saints had more sacks than the Cards entering last week and they hardly touched Hurts, so perhaps this advice is wasted.
Last week Hurts was cooler than James Dean and Billy Dee Williams during and after the game.
And while the Cardinals can get to the passer — Temple product Haason Reddick, now playing on the edge, had five of their eight sacks Sunday — the Cards had surrendered an average of more than 30 points per game in their six losses before they faced the Giants and Jones. The Cardinals lost four of those six games.
They played Wilson and the Seahawks twice. Wilson accounted for five touchdowns and 711 combined yards, 136 of them on the ground.
So, Hurts should gain 80 rushing yards. Optimally, some of those yards would lead to a rushing touchdown.
Ignore the air stats
Before this season Wentz hovered near the league completion average of about 63%, and he vowed to focus on that aspect of his game. That focus might have contributed to his regression to this season’s career-worst 57.4 completion rate. The worst thing athletes can do is focus on stats, and this is doubly true when the stats lie.
Completing 17 of 30 passes might not sound efficient. However, when you consider that four of Hurts’ 13 incompletions were passes he threw out of bounds to avoid sacks, and that a fifth was a spike to stop the clock, then his real numbers — 17 of 25, or 68% — look a lot better.
And while Hurts’ 167 passing yards might not sound prolific, his strategy of avoiding sacks and not forcing passes, especially deep balls, lidded his possible yardage total. If Wentz had used these strategies he wouldn’t have been benched, because he’d have kept the Eagles in games. Instead, he tried to be Superman.
Hurts didn’t. Head coach Doug Pederson appreciated that.
“One of the things that Jalen did well when he was out of the pocket and there was nowhere to run or nowhere to throw is that he threw the ball away,” Pederson said this week. “That helps your offensive line. It doesn’t put you in a bad situation. Doesn’t put you in a second-and-long situation or third-and-long situation.”
So, how many passing yards is enough? How about anything more than total 150, with another touchdown toss. More than 200? And maybe two TDs? Superb.
Notably, after Wilson passed for 153 yards in his debut, in his next two games he managed just 151 yards and 130 yards. Nonetheless, his passer rating jumped to 105.8 in those two games.
More notable: The Seahawks won both games.