The Hurts Show Begins
Head coach Dough Pederson finally gave confirmation that Jalen Hurts would be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles in week 14. The official start against the New Orleans Saints will be the first in Hurts’ young career after replacing Carson Wentz in the second half of last week’s contest. It’s a brutal first matchup for the rookie who will be attempting to move the ball against one of the top defenses in the NFL. Below, we’ll anticipate how the Birds will use Hurts among other top storylines for this game.
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When Hurts tossed his first NFL interception in the closing moments of last game, it wasn’t much of a surprise. All rookie quarterbacks are prone to make mistakes. Consequently, the Eagles coaching staff will be tasked with crafting a game plan that minimizes these mistakes while putting Hurts in the best position to succeed. That sweet spot will likely allow Hurts to use his legs and flash the athleticism he was renowned for in college.
This might mean a return to the frequent RPO (run-pass-option) plays that used to be a staple of Pederson’s offense. The frequency of deep balls is also bound to increase as Hurts displayed his capability in that department on a 32 yard touchdown bomb down the sideline last week. The Saints defense is known for pressuring quarterbacks with regularity. As a result, expect a lot of moving pocket and for Hurts to rush for 50+ yards in this game.
The Saints have also had a recent quarterback change, albeit theirs came as a result of a rib injury suffered by Drew Brees. Taysom Hill has filled in wonderfully and has yet to drop a game. In fact, the Saints are now 8-0 during the last two seasons when they start a backup quarterback, proving how well run their entire organization is.
Taysom Hill, even more so than Jalen Hurts, is a running quarterback. He’s far more comfortable using his legs than his arm and has demonstrated such in his time as a starter, posting double digit rushing attempts in each of his three contests. The first passing touchdown of his career actually came last Sunday, the very same day that Jalen Hurts reached this milestone. Defending “the swiss army knife”, as so many commentators are apt to label Hill, will be a tough task for the Eagles defense and one that requires a large degree of discipline as he needs to be contained in the pocket.
One thing’s for sure, Hurts will not just be relegated to a game manager role. Pederson stated that he made the change to Hurts because the offense “needed a spark”. In order for sparks to turn into fire, more fuel will need to be added.
Who Wants to Snap a Losing Streak?
The Eagles find themselves in the midst of a four game losing streak. This skid has put them behind both the New York Giants and the Washington Football Team in the NFC East standings. Amazingly, the 3-8-1 Birds are still in the playoff hunt, though it will take a string of losses from both of those teams down the stretch for the Eagles to have any hope.
A matchup against the 10-2 Saints where the Birds are slated as underdogs by more than a touchdown certainly isn’t ideal for snapping this losing streak. However, the Eagles sure have to try. There are key players whose performance needs to improve for the Birds to have any hope.
Chief among those players is Miles Sanders, who was expected to be the linchpin of this offense going into the year. He’s all but disappeared the last three weeks, averaging a miserable 37 yards per game on the ground during those contests. A return to elite form from him is critical both to keep the Saints offense off the field and to alleviate the pressure from Jalen Hurts in his first start.
Some pass-catchers also need to step up their play in week 14. Travis Fulgham’s mid-season magic now seems like an aberration given his inability to create separation anymore. Additionally, Zach Ertz has yet to make a big splash since returning from injury. It’s hard to gauge who will build a rapport first with Hurts under center. Traditional rookie quarterbacks often lean on their tight ends as safety blankets, but then again Hurts is far from a traditional rookie quarterback.
This is just too tall a test for Hurts is his first NFL start. While the Eagles will fight during this game, they simply can’t match up with the talent on both sides of the ball that the Saints feature on their roster. Saints over Eagles, 24-17.