The Eagles, at 3-6-1, desperately need an offensive spark to boost their chances of winning the weak NFC East. They hope it will come from playing more of rookie backup quarterback Jalen Hurts in Week 12.
Hurts, the second-round pick from Oklahoma, has played only 31 snaps behind Carson Wentz in Philadelphia’s 10 games. With his previous 13 touches as a runner and receiver, Hurts has gained 59 yards. He’s completed both of his first two NFL pass attempts for a total of 27 more yards. Hurts also has fumbled three times in his limited ball-handling.
But according to multiple reports, with Wentz continuing to struggle, Hurts is set to see more legitimate snaps at QB on Monday night against the Seahawks — without Wentz on the field.
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That could mean anything from more “Wildcat” looks where Hurts is in the game more in key red zone or short-yardage situations to Hurts spelling Wentz on consecutive plays with the whole passing playbook available to him. Only head coach and offensive play-caller Doug Pederson knows for sure.
Pederson has gotten little return from Hurts so far trying to make something happen. What should be the expectation of a an expanded role for Hurts? Here’s our attempt to read into Pederson’s thinking and game plan:
The Eagles are taking it ‘to the birds’ with Jalen Hurts
The Seahawks’ defense is the NFL’s worst against the pass. They have especially struggled to contain dual-threat quarterbacks, giving up massive all-around games to Cam Newton, Josh Allen and Kyler Murray. The Eagles are trying to find a similar blueprint and even thought Wentz can use athleticism to his advantage, he doesn’t have the dynamic designed running and scrambling ability of Hurts.
The Murray example is particularly interesting on two fronts. The first obvious one is the fact Hurts comes from the same Oklahoma spread offense. The second is the fact, the Cardinals, Murray’s NFL team, used concepts that made it especially tough on the Seahawks. The Eagles’ scheme can match that ability with their personnel groupings.
Consider the Cardinals line up in 12 personnel (two wide receivers) a little less than a third of the time, second-most in the NFL. The Eagles, with their two tight ends, now Dallas Goedert and Richard Rodgers instead of Goedert and injured Zach Ertz, are No. 1 in 12 personnel usage. That scheme allows more more versatility given the strong receiving skills of Goedert and Rodgers. The Eagles perhaps have been forced in taking their deeper shots with Wentz, which has led to Wentz’s big mistakes and major inefficiency. The Cardinals have been more calculated with theirs and often can lean toward being too compressed.
Philadelphia wants to stretch the field with the speed of rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor replacing DeSean Jackson in the “Z” receiver spot. But it’s made Wentz either hold the ball too long or see the protection crumble in front of him, and now the Eagles will be without right tackle Lane Johnson the rest of the season. The Eagles need to change up their approach, and the 12 personnel also can give much needed blocking support that’s more necessary now.
The Eagles don’t have the same healthy depth at wide receiver the Cardnals have, so they will need to blend what that team does with their strengths, RPOs and the rest. Hurts has a natrual comfort level with the spread and in certain situations — like his former Alabama teammate Tua Tagovailoa — can be quick to get the ball out on short-to-intermediate routes. Don’t expect Hurts to be in there on long-distance downs, either early or late. But Hurts can be effective when called upon for medium-to-short conversions.
The Eagles are trying to motivate Carson Wentz in a ‘get-well’ matchup
There’s nothing that gets a beleaguered but talented starting quarterback back on track than throwing out whispers of his rookie understudy getting more playing time. Wentz doesn’t need help putting a fire under him as a fierce competitor. Much of the time his poor play comes trying to do too much and forcing big plays that aren’t there. So for him, the threat of Hurts more calls for being smarter with the ball, going back to taking what the defense gives him.
Wentz needs some fine-tuning to get refocused, using throws to those tight ends and his backs to running backs to his advantage. The Eagles have a very inexperienced receiving corps and their veteran presence, Alshon Jeffery has little left in the tank. Reagor is a speedy vertical threat, but he is also capable of delivering his big plays after short catches.
A quarterback looking over his shoulder isn’t always the best thing, but it may be the wakeup call Wentz needs. The Eagles’ recent history shows that Pederson and Wentz tend to do their best offensive and overall work together in December. Their fates seemed to be rather attached in Philadelphia, so Pederson making it feel like there’s real competition between Wentz and Hurts in 2020 — when Wentz’s big contract clearly says there isn’t one — is his way to push Wentz’s buttons.
Regardless of how many QB snaps Hurts actually does get, Wentz needs to have his best game of the season and in 2020, and the passing matchup, at least on the back end, doesn’t get more favorable than the Seahawks. If Wentz gets some blocking and skill support, he can deliver at a most critical time. The Eagles need to be careful of getting Wentz of a potential needed rhythm, but a little of Hurts at the right time can also push to get the best out of Wentz again.
The Eagles want to lean more on their running game
The Eagles’ rushing attack has been good when they’ve been able to stick with it. In terms of average rushing yards per game (121.1), the Eagles are No. 13, one spot behind the Seahawks. But in terms of average yards per rushing attempt (5.0), the Eagles are No. 3, right behind the Dalvin Cook’s Vikings and Murray’s Cardinals.
Philadelphia has some good power running and home-run hitting backs in Miles Sanders and Boston Scott and an experienced utility man in Corey Clement, who will be available again on Monday night. There’s no doubt the Cardinals are able to maximize the skills of their duo, Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds because of the threat of Murray running. The Eagles need to tap into that, too, with Sanders and Scott.
Hurts can provide that complementary element on a few key snaps to spark chunk runs by the backs. When Hurts is in the game, there’s no question the Seahawks will key on him running first, which will facilitate the traditional running game in a tough matchup for it. At the same time, by better mashing-up concepts of Hurts’ two most recent offenses, they can stay dangerous in the passing game, too.
The crossroads of the season would seem like the wrong time to tinker more with Hurts in the lineup. But there are good reasons why the Eagles need to incorporate him more into the offense and everything and everyone can start to look better coming out of it — including Wentz.
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