The Philadelphia Eagles have enjoyed a pretty strong offseason. That isn’t a sentence I thought I’d be typing after the end of what was truly a disastrous 2020 campaign. As all eyes turn towards the future, I started to wonder just how likely it is that Jalen Hurts will emerge from the NFC East as the cream of the crop at the end of his second season.
Giving Jalen Hurts a fighting chance
Before we get into what’s changed over the past few months, we have to examine the player Hurts was during his rookie season. After some bizarre two-QB set usage and the sharp decline of Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson finally gave the second-round pick an opportunity in the loss to Green Bay. After that, he never looked back and neither did Hurts.
Regardless of how you view the end to the 2020 season, it’s hard to look at it without seeing a huge contrast in the way the offense executed. While Hurts may have struggled to come off of his first read at times (which can be attributed to the frequent RPO’s he was given at Oklahoma), there’s no denying that there was a sudden surge in actual production.
Hurts completed 52% of his passes for 1,061 yards, 6 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He also rushed for 354 Yards and a hat-trick of touchdowns. Had it not been for some YOLO attempts on third-and-long and fourth-and-long situations, Hurts probably would’ve maintained a pretty impressive QB record. His ability to get outside of the pocket and evade pressure came as a breath of fresh air for an offensive line that let up a whopping 65 sacks.
It’s not like Hurts was dropped into an offense that was functioning normally. The receivers were struggling, the offensive line was ravaged by injuries, and Doug Pederson was desperately trying to save his job without veering from his usual style of coaching. Hurts showed that it didn’t matter who the quarterback was that year, the result was going to be the same. However, he also demonstrated that the team could at least go down swinging and actually move the chains as opposed to just crumbling under their own weight.
A rejuvenated offensive line
That brings us onto our next point. The offensive line is finally going to be healthy in 2021, for the most part. Lane Johnson will be making his return from an ankle surgery, while arguably the best right guard in the NFL, Brandon Brooks, should get back on the field at some point too after suffering a second Achilles tear. This alone immediately gives the Eagles a foundation to work with.
It’s hard to evaluate a quarterback who is running for his life on every other play, let alone one that has to play in a one-dimensional offense where the only ground attack comes from himself for the majority of snaps.
There is an obvious correlation between quarterbacks who get pressured a ton and the success of their team. Against the New Orleans Saints, in his first NFL start, Hurts was pressured 14 times. He didn’t take a single negative play and ended up creating 82 yards. For Jalen Hurts to have been pressured so much yet give up so little only adds confidence to what he will be able to do behind an offensive line consisting of leading NFL talent as opposed to whatever a Jamon Brown is?
Establishing the run
A strong rushing attack may be the quarterback’s best friend and Nick Sirianni knows this. Having worked with the Chiefs during the Jamaal Charles era, the Chargers when Ryan Mathews was at his best, and coordinated a Colts offense that featured a three-headed monster, the new Eagles Head Coach is primed to place an emphasis on the run.
The Eagles did everything they could to not run the ball last year…at least that’s what it felt like. Sirianni enters the fray having pushed Indy’s backfield to the seventh-ranked rushing attack in 2019 and pushed it to new versatile heights in 2020.
A torn Achilles for Marlon Mack pushed rookie Jonathan Taylor into the spotlight where he would go on to finish third in the NFL with 1,169 rushing yards. He was supported by the versatile Nyheim Hines who put up 862 total yards from scrimmage (482 of which were receiving yards), and Jordan Wilkins.
If you add in a dual-threat QB who rushed for 1,298 yards at Oklahoma two years ago and showed that he can be just as lethal in the open field as a rookie in 2020, all signs are pointing towards a run-first offense that looks only to elevate Jalen Hurte.
A new era
Nick Sirianni has done nothing but emphasize the fact that he wants to mold his offense around the strengths of his players. What we saw in 2020 was the direct opposite of that. Jalen Hurts will now be playing in an offense that’s better suited to his dynamic style of play and he won’t be alone.
The Eagles drafted Heisman-winning WR DeVonta Smith in the first-round, a former favorite target of Hurts during his time at Alabama. While he’s certainly the Apple of the eye for many, let’s not forget that the Eagles drafted three wide receivers last year, including former first-round pick Jalen Reagor, who could all benefit from the new-look offense that Sirianni plans on implementing, again, tailoring to their strengths.
A lot of people would immediately point to Dak Prescott when asked who may be the division’s top QB in 2021, but he is coming off of a significant ankle injury. He may be absolutely fine by the time the season starts and of course, has a bevy of receiving weapons at his disposal. However, it may well take him a while to find his groove again. He’s reportedly ‘ramping up’ his efforts during OTA’s in seven-on-seven, but when the pads go on it could be a different story.
Outside of that, Ryan Fitzpatrick will quarterback Washington this season on the back of a disappointing end to his Dolphins tenure. Despite clearly lifting Miami to a 4-3 record as a starter and completing a career-high 68% of his passes, the team went all-in on their own former Alabama QB. He’s always been streaky and if he begins throwing a couple of picks per game then it could well prompt a QB change if the team are indeed taking the step forward that the NFL world expects.
Then, there’s Daniel Jones….yeah.
It’s hard to say right now that Jalen Hurts will undoubtedly be the best QB in the NFC East by the end of 2021. But what we can very fairly say is that the Eagles have given him a very strong foundation to build on and an opportunity to prove that if he can take the flashes of greatness we all witnessed last year, then he will at the very least be firmly int he conversation. After levelling the playing field and eradicating the issues that plagued the team last year, the Eagles have given Jalen Hurts a fighting chance to cement his place at the top of the NFC East pecking order.
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