Philadelphia Eagles

Can intangible strengths lead Hurts & the Eagles to playoff success?

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Jalen Hurts is certainly easy to root for. The second-year quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles has built a solid reputation as a player with a valuable set of overall intangible skills, including a strong work ethic and a good approach to leadership at the most influential position in football. 

He has experienced his fair share of ups and down in 19 NFL starts, which is common among inexperienced quarterbacks. Debates have taken place in the media all season long about his future beyond 2021 as the quarterback for the Eagles

The merit of intangible strengths for quarterbacks can impact the overall success of their respective teams, and the glowing reputation has earned Hurts the benefit of the doubt in the eyes of his supporters. However, many detractors reasonably point out that intangible strengths can’t help any quarterback if he isn’t a good passer.

As the Eagles prepare for an NFC Wild Card matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s fair to wonder if the intangible skills will help Hurts gain a competitive advantage.

True Indicators of Intangible Strengths

NFL teams value quarterbacks at such a high premium for justifiable reasons, and less than half of the 32 teams have someone who can play the position effectively. 

The best signal-callers in the NFL reach the pinnacle of the position because they possess the most impactful intangible strength, a killer instinct that allows them to play the game fearlessly. Tom Brady, Philadelphia’s opponent on Sunday, became the greatest football player in history with great performances on the game’s biggest stages against the league’s toughest opponents. 

Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers has proven time and time again that he can move an offense up the field in crucial situations even if he only has 30 seconds or less to do it. The threat frequently forces opposing offenses to change their strategies to avoid giving him any time to move down the field late in close games.

Brady and Rodgers, along with most other successful quarterbacks in the league, are able to remain poised and execute to the fullest extent of their talent against top competition. They can make plays when facing the most difficult game situations using their football IQ to change the complexion of NFL games. They have track records of success to prove their intangible strengths.

Media conversations surrounding former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow often sounded similar to the conversations about Hurts. Tebow possessed strong leadership skills, athleticism to make plays under pressure, and outstanding determination.

He had success at the University of Florida and for a brief period with the Denver Broncos in large part because of his intangibles. However, he faded away from the NFL for the simple fact that he wasn’t a good passer. The reputation for hard work and the history of success under pressure in college didn’t help him develop the killer instinct necessary to sustain success in the NFL.  

Hurts Needs to Prove Killer Instinct

Hurts says the right things in press conferences. His humility and accountability provide a refreshing change of pace for a franchise that suffered through recent drama with his predecessor Carson Wentz. His attitude off the field is important to teammates, some of whom responded well in 2017 and 2018 when Nick Foles went under center with a similar mentality in place of the injured Wentz. 

As the son of a long-time football coach and a player who clearly loves to play the game, he fits the cliché mantra of “Philly tough” in many ways. He endeared himself locally with an interestingly genuine approach to an incident after the Eagles defeated the Washington Football Team in Week 17.

Hurts had an outstanding college career at both the University of Alabama and Oklahoma University. He regularly played under intense pressure in front of crowds of over 100,000 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, AL, and 86,000 at the “Palace on the Prairie” in Norman, OK. 

He helped his teams advance to the College Football Playoff in each of his three seasons as a full-time starter. He demonstrated incredible resilience during the SEC Championship Game in 2018 in relief of Tua Tagovailoa in the type of performance that usually only exists in a storybook. Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith also had a hand in the dramatic comeback.

These factors alone will not lead Hurts to long-term success in Philadelphia from a tangible standpoint in terms of talent or from an intangible standpoint in terms of performance in critical situations. Plenty of outstanding NCAA quarterbacks who have won a Heisman Trophy or a National Championship don’t succeed at the NFL level.  

Sports radio host and former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese accurately pointed out that big-game experience at Alabama and Oklahoma doesn’t necessarily translate because both programs are in contention for the National Championship almost every season. Hurts will face a much different circumstance on Sunday as a considerable road underdog.

Opportunity for Hurts Against Brady, Buccaneers

Entering the playoffs, Hurts has no signature victory in 2021. He came close by leading two spirited touchdown drives in the second half of Philadelphia’s Week 9 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. His impressive determination and athleticism weren’t enough, as the Eagles lost on a field goal just before time expired. 

He also played good games against middling opponents like the Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, and New Orleans Saints and executed well against the weaker opponents on the schedule. Perhaps his best display of killer instinct came against Washington in Week 17. On a fourth-down try at the Washington goal line, Hurts tripped while taking the snap from center Jason Kelce but still executed a pitch to Boston Scott on a crucial play that helped the Eagles clinch a playoff berth.

Hurts has improved throughout the 2021 season. He has shown better selection in decisions to scramble outside the pocket and an ability to use his athleticism to create space for himself to pass. He has shown flashes of better accuracy as a passer, and his progress aligns with the resilience that head coach Nick Sirianni and the Eagles have shown after beginning the season 2-5.

He will have the opportunity to legitimize the perception of his determination to achieve that progress with a strong performance against the Bucs, the same opponent he faced in one of his worst games as a professional in Week 6

Raymond James Stadium is not known as a hostile environment to opposing teams. The Tampa Bay area is heavily populated by transplants from major US cities like Philadelphia. When the Eagles played in Tampa in 2018, close to 50% of the crowd was cheering for the visitors. Some of the die-hards were even starting Eagles chants at Wawa in Central Florida the morning of the game. 

A boost from the crowd could help alleviate some of the pressure of playing his first NFL playoff game on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions. Taking on a quarterback with intangible strengths as good as any player in professional sports is a daunting task, and Hurts will have to prove he is up to the challenge on Sunday.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

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Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Eagles for Philly Sports Network. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Eagles defensive stats from 2004 or the entire roster of the 2008 Phillies.
He is also a Flyers media member, an NHL podcast host, and an author of fictional sports stories.

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