An amazing offseason, coupled with mounting accidents in Dallas, propelled the Philadelphia Eagles to the forefront of the NFC East dialogue. However because the 2022 NFL season loomed, the most important query going through the Eagles centered on essentially the most essential place within the sport:
Would quarterback Jalen Hurts reside as much as the expectations, or would the Eagles fall wanting their aspirations because of inconsistent quarterback play?
Because the NFL world wildly overreacts to the primary full slate of video games, a part of the dialogue this Monday morning is how Hurts fared within the season-opening win over the Detroit Lions. Hurts accomplished 18 of 32 passes for 243 yards within the win, and added one other 17 speeding makes an attempt for 90 yards and a landing. Past the field rating, did Hurts present the indicators of progress that Eagles followers have been hoping for all summer season?
In a phrase, sure.
One of many largest questions going through Hurts was how he would enhance as a pocket supervisor. His strengths as a quarterback are well-known: His athleticism, his capability to throw on the transfer, his capability to assault within the vertical passing sport with contact, and his creativity inside and outdoors the pocket. But when the Eagles are going to satisfy their lofty expectations, Hurts wants to enhance inside the pocket, each along with his decision-making and his willingness to remain within the pocket and battle, and never escape the pocket on the first signal of strain.
Three moments from yesterday’s win over the Lions spotlight his progress and improvement in these areas. The primary we’ll look at comes proper earlier than halftime, as Hurts connects with one of many Eagles’ large additions, vast receiver A.J. Brown:
This play comes simply earlier than halftime, with the Eagles holding a 21-14 lead over Detroit. Philadelphia runs a 4 verticals idea out of a 3×1 formation, and Brown is aligned alongside the fitting sideline. What stands out about Hurts on this play is how he reads the rotation within the secondary, and the way he makes use of his eyes. The Lions present a single-high security earlier than the snap, and certainly run Cowl 1 on the play. However how they get there entails a rotation among the many safeties. Tracy Walker III, who begins the play aligned because the single-high security, flashes downhill on the snap and is changed in the midst of the sector by DeShon Elliott, who’s down within the field over the working again earlier than the snap.
It’s not essentially the most advanced protection rotation, however Hurts reads it completely, conserving his eyes educated in the midst of the sector — drawing consideration to the route working throughout the sector from tight finish Dallas Goedert — earlier than dropping in an ideal throw to Brown alongside the fitting sideline on his vertical route.
The lengthy completion received the Eagles contained in the crimson zone, and so they completed the drive with a subject aim to increase their lead.
The subsequent instance comes from the third quarter, with the Eagles going through a 3rd down in their very own territory. That is the primary third down of the second half, and the Lions and their followers are hoping desperately for a cease to offer their offense an opportunity to chop into Philadelphia’s 24-14 lead.
Hurts and Brown wouldn’t give them that satisfaction:
This play is an efficient instance of Hurts taking data earlier than the snap, and utilizing it to his benefit because the play unfolds. Previous to the snap, Brown aligns on the left aspect of the sector, and is available in movement throughout the formation. With no defender trailing him, that’s an indicator to the quarterback that the Lions may be in zone protection. (Though as we’ll see in a second, that is by no means a assure).
Hurts has a couple of different zone indicators to work with, primarily the alignments of the cornerbacks. Each defenders are taking part in off their receivers, and have their toes and hips open in the direction of the center of the sector. Once more, indications that zone protection is at play.
However the job shouldn’t be achieved, as Hurts has to decipher the strain lookup entrance from Detroit. The Lions have a pair of defenders mugging the A-Gaps, and with seven males down on the road of scrimmage, there’s a likelihood Detroit brings strain and rotates into man protection behind this strain entrance.
The Lions carry simply 4, and certainly drop into zone protection. However they nonetheless handle to get inside strain on Hurts, because of a learn blitz from the mugged-up defenders. On this play, the 2 mugged-up linebackers begin to blitz, and can learn the motion of the middle, Jason Kelce. If the middle turns to 1 aspect, that defender will then drop into protection, and the opposite will proceed on his blitz path. Kelce opens to his proper and spots linebacker Chris Board. As soon as he does this, Board drops again into protection and his cohort, Alex Anzalone, continues his blitz. Kelce tries to double-back and assistance on Anzalone, and working again Kenneth Gainwell steps up into the A-Hole to tackle the linebacker, however Anzalone nonetheless manages to get into the pocket.
But Hurts hangs within the pocket, and understanding that Brown is working an out route, he makes an anticipation throw towards the delicate protection to transform the third down.
That is the type of second Eagles followers have been hoping to see this season from Hurts. At occasions final yr, these have been the performs the place Hurts would pull the soccer down in response to strain and look to create along with his legs, slightly than make a throw from the pocket. Hurts’ athleticism is a real weapon, and he delivered some athletic moments on Sunday in Detroit, however right here he takes benefit of the knowledge gained presnap and makes a learn and throw from the pocket, transferring the chains.
Philadelphia would end the drive with a landing.
For my cash, one of the best instance of Hurts’ improvement got here earlier within the sport. With the Eagles going through a 2nd-and-5 with simply over 5 minutes left within the first quarter, Hurts stood within the shotgun to attempt to diagnose the Lions earlier than the play. Detroit confirmed him a pair of safeties deep, and when vast receiver Quez Watkins got here in movement throughout the formation, no person trailed him.
In his thoughts, Hurts may be anticipating zone protection, within the two-deep household.
However as we famous earlier than, a protection’s response to movement — or lack thereof — is a chunk to the puzzle, and never the definitive reply. As a result of as this play unfolds, the Lions rotate into Cowl 1.
Hurts reads it completely, and hits Brown on a fast publish route:
As with the earlier play, the pocket begins to interrupt down round Hurts, this day off the fitting edge. But he hangs within the pocket and, after studying out the rotation, makes a throw on-time and in-rhythm to Brown. The timing provides the receiver an opportunity to choose up further yardage on the play, turning a 10-yard throw into an 18-yard achieve.
In fact, the athletic performs have been there from Hurts on Sunday. He picked up a 16-yard achieve early within the first quarter along with his legs to maneuver the chains on a third-and-long scenario, and gave the Eagles their first landing of the yr when he took it himself on a fourth-and-goal early within the second quarter. He additionally delivered an incredible throw on the transfer and whereas underneath duress within the fourth quarter, combining his athleticism along with his arm expertise:
Whereas these moments are nice from Hurts, his progress and improvement from inside the pocket might inform the story of the Eagles’ 2022 season.
Given what he confirmed on Sunday in Detroit, that may very well be an excellent story.