Sports

Jalen Hurts’ statement game offers Philadelphia Eagles hope: ‘He’s the leader’

ATLANTA — There was a lot to like about the play of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts in Sunday’s 32-6 thrashing of the Atlanta Falcons — a performance that felt like a sledgehammer swing into the wall of questions that stacked up brick by brick this offseason.

Is he accurate enough? Will he play within the structure of the offense? Is he the right fit for coach Nick Sirianni’s scheme? Can he be the Eagles’ guy?

Hurts completed 77% of his throws — a striking 25 percentage points higher than his 2020 average — and threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions for a 126.4 rating. He added 62 yards on the ground, helping the Eagles’ offense score 30-plus points for the first time since Week 17 of the 2019 season.

Hurts posted his third career game with 250-plus pass yards and 50-plus rushing yards, becoming the only quarterback to do so since the start of last season besides Arizona’s Kyler Murray, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. And he did it despite having only five career starts.

“He’s the leader,” said Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who finished with six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. “When things go wrong, he’s the guy that’s picking everybody up. When things are right, he’s the one telling us, ‘Keep pushing.’ Him and the offensive line, they’re the ones that are going to lead the team, and that’s what they did.”

In a game of bright spots, there’s one sequence in particular that encapsulated Hurts’ efforts and offered the most promise for what might lie ahead this season. It came on the Eagles’ last possession of the first half. Hurts engineered a 12-play, 62-yard touchdown drive in 1 minute, 42 seconds. He went 5-for-6 and added three runs for 24 yards, including a critical 11-yard scamper on a third-and-5. His touchdown pass to Kenny Gainwell was nullified by a penalty, but he came back on the next play and zipped a 9-yard TD pass to tight end Dallas Goedert to help put Philadelphia up 15-6 following a successful 2-point conversion.

“Taking what the defense gave him. Methodically going down the field. Making big throws when he needed to make big throws. Checking it down when he needed to check it down. Making a run when he needed to make a run. Just good quarterback play,” said Sirianni, on what he saw out of Hurts on that drive.

“Jalen was in complete control there. He was in complete control the whole game. He played a heck of a football game.”

Equally telling was how Hurts responded to questions about that possession: He spent more time focusing on the missed opportunity to “double-dip” by scoring on the first drive of the second half than he did on what went right during the two-minute drill.

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DeVonta Smith gets some separation and brings in his first NFL touchdown from 18 yards out.

On Sunday, we learned more about what this Eagles offense is about. It’s a run-pass option (RPO) system at its core. The design asks the quarterback to make snap decisions on whether to keep it, hand it off or throw it based off how the defense aligns, and he reacts post-snap.

“They’re built in everywhere around the field and you’re just trying to teach the quarterback where to go with the ball versus different looks, and Jalen did an excellent job executing to start the game off with that,” Sirianni said.

A week does not a season make. Defensive coordinators now have tape of Sirianni’s system, and they will continue to try and take away what Hurts does well as they learn more about him. The next test is Sunday when Nick Bosa and the San Francisco 49ers come to town (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

But after an offseason full of doubt and quarterback trade speculation, Hurts made a strong statement in Week 1 that the offense is in capable hands.

Did he feel like he had something to prove?

“I just wanted to win the football game for my team,” he said.

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