Duel In The Desert: Hurts Comeback Falls Short Vs. Cards
It took almost an entire season, but the Philadelphia Eagles have become an exciting, big-play team that can go toe-to-toe with some of the NFL’s best.
It took about 14 weeks and a quarterback change, and it’s too bad that it happened this late in the season.
Jalen Hurts provided more than another spark in his second NFL start and first on the road. He had already thrown three touchdowns and ran for another before leading the Eagles downfield as time ticked down in fourth quarter, with the Arizona Cardinals clinging tightly to a seven-point lead.
Hurts’ comeback attempt fell short when two last-gasp Hail Mary passes fell short in the end zone, but they were only made possible by a picturesque fourth-down strike to Travis Fulgham and then some wizardry as he recovered his own fumble, scrambled to his right and somehow found Dallas Goedert along the right sideline for another critical conversion that took the Eagles into Arizona territory.
Ultimately, it took an amazing touchdown catch by DeAndre Hopkins on the prior possession for Arizona to put the Cardinals back on top after the Cards had an early 16-0 lead. The Eagles (4-9-1) can finish with six wins if they win out but they don’t control their own destiny, even in a lousy NFC East, and need help if they’re going to somehow win the division.
But the Eagles can’t be disappointed by their showing in the desert Sunday, especially from their young quarterback and a patchwork defense that allowed some big plays but didn’t unravel.
On with the observations:
1. What can you say about Jalen Hurts? That was an incredible effort in defeat. Sure, there were some mistakes, but for a first NFL road start? Don’t think you could ask for more. And here’s the thing: Hurts showed that he’s more than just a “running quarterback.” He was forced to be a high-volume thrower because the Eagles were behind early and because of the see-saw nature of the game. He attempted 44 passes and wasn’t picked off, and only really had one or two balls that could’ve landed in enemy hands. He also hit several different receivers downfield. Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham, and Alshon Jeffery each caught passes that traveled more than 10 yards in the air from Hurts. Unlike his debut against the Saints, which featured mostly schemed plays for the offense, Hurts didn’t try move the chains within a specific window of the field. He also kept his eyes upfield when flushed out of the pocket and made generally accurate throws in a difficult scenario. Again, his decision-making was quick and helped move the offense with efficiency. He also showed poise, rallying the offense from down early. The play where he recovered his own fumble and still had the time to hit Goedert was
The intentional grounding hurt the team, but he generally avoided making game-changing mistakes despite having to throw the ball much more. There’s definitely a foundation to keep building upon.
2. Another impressive stat on Hurts: All of his five touchdown passes this season have come on third or fourth down, starting with the fourth-and-forever touchdown he threw to Greg Ward against the Packers in his first extended time replacing Carson Wentz. That’s a really hard down for success for any rookie quarterback, let alone a kid drafted in the second round who didn’t start from Day 1. Oddly, the Eagles haven’t been good overall offensively on third down over the past two games, converting just 10 of 31 in Hurts’ starts, but they’ve converted 5 of 8 opportunities on fourth down.
3. Hurts does have some areas that need improvement, like ball security. He fumbled three times against the Cardinals, although didn’t lose any. We all remember the late fumble that happened against the Saints that was nearly catastrophic. There was also the intentional grounding in the end zone that spotted the Cardinals two early points. Hurts’ six sacks also weren’t all on the offensive line. There were times he tried to make a play and let the pocket collapse around him. That’s being a rookie just feeling things out. By the way, how about this rookie class? Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa and now Hurts have all looked brilliant at times this season.
4. The stats look crooked for the Eagles’ defense, but could we have expected better given the state of the secondary? The front four certainly applied pressure, but Kyler Murray and his receivers were going to make plays. You just hoped to avoid too many back-breaking plays. I mean, the Hopkins go-ahead touchdown was just an amazing catch. So was his deep post between Kevon Seymour and Marcus Epps earlier in the game. Nickel Robey-Coleman isn’t a good matchup on Larry Fitzgerald, who has nearly a foot of extra height on him. But the defense forced three turnovers for just the second time this year and only allowed seven points after halftime despite backups all over the secondary. There’s something to be said for that.
5. Alex Singleton is no longer just a decent linebacker only because he’s the best the Eagles have to offer. He’s legit. He can play. He’s not a Pro Bowler, but he’s been very good and brought much-needed stability to the middle of the defense. He had 11 tackles, one for a loss, and made some third-down stops. It’s a shame that linebackers coach Ken Flajole and also Jim Schwartz didn’t make the decision to get him on the field more earlier in the season, instead letting Nate Gerry get beat time and time again, or else Singleton could possibly have stopped some of the bleeding earlier on, when the Eagles were getting torched by tight ends and struggling against the run.
6. Imagine how good the Eagles could be if they stopped committed bad penalties. You’ll get some false starts and offsides here or there – not that they’re excusable – but the late hits and unnecessary roughness penalties are really inexcusable and hurt the Eagles at critical moments. The Eagles were flagged six times for 54 yards in the first half alone and finished with nine penalties for 69 yards. They have 38 penalties in the past four games, which is way too many. Pederson is the head coach. He needs to get this resolved.
7. The Eagles haven’t had too much injury luck this year, but Cam Johnson being evaluated for a head injury in the third forced Doug Pederson to leave his offense on the field on 4th-and-6. Hurts scrambled up the middle for 16 yards, which would be a precursor to Hurts’ next big run – a 7-yard plunge into the end zone to tie the game at 26-26. Jake Elliott had to punt in Johnson’s place and managed to
8. I’m convinced Larry Fitzgerald will be catching touchdowns against the Eagles when he’s dead. He entered the game with 11 touchdowns against the Birds in nine career games, including three in the 2008 NFC Championship game (sorry for the painful memory). After catching another touchdown against the Eagles, in the second quarter, he now has 12. His nine regular-season touchdowns against the Eagles are his most against any non-NFC West team.
9. Kyler Murray is a very unique player. He’s got a rocket arm for such a little guy and he scampers around like a lightning-quick jitterbug. He’s very talented, but you could see the Eagles’ defense confused and frustrated him at times. Jim Schwartz mixed his coverages, from single-high to two-deep safety looks, which isn’t something Schwartz does much but really needed to with his patchwork secondary. The interception Murray threw in the end zone was one of his worst mistakes and helped keep the Eagles in the game.
10. Miles Sanders’ overall game was better than the numbers suggest. He ran for 64 yards on 17 carries, an average of 3.8 yards per carry, which isn’t bad but is way below his season average. But the Cardinals stacked the box, sometimes with seven or eight defenders, leaving the outsides open for Hurts and the passing game. Sanders had a nice 26-yard pickup on a screen, which was good to see in general from the Eagles’ offense. Overall, 90 total yards. He should keep putting up good numbers in this offense.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.