Dashing Debut: Hurts Tops 100 On Ground, Keys Upset Of Saints
Just when it appeared safe to feel enthusiastic and giddy about the Eagles again, Weeks 1-5 called. They wanted their injuries and dysfunction back. A missed chip shot field goal and three starters in the secondary exiting in the third quarter threatened to spoil a solid starting debut for Eagles rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts as the New Orleans Saints fought back from a double-digit halftime deficit to come with a field goal of tying the game. But the Eagles, no strangers to adverse situations this year, showed signs of fight for the first time in more than a month. Josh Sweat's fourth-down sack and forced fumble in the fourth put the ball back in the hands of Hurts, who led a six-play, 53-yard drive that was capped by Miles Sanders' second touchdown run as the Eagles held on for the 24-21 upset at the Linc, snapping their four-game losing streak to win for the first time in more than a month. Hurts was solid in his NFL starting debut, combining some timely passes with his ability to run. He went over 100 yards rushing as the Eagles churned out more than 200 yards on the ground. The Eagles are squarely in third in the NFC East, as Washington stayed hot with a win, and the Giants remained a half-game ahead after losing to Arizona, but more important right now is that the Eagles finally won a game and looked functional on offense. Let's go ahead with the observations:
1. Lots of credit to Hurts, who mixed the run and pass and orchestrated an offense that eclipsed the 20-point barrier for the first time since Nov. 1 against Dallas, a 23-9 win – their last win prior to Sunday. In that game, the offense scored just 15 points. So this was really their most points scored since scoring 28 against the Ravens on Oct. 18 – almost two months ago. Hurts should obviously start next Sunday against the Cardinals. Hurts clearly showed composure and leadership. After Sweat's first sack caused the fourth-down turnover, Hurts made a really nice pass to Greg Ward over the middle for 14 yards as the Eagles marched downfield and cashed in on Sanders' second touchdown. STATS 2. It's amazing how just a functional offense makes such a difference. The flow allowed Doug Pederson to lean more on Sanders and took the pressure off the offensive line, which blocked well in the run game and did well in pass protection. Hurts' running acumen also helped the O-line, which didn't have to hold its blocks as long, and helped overcome some spottiness in the passing game as the Eagles converted just 4 of 12 third downs. The Cardinals will surely come with a game plan to curtail Hurts' threat of run – their defense practices against Kyler Murray every day – but there's no denying the impact his athleticism brought to the offense. 3. Also, a functional offense obviously helped the Eagles' defense, which I've criticized recently for only playing well in spurts and not getting the job done in late-game scenarios. But I've also mentioned that being on the field so much hasn't helped them. Hurts' ability to move the chains – time of possession was about 50-50 – allowed the defense to catch its breath. Also, they weren't playing from behind, which helped immeasurably. The Eagles rung up 5 sacks and for the first time since their win against Dallas produced two takeaways. They had just one takeaway total in their previous four games. 4. Obviously, the opening drive didn't lead to any points because of a fourth-down stuff on Miles Sanders an on inside zone, but you did see some of the features Doug Pederson forecasted earlier in the week – designed runs for Hurts, more touches for Sanders (four touches), a mix of 11 and 12 personnel and some quick game. The 4th-and-long swing pass to Jalen Reagor for seven yards exemplified the objective of getting the ball out of Hurts' hands quickly. Too bad penalties backed the drive up. Also thought Pederson's 4th-and-2 call for a handoff to Sanders lacked creativity. It surely didn't foot the Saints, as Cam Jordan and Malcolm Jenkins sniffed out the play immediately. Pederson probably should've given a run-pass option on the call. 5. Josh Sweat has earned a contract extension as a situational rusher. The 2018 fourth-round pick had two sacks, bringing his season total to six, a new career high after having four last season. Because of past knee injuries, he probably won't ever be a starter who plays a lot of snaps, which means the Eagles can probably lock him up to a team-friendly deal this offseason, when he becomes eligible for a contract extension for the first time. Javon Hargave also continues to come on as the season progresses. More on the D-line from Andrew DiCecco on InsideTheBirds.com. 6. Have to respect the back-shoulder toss from Hurts to Alshon Jeffery for a touchdown on the Eagles' second possession. Do I wish that was Travis Fulgham instead of Jeffery? Yep. But maybe the young Fuglham doesn't get away with the push-off that Jeffery did. Regardless, the back-shoulder throw isn't a throw we've seen a lot of this year, even in years past. For whatever reason, Wentz isn't really a back-shoulder or jump ball thrower very much. Hurts made a nice read against the Saints' blitz and found the right 1 on 1. Props to the young QB for that. 7. The blocking on Miles Sanders' 82-yard touchdown was artwork as left guard Issac Seumalo and Jason Kelce sealed off the left side and a second-level block from Zach Ertz provided the final spring Sanders needed for his third run of at least 74 or more yards this year. If you think's that impressive Sanders, consider this, from my friend Dave Zangaro at NBC Sports Philly:
More on Sanders: It's clear the Eagles were able to get him involved in the passing game, too. He had five targets, catching four passes for 21 yards, to go along with his 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns. On recent ITB podcasts, Adam Caplan and I have wondered often why Sanders hasn't been asked to catch passes given the mismatches he can create. Hopefully, he continues to get these opportunities in the future. Feels like a lot of his second season has been wasted. 8. The Eagles need to think very seriously about bringing in competition for Jake Elliott, who's regression has been hard to ignore. He missed extra points in consecutive weeks coming into the game and then hooked an easy 22-yarder off the left goal post just before the half, costing the Eagles valuable point, although it didn't come back to haunt them. Just like Alex Henery and Cody Parkey before him, Elliott has fallen way off since his amazing rookie season. He can't be guaranteed a job next year.
9. Why does it seem like every time the Eagles play the Saints, their secondary is in shambles? Two years ago, injuries brought about the "law firm" of Bausby, Hawkins and Sullivan – Devante Bausby, Josh Hawkins and Chandon Sullivan. The Eagles lost that game, 48-7. This time, In the third quarter, the Eagles lost Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox and Rodney McLeod – 75 percent of their starting secondary – giving way to Jalen Mills' move back to corner to play opposite newcomer Kevon Seymour as rookie Michael Jacquet was unavailable to play. Not surprisingly, Sean Payton went on the attack, dialing up a deep pass from Hill to Emmanuel Sanders, who beat Seymour for the 37-yard touchdown that pulled New Orleans within 3. They hung in there at the end, but you got the feeling if this game had another quarter, the outcome could've been different. Hope that Slay and Maddox can get back on the field Sunday against Arizona's air-raid offense. 10. Pederson and the coaches did a decent job getting first-round pick Jalen Reagor into the offense. Finally, a crossing route fooled an Eagles opponent (along with some interference by Zach Ertz) as Reagor went over the middle and was wide open on his 39-yard catch, his second straight week with a reception of at least 30 yards. He also picked up 19 yards on an end around, which was also two straight weeks for picking up double digits on a carry. Hurts just missed Reagor on a deep over early in the game. Overall, he was targeted four times and touched the ball three times. Still would like to see him get about 6 to 8 touches in a game.