Breaking down Jalen Hurts’ first start: Eagles rookie sparks upset of Saints with running, toughness
If the Eagles were looking for a spark at quarterback by starting rookie Jalen Hurts in favor of benched Carson Wentz in Week 14 vs. the Saints, then one would say they got that and then some — an upset win that kept their faint NFC playoff hopes alive at 4-8-1.
Philadelphia got what it needed out of its second-round pick as it held on for a 24-21 home victory after getting out to a 17-0 halftime lead. Hurts wasn’t close to perfect as a passer (17 of 30, 167 yards, one touchdown, 5.6 yards per attempt, 83.6 rating), but he avoided mistakes when the game was on the line. He more than compensated as a runner (18 carries, 106 yards).
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Hurts was decisive with his passes and got them out quickly. He spread the ball around to four wide receivers, two tight ends and two running backs. The Saints were unable to rattle him; they failed to sack him once and were burned by his power and elusiveness on the ground.
The Saints’ front four had been dominating recent opponents, led by the daunting Cameron Jordan. Hurts didn’t look like a rookie at all; instead, he stood strong and tough like.a veteran who has started for several seasons. He was impressive both in making the throws he needed to make and giving Eagles feature back Miles Sanders a helpful running mate.
Hurts also gave the team much-needed energy and showed the type of leadership he displayed in his big-winning college days at Alabama and Oklahoma. He also revved up his fellow young players, namely first-round rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor (three touches, 65 yards) and Sanders (18 touches, 136 yards). The threat of Hurts running opened up the floodgates for Sanders against a usually nasty Saints run defense, including an 82-yard TD burst in the second quarter.
Wentz was getting lost in the offense amid the Eagles’ issues on the line and limitations with their downfield passing. He was getting too much into his head and seeing pressure that wasn’t always there.
Hurts showed natural mental and physical toughness with his 6-1, 223-pound frame. The Eagles’ play-calling played off his confidence and the coaches put full trust in him to execute. At the same time, the Eagles’ defense responded to the offense giving it consistent help by getting after his counterpart, Taysom Hill, for five sacks and an interception.
The Eagles needed a complete performance to upend the Saints. Hurts served as the missing piece in place of a regressing Wentz, who was dragging down the offense with his poor play.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson hasn’t been great at calling plays this season, but give the Eagles credit for adjusting in that area, too, and not being afraid to let Hurts run, by design or otherwise.
Going into Week 14, Pederson didn’t commit to sticking with Hurts over Wentz for the final three games after making a change in Week 13. There’s no doubt the rookie made the decision easy for his head coach.
Given the current disappointing state of the Eagles, Hurts clearly gives them the best chance to keep winning. Whether he should replace Wentz long term is now the next big question.