Eagles can help Jalen Hurts by copying the Saints’ strategy for Taysom Hill
The Eagles are giving rookie second-round quarterback Jalen Hurts his first NFL start in Sunday’s Week 14 home game vs. Saints (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox). As they’re looking for a spark at the position to salvage what’s left of their disappointing 2020 season, they should look for inspiration in Hurts’ QB counterpart — Taysom Hill.
HIll, 3-0, will be making his fourth start replacing injured future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Hurts is getting his shot because of a slumping Carson Wentz.
Hill has gotten it done with his dynamic dual-threat skills in the past three games. He has rushed 34 times for 176 yards and 4 TDs, but he’s also thrown 76 times for 543 yards and 2 more TDs.
At 6-2, 221 pounds, Hill has a strong build and has backed it by a strong arm, giving the Saints more confidence he can be Brees’ long-term successor. Hurts, at 6-1, 223 pounds, come in with an impressive running and passing resume from his final college season at Oklahoma. He was a solid leader and starter for Alabama, but it took Lincoln Riley’s offense to fully tap into his athletic potential and set him up for his high draft stock.
Before the Saints stuck to their guns with Hill and took a flyer for Jameis Winston for further insurance, there was a thought that Hurts could be a perfect fit for Sean Payton’s offense as a late first-rounder. Now the Eagles can see whether Hurts was worth their surprise pick behind Wentz.
The Saints have unleashed Hill playing off their strong traditional running game with Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. They have picked good spots for Hill’s deep shots, either off play-action or using his mobility to buy time to find an open man downfield.
The Eagles can’t be afraid to let Hurts get double-digit designed runs and take off when needed. They also need to help him by getting talented second-year running back Miles Sanders back more consistently involved with touches, and don’t simply accept they can’t run on the tough Saints front.
Offensive-minded coach Doug Pederson needs to use the QB change and finally make some personnel adjustments to help Hurts. Like the Saints, the Eagles use 11 personnel (three wide receivers) a little more than half the time. The difference is, the Saints mix things up more with 12, 21 and 22 personnel the rest of the time, while the Eagles otherwise lock into 12 personnel (two tight ends) for most of their other sets.
The Eagles have more versatility now with healthier skill players. Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz are available at tight end, while Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, Alshon Jeffery, Travis Fulgham and John Hightower are all available at wide receiver. The Eagles did suddenly start give returning power back Jordan Howard more touches last week but they are better off limiting the backfield to Sanders and the Kamara-light Boston Scott (a former Saint) to mirror what the Saints do with Murray and Kamara.
The bad news for Hurts is that the Eagles’ injury-riddled offensive line is a weakness vs. the Saints’ strengths up front. They also have no savvy route-running dominant go-to guy such as Michael Thomas at wideout.
But with Goedert, Ertz and Richard Rodgers, the Eagles have a lot more experience and production at tight end. They also have the speed of Reagor and Ward with which to push the ball deep with Hurts — see the beautiful long TD pass Hurts threw to Ward against the Packers in Week 13.
The question is, will Pederson step up his scheming game when forced to do so? With Payton, the Saints have pushed all the right buttons with Hill to maintain a high level of all-around offense without Brees.
The Eagles turning to Hurts over Wentz is a sign of desperation at 3-8-1. Let’s hope Pederson, with his job also on the line, realizes the need for extreme measures and big changes to have any shot of rallying to win the weak NFC East. It is December, and Pederson has traditionally done his best coaching then, so Eagles fan should hold out hope he remembers that, too.
In a copycat league, the Eagles won’t be sinners by stealing what the Saints are doing with Hill. They’ll just be smart and Hurts will be much better off for it — or face the same fate as Wentz in 2020.