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30 Sep 2023

Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts

Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs upfield during the NFC ... [+] divisional playoff game between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles on January 21, 2023, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by J. Conrad Williams, Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images)

Newsday via Getty Images

In the abstract, it is possible to view the early returns in Jalen Hurts’ rushing game as disappointing, especially in comparison to 2022.

After all, the Philadelphia Eagles originally drafted Hurts for his ability to run the ball as much as his passing out of the quarterback position. And his 760 yards on the ground was fourth among quarterbacks last season.

So far this season, he’s accumulated 100 yards on the ground through three games, with his yards-per-carry down from 4.6 last year to 3.1 this year. Missing also have been the big plays on the ground, with his longest run at just 14 yards.

But this has always been the balance with Hurts, that the run can set up the long passes, and even the threat of Hurts on the ground can help other Eagles rushers — why the Eagles are second in the NFL overall in rushing yardage and fifth in yards-per-attempt so far.

“He hasn't got as many pulls that have turned into explosive plays,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianna said of Hurts when speaking to the media on Friday. “That doesn't mean that it's not being effective. We ran the ball really well. Partly why is because of the effect that Jalen has on the back side. O-line has done a great job, tight ends have done a great job, running backs have done a great job running the football.

“But when you have a quarterback like Jalen [Hurts], when you hand it, the whole back side is affected which allows your back side of your line to get the cut offs to have these explosive runs.

“So, are Jalen's numbers up in the run game? No, but our numbers are up in the run game, and he greatly affects what happens in the run game because of who he is and his threat to be able to keep it around the edge... Make no mistake about it, when he hands the ball off and bursts off the back side, he affects the defense, and that is as good as a block sometimes, right, because you hold it and set up blocks for other things.”

Some of what Hurts formerly used as running plays have instead become times he’s elected to stay in the pocket longer, leading to long pass plays. This is both the result of an offensive line that’s done an exceptional job protecting him, and a maturity in decision-making from Hurts in these moments as well.

“I think the one thing that I've always preached to Jalen is that each play is independent,” Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson told assembled media on Thursday. “I think once you get to that mindset, especially at the quarterback position is it requires a ton of instinct, a ton of feel to understand what the game needs at that moment. The play that he made on a 34-yard touchdown pass to sit in there and really wait for OZ [WR Olamide Zaccheaus] to clear across was as good of a play that I've seen him make here in three years. So, you can see that growth, that development, in terms of how he's able to utilize different parts of his game to make plays.”

Take a closer look to get a sense of how Hurts has rushing options, but instead makes the big passing play happen.

This is not to say the QB sneaks that have roiled the NFL, the so-called “tush push”, have gone anywhere. Hurts has three touchdowns on the ground already. They’re just coming on plays like this.

However else Hurts’ decisions evolve over the season — and Sirianni, rightly, pointed out three games is too small a sample size to make any definitive conclusions about how Hurts will operate on zone read runs this year — don’t expect that play to go away, no matter how much opponents hope it will

“This whole Tush-Push thing has been a huge controversy, but I really don’t have thoughts on the play or people's opinions on the play,” Johnson said. “I think ultimately, the bottom line is we try to put our players in the best position possible, and that play has been an advantage for us. It has been a weapon for us over the course of the last year and a half, and we know it will be a focal point for defenses try to take that away. But in terms of what other people comment on it, has no difference or bearing or effect on how we operate.”