There is only a small sample size in analyzing Jalen Hurts this offseason, since he played only one series and threw six passes in preseason—when Hurts only saw one coverage scheme in that drive. So, it’s hard to tell how much he has improved.
Ron Jaworski, however, has a discerning eye. The former Eagles’ quarterback is a true student of the game who’s still heavily absorbed in watching game film and the fundamental mechanics of the quarterback position.
Because of the limited preseason access, no one really knows how much improvement Hurts has made since 2021 until Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
“Howie Roseman had a really solid offseason; the A.J. Brown acquisition was genius,” Jaworski said. “He’s a red zone receiver, he’s a 50-50 catch guy, he’s physical and he’s violent, and the Eagles’ red zone offense got immediately better when Brown joined the team.
“Looking at Hurts’ throws this offseason, overall, I think he’s done a really good job. I think there is a natural growth that you see in a young quarterback. Along the way there were some setbacks.”
Jaworski pointed out that one of those major falls came in the Eagles’ playoff loss to Tampa Bay last season. Todd Bowles, now the Bucs’ head coach, formerly the team’s defensive coordinator, throws many different looks at opposing quarterbacks.
Those looks change dramatically, from the pre-snap look to when the ball is actually snapped. Those looks not only took Hurts by surprise, but caught the Eagles’ coaching staff off guard, when the Bucs brought safeties and dropped defensive tackles into coverage. The Eagles didn’t make any adjustments until halftime.
The Eagles adjusted last year in moving from a passing team to a running team, which put them in the playoffs.
“That was a turning point for the Eagles last year, but Jalen made great decisions in that scheme, because there is a new style in the NFL right now,” Jaworski said. “I thought he did a tremendous job in making those reads. Here’s the thing that we sometimes overlook, because we still tend to look at football in the conventional way with quarterbacks dropping back, timing, rhythm, and those things are very important, don’t get me wrong.
“But there is a new style NFL right now. The RPOs, the zone reads, the quarterback has to make those split-decisions in the running game as well. And Jalen did a tremendous job with that. The running game is still very important to the Eagles right now—and the quarterback position is still important to that.
“They took the ball out of his hands, to a certain degree, but it was Jalen still making the decisions.”
What bothers Jaworski is the criticism Hurts receives for his deep ball.
Jaws feels Hurts’ ability to throw deep is fine.
“Where Jalen gets in trouble is when his mechanics break down,” he said. “He worked on it in the offseason. I’m sure his coaches coached him up on it. His deep ball has a tendency to lose energy down the field because his mechanics were off. He wasn’t driving his hips; he wasn’t throwing off his back leg.
“Consequently, the energy wasn’t there. That’s where he got himself in trouble. That’s not due to a lack of arm strength. It’s a matter of mechanics. I’m not as concerned as some people are about that.”
A glaring concern is Hurts on third down. He threw five touchdowns and three interceptions on third down last year. Teams blitzed Hurts on third down. Only Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson was blitzed more on third down. Hurts completed 58 of 108 passes on third down, for 53.7 percent and 792 yards—facing the blitz 37-percent of the time on third downs.
“Hurts will face a different Detroit team than he faced last year, I will tell you that,” Jaworski said. “Running quarterbacks run, because they can. They don’t learn about going through progressions, because they have escape ability. It’s why they come off primary receivers.
“When the Eagles’ coaching staff dialed up the right play, Jalen executed. Where he got himself in a little trouble was when the anticipated defense changed, and he had a tendency to rush and get out of the pocket. He didn’t trust himself to go through those progression quickly.
“We don’t know if he can do it or can’t do it. We’ll find out on Sunday against Detroit.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written features for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, and his breaking story on Carson Wentz for PhillyVoice on January 21, 2019. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.