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Eagles Film Review: Jalen Hurts is still an excellent quarterback despite taking a step back in 2023

Deep dive on Philadelphia’s QB.

Buffalo Bills v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

It’s time for the offseason! I will be getting to a lot of Eagles player and scheme breakdowns over the next few months, and I can’t possibly start anywhere other than the quarterback position. I’ve written about Jalen Hurts in a lot of detail before here so I’m not going to go over the same points over and over again, but I will try and look at what changed this year.

The Stats

Firstly, thank you to my BGN podcast partner Shane Haff who made my job easier by grouping all of the main stats.

Here are some of my main takeaways from the numbers...

  • There is a significant difference between turnovers and turnover-worthy plays. I expect some positive regression next year. Still, the interception number is higher than you would like.
  • Nothing sums up this Eagles’ offense more than ranking 2nd in average depth of target, and 26th in time to throw.
  • The difference in time to throw and average depth of target this year compared to last year shows a big difference. You already know this, but this offense focused on taking the deep shot too often.
  • I don’t take PFF grades as very reliable, but I think Hurts ranking as the 7th best quarterback this year highlights that he still had a pretty strong year.

Last Years Review

Here’s a reminder about my conclusion on Hurts when I published a review of him during the Eagles' bye week in October. This was before he went on a phenomenal playoff run and had a fantastic game.

Hurts does not play quarterback in the ‘traditional’ sense but if you have a coach who can build around his skillset as the Eagles have done, I think he can be a top 5-8 QB. He may not have the rare skillset in terms of arm strength of Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, or Patrick Mahomes, but his mobility is rare. I don’t like making rankings, but I look around the league at the moment and I am not sure that long term I would take more than 5 QBs over Hurts if I was starting a franchise (the 5 being - Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow) but this is just personal preference and it would depend on the offense you wanted to run.

I said this after 6 weeks into the season because it was clear that Hurts was playing at a very high level. He only got better, but I think it’s clear this year he took a slight step backward. Let’s start with the negatives first.

A Step Backward

Hurts did not play as well this year as he did last year. I think he regressed in a few specific areas such as...

Middle of the Field

It is impossible to separate a quarterback from his scheme. Is Brock Purdy putting up the numbers he has this year under any other coach? Probably not. The issue is that we can't know who is to blame for the offensive design this year. I’ll give you a wonderful hypothetical conversation.

Person A: “Jalen Hurts doesn’t throw to the middle of the field enough, it’s his fault”.

Person B: “Jalen Hurts doesn’t throw to the middle of the field enough, because the coaches don’t scheme up enough throws to the middle of the field enough, and focus on throws outside the numbers”.

Person A: “I agree. But this is because Jalen Hurts can’t throw to the middle of the field. So that’s why the coaches aren’t scheming throws to the middle of the field.

So... who is right? We don’t know!

So here are the facts.

Quite simply, Hurts does not throw enough to the middle of the field.

But, when Hurts does throw it to the middle of the field, he is outstanding at it.

The answer probably lies somewhere in between. There is no doubt that this coaching staff schemes up more outside throws rather than targeting the middle of the field.

However, Hurts has proven that he can make tough throws in the middle of the field. I have seen it with my own eyes, multiple times. The Eagles don’t call a huge amount of Hi-Lo concepts but when they do, I think Hurts is willing to throw to the middle of the field. Last year he threw to the middle of the field 17% of the time, this year it was 11%. 17% isn’t exactly a lot, but it proves that he can do it more.

Let’s look at some examples. Even on this play, I don’t particularly love the Eagles' spacing.

I mean...

However...

This is a minor point, but I just don’t like the Eagles’ offense spacing when they target the middle of the field and it always looks contested. I think you have to point out that the scheme does not make it easy for Hurts to have success throwing to the middle of the field.

Rushing Threat

I do not think Hurts was fully healthy for a large part of this season. He didn’t look the same athlete and he’s only 25! I highly doubt his body has started to decline at the age of 25 (if it has, then I’m in real trouble). I think it is pretty obvious that Hurts’ rushing has taken a step back this year.

Last year Hurts ran for 760 yards at 4.6 yards per attempt and had 7 20+ rushes. This year, he only had 605 yards at 3.8 and 2 20+ rushes.

It was very clear that Hurts was not healthy this year.

He was just faster last year, wasn’t he?

The numbers back this up too.

That’s a significant difference, and I think it’s pretty clear that Hurts was not fully healthy this year.

Turnovers

As I mentioned above, Hurts was unlucky with turnovers this year. I do not think he will throw 15 interceptions next year. Despite that, there is no doubt that he threw more turnover-worthy throws this year than last year (2.3% compared to 1.8%) and he had a few plays that he will want back. A lot of Hurts’ interceptions came from him forcing the ball into tight coverage.

If you have a spare few minutes, you can go back and watch all of Hurts' interceptions from this year. If you don’t want to put yourself through it, I do not blame you at all!

Hurts was quite unlucky with his interception total this year. I think you can argue that only half of his interceptions were his fault, and there were a few miscommunications and unlucky plays in there.

Hurts has proven for 2 straight years that he does have a low turnover-worthy throw %, but this year he regressed slightly. Although 15 interceptions do feel a little bit unlucky, Hurts will want to take care of the football better next season.

Up and Down

Welcome to the part of the review where I talk about things that Hurts could still improve on, but I wouldn’t call them an area he regressed.

The Blitz

Some of you may be shocked to not see this as a negative, but Hurts ranked badly against the blitz last year and showed some improvement this year until the whole scheme collapsed down the stretch.

It’s easy to forget that the Eagles were terrible against the blitz in 2022 as well. Here’s something that will make you upset. These are two quotes from my Super Bowl 57 offensive All-22 review.

As good as the Eagles’ offense has been this year, they have had a problem allowing free rushers all year. They don’t build in enough hot routes but I think it’s because they know Hurts can beat free rushers. Allowing free rushers was a problem in this game and it came back to haunt the Eagles later on.

It gets worse...

This is the play I am having nightmares about. It’s bad. 3rd and 3 in the 4th quarter. I personally think this is 4-down territory so I think the Eagles could have run it or thrown it short. Instead, they run this play. 3 slow-developing routes with no hot adjustment to the blitzing cornerback. This is bad preparation and bad coaching. There has to be an option for DeVonta Smith to run a shorter route when he sees his cornerback blitzing. He could just turn around and Hurts could throw it straight to him. The Eagles actually pick up the cornerback blitz but they allow yet another free rusher which means Hurts has to bail from the pocket. AJ Brown absolutely destroys press coverage and if there is no free rusher here, Hurts has an easy throw for a 1st down. For as good as the Eagles’ offense has been, the lack of adjustment to the blitz and an inability to prevent free rushers has been a problem all year and it cost them on the biggest stage. This is painful to watch.

There are not many things in life I am certain about. But I am certain about this statement I am about to type. It is not Jalen Hurts’ fault that the Eagles are bad against the blitz.

I have watched every single snap this offense has had under Nick Sirianni, and the lack of adjustments to the blitz is on the coach. Not on the quarterback. Quite simply, this is something that the Eagles need to fix and it’s not on Jalen Hurts to do so.

Focusing on Explosive Plays

This is both a Jalen Hurts and Nick Sirianni problem. Sometimes it is great, but sometimes it is a disaster. I am certain the Eagles coach their quarterback to throw the deep ‘alert’ in the progression whenever they get a positive matchup. However, Hurts has to sometimes take the easier throw, rather than try and hit the big play. Once again, it’s tricky to just blame Hurts if he is being coached to do this, but at some point, you can’t just completely blame all of Hurts’ flaws on the coaching staff. He does have a choice in these plays to take a different option.

However, Hurts’ aggressiveness is what makes him a very dangerous quarterback. I don’t want a quarterback who just checks it down all the time, and having a quarterback who is willing to force the ball down the field is a good thing overall.

Pocket Movement

There are some areas of Hurts' game that he has improved on, but he does sometimes show some bad habits. I think he has improved his pocket movement a lot, and made some excellent throws where he moves up in the pocket rather than bail to his right.

Despite this, Hurts still bails too often from clean pockets. I do wonder how much of this is a problem with Hurts and how much of this is something he is coached to do. There are benefits to bailing from the pocket (less chance of being sacked and fumbling, a chance for an explosive play, and reduced injury risk) but I still think he bails too early at times.

Still Very Good

Welcome to my favorite part of this article. Hurts is still an excellent quarterback. I do not doubt this. Let’s look at why.

Deep Ball Thrower

Sometimes football analysts try to make football too complicated. I’ll keep this simple. Hurts is an incredibly good deep-ball thrower. That is a good thing. He throws with fantastic anticipation, ball placement, and velocity on a very consistent basis.

This is my favorite ball of the year.

Processing

OK, this one is a tad controversial. Some of you may think that Hurts has regressed in this area, but I think the injuries that he suffered have turned him into a much better quarterback. I was intrigued whether the numbers backed me up, and I think I found something (by asking Shane, of course) that proves he has improved his processing from the pocket.

That’s a big difference.

I think Hurts has gotten better at reading the defense and eliminating what isn’t there quickly. Look at this play below, I don’t think he made this play last year or earlier on in his career.

It’s easy to forget how fair Hurts has come from a processing standpoint. I can still remember his rookie year and how he really struggled in this area. I think his development is still incredibly impressive and I do not doubt that he can continue to improve. He’s only 25! At times this year, he couldn’t use his mobility due to his injuries, and he still looked like a good quarterback. That’s impressive.

Running Threat

Yes, I posted this earlier a step backward because it was true. But I maintain that he was hurt. Look at him run earlier on in the year before he suffered the knee injury. He is still an elite rushing threat.

Hurts is only 25 years old, so I’m not worried about his athleticism declining already. I think he was just hurt this year. Hurts is still a very special athlete when healthy.

Special Plays

We live in an age where the best quarterbacks just make ridiculous plays weekly. Every coach wants a quarterback to play in structure, but to be an elite quarterback you need to be a few absurd plays every so often. I think Hurts has proven that he can do that.

Intermediate Throws & Ball Placement

Remember when Carson Wentz would just miss high 3 times a game, even when he was really good? When I watch Trevor Lawrence play (who some analysts rank above Hurts), I see him miss open receivers at least 3 times a game. I rarely ever see Hurts badly miss. I just think he’s an accurate quarterback. The numbers back me up too. Ranking 3rd in CPOE (completion % over expected) is very good.

Imagine Hurts in an offense that ran this concept from under center more than once a season... he throws this route SO well.

Overall

TLDR: Hurts is still an excellent quarterback who took a step backward this year because the scheme let him down and he played through some injuries this year. It’s easy to forget that he was one of the MVP favorites at the start of December. Hurts finished 2nd in MVP voting in 2022 and reached the Super Bowl, where he kept up with Patrick Mahomes in a shootout.

I hate rankings, but I know some of you are probably wondering where I would put Hurts. So, because I am a man of the people (and I’ve seen some highly questioning rankings of late), here you go.

In a vacuum, I would put Hurts at the front of tier 3 of current quarterbacks. I would have something like... (these are not in an exact order).

Tier 1: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson.

Tier 2: Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert (I know you guys are going to hate this, but I can’t ignore the talent, I’m sorry! I’d probably have Burrow in Tier 1.5 and Herbert in Tier 2.5 if we are being technical).

Tier 3: Jalen Hurts, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, CJ Stroud, Jordan Love.

That is not an exact order, and I hate rankings because they are sort of pointless when it comes to quarterbacks. But I think you can reasonably argue that Hurts is anywhere between the 5th and 11th-best quarterback in the league right now.

I think deciding if you have a franchise quarterback is pretty simple. Can I win a Super Bowl with him, without everything being perfect around him? The answer with Hurts is yes. How do I know this? I watched him ball out in the playoffs last year, and I still think he would have beaten Patrick Mahomes in a shootout if James Bradberry hadn’t gotten called for holding on 3rd down. Just ask Josh Allen how hard it is for a quarterback to compete with Mahomes.

This is not an ‘Eagles-Cowboys’ rivalry thing, I promise, but I do find it funny when I see Dak ranked a tier above Hurts. I think on film, you can certainly argue Dak is a better player during the regular season and at this point in their respective careers. But it’s close and you can’t just ignore the playoffs. That is when it all matters! I am perfectly fine having them on the same tier, and I am open to arguments that Dak is a better regular-season player, but I think Hurts brings an offense more upside due to his rushing ability.

I have seen Hurts deliver in the playoffs and on the biggest stage of them all. This is why I’m not worried about Hurts long-term, and I think he played better this season than a lot of people give him credit for.

If you want even more Hurts content, I spoke about him for an entire episode on my most recent podcast for BGN.

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If you made it to the end... well done and thank you! I’ll be back soon with some stuff about new Eagles coordinators Kellen Moore and Vic Fangio.

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