By Pete Baxter
The Eagles entered week 12 having won three of their previous four games. They were red hot, led by a dominant rushing attack putting up 200+ yards per game as a team over the previous month. Jalen Hurts was playing the best football of his career. He had led the NFL in QBR over that span.
The Giants were a team in shambles, having just fired their veteran offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett. All signs were pointing towards a blowout for Philly. Not so fast.
Despite the Giants’ ongoing offensive ineptitude, the Eagles were beat up in a low scoring 13-7 slugfest. Hurts played arguably the worst game of his career, throwing for just 129 yards with a 45% completion rate. He threw three costly interceptions and zero touchdowns. He picked up 77 yards on the ground, but it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the shortcomings in the passing game. Hurts also reportedly injured his ankle in the loss.
Amazingly, the team still rushed for over 200 yards once again, compiling 208 yards between Hurts, Boston Scott (64 yards and one touchdown) and Miles Sanders (64 yards). However, the Eagles learned the valuable lesson that, regardless of how well they run the ball, they can’t win without a passing game.
So how concerned should the Eagles and their fans be, having watched their momentum come to a crashing halt in the Meadowlands? Is it time to hit the panic button?
To that, I respond with a resounding “NO.”
Jalen Hurts Will be Fine
This is not Jalen Hurts first bad game. It will not be his last. It will probably not be his last bad game this season. He is learning the game. The loss to the Giants was only the 16th start of his career.
He is tremendous athlete. He clearly has running the ball down to a science. However, as we all can see, his passing (particularly his accuracy) is an ongoing project. This should not be a surprise to anyone, as it was well-known at the time of his selection in last year’s draft and it historically takes a young quarterback more than 16 starts to reach their full potential. His growth and development will continue. There will be bumps in the road.
This is Nothing New
Let’s look at some examples of other current superstars who were far from a finished product in their second season. We will extrapolate Hurts’ numbers to a 16-game total (as opposed to a full 17) to keep the statistical comparisons as accurate as possible.
Hurts is putting up very similar numbers this season to Josh Allen (an MVP candidate in years three and four) did his own sophomore season. Hurts is on pace for nearly identical passing yards (3,043 to Allen’s 3,089) and touchdowns (17 to 20) over a 16-game span. He has been slightly more accurate (60.1% to Allen’s 58.8%). His rough showing against the Giants puts him slightly ahead in terms of interceptions (on pace for 10 to Allen’s 9 over 16 games). However, he has held on to the ball much better, on pace for 7.5 fumbles to Allen’s 14.
As Athletic as Allen is, Hurts is blowing his rushing numbers out of the water. Hurts is on pace for 869 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. This considerably beats out Allen’s career high 510 yards and nine touchdowns in his own second season.
Remember Andrew Luck, the perennial Pro Bowler, MVP Candidate and heir apparent to Peyton Manning? He also put up somewhat similar numbers to Hurts in year two in 2013. This is true despite his being considerably more hyped, respected, and much more of a proven passer. Luck did throw the ball considerably more, finishing the season with 3,822 yards to the 3,043 Hurts is on pace for.
However, his passing touchdown total is much closer (23 to Hurts predicted 20). His interceptions are close (9 to Hurts 10). Their accuracy numbers were nearly identical (60.2% for Luck to Hurts’ 60.1%). Hurts had a superior yards per attempt at 6.9 to Luck’s 6.7.
Factor in Hurts incredible rushing numbers, and he is on track for more total touchdowns (30 to Luck’s 27), and considerably more rushing yards (869 to Luck’s 377). In fact, factoring in rushing, Hurts is on pace for nearly as many total yards as Luck (3,912 to 4,199).
Hurts’ numbers look favorable to a lot of other NFL stars during their own sophomore seasons. Hurts has superior numbers across the board to Cam Newton in his own second season. Kirk Cousins went 0-3 with four touchdowns to seven interceptions with a 52% completion rate in his second season. He has since made two Pro Bowls and become one of the most accurate passers in the NFL.
You can argue that just as many superstars di hit their stride in their sophomore season, and that is valid. Lamar Jackson won an MVP and Baker Mayfield has the best season of his career in year two. The fact is that every quarterback develops at a different rate. However, when they show the raw skill and leadership ability that Hurts has, it is imperative their franchise and fans remain patient and invest in the most important player on the team.
Hurts Is Not Solely to Blame for This Loss
Two of the Eagles’ most important Jalens, Hurts and Reagor, seemed to perfectly coordinate the worst games of both of their seasons. Reagor, a 2020 first-round pick, has struggled throughout his tenure in Philadelphia, and was particularly bad in week 12. He caught just two of his seven targets. He dropped two potential game-winning touchdown catches late in the fourth quarter, including Hurts’ fourth-down heave that bounced off Reagor’s hands. Had Reagor caught either of those passes, and the Eagles had pulled off their fourth win in five games, would we even be having this discussion?
Greg Ward also dropped a touchdown pass. One of Hurts’ interceptions could have easily been a pass interference call on Tae Crowder.
Yes, there are always outside influences that impact a quarterbacks final stat line, but Hurts had particularly bad luck in this one, and his receiving corps did him absolutely no favors.
Still Plenty to Be Thankful For
Even in a rough loss, the defense has continued to improve week-to-week. This team can officially run the ball with the best of them. This rebuilding squad is still smack-dab in the heart of the wildcard playoff hunt. The Eagles have already won more football games this season than many experts predicted.
Eagles fans can not forget the reality of this team. It is a rebuilding squad with a young, developing quarterback and an even less experienced coaching staff. Getting used to the occasional mental errors and even bad games is just part of life during a rebuild. However, looking at the bigger picture, this team has still won three of their last five, and are on a notable upward trajectory.
So, long story short, no. There is absolutely nothing to panic about in Philly.
More to come.