Jalen Hurts enters the season as the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback with pressure to perform. His opening performance as “the man” was certainly promising.
Philadelphia Eagle’s quarterback Jalen Hurts saw only two drives in action against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, the team’s first preseason game of the year. Still, his performance certainly gave us positive indicators of his growth as a passer. I think it’s worth taking the time to point out some of the finer details of his performance.
Overall, Hurts looked much more comfortable throwing from the pocket. He was poised, confident, and improved mechanically. Many in the media have been looking to hound the Eagles for electing to proceed this season with their second-round pick from last year. Even more on the national scale, analysts have criticized the Eagles for not moving to secure Houston Texan’s quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is currently battling lengthy sexual assault accusations.
Hurts has a tremendous amount of pressure on his back right now. He needed to come out and play well early. Let’s break down what we saw.
Jalen Hurts starts the game off with a throw
New head coach Nick Siriani didn’t want to hold back Hurts and allowed him to start throwing immediately. He opened with a seven-yard strike to tight end Zach Ertz.
This is a basic stick concept. For people who have played Madden, they’ve called this play a thousand times. Zach Ertz is the main target that Hurts wants here, and he doesn’t have it immediately. The Steelers’ formidable linebacker Devin Bush was all over it. When Hurts when to the check down in the flat, that was covered as well.
Hurts rolled out of the pocket. His legs are enough of a threat that Ertz was left uncovered to account for the run threat Hurts has. With that, he throws the bullet to his tight end, which now has a lot of space. A smart and heady play for Jalen Hurts here.
The strike to Dallas Goedert
By far, Hurts second throw of the night was the most impressive. The second throw was a 34-yard catch and run to his tight end Dallas Goedert.
His second throw of the night: a strike to Dallas Goedert for 34 yards.— 🟢 𝕁𝕠𝕙𝕟 𝕍𝕠𝕘𝕖𝕝 (@DraftVogel) August 13, 2021
🟢Sets well in the pocket.
🟢Delivers a well timed, incredibly accurate football on a difficult route.
🟢Opens the field for Goedert to pick up a lot of yards after the catch. pic.twitter.com/FN0x8RXXnJ
This was an out route with a clearout streak from Jalen Reagor on the perimeter. The Steelers were in man coverage, so Hurts made the proper decision with his read. Goedert was one-on-one with the Steelers’ talented and athletic linebacker, Devin Bush. His cut at the top of his route took Bush by surprise, and he stumbled. Hurts put this football in the perfect place, hitting Goedert in stride and allowing him to turn upfield for the substantial gain.
It’s an impressive throw. The level of difficulty with the throw is rather challenging. He placed this perfectly and hit his receiver perfectly in stride.
Jalen Hurts misses two of his next three throws
Jalen’s next three throws would fall incomplete – missing on two of them while taking a drop from the normally sure-handed Ertz.
Hurts’ throw for Reagor was simply weak. This is normal when a receiver and a quarterback are still building chemistry. Hurts still doesn’t have the timing of the concept down and doesn’t know how to feel where he is. We definitely want to continue to monitor this through the remaining games and camp.
Hurts delivered a good ball on his fourth throw of the night – a deep curl to Zach Ertz. Unfortunately, Ertz dropped it as he took contact from behind shortly after the arrival of the ball. Hurts could have been faster with the throw, but it was still on time. Ertz has to come down with those.
The Eagles know the weapon they have in Quez Watkins
Jalen Hurts’ fifth throw of the night was a deep go looking for his young speedster, Quez Watkins, down the sideline. Taken four rounds after Hurts, Watkins spent much of his early NFL career injured, placed on the IR during camp. This year already we have seen that connection working in practice.
This time, the Eagles tried it in live-action. One of the kinks that Hurts and Watkins are still working out is learning how they respond to different situations during the route. In this case, Watkins had to work around the defender thirty yards downfield, a good bit later than he intended. Hurts throws this out expecting Watkins to win off the release and Watkins couldn’t catch up to it.
Hurts 5th throw of the night: slightly overthrowing Quez Watkins.— 🟢 𝕁𝕠𝕙𝕟 𝕍𝕠𝕘𝕖𝕝 (@DraftVogel) August 13, 2021
🟢Shows the arm strength and touch there
🟢Still working on the chemistry and knowing just how fast Watkins is. pic.twitter.com/qLc5sf4JPY
Still, they aren’t far off. For the first preseason game of the year, this is promising for the positive things to come.
Zach Ertz will still be a major factor in this offense
One of the things that stood out immediately is how much the Eagles want to use their tight ends as a part of the passing game. Ertz was targetted three times, while Goedert was targetted technically twice. The other two were to Reagor and Watkins.
Jalen Hurts 6th throw of the night: another strike to Zach Ertz.— 🟢 𝕁𝕠𝕙𝕟 𝕍𝕠𝕘𝕖𝕝 (@DraftVogel) August 13, 2021
🟢Poise from the end zone where he can’t take a sack.
🟢Excellent upward, tennis like release motion limits chances to be deflected at the line of scrimmage.
🟢Another accurate throw. pic.twitter.com/Vj3ryDVRbI
The other positive to note from this performance is that the Eagles want to run offense aggressively. Hurts didn’t stick to checkdowns and motion. He went vertical with the football, averaging around 9 yards of depth per target (removing the deep shot).
Here, Hurts hits Ertz in stride as he moves across the middle. Hurts release has shown some massive improvement since last season, showing a more vertical release motion. If you watch some of the best pocket passers in the league, their release motion goes directly over their shoulder, much like a tennis player swinging a racket. It helps push the ball better and creates a higher release point that lowers the opportunity for defenders to deflect the pass at the line of scrimmage. This appears to be a part of his game he’s worked significantly with this offseason.
Hurts final throw of the night shows his ability to extend plays
Jalen Hurts final throw of the night was a throwaway – but he was smart all through the rep.
Jalen Hurts final throw of the night, a smart throwaway.— 🟢 𝕁𝕠𝕙𝕟 𝕍𝕠𝕘𝕖𝕝 (@DraftVogel) August 13, 2021
🟢Gets away from the pressure.
🟢Extends the play to the very last second.
🟢No receiver is open, smartly throws the ball away. pic.twitter.com/Y7krWiBg9c
The Steelers brought a massive blitz on this play that overwhelmed the protection. He buys just enough time by making a defender miss and rolls out to his right. That’s one of the things he does well – juking to make defenders miss. There was one highlight run at Alabama in college where he juked about five Texas A&M defenders to keep the play alive.
Rather than trying to take off and run with the ball, he looks downfield for a receiver to come open. He knows that he’s running out of time and he has no desire to force it. He waits as long as he can before harmlessly dropping it along the sideline. A smart and heady play showing his improvability.
Overall, what to take away from this performance
Jalen Hurts finished the game 3 of 7 for 54 yards and posted a 69.9 passer rating. Obviously, looking at the film, his performance was much better than his stats would suggest. It was a promising performance that shows where he is with this team and where he can get better.
Remember, the Steelers have already played a preseason game to start to warm up for the season. Considering that, I think it helps explain the difference between the performances of the two teams.
Hurts left the game with a 3-0 lead, with a promising drive that had to end in a field goal because of a drop on third down. Next week, we will be watching closely to see if there are any strides in the chemistry. Bet on it, there will be.