Jalen Hurts’ biggest flaw is a big problem despite win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Eagles’ win Sunday vs. the Giants was a classic tale of two halves, where the first half was an absolute mess and the second half was a raucous party. It was truly bizarre.
But the Birds emerging with the gigantic win doesn’t mean we can ignore how putrid the first 30 minutes of football was from the Eagles’ offense.
The hot takes were flying early on Sunday afternoon before things got fun and we’ve got a lot to unpack, so let’s overreact to the win after the Eagles advanced to 8-7 on the season:
1. Jalen Hurts‘ inability to read the field is a big problem
It seemed pretty clear Sunday that Jalen Hurts wasn’t fully healthy. He had little to no explosion during his rush attempts, he was moving gingerly even in the pocket, and he finished with a season-low seven rush yards.
So you’re likely to see plenty of Hurts defenders in the wake of the quarterback uninspiring performance.
But I’d like to highlight something that has nothing to do with Hurts’ limited mobility, and more with a concerning lack of improvement in a key area: seeing the entire field and making smart decisions with the ball.
The most glaring example of Hurts’ tunnel vision – something that Carson Wentz suffered with before him – was him missing an obviously wide-open Dallas Goedert in the end zone at the end of the first half:
There were no defenders within seven or eight yards of Goedert. That’s a miss that simply can’t happen as a starting QB in the NFL.
And missing obvious, open targets has been a repeated problem for Hurts this season; outside of the arm strength and some questionable decision-making, it’s probably been his biggest flaw.
If Hurts were some unreal athletic talent – Lamar Jackson‘s open-field weaponry, or Justin Herbert’s cannon arm, or some Drew Brees-like deathly accuracy – then the way he doesn’t see very well past his first read wouldn’t be as concerning. It would still be a problem! But he’d probably be able to learn that while he uses the rest of his skills and gifts.
READ: Miles Sanders exits Giants game in first half with injury
But Hurts is not that kind of transcendent athletic player, so he needs to get the little things right.
And whether that’s not throwing the awful near-interception that he attempted on the Eagles’ first drive, or just hitting a wide-open tight end in the end zone, Hurts has failed to do the easy stuff that’s right in front of him all year long.
It’s great that he figured things out against the Giants, who are awful and clearly checked out, but the Eagles weren’t asking very much of Hurts on Sunday and he still turned in a bit of a worrisome performance.
2. DeVonta Smith will be a Pro Bowler next year
DeVonta Smith isn’t getting the national hype and adulation that Ja’Marr Chase is getting (which is fair) but he should be right there with the Bengals’ young stud because the Eagles’ first-round pick is having an incredible first year in the NFL.
Through 16 games Smith has 58 catches for 821 yards and five touchdowns, a tremendous start to his career filled with highlight reel catches – and that’s despite not receiving nearly enough targets considering he’s far and away the Eagles’ best pass-catcher.
If the Eagles get more consistent quarterback play next season, either from Jalen Hurts or someone else, Smith could legitimately be a Pro Bowl wide receiver in his second year in the league.
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Coming out of college, the big selling points on Smith was that he ran picture-perfect routes and always found a way to get open. He was gonna be the guy who did all the little things right, and his floor as a wide receiver seemed very high.
But how high was his ceiling? That relied more on Smith’s ability to make the “Wow!” plays.
And on Sunday, Smith had two “Wow!” plays that highlighted two skills the rook clearly possesses.
First, he made a catch down the field where he went up and simply plucked the ball out of the air over a defender in tight coverage:
Part of the fretting over Smith’s size in the draft process was the concern that he might not be able to go up and get contested balls, a huge part of star receivers’ big-play ability. That’s clearly not the case.
And Smith also possesses freakish talent on the sidelines, as evidenced by his absolutely filthy touchdown catch in the second half:
That’s the kind of toe-tap talent that not many wide receivers in the league possess. Completely insane.
Get Smith more reliable targets, both in volume and quality, and he will be a Pro Bowl wideout in short order.
3. This defense’s future is actually… kind of exciting?
The Eagles’ defense was a complete sieve early this season, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete passes with basically no resistance.
And no, this take isn’t coming now just because the Eagles were able to torch a Giants offense starting Jake Fromm and eventually switching to Mike Glennon. Sunday’s domination was the only acceptable result.
But the Eagles’ defense has shown over the past handful of weeks some real solid performances from young guys, from Josh Sweat to Milton Williams to Marcus Epps, and on Sunday even Alex Singleton, that should have Birds fans feelings good about the next few years of this unit.
And that’s before you remember that they were shorthanded all season without a starting edge rusher in Brandon Graham, and they’ve been making do without linebacker Davion Taylor for weeks now.
Oh, and Javon Hargrave is only 28 years old.
Feel how you want to feel about Jonathan Gannon – I’m not sure he deserves another year in charge of the defense, but that’s not my choice! – but if the Eagles are able to add some top-tier talent in April’s draft (in a draft class that seems to have a ton of talented defenders along the defensive line, at cornerback, and even at linebacker) they could be set up for a stretch of continued success, a blessing after multiple years of disappointing play.
The defense kept the Eagles in the game Sunday through 30 minutes of embarrassingly bad offense, and if they run things back with Jalen Hurts next year they’ll likely need to do that again, at least once or twice.
Thankfully, it’s become clear this is the kind of defensive unit that can be a strength.