Jalen Hurts’ first NFL start gives Eagles glimpse into future and present

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles

After replacing starting quarterback Carson Wentz in last week’s game against the Green Bay Packers, rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts made his first NFL start under center for the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon.

The second-round pick out of Oklahoma faced a tall task in his first full NFL game. Hurts was facing the league’s best defense in the New Orleans Saints, and had to get this Eagles’ offense back on track, which has been sputtering for most of the season.

To the surprise of many, Hurts rose to the occasion and led the Eagles to a 24-21 upset victory over New Orleans.

He completed 17-of-30 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown, plus had 106 rushing yards on 18 carries. Hurts brought a rejuvenating element to the Eagles’ offense that caught the Saints’ defense flatfooted in the first half.

Hurts did not force many bad throws and took what the defense gave him, especially on zone reads. If the Saints’ defensive line crashed hard on running back Miles Sanders, Hurts pulled the ball back, and picked up yards to keep the chains moving.

Or when he finally handed the ball off to Sanders, the second-year running back made the Saints’ defense pay with an 82-yard rushing touchdown.

At that moment, you saw what this Eagles’ offense could become with a quarterback, who can run read-option, zone read, and RPOs plays effectively. It opens up a lot of things on offense and keeps opposing defenses off-balance.

Furthermore, when Hurts did not run, he made the layup throws that many analysts and fans alike have been clamoring about Wentz. Whether if it was a pass to Jalen Reagor going across the middle or to Alshon Jeffery on fourth down for a touchdown, you could not ask for anything better from the rookie quarterback.

After the game, Saints head coach Sean Payton heaped praise on the Eagles’ rookie quarterback.

“But I’ll say this. (Hurts) was impressive just watching him,” Payton said (h/t ESPN). “I thought he played with poise, made some throws. He was smart. He did a good job.”

Honestly, that is all you can ask from Hurts, is to just do a good job. Now granted, was Hurts’ first NFL start perfect? Not at all. He made some decisions that could have had a different outcome — hence the almost interception by Saints defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

But to say that Hurts looked like a rookie backup quarterback and not a starting NFL quarterback is disingenuous. We have to give him credit for the good plays and decisions he made. Because at the same time, if Hurts threw three interceptions and got sacked 4-5 times, there would be a contingent saying, “I told you so.”

We also need to keep in mind that this is only the first step in Hurts’ career. The only way he will get better is with more playing time. The second-round pick was named the starter on Monday against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15.

He’ll have another week of first-team reps and to improve off of what he did and did not do against the Saints. If he performs well again, then we can start to have this discussion about next season for Wentz. But until then, let us just sit back and watch Hurts do what he does best, and that’s play quarterback.

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