November 27, 2022
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Did Eagles decide to be more careful with Jalen Hurts?

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He’s still running a lot. He’s just not running as much. And it seems intentional.

As the season has gone on and the Eagles’ offense has evolved, Jalen Hurts has begun running the football less frequently. 

He’s still on pace for the 2nd-most rushing attempts in NFL history by a quarterback, but the last few weeks it appears the Eagles have made a conscious decision to run Hurts less and not to put him at risk as often.

Head coach Nick Sirianni and play caller Shane Steichen both said every game is different and they’ll always do whatever it takes to win the game.

“Jalen’s running ability is going to be a big part to our success,” Sirianni said Friday. “If we need to run him 20 times, we’ll run him 20 times. If we need to run Miles 20 times in a row, we’ll run him 20 times in a row. If we need to pass it 20 times in a row, we’ll do that. 

 

“Whatever we need to do and whatever we feel is best to win the football game, we’ll do, and just it’ll happen.”  

Maybe.

But the numbers say something has changed.

  • The first five weeks of the season, Hurts averaged 13.6 carries per game (not including kneel downs), and the last three games he’s averaged 6.7 carries– less than half as many.

What’s most interesting is that the Eagles continue to use Hurts almost as much as earlier in the season on 3rd and 4th down, where he’s such a devastating weapon. In those first five games, he had 26 carries on 3rd or 4th down – or 5.2 per game. The last three, he has nine – or 3.0 per game. 

That’s a drop, but not nearly as dramatic a drop as on 1st and 2nd down, which are a whole different animal because those are situations where Hurts is generally out in the open field and more at risk.

Consider:

  • The first five weeks, Hurts ran 36 times on 1st or 2nd down – that’s 7.2 times per game. The last three weeks, that number has plummeted to seven rushes on 1st or 2nddown – which is just 2.3 per game.

Now, some Hurts rushing attempts are called plays and some are scrambles out of pressure. But it’s also interesting to note that the Eagles have also reduced the number of RPOs they’re running, another way to keep Hurts out of harm’s way. 

The first three games of the season, they ran 40 RPO snaps – that’s 13.3 per game and 19 percent of their total snaps. Since then, they’ve run 27 RPO snaps – that’s 5.4 per game and about 6 ½ percent of their total snaps.

One thing we’ve seen is that as Hurts’ carries have decreased, the running back carries have increased.

 

In those first five games, Miles Sanders and the other backs had a rushing attempt on 32.9 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps. In the last three, that number has jumped up to 37.2 percent.

It’s also interesting to note that the last three games – as he’s run less and less – have been among Hurts’ most efficient as a passer. He’s only rushed for 60 yards the last three weeks, but he’s completed 69 percent of his passes for 683 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.

His 128.3 passer rating in wins over the Cowboys, Steelers and Texans is his highest ever in a three-game span (and highest in the NFL), and his 60 rushing yards are his fewest by far in a three-game span since he became the starter late in 2020.

That’s not a coincidence.

Maybe it’s too early (and too simplistic) to conclude that Hurts has grown so much as a passer that he just doesn’t need to run as much.

But that is something we’ve seen in other quarterbacks who ran a ton early in their careers. Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb, two of the greatest running QBs in NFL history, rarely ran during their most successful seasons. Cunningham only ran 32 times (including kneel downs) in his 1998 MVP season with the Vikings. McNabb was down to just 30 rushing attempts (not including kneel downs) in the 2004 Super Bowl season.

Cunningham had Cris Carter. McNabb had T.O. And Hurts has A.J. Brown. If you’re a quarterback, why take off scrambling and leave yourself open to big hits in the open field when you have one of the NFL’s best wide receivers wide open 15 yards down the field? 

 

And the reality is that Hurts is averaging 4.4 yards when he runs and 8.5 yards when he throws (2nd-highest in the NFL). Obviously, he’s virtually unstoppable on those 3rd– and 4th-and-1’s, but reducing his workload on 1st and 2nd down seems to make sense.

Now, maybe Hurts will take off 16 times against Washington like he did in the opener or maybe he’ll run 14 times like he did against Arizona. Maybe this is all a coincidence.

But it sure seems like something has changed. And changed for the better.





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