When Hurts returned Week 18 against the Giants, playing against Giant backups in a game the Eagles needed to win to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC, he did not look like the Hurts who had been an MVP candidate before suffering the right shoulder injury that knocked him out of the lineup.
Hurts played well enough in that game for the Eagles to eek out a win over the Giants’ backups and practice squadders. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 229, with an interception. He ran nine times for 13 yards.
It was clear that the Eagles felt they needed Hurts to play, but that at the same time they were trying to protect him because he was not nearly 100 percent.
The Eagles have relied on Hurts’ legs this season to make their offense whole. Perhaps even moreso than the Giants have relied on the running of Daniel Jones. In 15 games, Hurts ran 165 times (11.0 attempts per game) for 760 yards, fourth in the league. Jones ran 120 times in 16 games (7.5 attempts per game) for 720 yards.
Designed runs for Hurts weren’t really part of the Philadelphia playbook in Week 18 against the Giants. When the quarterback did escape the pocket he got down or out of bounds as quickly as he could.
After that game, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni had this to say about the quarterback:
“[Hurts] came out sore, as expected. He came out of that game sore because it’s still healing. Like, we didn’t feel like we were putting him at any more risk of getting more injured, but we knew it was going to hurt him like hell, and he knew it was going to hurt him like hell. But that’s the kind of player he is, that’s the kind of teammate he is. He fought through it because it was important for him to be out there, and he knew how important it was to his teammates for him to be out there.”
Sirianni also said the Eagles were “fortunate we have two weeks til the next time we play.”
Here is a little bit from a film study of Hurts’ Week 18 play against the Giants that I found over at Bleeding Green Nation:
It was pretty clear the plan was to get the ball out of Jalen Hurts’ hands quickly and not get him hit very often. ... I feel like Hurts has gotten away with some criticism this week because we were all just happy to see him out there. But he didn’t play well. He didn’t see the field well and left quite a few throws on the field. This is not like him this year so I am hoping he was told to get out of the pocket early and not take hits ... One thing is for certain though, no matter how much it may hurt, the Eagles are going to use him as a runner in the playoffs. The offense is not the same without that element.
Hurts as a runner, and the threat of Hurts as a runner, opens up the Eagles’ playbook. Without that, they still have terrific weapons in A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, Miles Sanders and Dallas Goedert, but they are missing the final piece that makes their offense truly frightening.
Mark Schofield and I discussed the impact of Hurts’ health on the Philadelphia offense during Wednesday’s episode of the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast.
“It hurts them a lot [if they can’t use the designed runs],” Schofield said. “Jason Kelce [Eagles center] said on his show with his brother that their entire offense — run game, pass game — starts with Jalen Hurts. Everything the do builds off of Jalen Hurts.
“The stuff they do in the pass game, the RPO stuff that they do, obviously the drop back stuff that they do. Obviously the quarterback plays a huge role there,” Schofield said.
“But so much of what they do in the run game and some of their play-action elements build with his ability to run as a foundational principle. If they’re not in a position to rely on that stuff, if he’s not healthy enough where they feel like they can use his threat as a runner to set up some of this stuff that’s a big chunk of their playbook that’s kind of out the window.
“His health is a huge storyline heading into this game.”
Yes, it is.
We will see how much the Eagles are willing expose Hurts to contact on Saturday night. Obviously, it could make a big difference.