After benching Carson Wentz and starting Jalen Hurts for the first time on Sunday against the Saints, Doug Pederson has taken drastic steps to create a spark for the Eagles’ offense. While this move seemed inevitable considering Wentz’ poor play this year, it also has many repercussions as the Eagles are moving away from their franchise quarterback who signed a 4-year $128 million contract extension in 2019.
Although Carson Wentz has regressed greatly since 2017 when he was an MVP candidate, much of this regression was due to outside factors such as constant injuries between himself and teammates, poor overall decisions from coaches in providing Wentz offensive support in drafts and free agency, and controversy that damaged Wentz’ confidence over backup QBs Foles and Hurts. While these factors aren’t necessarily Wentz’ fault, it still doesn’t seem likely that he will bounce back in his current circumstances in Philadelphia.
As Pederson has currently not stated any intentions of moving Carson Wentz after this season, it seems like he and the Eagles are looking to continue to play Hurts and evaluate who the better option is after the season. With only 3 games remaining before playoffs, Hurts will likely start all three games in order for the coaches to see as much of him as they can.
In Hurts’ first start on Sunday, he was not only able to cover the holes in Wentz’ game, but he was able to torch the Saints’ top-caliber defense in the first half; creating a 17-0 lead. Although the Eagles slowed down and the Saints made a run in the second half, Hurts’ quick decisions and ability to convert on 3rd and 4th downs allowed the Eagles to maintain their lead and win the game 24-21.
While Hurts obviously impressed as he helped take down the then-10-2 Saints, some concerns with his game still remain. Firstly, Hurts is evidently smaller than 6’5’’ Carson Wentz. While this shouldn’t have much effect when Hurts is rushing on the outside as he is much faster than Wentz, his ability to rush inside on short-yardage plays may be hindered by his size as he’s less likely to run through/over linemen. This was seen in a key 4th and 1 QB sneak by Hurts.
Another concern with Hurts’ play on Sunday was his inability to close out the game with less than 2 minutes left in the game. On a 2nd and 9 play with 1:51 left in the game, Hurts rushed up the middle and fumbled the ball. The Saints recovered the ball with good field position and scored on the following drive bringing the Eagles’ lead to only 24-21. Although the Eagles were able to recover the Saints’ onside kick and kneel the clock out, they were very close to not recovering the kick and could’ve easily lost the game. While these mistakes aren’t uncommon in rookie quarterbacks, they can be critical to winning games as they can easily flip a 10-point lead as almost shown in this game.
While Jalen Hurts’ debut as a starter was far from perfect, the Eagles’ offense played at a different pace when he was on the field. Due to Hurts’ different skill set from Wentz and his eagerness to run, Hurts seemed almost unaffected by the Eagles’ struggles at offensive line (that have led Carson Wentz to be the most sacked QB in the NFL this year). Although defenses will begin to adjust against Jalen Hurts, it’s encouraging to see what he was able to do against a top Saints defense. Because of this, the starting position looks like it’s Hurts’ spot to lose. Additionally, if Hurts is able to continue to lead the Eagles offense and win games, Wentz will likely be moving to a different team this offseason.