The Philadelphia Eagles are 11-1. That’s the best record in the NFL. And it’s about what Eagles fans envisioned for the team’s future after they won the Super Bowl in February of 2018. But we didn’t see it coming this way.
Carson Wentz was the man who we were convinced would lead us to years of success and more championships. There were huge expectations for him after the Eagles took Wentz with the second pick in the draft. And his MVP-caliber play during that championship season – until he was injured and fate shined on Nick Foles – gave us every reason to believe that he would fulfill the destiny we envisioned for him and the team.
But Wentz turned out not to be the guy we thought he was. While he still had – and has – a great arm and outstanding physical attributes, he is weak at the mental aspects of the game. He doesn’t excel when his team is trailing in the fourth quarter of a close game. He holds on to the ball too long. And he doesn’t react well after absorbing punishment from the opposing defense.
Yet many Eagles fans – myself included – had invested too much in Wentz to give up on him and were befuddled when the team used their 2020 second-round draft pick on a quarterback named Jalen Hurts. The team had serious needs at several positions and quarterback didn’t seem to be one of them at the time. There was also concern that selecting a quarterback could impact Wentz negatively from a psychological standpoint.
We were right about that last part. Wentz did, in fact, react poorly and play terribly. By the last few weeks of the season, his attitude and play were so bad that coach Doug Pederson started Hurts in his place. Yet nothing he did on the field at the end of the 2020 season gave us any reason to think he was the team’s quarterback of the future.
Wentz was traded following that season. When the team wasn’t able to procure an elite quarterback to replace him, that left Hurts as the starter in 2021.
In his first full year leading the team, Hurts struggled a bit. While he showed impressive running ability, his quarterback rating of 87.2 was barely mediocre. He had a relatively weak arm for an NFL QB and wasn’t very accurate when throwing the ball down the field.
Yet he displayed sure signs of being a true on-field leader in guiding the team to a 9-8 record and a surprising playoff berth. There were a couple impressive fourth-quarter comebacks, and unlike his predecessor, Hurts never seemed to let anything bother him. He appeared to be the kind of cool customer that one wants in a starting quarterback. The issue was whether those attributes were enough to off-set his passing limitations.
The general consensus among those with whom I discussed the issue following the 2021 season was that Hurts had shown enough promise to earn another shot in 2022. But we were still far from confident that he was the man to successfully lead the team into the future. The hope was that he would work on his accuracy issues and that maybe he could even strengthen his arm.
All of that hope – or more likely, a tremendous amount of hard work put in by Hurts during the off-season – seems to have paid off. Not even in our wildest dreams did Eagles fans expect what we’ve seen from him through the first 12 games of 2022.
The man who had severe accuracy issues on deep passes last season is now like a programmed machine. The long ones all seem to be right on the money this year. And while his arm strength is still below average, he now compensates for it by being so good at getting rid of the ball early and putting it right where it needs to be. His pass completion percentage is at 68.1%, compared to 61.3 in 2021. He’s also throwing for more yards per attempt, completion and game this season, while his quarterback rating has skyrocketed to 108.3.
And he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes or bad reads, having thrown only three interceptions – alongside 20 touchdown passes – through 12 games.
Hurts’ stellar passing numbers this season have been supplemented by his continued impressive display as a runner. He is on pace to surpass his total of 784 rushing yards last season. If his average per carry is down a bit, that may only be because he has repeatedly been called on to keep the ball and push forward behind his outstanding offensive line on third or fourth and short situations. He has been so unstoppable on those plays and so good at using his extremely powerful legs to get the necessary yard, that again, I have to assume he put in a huge amount of work in the off-season.
While Hurts has been spectacular as both a passer and runner so far in 2022, if I had to pick the best aspect of his game, it’s the extent to which he excels mentally and as a leader on the field. His coolness under pressure and will to win are at uncommon levels.
Nothing rattles him – be it a late fourth quarter deficit, a 300 pound lineman bearing down on him or nearly getting crushed by falling fans while leaving the field after a game.
He has again brought the team back from late deficits, including one in the last two minutes against the Colts, when he ran in for the game-winner on a quarterback draw. He also appeared poised to bring the team back in the one game they lost – to Washington – but the attempted comeback was spoiled when two of his receivers fumbled the ball down field in the fourth quarter.
As Hurts is only in his second year as a starter, one has to wonder if he still has room to grow. Perhaps he hasn’t hit his peak yet. That must be a scary thought for the rest of the NFL, particularly the other NFC East teams.
Frankly, I’d be thrilled if he stays just the way he is now. If he can remain relatively healthy and the front office keeps surrounding him with the type of talent they have this season, the future looks like we thought it would a few years ago. We’ll just have a different leader pulling us along for the ride.