Eagles QB Jalen Hurts’ evolution tour heads to Arizona in Week 5
TEMPE — After knocking off one former Oklahoma quarterback in Week 4, the Arizona Cardinals get another shot at an ex-Sooners signal caller when the Philadelphia Eagles head to the desert on Sunday.
But make no mistakes about it, Baker Mayfield is no Jalen Hurts, who enters the Week 5 matchup against the Cardinals riding a tidal wave of momentum behind a 4-0 start.
This isn’t the same Hurts Arizona faced during his rookie season in 2020, either. The quarterback has taken strides through the air while continuing to burn defenders on the ground.
His ascension as one of the NFL’s top threats at quarterback may be a surprise to some, but not for head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
“He’s tremendous. I told our staff, he’s one of the best decision makers in the league as far as where to go with the football, when to throw it, when to tuck it, and when to make plays,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday. “He’s always been a winner.
“I remember recruiting him in high school and he just had a legendary work ethic — whether it was in high school, at Alabama or now in Philly. You hear stories of how late he’s there, how hard he’s working and it pays off. He’s a tremendous talent.”
Since the last time the Cardinals faced off against Hurts and the Eagles, the quarterback has cemented his place as the team’s undisputed starter.
After completing 52% of his throws as a rookie, Hurts has become a much more efficient passer. Over his last 19 games spanning the last two seasons, the QB has completed 62.5% of his passes to go along with 4,264 yards and 20 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
And you can’t forget about his running ability.
Only the Detroit Lions’ Jamaal Williams (six) and the Cleveland Browns’ Nick Chubb (five) have more rushing scores on the year than Hurts (four). Philadelphia has utilized Hurts’ running ability excellently, with three of his four rushing touchdowns coming off of run-pass options, which forces the defense to make a decision and react.
“He’s poised, he’s smart, he makes quick, sound, clean decisions,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “As a passer, he’s grown and he’s throwing the ball to really good players. … The offense has been built and designed for (Hurts) and he’s doing a great job of execution.
“It’s not simple, it’s really assignment option football. It forces you to be disciplined and if you make any mistakes, they’re going to take advantage of it.”
Hurts is a proven improviser for the Eagles, scrambling a league-high 21 times, per Pro Football Focus.
But that’s not to say the offensive line is chopped liver. Led by center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson, the line is tops in the NFL when it comes to pass-blocking with a PFF grade of 81.
“Their line is very good, probably the best we’ve played in a long time as far as the five guys across the board,” Joseph said. “The center’s amazing as far as picking up pressures and different exotic looks. That’s what it starts.”
Strong QB play and a brick wall of an offensive line has only opened up the door for Philadelphia’s other playmakers to shine, most notably wideout A.J. Brown.
In his first season with the Eagles, Brown paces the team in catches (25), targets (38) and receiving yards (404). He is averaging 101 yards and 6.3 receptions per game in 2022.
Complementing Brown in the receiving game are DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert.
Smith finds himself as Hurts’ No. 2 option through the air with 266 yards and a touchdown on 18 catches after a strong rookie campaign. Goedert continues to be that steady presence in the offense while racking up 204 yards after the catch good enough for second among NFL pass catchers.
“He’s a guy that’s extremely talented with the ball in his hands,” tight end Zach Ertz said of Goedert, who shared the TE room with the pass catcher during his time in Philadelphia. “They try and find ways to dump him the ball early — tight end screens constantly, jailbreak screens in the middle of the field, tunnel screens, check downs.
“They’re just constantly trying to find ways to get him in short areas to allow him to catch the ball and run.”
And providing the two-headed rushing attack alongside Hurts is Miles Sanders.
The running back enters the matchup third in the league in rushing yards with 356 and is tied for fourth in touchdowns with three. If he can stay healthy — Sanders hasn’t played more than 12 games since his rookie season in 2019 — the running back is trending toward a career year.
All in all, the Eagles present the toughest test for the Cardinals defense this season. The Kansas City Chiefs are good, but this Philadelphia squad is stacked from top to bottom offensively.
Arizona will need a repeat performance from Week 4 plus a little extra to knock off the league’s best.