How will the Eagles use Jalen Hurts this season? Think Lamar Jackson

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The Philadelphia Eagles are sending signals they plan to play rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts this season, even with 27-year-old Carson Wentz firmly entrenched as the starter.

The Eagles are looking at how the Baltimore Ravens deployed Lamar Jackson during his rookie season (2018) alongside Joe Flacco and the way Taysom Hill is utilized by the New Orleans Saints to complement Drew Brees as Philadelphia crafts a plan to incorporate Hurts’ dynamic skill set into its offense.

“It’s just something we’re going to explore,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “I want to make a point here first and foremost that Jalen Hurts is a good quarterback, and he was drafted as a quarterback and he’s a quarterback first, but he has a unique skill set that he’s a great runner. Obviously, he throws well on the run. He has a unique set of skills that we’re going to take a look at as we keep developing this offseason and this advancement, so to speak, as we get ready for training camp.”

With Jackson and Hill serving as the blueprints, we can get a sense of what Hurts’ role could look like during the 2020 season.

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How often will he see the field?

The Saints are a clear outlier in how frequently they use two-quarterback sets. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, New Orleans ran 206 offensive plays with two QBs last season. There were three other NFL teams (Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans) that ran such a play in 2019 for a grand total of 10 combined snaps.

Hill’s usage was similarly high in 2018 — his first season as a regular on offense — as the Saints ran 175 plays with a two-quarterback look.

The Ravens’ use of Jackson in his rookie season was more moderate and more closely resembles how the Eagles likely will operate, especially with little time to acclimate Hurts to the offense amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Baltimore ran 56 plays with two QBs in 2018. Jackson averaged 9.5 snaps over the Ravens’ first nine games before overtaking Flacco as the starter, throwing the ball 11 times while rushing three times per game on average.

The Ravens’ offensive coordinator at the time? Marty Mornhinweg, who now serves as a senior consultant on the Eagles’ staff.

“He felt very similar in Jalen as he did in Lamar,” Pederson said of Mornhinweg’s evaluation of the two quarterbacks.

“Having Marty look at Jalen and his skill set and what he can do, and then how they put plans together, how they designed an offense around putting Lamar in his rookie season and allowing him to play certain plays, it’s all part of the process.”

How will Hurts be used?

The Saints-Ravens Week 7 matchup in 2018 was a showcase for how secondary quarterbacks can make an impact.

Hill received a direct snap on a fake punt and ran for a first down. He broke off an 8-yard run out of the Wildcat formation. He lined up as a running back and took a pitch from Brees 11 yards down the left sideline. He split out as a motion receiver.

Jackson ran a keeper for 4 yards, followed by a short, quick-read completion to wide receiver John Brown off play-action. Deep in the red zone, he pulled the ball out his running back’s midsection after reading the linebacker and shot through a crease for the touchdown.

The threat Jackson posed in the running game created more problems for the Carolina Panthers the following week.

This is where Hurts (1,298 rushing yards, 20 TDs in 2019) could thrive in his first season — using his legs to apply pressure in the zone-read game while sprinkling in some low-risk run-pass-option (RPO) passes.

And, should the Eagles want to dust off the Philly Special, Hurts already has that in his bag of tricks as well.

What are the risks?

For all the positives in that Week 7 Saints-Ravens matchup, it wasn’t all pretty. With New Orleans deep in Baltimore territory early in the game, Hill attempted an option pitch to running back Alvin Kamara that was off the mark and resulted in a lost fumble.

It’s not always a good idea to take the ball out of the hands of your franchise quarterback. And it requires your primary signal-caller to be a good sport. In those two-QB alignments, Brees and Flacco typically lined up out wide, barely moving post-snap as the action unfolded away from them.

Wentz was diplomatic when asked about the Eagles’ decision to draft Hurts and the possibility of sharing the field with him, but he’s also a fierce competitor and wants the ball in his hands, especially in big moments. The Eagles will need to strike the right balance while making sure they don’t knock Wentz out of his rhythm.

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Tim Tebow expects that Jalen Hurts will force opposing defenses to prepare for hours before they play the Eagles.

What other factors should be considered?

Backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld has been in the Eagles’ system for three years. Pederson hinted that Sudfeld has a good shot at being the No. 2 quarterback, particularly early while Hurts gets up to speed during this unprecedented offseason.

That doesn’t mean Hurts will be kept off the field. Hill was the third QB behind Brees and Teddy Bridgewater last season and still played 23% of the offensive snaps. It comes down to the matter of dressing three quarterbacks.

One way or another, the Eagles seem inclined to get Hurts into the mix in 2020.



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