The Eagles’ conversion on 3rd-and-14 against Washington on Sunday was special for a lot of reasons.
Not only was it the Eagles’ second-longest third-down conversion of the season and not only did it extend a second-half drive that led to a touchdown when they absolutely needed it in their 20-16 win to help clinch a playoff spot.
But it was a play they probably don’t make earlier in the year.
“I think as when Jalen was making plays with his feet early on, what we said to ourselves was, ‘Man, we're a couple scramble throws away from being really explosive at this thing,’” head coach Nick Sirianni said. “And that's been an emphasis as us as coaches and as players, and I know we've gotten better at that in a lot of different areas, and it really showed up yesterday.”
The Eagles have been practicing scramble drills in practice for this very situation.
Forget that Jalen Hurts never even heard this play call come through his headset; the real magic happens when the scripted play breaks down. From there, we can see Hurts move up and around the pocket, direct traffic, break the pocket all while keeping his eyes downfield, looking to pass the ball.
“That was a big focus on us early in the year,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “We thought we could have got more chunk plays off the scramble, so each week in practice we try to get a couple of those every week, and it's starting to pay off so it's been good.”
It’s hard to say, but there’s a good chance that earlier in the season, Hurts takes off with his legs. Maybe he makes it to the sticks, but more likely he picks up 7 or 8 yards to set up a tough decision for Sirianni.
This time, he did exactly what his coaches wanted him to do.
“When you escape the pocket, you always want, as a quarterback, to be able to make the play down field with your arm and then run,” Sirianni said.
“And Jalen has gotten better and better at that as the year has gone on. So, I think what you just see is he sees it on tape and sees the guys – I think the entire team has gotten better at that, right? It's not just Jalen.”
On this particular play, Sirianni praised Greg Ward for mirroring Hurts’ movement on this scramble drill and finding a way to get open.
Sirianni explained that folks might be surprised about how much technique and detail goes into the receivers’ responsibilities on scramble drills. It’s not just a jail break. There are rules; it’s organized chaos.
But even for all the rules, Hurts still has to trust that his receivers are going to do what he expects of them. There’s a feel to it and there’s no doubt that practicing these breakdowns during the week has led to a better feel for them in the game.
For a quarterback like Hurts, there’s always going to be a natural inclination to take off with his legs. Sometimes that’s the right play. Sometimes it’s not. And he’s never going to make the right decision 100 percent of the time. His coaches just want him to keep improving with those decisions and he really has.
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You can imagine that earlier in the year, Eagles coaches would sit down with the 23-year-old quarterback and point out plays where Hurts left a little meat on the bone. Plays where, sure, he gained some yards on the ground, but look at this: “You have a streaking DeVonta or Dallas getting open!”
One thing we’ve learned about Hurts this season is that he doesn’t mind getting critiqued by his coaches. It seems like he’s taken this particular coaching point to heart.
“He's great,” Steichen said. “He wants to be coached hard and know the why on everything we do and have the answer for everything, and so he's been great with all the coaching that we've been giving him and it's continued to show up week in and week out and he continues to get better. Love where he is at right now.”