Jalen Hurts was the least accurate quarterback in the NFL last season.
Now, there were a lot of mitigating factors, but Hurts’ completion percentage of 52% in 2020 was the lowest among all quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts.
And then in the 2021 season opener, he completed out astounding 77% of his passes. But even after his impressive performance on Sunday in Atlanta, he still wasn’t too keen on talking stats.
“The biggest stat I’ll look at, at the end of a game,” Hurts said, “is if we won or lost.”
But it is also worth pointing out that the Eagles’ coaching staff does care about completion percentage. And while offensive coordinator Shane Steichen wouldn’t divulge the Eagles’ benchmark for completion percentage, he made it clear that one does exist.
“That's something that we look at,” Steichen said. “Obviously, you want to be at a certain (level) — we have a goal each week that we want to be at. But he definitely exceeded that goal on Sunday.”
Yeah, no matter what the goal is, Hurts’ completing 27 of 35 passes is pretty exceptional. And in that one game he raised his career completion percentage nearly five whole points, from 52% to 56.8%.
When asked about Hurts' improved completion percentage, Nick Sirianni said it's a product of getting Hurts reps in the plays they know they're going to run.
"It's just the added reps of getting him to know where to go with the football, because he's a good enough passer, he's a really good passer, right, and he does a lot of other things really well," Sirianni said. "It's the accumulated reps of decisions of where you are gong with the football in time, does that mean you throw in rhythm every single time? No, but you will more if you know where to go with the football. Then if you don’t, then he has that great weapon of being able to run the football."
Of course, completion percentage isn’t a perfect stat and there are plenty of other factors that matter. You can explain away Hurts’ 52% figure from last year with a lot of the same ways you can explain away that 77% figure from the opener.
Because last year, Hurts’ averaged 9.5 intended air yards per pass, second to just Tom Brady. And in Week 1 this year, he averaged 3.7 intended air yards, which was the lowest average in the NFL.
In the most basic terms, it’s harder to complete long passes than it is short passes. I know: Duh.
Steichen said on Sunday they did have some deep shot plays called but the defense took them away. Hurts did the right thing and checked down on those plays instead of being overaggressive and forcing the ball down the field. There’s always a balance there.
Because of those factors, maybe it’s better to us NFL Next Gen Stats’ expected completion percentage, which uses completion probability on each passing play. In that respect, Hurts was at 68% in Week 1, ranking him eighth in the NFL. (He was at 55.5% in 2020, still dead last in the league.)
Steichen made the point that Hurts’ high completion percentage on Sunday meant that the Eagles were picking up first downs and moving the sticks. He’s right. The Eagles had 24 first downs on Sunday and 13 came through the air.
It seems extremely likely that an analytics-forward team like the Eagles, in addition to the numbers in the box score, takes all of those fancy stats into account. But that doesn’t take away any of the luster from Hurts’ 77% in Week 1.
“I think any time you're completing 77% of your passes,” Steichen said, “you're putting your team in a position to win football games.”
At least there’s something Hurts will care about.
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