As far as first starts go, Jalen Hurts had a pretty good one.
No, the numbers from the Eagles’ 24-21 win over the Saints weren’t incredible, but Hurts clearly provided a spark and did enough with his arm and his legs to help the Eagles snap their four-game winning streak.
“I’m hoping the spark is a little bit brighter and more of a flame now and obviously coming off a win, we've got to continue to play well,” Doug Pederson said this week. “He gave us the spark that I was looking for obviously and I think the team was looking for and we've got to do it again.”
The problem, of course, is we all saw that win on Sunday. That includes the Cardinals, Cowboys and Washington.
And now that Hurts has gotten his first extended playing time, those opposing coaches have some film to work from. Not only do they have a game and a half of tape from Hurts but they have an entire game of the Eagles’ offense with Hurts as the quarterback. And, yes, the Eagles’ defense looked considerably different on Sunday with Hurts at QB instead of Carson Wentz.
So it’s time to play chess.
“Well, without giving away game plans, honestly, we have to go back and evaluate the things we did with him in the last game and a half,” Pederson said. “Then how will a defense sort of perceive. We can always ask questions to our defense, about him, how they would handle a situation like that to try to get a little insight. Then put the plan together based on what we are seeing from Arizona defensively and then still try to be creative and still try to execute the offense.”
So as Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is devising a plan to slow down Hurts this weekend, you can bet the Eagles are trying to figure out their next move, which involves guessing how Joseph’s defense will attack.
And you can bet that the Eagles’ offensive coaches will chat with their defensive coaches this week about what they think the Cardinals will do to counteract their quarterback … even if Jim Schwartz isn’t going to give out any details.
“I’ll keep those conversations private,” Schwartz said. “I don't think we need to talk about inner office conversations and strategies and things like that. There's a lot of communication between our staff, offense, defense and special teams, because they all affect each other.”
Some of what the Cardinals might do is pretty obvious. They’re probably going to do their best to limit Hurts’ running ability, which might even include using a spy on him. If he beats us with his arm …
And it’s also important to note that at its core, the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense is very different from the defense Hurts saw in his first start against the Saints.
“Jalen has to understand now it’s a whole new defense,” Pederson said. “It's a different structure, different personal. Scheme is different defensively and so what we did and had success against New Orleans may not apply this week.”
Earlier this week, an unnamed NFL offensive coach told TheAthletic’s Mike Sando that it “will be very easy to stop” Hurts now that there’s film on him. That coach said Hurts simply caught the Saints off guard.
So this is tricky. Because there was obviously the element of surprise last week but those plays and concepts the Eagles introduce — or in many cases just brought back — are clearly what they think works for Hurts. So, really, this week is about building the game plan with wrinkles off those concepts to try to balance out that element of surprise with what already works.
And in a lot of cases, the Eagles can actually use that film from last week to their advantage. Now is the perfect time to get creative and keep the Cardinals on their toes. If you showed something last week be ready to use that against the Cardinals this week.
That’s a job this week for the Eagles’ legion of offensive coaches.
Hurts is rightly focusing on running the plays they call and the game plan they implement.
“Something like that, we try to focus on us,” he said. “I’ve always used that execution word and I think that’s what it comes down to. Trusting the principles of the offense and the things that we do. Going out there and executing them. Everybody doing their job regardless of what the defense presents. Executing the intent of the play and always knowing what the answers are. My game, anybody game, everybody has to play on one accord. All 11 guys have to do their job to complement one another. It’s all about us as a unit going out there and playing good football.”
Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast: