Back when the Eagles lost to the Buccaneers in October, Jalen Hurts was still pretty new to this.
Entering that game, he had just nine total NFL starts under his belt and just five with Nick Sirianni. He was experiencing all the ups and downs the NFL had to offer and the Eagles’ offense was sputtering as it tried to figure out its identity.
Since then, a lot has changed with the offense and with Hurts.
It’s not hard to see his improvement.
“Oh God, dramatic improvement,” Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said of Hurts on a conference call with Philly reporters. “Total command of that offense, really accurate down the field, really improved as a passer. Really knows when to pull it down and knows when to throw it. I’ve seen great growth out of him.”
Arians saw that improvement as his team prepares to face Hurts for the second time this season. And Sirianni could see it as he prepared his game plan for Hurts and the offense against Todd Bowles’ defense for the second time this season.
Sirianni said this week that Hurts is “significantly” different now than he was three months ago.
“He has definitely gotten better throughout that time, which doesn't surprise me at all because Jalen is a student of the game,”Sirianni said. “Jalen wants to get better and craves to get better. He has high football character and, like I have said plenty of times, guys that are tough, guys that have high football character and guys who love football are going to reach their ceiling.
“I think you're just seeing him grow closer and closer to his ceiling. Yeah, he's definitely better and he’s just going to continue to get better because of who he is as a person and as a player.”
Hurts didn’t want to name specific areas in which he’s seen himself grow the most this season — “I’ve improved in every [aspect] of the game,” he said — but it’s not hard to figure out.
Even with a bum ankle in recent weeks — and perhaps in part because of it — Hurts has been able to improve greatly as a passer, especially from the pocket. When healthy, Hurts is still incredibly dangerous with his legs, but his improvement this season has been tied to finding balance.
Earlier in the year, Hurts was too eager to take off and scramble for yards. The real mark of his improvement in his second season has been when we’ve seen him navigate those decisions better. Sure, sometimes the best play is to run, but sometimes it’s to buy time in the pocket, sometimes it’s to buy time out of the pocket, sometimes the best decision is to live to see another play.
Hurts is never going to make the right decision on every play without fail — no quarterback, not even Tom Brady does. But he needed to get better and, for the most part, Hurts’ decision-making has improved greatly this season.
Although, it’s probably not a surprise that Hurts’ growth has clearly coincided with the evolution of the Eagles’ offense.
Because to just look at the numbers through the first Bucs game and then after it, they suggest Hurts hasn’t improved that much:
First six games: 62.5%, 246 yards per game, 8 TDs, 4 INT, 88.6 rating
Last nine games: 60.3%, 184.9, 8 TDs, 5 INTs, 85.9 rating
But in those first six games, the Eagles were using a heavy passing attack that clearly didn’t get the most out of their quarterback’s skills. The Eagles were 2-4 in those games. After they played the Bucs, they have gone 6-3 utilizing a run-first attack that is aided by a fantastic line and gets a major boost from the threat of Hurts’ legs.
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“I think as an offense, we’ve kind of revolutionized and evolved, who we are and our identity,” Hurts said. “I’ve said it all year. I’ve said it’s coming. I’ve said different things to kind of ignite the growth and where we are now. Early on, we were kind of searching for who we were, what we wanted to do, how we wanted to do it. Now, trying to fine tune some things. We’ve gotten better at a lot of different things.
“Like I said earlier, I think it comes down to us executing our job, us knowing our job and doing our job. Going out there and playing with the right fundamentals and playing the type of football we’ve been playing.”
The big question surrounding the Eagles coming into this season was about the future of Hurts. Was he going to be the Eagles’ franchise quarterback? Maybe we don’t know about the next decade but after watching him lead the Eagles to the playoffs in his second season, he deserves to be the quarterback in 2022.
And based on his improvements in Year 2, it’s exciting to think about how much he might still be able to grow, especially with a full offseason in this offense.
“You either get better or you get worse,” Hurts said on Wednesday in an answer to a question about preaching fundamentals. “You don’t stay the same.”
With Hurts, there’s no question which way he’s pointing.