How far can the Eagles fly with an injured Jalen Hurts?
That’s the question of the season.
Hurts said Thursday his sprained right shoulder is “feeling better” but acknowledged he might not be 100 percent when the Eagles play in the divisional round in a little more than a week.
- “It’s a day-by-day thing,” said Hurts, who did not throw at practice Thursday.
- “I think the whole world knows that I’m dealing with something, that I’ve been dealing with something.
- “I think the whole point of that game [Sunday against the Giants] was coming back and getting done what we needed to get done and obviously getting some time to rest, so here it is.”
The Eagles’ divisional game might be the healthiest we see Hurts the rest of the season. I can’t imagine him coming out of a playoff game next weekend feeling *better* than he does now. This week’s bye helps but he’s going to be back in the grinder before you know it.
Hurts’ health has thrown a storm cloud over the Eagles’ 14-3 season. Before his injury on Dec. 18, experts believed the Eagles had a terrific chance to reach the Super Bowl.
Now? Not so much.
GREAT SEASON FOR HURTS
I have become a great admirer of Hurts this season. Heading into training camp, I figured he was a good quarterback, if not yet a great one. That was an opinion shared by many.
As the season progressed, it was clear he made a gigantic leap from last season and had become one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.
Can the Eagles can win two playoff games — even at home — with an injured Hurts? He looked very average in the 22-16 win over the Giants on Sunday, performing like an injured quarterback in his first game back. He became a pocket passer, essentially, with the only called run being a quarterback sneak.
He connected on some passes and he missed some, the rust obvious from his two-week layoff.
It’s Hurts’ running ability that is special and adds a dimension to the offense that is not easy to contain. He salvages third downs when receivers are covered. He takes off on designated runs to keep the chains moving.
The very threat of Hurts’ running forces defenses to devote personnel dedicated to stopping him. Passing lanes open. If there is a spy watching Hurts, that’s one less player covering someone else. Even if there is a spy, Hurts has pretty much run free all season.
If defenses suspect Hurts won’t run, or can’t run, they can defend differently. They can send blitz packages knowing Hurts can’t simply scoot around them. They can intensify their coverage of the receivers.
The Eagles have an elite receiving corps of A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert. Running back Miles Sanders has gained 1,269 yards on the ground — and he’s had games where he wasn’t featured.
This sounds like plenty of firepower and it is. Is it enough to grind out two victories over playoff teams? The Eagles could play the Cowboys and physical 49ers in back-to-back weeks. Can they win both games with an in-the-pocket Hurts?
That’s the question of the season.
Quarterbacks are the most important players in the sport. They touch the ball every play. Every decision they make affects the offense … and the opponent’s defense. If the quarterback plays well, his team generally plays well.
After the Giants game, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said that Hurts “hurt like hell.” Hurts is to be admired for playing through that pain but in January, guts are secondary to results.
- “I think, in the end, I have that mindset where my pain gives me strength,” said Hurts, who said he hasn’t taken an off day since the injury. “Failure motivates me. That’s the mentality that’s passed towards this team.”
NOT LOOKING ELITE
Even the most enthusiastic, Cowboys-hating Eagles fan will admit their team hasn’t looked good lately. Since their 48-22 blowout over the Giants on Dec. 11, they struggled in a win at Chicago, lost at Dallas and lost at home to New Orleans — the last two games with back-up Gardner Minshew replacing Hurts.
Playoffs have a way of bringing out the best in a team and maybe that’s where the Eagles are. Of course, that works both ways. The Eagles won 14 games in a variety of ways. They are talented on both sides of the ball. Their defense is ranked second in the NFL.
- “None of us are happy with the way we played the last few weeks,” center Jason Kelce said Thursday. “But we all know that if we play our game that has allowed us to be very successful this year that we can hang with anybody and we can beat anybody.”
Kelce is right. They can beat anybody. They’ve spent the regular season proving that.
But with an injured Hurts, any playoff team can beat them, too.