FIERRO: Jalen Hurts made plays for Eagles that Carson Wentz cannot, or will not
Starting with the third play of the game, a scramble for 5 yards when the Eagles needed 4 for a first down, and continuing through the rest of Sunday’s 24-21 triumph over the New Orleans Saints, new/temporary starting quarterback Jalen Hurts made plays that once and probably future starting quarterback Carson Wentz has not been able to make enough to deliver victories.
That’s the harshest reality yet for the Eagles.
Contrary to a popular belief being promoted on the airwaves and social media, a same or similar game plan, which on this day saw the Eagles run more than they threw — a rarity under coach Doug Pederson — would not have worked nearly as well for Wentz, who no longer has the speed to escape the situations Hurts did, nor the judgment to throw the ball away before pressure arrives.
Later in the first series, which produced no score but nevertheless set the tone for the game, Hurts spun away from two rushers, rolled to his left and hit Dallas Goedert for a 5-yard gain. One of Hurts’ pursuers even tripped over his own feet chasing him.
The old Carson Wentz used to make that play. Today’s Wentz either gets taken down behind the line or throws wildly in the same situation.
On their first touchdown, a 15-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery in the second quarter, the ball was out 1.65 seconds after the snap and the pass delivered perfectly despite Hurts being buried as he threw by Kwon Alexander, who was penalized for roughing the passer.
Again, it’s not the kind of play Wentz has made very often, if at all, this season.
Later in the second quarter, with the Eagles’ backed up to their 3-yard line, Hurts kept his eyes on Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson the whole time when deciding whether to hand off to running back Miles Sanders or run it himself. Hurts chose to pull the ball out of Sanders’ gut and challenge Hendrickson around the corner. It was no contest.
First down, Eagles, at the 18.
With Wentz, it’s second and forever.
Two plays later, Sanders went 82 yards for a touchdown on another read-option play against a defense that was forced to account for the extra dimension opponents no longer see in Wentz.
In the third quarter, Hurts scrambled away from heavy pressure by Malcolm Jenkins and Cameron Jordan that would have trapped Wentz and was able to throw the ball away to keep Cameron Johnston from possibly being backed up against the goal line for his punt.
Time and again, Hurts made plays that Wentz can’t make anymore or never could in the first place.
In his first start, he finished with 18 carries for 106 yards. Those are nine more carries and 41 more yards than Wentz’s career highs, achieved in a tie with Cincinnati in September.
Their offense was unshackled by no longer fighting from behind the chains.
It scored more points than it had in more than two months. And this is with Jake Elliott missing a 22-yard field goal.
No sacks: There were no sacks by the Saints against a team that has given up the most in the league.
So how did that happen?
“Great protection,” Pederson said, before pausing for what seemed like an eternity ... “and the ability that Jalen has to escape the pocket. I think that was the two biggest things. We did a great job with their blitz packages. It was an extensive blitz package. Backs are involved, tight ends are involved, but I thought the offensive line for the most part blocked pretty well when we threw the ball down the field, or at least the drop-back world.
“Then of course his ability to escape the pocket really helped out there..”
Escaping is one thing, knowing what to do after escaping is another.
Hurts showed just as much ability in that area too.
Ability that has escaped Wentz for the time being and possibly for good.