Any Given Sunday: Eagles Over Saints

Philadelphia Eagles DL Javon Hargrave
Philadelphia Eagles DL Javon Hargrave
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Jalen Hurts' first start was what you would expect from a non-first-round rookie quarterback. Parts of what he did well were accentuated by a lack of tape on how the Eagles would use him. He was more effective as a short passer than a deep-ball thrower. He had the third-highest average time to throw of the week as he worked out his reads, and he wasn't stunningly accurate by any stretch of the imagination.

He also, though, played very well late in the down. That was a major difference point between him and Carson Wentz. Hurts was decisive on his scrambles. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 11 designed runs, but added another 50 yards on his three scrambles, each of which went for first downs.

Hurts had Jalen Reagor open on the first play after the safety stumbled but left the throw a bit too far for Reagor to catch up to on the sideline. In fairness, that's a tough throw from the opposite hash. The second play I highlighted has an immediate blitzer win but Hurts proves that you're going to need to contain him a bit better than that. This should have been a field-goal drive that led to points before the half, but Jake Elliott shanked the kick.

I think there's something to be said about an offense that wants to go for it on fourth down often having a running quarterback to keep attention and draw conflict. It makes a lot of the short-yardage calculus much harder for the defense. The Eagles have 11 first downs or touchdowns on their fourth-down attempts this year. Three of them have belonged to Hurts over the last two games. Wentz had converted just seven in 22 attempts.

The best throw from Hurts' debut was probably the touchdown pass to Jeffery that hit the receiver right in the chest. I don't think Hurts by any means flashed superstar passing upside in his first game, but this was also a great defense he was going against, and there's room to grow given the circumstances that led to his elevation. I know people all over the place on their pre-draft Hurts evaluations, from those who believed he'll be a star to those who think he's a journeyman. Where I kind of settled is: I believe he can be a good player, and I think his legs will define enough for him to be able to create a useful niche ground to elevate him. Where he winds up is largely about the passing he'll have to do. I think this was a start on him settling in as a good quarterback prospect.

Where the Game Swung

Chart 1

Where the Game Swung
Event Time PHI GWC
Taysom Hill 37-yard TD to Emmanuel Sanders 1:40 Q3 70.3% 53.6% -16.7%
Josh Sweat forces Taysom Hill fumble on fourth-and-2 9:57 Q4 52.0% 68.2% +16.2%
Miles Sanders' 82-yard rush TD 1:35 Q2 70.9% 86.4% +15.5%
Alshon Jeffery fourth-and-2 TD 13:30 Q2 38.1% 52.3% +14.2%
Duke Riley's interception of Taysom Hill 7:04 Q2 53.9% 67.1% +13.2%
39-yard Jalen Reagor catch-and-run 0:17 Q1 33.3% 42.5% +9.2%

Lets all watch the Miles Sanders run.

Back-side player stays put on the pass, and then Kwon Alexander jumps a gap just a little bit early and it was all over from there.

By the (D)VOA

NO -13.9% 8.8% -4.5% -27.2%
PHI 27.1% -9.2% -4.3% 32.1%
NO -6.7% 7.2% -4.5% -18.4%
PHI 6.5% -4.8% -4.3% 6.9%

That's a rather huge boost to the Philadelphia offense, yes. Most of it actually comes from the rushing DVOA: Philadelphia's rushing VOA for this game was 8.2%. But it's rushing DVOA? 36.3% on 29 carries. If you're curious, the team's rushing DVOA on Hurts' plays was 12.4% while on Miles Sanders carries it was 50.9% -- and yes, a lot of that does come from that long touchdown run we just clipped.

Four Games Into Figuring out What Taysom Hill Actually Is

The entire Taysom Hill experience of the past few years has been interesting because he's a lightning rod for criticism. Anything good he provides by allowing the offense to run read-option stuff is negated by his hard limits as a passer, but the Saints have managed to hide a lot of that over the last four weeks by attacking specific areas of the field and giving him defined reads of open receivers. It is extremely telling to me that the one defense he struggled against was Denver's, with Vic Fangio's emphasis on taking away the seams -- and yes, I know they barely had to throw in that game anyway. Here are some other things that change for the Saints when you put Hill on the field:

Saints Offensive DVOA Changes
Weeks QB Adjusted
Sack Rate
Receiving DVOA
1-10 D.Brees 4.7% (5) 34.5% 76 0.9% (5)
11-14 T.Hill 9.7% (29) -117.5% 16 14.7% (2)

The offense became much better at running the ball -- not surprising given that Hill is mobile and Drew Brees is not. Interestingly, the DVOA on Hill rushes from Weeks 1 to 10 is -33.6% because his presence on the field was something of a tell. When he's in every down and used as a passer more than once in a blue moon, Hill's rushing DVOA has gone up to 9.3% on 26 carries the past four games. But he also takes more sacks when passing and his presence sets all eyes on the screen game. Brees' diminished arm strength and the lack of Michael Thomas had the Saints using Alvin Kamara as a main passing game cog and getting him out in space to miss tackles. Taysom Hill is expected to throw short so often that defenses are swarming on Kamara underneath and asking Hill to win deep.

Hill had two touchdown throws in this game and I think both are instructive of great play ... by his receivers.

The ball to Emmanuel Sanders hangs up long enough that Sanders has to come back for it -- he plays through the defensive back contact and makes an excellent play. Meanwhile, the touchdown to Jared Cook showed Hill locked on Cook for a few hitches even with the linebacker not believing Cook's stutter. You can argue that the throw is in a great spot for Cook to get it, I suppose, but if that ball is 18 inches further to the right it's an interception.

I dunno, it's easy to create excuses for Hill if you want to. He doesn't train purely as a quarterback. This offseason, in and of itself, wasn't much on time to work with new receivers. But I just see a lot of completions coming on Thomas winning underneath routes decisively and quickly enough that he's an open curl. I think when you ask Hill to move beyond that and lead a receiver, his life gets much harder.

I think the people who decided that Hill is nothing more than trolling are probably a little off. Hill's a useful player in some ways, and the challenge is disguising why he's in there enough to make defensive metas against him not useful. But I also don't think this four-game stretch should have anyone riveted by the possibility of him taking over for Brees in 2021, particularly at his cap hit of $16.1 million.


21 comments, Last at 17 Dec 2020, 2:58pm

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 15, 2020 - 4:21pm

But I just see a lot of completions coming on Thomas winning underneath routes decisively and quickly enough that he's an open curl.

Isn't that most of the Saints offense even with Brees?

How much of the Kamara split is Brees vs Hill, as compared to Thomas not available vs Thomas available?

Points: 0

#2 by Ben // Dec 15, 2020 - 4:42pm

Some of the Kamara split is surely Thomas. The other difference between Hill and Brees though is where Brees would dump off to Kamara as a safety valve, Hill will tuck it and run instead. Kamara was getting a lot more targets with Brees. 

Points: 0

#3 by ahzroc // Dec 15, 2020 - 5:42pm

when #22 Chauncy drops a sure Pick 6, body catch vs hands  ...and Lutz missing 2 fg (Philly missed one as well, so a net of 3 in the kicking game, enough to send it to overtime...) Gardner takes that pick to the house 99 of 100 times...

also, Morestedt recovered the onside kick, then had it ripped away in the dogpile...the ref should blow it dead right there before letting it go to the dogpile scrum...the NFL cant WANT a dogpile no holds barred free for all dirty scrum...I believe the protocol is to call the recovery right away. Why did they not do that? 

Points: 0

#7 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 15, 2020 - 7:06pm

An Eagle has the ball first and is being touched down. You had nothing to lose from a scrum.

Points: 0

#8 by Pat // Dec 16, 2020 - 9:49am

Okay. I'm constantly amazed as to how slow-motion high-def videos can still be viewed completely differently by multiple people. The replay is here. So let's be clear.

Ball is kicked, and then bounces off the heel of an Eagle. Saints #86 dives for it, but it had kicked back harder than he thought and he just belly-flops on the ground. Ball is on the ground and Saints #53 and #6 (Morestead) dive to the ground, desperate to grab turf, apparentlySeriously, watch the video, it's hilarious, it really looks like they don't know where the ball is. There is now a total pile of players on the ground and the ball is straight-out in the open beside them.

Two Eagles (Mills and someone whose number I can't read) dive in and believe it or not are the first players after the ball hit the player's heel to actually touch the ball. Then everyone's hands go on it, and it's in the scrum.

No one had it before there was a pile of players. Definitely not Morestead, who isn't even the first Saint to touch the ball (that's #53).

There are lots of times when the refs should call possession before a dogpile, but this one's an absolutely clear example of no recovery before a pile of players. Not an Eagle, not a Saint. No one.

Points: 0

#9 by ahzroc // Dec 16, 2020 - 10:31am

that is a recovery.

Sorry that is not evident to you, but i'm watching the video you provided

Points: 0

#11 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 16, 2020 - 11:41am

This was true, in the sense that Morstedt's position was vertically superior to the ball and he had his arms wrapped around someone closer to the ball than he was.


Points: 0

#13 by ahzroc // Dec 16, 2020 - 12:18pm

Morsted has both  arms around the ball, and is on top of it...unlike the diving Eagle players'  outstretched arm touching the ball

Points: 0

#16 by ahzroc // Dec 16, 2020 - 5:21pm


Do you imagine yourself to be the spokesperson for a community of commenters?

Points: 0

#17 by turbohappy // Dec 16, 2020 - 7:57pm

In reply to by ahzroc

I'm with Aaron Brooks here. Morsted makes the classic "wrap my arms around a loose ball" move except...the ball isn't in there. He's kinda wrapping around air until the end. 52 looks closer to having a recovery than Morsted does. I see no clear recovery and 2 people on each team with hands in there when we lose vision of where the ball is. I don't care about either of these teams at all, no homer bias.

Points: 0

#18 by scraps // Dec 16, 2020 - 9:57pm

Don't care who gets it.  But I see it the way that they do.  


Points: 0

#21 by Pat // Dec 17, 2020 - 2:58pm

In reply to by ahzroc


Yes, "us" is the correct plural in a group that includes yourself. You actually might've been having problems with the "rest of" part.

Points: 0

#20 by Pat // Dec 17, 2020 - 2:56pm

Yeah, uh... that's not the ball. Or it's not Morestead. Not sure which mistake you're making, but there is no part of that clip that shows Morestead with his arms around the ball. Morestead is actually grabbing the diving Eagles player's arm with one hand, and the Saints player (#53) with the other. 

The Saint who actually touches the ball is #53, but the Eagles player who touched the ball first has his hand wrapped around the ball the entire time. You can still see his glove on the other side of the ball right before it disappears!

Points: 0

#14 by scraps // Dec 16, 2020 - 3:39pm

I assume that if you can have an audience of "objective" (read: not a fan [at all] of either of the teams), that's the way to go, because even people who say they're objective, fans will mostly side with the side that benefits their team, even when presented with (you think) an obvious picture or video or voice recording, etc.  If you bring up Fail Mary to an audience of Seahawks fans, they will tell you that it was the correct call, and some of them even say (heatedly) it was 100% Objective By The Rules!!!!!!! (number of exclamation points used depending on the heat).  (I assume you get the opposite effect when presenting the question to Packers fans.)  You learn to not join those discussions, unless you like the heat.

Points: 0

#4 by Joseph // Dec 15, 2020 - 5:49pm

The biggest difference is the processing speed in their heads--in other words, Brees goes quickly from his first read to his second to his 3rd to finding the checkdown. Hill takes just a bit longer--which, in the NFL, means the pass rush gets home. Against Denver, and even some in both ATL games, that was ok--Denver couldn't move the ball w/o a real QB, and ATL's defense wasn't able to make Hill uncomfortable. PHI has a good D-line, and it showed.

Points: 0

#5 by ahzroc // Dec 15, 2020 - 5:56pm

on the last drive Hill missed seeing a wide-open Thomas for an easy 1st down, maybe a TD...

Brees is my #1 NFL player for a lot of reasons, but Taysom is interesting...

I do wonder what will happen with Jameis Winston...

If you told me today that Winston will be the starter when Brees retires (not necessarily at the end of this season!), I would not be shocked. 

Points: 0

#6 by Stendhal1 // Dec 15, 2020 - 5:56pm

...  force of habit :)

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#10 by COtheLegend // Dec 16, 2020 - 10:47am

I can make the case that the Eagles offense saw significant improvement, even if they may not *quite* be on the Chiefs' level, by simply trying to stay ahead of down and distance, and, most importantly, getting the ball into the hands of their best players (Sanders, Scott, Goedert, Reagor). As simple as this may sound, they had consistently failed to do this throughout the season.

While the big Reagor catch and run may have looked simple, and obvious, on replays, the way this season has been going, there's a chance that that play gets screwed up prior to this past week.

Points: 0

#12 by All Is On // Dec 16, 2020 - 12:07pm

Hard to say which QB is *better* in any definitive sense, but I think it might be fair to say after a game and a half that Hurts is the best choice if the Eagles want to win games this year. It really seems like large parts of their offense just aren't functioning right - receivers not getting open, blockers not blocking, that sort of thing. Wentz can operate an offense that's mostly working outside of him, but when nothing is working, he's not the type to make up for it. It's outside of his skillset. Hurts is better able to handle a constantly-collapsing pocket, or to improvise with his legs if the play concept doesn't result in an open read. If your offensive plan isn't working, maybe what you need is some sandlot football, which lends itself more to a QB with the athleticism to win in the open field on his own. Wentz isn't statuesque, but Hurts is clearly on another level as a runner. I don't think Wentz is done, but he's clearly out of his depth and making the problems worse in this particular offense.

Points: 0

#19 by horn // Dec 17, 2020 - 1:44pm

With the lack of OL most weeks and terrible WRs and playcalling prior to this week you might as well let Jalen run around 18x a game and see if he can survive rather than subject Carson to another 15-20 sacks and god knows how many hits.

Jalen looks like every other mobile backup with accuracy issues I've seen since Joe Webb. He's a #2. He wasn't accurate on deep throws in college. He was 2-6 beyond 10 yds versus the Saints. He may improve but he is definitely limited.

Points: 0

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