Any Given Sunday: Eagles Over Saints
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.
Some scenes from Jalen Hurts' debut: just misses Reagor on a safety stumble, makes the Saints pay for not bottling him. pic.twitter.com/RIoh7fhruK
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 15, 2020
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.
Hurts makes the tough-guy play for the TD pic.twitter.com/zjkwgEEeL9
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 14, 2020
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
|Where the Game Swung|
|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.
— ©𝕻𝖍𝖎𝖑𝖑𝖞 𝕻𝖍𝖆𝖓𝖆𝖙𝖎𝖈™ 🇺🇲 🇵🇷 (@Flyeaglesfly81) December 15, 2020
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
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|
|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.
Big time plays from the receivers on both of Taysom Hill's touchdown throws. pic.twitter.com/EPrPtyNHDC
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 15, 2020
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.