Secrets of the Push Jalen Hurts Club
NFL Super Bowl - PHOENIX - The first rule of the Push Jalen Hurts Club: at the start of a quarterback sneak, make sure Hurts actually has the football.
“The first time we did it, I pushed too early,” said Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert, speaking at Super Bowl Opening Night on Monday. “Jalen didn’t quite have the snap and he almost fumbled it.”
“My only job is to make sure the ball is snapped clean,” running back Miles Sanders said, emphasizing that ball security is priority one.
The second rule of the Push Jalen Hurts Club should be obvious: PUSH JALEN HURTS.
“First, make sure he gets the snap,’ said rookie tight end Grant Calcaterra, who often finds himself among the teammates tasked with cramming the Eagles quarterback into the pile on fourth-and-short or at the goal line. “Second, once he gets the snap, just push him as much as you can.“
“It’s all about timing,” Goedert said. “And once Jalen gets the ball up to his chest, I just start pushing.”
“Hopefully, he’s low enough,” Sanders said. “And then we just use all our power.”
The third rule of the Push Jalen Hurts Club is the one you saw coming since the opening sentence: don’t talk about the Push Jalen Hurts Club.
“There’s a lot more that goes into it than what you think,” Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said of his team’s sneak tactics.
Like what, Coach?
“That’s the secret to the sauce,” Stoutland said. “You look like a nice Italian guy. You probably have a little secret to your sauce, right? Well, does your mom tell that to everybody? No.”
Stoutland was correct on all points, though not helpful.
Here’s what we do know: the Eagles began pushing Hurts (and Gardner Minshew) from behind on quarterback sneaks with more intentionality and force than the modern NFL has ever seen midway through the season. As I wrote for The New York Times in January, the Eagles became the most prolific sneaking team in modern NFL history, as well as one of the most productive. The Eagles converted 29 first downs or touchdowns on 33 sneaks in the regular season, both figures the highest on record.
The Eagles’ success on sneaks emboldened Nick Sirianni to lead the NFL in Aggressiveness Index at 1.57. That means that the Eagles were 57% more likely to go for it on fourth downs than other teams facing similar situations (based on the norms established over the last five years, when teams have grown much more aggressive in general).
Other teams are emulating the Eagles success; if the “push sneak” remains legal -- the competition committee is likely to take a long offseason look at a play which at least appears hazardous to the quarterback’s health -- it will probably revolutionize fourth-down and short-yardage tactics.
Stoutland was reluctant to attribute too much of the Eagles’ success to the fact that two or three teammates are using Hurts like a battering ram. “It helps,” he said. “But we did it for years without that. And we had a lot of success.”
Stoutland may be underselling the value of the push. As former Chiefs offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz told me for that Times piece, push-the-quarterback tactics work against the defense’s long-standing tactic of going low to create a pile of writhing mayhem for the quarterback to cope with.
“If defenders go low, the offensive line can go over the top, and it becomes like a springboard for the quarterback to get shoved over the pile,” Schwartz explained.
If nothing else, extra manpower results in extra muscle propelling the quarterback forward. “I guess they think I’m a big, strong guy, so having me push him could get us the extra half yard that we need,” said Goedert, who believes he has logged more time as one of the pushers than any of his teammates.
Still, if there are any subtleties to the art of shoving Hurts to glory, then Eagles players, like Stoutland, aren’t talking much about it.
For example: there’s not really any specific strike point on Hurts’ body that his teammates are aiming for.
“It’s just instinctive,” said tight end Jack Stoll, who has been among the pushers a few times.
“Whichever hip you’re on, push that hip,” Calcaterra explained.
“Sometimes I get him in the back,” Goedert said. “Sometimes I get him in the butt. Whatever we need to do to get that first down, that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Goedert enjoys his role as one of the primary pusher men. “It puts me in the backfield instead of running my face into a defensive end,” he said. “It makes my job a little bit easier.”
None of the Eagles players said that they were surprised when the push-sneak became so integral to the team’s offense. Sanders said the Eagles ran a few push plays when Carson Wentz was at quarterback. Calcaterra saw the tactic used now and then in college. Also, no one expresses too much worry about a Hurts injury, which may be a knock-on-wood situation.
So maybe there is nothing all that novel and unique about surrounding the quarterback with teammates and advancing like a Roman legion in a turtle formation.
Nah. Take it from someone who has been watching the NFL for over 40 years and has been tracking sneak stats for months: the Eagles sneak is very novel and unique.
The Eagles sneak is also not just one play. Watch a dozen Eagles sneaks and you might see a dozen variations on personnel groupings and formations.
Again, no one wanted to talk much about the differences, though Goedert provided a hint. “We’ve got so many quarterback sneaks in our playbook, it’s unheard of.”
A whole playbook full of sneaks? Maybe that’s the secret in the sauce.
Stay tuned to Football Outsiders for more sights and sounds from the Super Bowl throughout the week.
59 comments, Last at 12 Feb 2023, 1:03pm
#7 by Oncorhynchus // Feb 07, 2023 - 12:56pm
I disagree. I kind of like the feeling of inevitability. It really puts the defense in the role of the tie fighter vs the Death Star. I'm all for doomed efforts in lost causes. Because when you do get a stop it's that much more exhilarating. It's sort of like a missed extra point - but worth a lot more. The EPA of a missed extra point is like -0.93 or something. The EPA of failed QB sneak at 4th and goal from the 1 is probably more like -5.5.
I mean, would you prefer the Eagles do something like, I don't know, say throw a pass from on second and goal from the 1 yardline while trailing by 4 with 20 seconds left in the Super Bowl? Seems kind of stupid to me.
#8 by ImNewAroundThe… // Feb 07, 2023 - 1:17pm
That or we're gonna see a lot more punts!
But mostly it's just too hard to call. Already enough subjective rules.
Also is there data out there that proves it's THAT much more dangerous? Is THAT why it's really only the Eagles doing it?
#22 by Elephant1980 // Feb 07, 2023 - 4:45pm
To be fair, this is not quite an apples to apples comparison, since there are significantly more players in football who see time in a given game than in rugby due to the fact that you can freely substitute in football. Roughly, the 22 offensive and defensive starters a team fields in football equals the total number of players a team will field over the course of a rugby match. Subs and special teamers are going to greatly increase the number of match exposures per football game, even if they only play for a few minutes. So you end up with a situation where, for any given player who plays in a match, a rugby player is more likely to be injured, but for any given minute a player plays, they are more likely to be injured in football.
#29 by OmahaChiefs13 // Feb 07, 2023 - 10:05pm
It really puts the defense in the role of the tie fighter vs the Death Star.
X-wing (or Y-wing) vs. the Death Star. TIE fighters were Imperial fighters, and were housed on, but would have never fought against/assaulted, the Death Star(s).
I mean....what kind of geek are you?
#40 by Oncorhynchus // Feb 08, 2023 - 12:30pm
I mean....what kind of geek are you?
I'm either a) the kind of geek who doesn't know the difference between Star Wars fighting vehicles, affiliations and roles, or b) the kind of geek who does know the difference but intentionally flubs it to get a rise out geeks in group A.
#31 by Noahrk // Feb 08, 2023 - 9:44am
"I'm all for doomed efforts in lost causes. Because when you do get a stop it's that much more exhilarating"
I just thought it interesting to note that this is why soccer is so popular. A goal is always unexpected.
As far as our subject, I'm in the camp that prefers balance, and the push sneak is OP.
#43 by Oncorhynchus // Feb 08, 2023 - 12:50pm
It's not overpowered. It's 1 yard. A team can't just QB sneak down the field 20 times in a row. It's not reliable enough to even get 2 yards regularly - otherwise the Eagles would go for 2 on after every touchdown. Maybe stop them from gaining 9 yards in the first place?
Honestly the unstoppable QB sneak is so interesting from a strategic perspective. If a team is at 2nd and 1 or 3rd and 1, my sense is that most teams immediately go to a short yardage play on that down. What with the obsession of just getting to the next series? So often I see teams trying to just get to the next 1st down. It doesn't make sense. Any yards gained past the 1st down marker are more valuable than yards before the 1st down marker - because once the play ends everything resets back to 10 yards (or the goal line if less than 10 yards away). I'm honestly quite surprised that teams don't take advantage of these short-yardage situations and down counts more. 3rd and 1 especially is the opportunity (in the current information environment) to call a low-percentage play. Think of it as a weaker equivalent to when the QB knows the defense has jumped offside. It's sort of a free play - though obviously you don't want to lose yards.
#4 by anotheroldguy // Feb 07, 2023 - 12:06pm
Discussed in another thread a month or so ago, I don't remember who, but a commenter stated it exactly right IMO: The ball should be dead immediately as soon as an offensive player is deemed to be materially pushing (or pulling IMO) the ball carrier forward. Sort of parallel to the rule about losing the ball carrier's helmet added a few years ago.
No penalty needed, just remove the incentive to do this. It's dangerous, and AFAIC it's ugly and unnecessary and outside the spirit of the game. "Incidental" hands on the ball carrier can be ignored.
#15 by rh1no // Feb 07, 2023 - 2:51pm
I'm okay with this if it applies to all ball carriers, though it might actually make the game more dangerous for runners and it would almost certainly complicate calls on the field. After all, defenses can pile on the rusher and push the rusher back. If the offense avoids pushing back, it would leave the runner vulnerable. If the offense pushes the runner, there might be issues with spotting the ball given the fact that multiple people are surrounding the ball carrier in the pile. Is the spot reviewable? It all seems pretty messy to me.
Easier to let everyone push ball carriers however they want and spot the ball where it lands when the runner hits the ground (or forward progress).
#33 by Noahrk // Feb 08, 2023 - 9:52am
Yeah, but the reason I like football is because you win games through strategy, ability and technique. Strength plays a factor, just like speed, but piles of people pushing each other to decide outcomes is too artless for my taste.
#5 by mrh // Feb 07, 2023 - 12:10pm
It's not just the Eagles' sneak, pushing the ball carrier has become ubiquitous. Pushing the ball carrier forward should be made illegal, IMO. But part of it is refs' not ruling forward progress stopped. Just re-watched SB LIV and there was one play where the back was pushed forward about two yards before going down, but the refs had blown the play dead before the pushing started. This year he would have gfotten the additional yardage.
#10 by Pat // Feb 07, 2023 - 1:58pm
I honestly doubt it'd do much - you just push the linemen to either side of the quarterback, then. Quarterback sneaks are basically a huge pile of human, so you really could push anywhere and mostly get the same effect. And the "rule forward progress stopped" thing is harder for QB sneaks because the defenders aren't like, holding the runner up. He's just slammed into a giant mass of people.
Really, the "pushing the QB is a cheat code!" idea is pretty silly. Philly has been stopped on short-distance sneaks this year. Minshew failed on two sneaks in the Saints game. It's not just the push, and it's not just Philly's OL, it's also Hurts himself as a player. Which means this isn't really a "Philly cheat," it's just the entire combination of them being better at it. It's a yard, after all.
I honestly don't even think the push makes a significant difference for Philly - plenty of times when I see them come in on the shove, they've got zero leverage on Hurts and there's no way they're applying any significant force. And the few times when they do get solid leverage, it's because the pile's already being easily shoved back. So they're not really the reason for the conversion, but it does gain them a bit more distance.
#26 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Feb 07, 2023 - 7:59pm
I had the same thought, although on reflection, Brady was much more opportunistic in the timing of when he called sneaks. Philly, I believe, pretty much let's you know it's coming and then succeeds anyway.
#38 by Pat // Feb 08, 2023 - 11:13am
It's not just aesthetics, it's a question of how you actually implement the rule. There's functionally no way to do it without just flat saying "can't push the runner" which would just be a nightmare to officiate. What's a push? What about if they just slam their shoulders into him while pushing the blockers next to him? What if they face backwards and push with their backs?
Plus how do you actually *tell* they're shoving? In plenty of cases they're completely invisible because they're all buried under humans.
The real advantage here that Philly's getting is that they're bringing everyone tightly in and utilizing everyone on offense. The only real way I can think to counter that is formation restrictions, but that has many, many other consequences.
#51 by RickD // Feb 09, 2023 - 11:53am
Didn't it used to be illegal? Or am I imagining that. I tried to look up the rule that I thought existed, and all I see is a rule against lifting and carrying or tossing a ball carrier. (So much for the Blood Bowl troll/goblin downfield lob.)
I really hate the push. NFL football is not rugby.
#52 by RickD // Feb 09, 2023 - 11:56am
I see the NFL changed the rule in 2005. I blame Mike Pereira.
Somehow, for decades officials could tell if pushing was moving the ball carrier forward. Suddenly it became "impossible to tell."
#6 by BigRichie // Feb 07, 2023 - 12:28pm
Speaking as a rugby player, the 'Push!' play is so so cool! It's great fun watching the big fat guys pushing on a pile and the pile going forward!
(intellectually speaking, I more agree with dmb)
(oh, and when the Eagles lined up for the 'Push!" play and then pitched it outside instead, that was cool too!)
#9 by Elephant1980 // Feb 07, 2023 - 1:48pm
I am also a former rugby player, and there are a lot of similarities between the Hurts push play and various things in rugby (most directly, scrumming). There can easily dozens of push play-equivalent set pieces in rugby per game without a bunch of injuries. Injuries in football (and other sports) are, IME, much, much more likely to happen during full-speed collisions than a pure, slow strength contest.
If the league wants to ban it because it makes picking up 1 yard or less too easy, that is one thing. I do not see any basis to really ban it due to safety, provided the personnel being used are adequate for the role.
Hurts is really the perfect type of quarterback to pull this off, given his exceptional strength (600+ squat) and relatively compact built for a QB (combine height only 6'1). Most NFL quarterbacks are going to be too tall - you'd much rather have Russell Wilson for a push play than Justin Herbert - and too weak to be great at it. The "secret sauce" for the Eagles, if there is one, is probably as much or more that Hurts has a near-prototypical body for this role than any unique scheme elements.
#11 by Pat // Feb 07, 2023 - 1:59pm
The "secret sauce" for the Eagles, if there is one, is probably as much or more that Hurts has a near-prototypical body for this role than any unique scheme elements.
Yup. As I mention above, this is heavily backed up by the fact that the Eagles were much less successful with Minshew than Hurts.
#16 by rh1no // Feb 07, 2023 - 2:54pm
I HATE the idea of banning the play because it makes the game "too easy." Plenty of rules -- such as pass interference and roughing the QB -- make the game easier and are reliant on the (often terrible) judgment of the referees. If the play proves dangerous to the QB or offensive linemen, ban it. Otherwise, I like that teams are wising up to the fact that going for it on fourth-and-short is the best strategy.
#24 by darrenoia // Feb 07, 2023 - 6:40pm
Opposing the push doesn't make any sense to me. If every defender is allowed to push back against the offensive surge, then why shouldn't every offensive player be able to push, too? Is there something magical about pushing from behind the quarterback that makes it unfair?
#53 by RickD // Feb 09, 2023 - 11:59am
It's just a change from the rule I grew up with. And it seriously changes the nature of the game. And yes, it's a lot easier for the ball carrier to be pushed forward when people behind him join the scrum. Defenders were always allowed to join the scrum. The ability to push through defenders is what made guys like Earl Campbell great. (Yes, that's a very short list.)
#28 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Feb 07, 2023 - 8:06pm
I presume KC will put Clark over Kelce on any obvious QB sneak situations, in the hopes that he can hold up the initial surge. If he is able to, then it's a matter of whether he and reinforcements at the point of attack can hold up long enough for the officials to whistle the play dead on lack of forward progress and/or for one of the corners to crash down and get their arms around Hurts.
#32 by takeleavebelieve // Feb 08, 2023 - 9:52am
I don’t think the Push Sneak is ubiquitous enough to be banned just yet. As other commenters have mentioned, I think we need to see other teams doing it to understand whether it’s the technique or Philly’s personnel that’s more responsible for their success.
It’s certainly logically inconsistent to have a forward progress rule that prevents the defense from winning back yardage by pushing a ball carrier backwards while not having a similar rule to prevent the offense from pushing forwards, but I’ve long since given up on expecting the NFL to be logically consistent.
#46 by takeleavebelieve // Feb 08, 2023 - 1:56pm
If a ballcarrier gets stood up by three defenders at the 40, and the defenders quickly push him back to the 37, the play will be whistled dead and the ball will be spotted at the 40 due to “forward progress”.
If a ballcarrier gets stood up by three defenders at the 40, but his teammates on offense quickly push him from behind and he falls forward to the 42, the ball will be spotted at the 42.
Obviously there’s a human element to rules enforcement, but this is another in a long line of rules that favor offense over defense.
#49 by BSK // Feb 09, 2023 - 5:49am
This used to be my theory and I would often die on the hill that it was unfair that the offensive player falling forward gained yards but the defense making him fall backward yielded nothing.
But a friend pointed out that if the offensive player reaches a certain point on the field, he has achieved that yardage. The defense failed to stop him from getting to the 42... trying to push him back after he already achieved it is trying to undo what's been done. If you don't want the guy to get those two yards, you have to stop him from achieving them in the first place, not try to undo it afterwards.
#42 by ahmadrashad // Feb 08, 2023 - 12:45pm
The Athletic had a tidbit that Philly has 5-6 sneaks (and fake sneaks) in every game plan, and they actually practice the plays, which most teams don't. (They had that great play where the whole line shifted a spot and then Hurts ran off left.) So I think either the NFL bans it, or every other team is going to start doing the same thing.
#50 by BSK // Feb 09, 2023 - 5:55am
I can't help but notice the tendency we (collectively) have to refer to plays primarily employed by Black players -- Black QBs in particular -- as "cheat codes." There is something ugly about that.
Yes, Hurts' unique physical abilities are a factor. As are the physical abilities of the Eagles OL (who are not all Black, mind you). But it is not just a matter of strength and bulk and abnormally large leg muscles. I forget which game it was but they showed a cool overhead shot of one of the Eagles' push plays and pointed out how Hurts had to make a read on exactly which point he wanted to attack. The defense condensed tightly over the ball and Hurts still got the yardage (with room to spare) because he found the perfect spot based on how the defense lined up and moved and how his OL blocked. So it's also a play that requires real intellect, foresight, and film study. Just like everything else the QB does. So give credit where credit is do and let's stop acting like a QB (Black or otherwise) doing something different than we are used to is somehow unfair or wrong for what are largely aesthetic reasons.
#58 by BSK // Feb 10, 2023 - 10:41am
A racial argument? Sure. If you want to see it that way.
But... I wasn't making a racial argument. I was commenting on how these conversations tend to emerge in response to Black QBs operating outside of the established paradigms of the position (see also: Lamar Jackson's running ability being called a "cheat code"). Now, no one called for QB rushes to be banned in response to Lamar but the framing of the conversation -- even playfully -- positions Lamar and his strengths or Hurts and his strengths as not only outside the norm, but somehow unfair.
If you think I'm tilting at windmills, so be it. But then actually say something of worth rather than just straw manning what I did say.
As to whether Josh Allen (who I've never seen discussed as a "cheat code" despite having obscene ability in multiple facets of the game) would benefit similarly from the "tush push" approach, who knows? He is such a different player than Hurts I'm not sure why you'd jump to comparing the two.
#59 by ImNewAroundThe… // Feb 12, 2023 - 1:03pm
It's a good point that many downplay the abilities of minority QBs. The response to Lamar and Allen running is...very different. Burrow being a better "quarterback" than Mahomes (yes him!) and Hurts now being derided in a similar way by various people.
You do make a good point that this is only being pointed out with...a minority QB leading the way. And people want it banned with more subjective rules.