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Home Sports Jalen Hurts nearly won MVP last season. Here’s why this season he can be even better

Jalen Hurts nearly won MVP last season. Here’s why this season he can be even better

by nytime
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PHILADELPHIA — As Jalen Hurts’ teammates tell it, there are two screens.

“A two-computer setup,” Philadelphia Eagles receiver A.J. Brown says, “not a monitor.”

The Eagles’ $255 million quarterback runs home film sessions via multiple simultaneous engines. Why not? In game situations, Hurts must process multiple sources of information and react immediately.

Entering his fourth pro campaign and coming off an MVP-caliber 2022, Hurts has demonstrated growth in that distillation. His game benefited last season from long-awaited continuity at play-caller after seven straight years of change.

Then, Philadelphia offensive coordinator Shane Steichen was hired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, teaming Hurts with a ninth play-caller in eight years. The advantage changes.

But it might even have grown.

Because Hurts isn’t only preparing to play in a returning system overseen by Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni and with an offensive coordinator in Brian Johnson who has known Hurts since Hurts was a child. Coaches and teammates say Hurts is also increasingly drawing upon defenders’ responses to plays and scheme wrinkles as the Eagles aim to elevate their attention to detail and caliber of execution.

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“It just gets deeper and deeper — just like your relationship with your wife,” Sirianni told Yahoo Sports over lunch on Wednesday. “That conversation gets deeper [in] relationship but also with the knowledge and the productivity you’re getting in the quarterback room.

“As a quarterback, you’re building off the bank of like, ‘All right, last time I saw this, I hit here. Last time I saw this, this is what we checked to.’

“You gotta have the reps and the obsession. And he’s got both of them to make those conversations go.”

How Jalen Hurts’ experience can elevate Eagles

There’s a word echoing through the Eagles quarterback room on repeat: completions.

Completions can be explosive, like the 50-yard go ball Hurts dropped into receiver A.J. Brown’s hands the final first-team snap of team drills at Wednesday’s training camp practice.

Completions can be subtle, like the four-step out route from an empty formation that Hurts completed on third-and-short a couple days prior, per third-string quarterback Ian Book, a reminder that the long ball is not always the best option.

And sometimes completions are particularly fun, like the gadget plays Book says Johnson “has a really good feel of calling … at the right time on a certain yard line.”

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts has yet another new offensive coordinator this season in Brian Johnson, but there’s still plenty of trust and continuity there. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

But before style points and right up there with decision-making lies the importance of completions. Second-string quarterback Marcus Mariota, who joins the Eagles with 87 career games’ experience across three different NFL franchises, reiterates to the position group the power of a completion.

“He said he was told by a coach one time, ‘The game will probably figure itself out if you just complete the ball to somebody every play,’” Book told Yahoo Sports. “If you watch Tom Brady clips, he throws five-step, five-yard hitch routes all the time. Or he throws it to the running back for 2 yards and lets those running backs make somebody miss.

“Just: completions.”

So Hurts’ improvement as a passer this season shouldn’t be measured only by the expansion of highlight-reel worthy plays. Efficiency, as the Eagles saw last season, can power a Super Bowl run.

Eagles evaluators weren’t concerned in the 2020 NFL Draft about Hurts’ arm strength even as the second-rounder’s mobility reduced his reliance on the passing game. Nonetheless, Hurts’ year-over-year passing improvement has trended up steadily and sharply. Hurts improved from a 77.6 rookie passer rating to 87.2 in 2021 to 101.5 last year. He completed 66.5% of his pass attempts last season after prior campaigns at 52% and 61.3%. Hurts’ third-year passing touchdowns equaled his first two seasons combined, while his career-best 1.3% interception rate tied for fourth-best in the NFL last season. That’s all on top of his 13 rushing touchdowns last year.

Sure, critics will cue the arguments about the Eagles’ loaded roster heavily influencing Hurts’ ability to produce. But those who know Hurts best and those who spend the most time discussing football with him see tangible changes in his technical consistency and how he’s conveying his understanding of concepts. His confidence has helped simplify game scenarios, they said. Take the Eagles’ 35-10 win over the Titans last December, Brown explained to Yahoo Sports.

With the game tied at 7, Hurts had sailed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Brown with 14:05 to play in the second quarter. But Brown stepped out of bounds a yard and a half too soon. The touchdown was reversed upon review. No matter: Hurts still liked his guy and still liked the out route against the coverage. As the Eagles broke the huddle, Hurts alerted Brown: “Do it again.” He added: “Pump it.”

Brown flipped to the left side, cut out and then cut back in with a double move. A wide-open 40-yard touchdown ensued against the team that had drafted and ultimately traded Brown to Philadelphia, the Titans unable to catch up for the nearly three quarters to follow. Brown doesn’t remember a coach questioning the audible.

“Because they have that confidence in us,” Brown said. “That’s why this is my favorite quarterback. Favorite place to be because of the freedom we have.

“It makes playing football so much easier for sure.”

‘The quest for ultimate consistency’ is Hurts’ next frontier

The pressure to perform will build this season as the Eagles transition from 2022 expectation-exceeders to 2023 favorites in the NFC. Every team will have Philadelphia’s number. It’s a level of pressure that could cloud a quarterback’s ability to process quickly and clearly.

But if the Super Bowl is any indication, Eagles fans shouldn’t worry about Hurts.

Hurts completed 27-of-38 attempts for 304 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. He rushed for another 70 yards and three touchdowns, though he did surrender one punishing fumble in the 38-35 loss.

“If there was any doubters left, there shouldn’t be now,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said after his Kansas City Chiefs won. “That was a special performance. I don’t want it to get lost in the loss they had.

“Make sure you appreciate that when you look back on this game.”

Jalen Hurts played well enough in the Eagles' Super Bowl loss to indicate there are more bites at the apple coming. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Jalen Hurts played well enough in the Eagles’ Super Bowl loss to indicate there are more bites at the apple coming. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Hurts said then that he’d transform the loss into a teachable moment, reiterating Thursday at training camp that “time is the biggest teacher and experience is the biggest teacher.”

“The more I have the opportunity to play with this group, the more I grow and learn,” Hurts said. “So I think that is an ongoing evolution.”

Hurts aims now to carry that level of play across this season, physically and mentally.

“There’s enough talent around [and] he has enough talent to make the spectacular and the ‘wow’ plays any time he steps out on the field,” Johnson told Yahoo Sports. “But I think a big part of that is just the quest for ultimate consistency [when] guys just make routine plays really routinely.

“He’s at the point now, in the third year in the system, of understanding the answers and anticipating the problems within certain plays.”

The sources of information Hurts is processing are unifying, the pieces of the proverbial puzzle coming together. On field, that two-engine film study is starting to look like one processor.

So much so that there may come a time when Hurts’ actual two-computer screens suddenly appear as one input with an extended monitor.

Brown may expedite both processes.

Perhaps a birthday present for his quarterback who turned 25 years old on Monday?

“It might be,” Brown said. “That might be something to think about.”

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