Jalen Hurts’ teammates reflect on his big night time: ‘He did that s— like a gangster’

Jalen Hurts’ teammates reflect on his big night time: ‘He did that s— like a gangster’

Philadelphia’s stars came out to watch the Eagles’ home opener in prime time. James Harden and Bryce Harper were in attendance. So were Questlove, Quinta Brunson and Bradley Cooper, all to watch a 24-7 victory that declared the Eagles among the league’s best. When the doors opened to allow media into the postgame locker room, the party continued as players such as Zach Pascal danced while Cameo’s “Candy” blared over the loudspeakers. On a night lit up by star power, Jalen Hurts was the lead. And man, was his performance sweet.

Hurts completed 26 of 31 passes for 333 yards, one touchdown and one interception while adding 57 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground. He led scoring drives on four of the Eagles’ first six possessions. He played the game naysayers believed he was incapable of, picking apart a zone defense with precision passes, tight-window completions over the middle and deep balls down the field. It was a night to remember that promised more to come.

So, it deserved a trip around the locker room in search of answers to an easy question: “What was your favorite thing Hurts did tonight?”

Dallas Goedert: Shoot. You know, besides throwing me the ball, probably his second touchdown run where I was lead-blocking, he followed. That gets me going. We gonna have a lot of touchdowns this year if — no, it was fun. That long 26-yard touchdown run was pretty sweet. … It’s just more like, I played with Jalen enough that I always feel like I know what he’s thinking, he knows what I’m thinking. And he makes plays and it’s fun to be out there with him.

DeVonta Smith: Pssh, he had a lot of them. I can’t just single one out.

Arryn Siposs: Jalen just knows how to kind of just, in the moment, stay present really and do his thing. He’s fantastic at that and there’s no play that’s too big for him, to be honest. I think just the way that he stays composed the whole time is really what makes the difference. In my mind, there’s no particular play that stands out, I just think that the consistency that he brings in being composed and doing his thing week in and week out is huge for us. There’s a long way to go and I’m sure he’ll continue doing that.

A.J. Brown: Favorite thing? It was that run. And it was the celebration. It was just, it was like it was easy or something.

Shaun Bradley: He won the f—ing game! … I ain’t gonna lie, he was throwing f—ing darts out there, bro. I didn’t know if I was watching Tom Brady or Jalen Hurts.

T.J. Edwards: They were backed up on that third down, got right back to the sticks. That was nice. He’s just a baller, man.

Zach Pascal: What’s my favorite play? The touchdown run. ‘Cuz, he did that s— like a gangster. He went around and then he lowered his shoulder and broke a tackle and they felt it like a running back. That was tough. That was smooth.

Zech McPhearson: Favorite thing that he did? Man, watching from the sideline, that deep ball to Quez (Watkins)? Electrifying. That’s when I knew, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we in this.’ I mean, we knew we was in it, but (it) was like, damn.

Miles Sanders: The touchdown to Quez. I love seeing him chuck the ball down the field, man. He can run the ball and all that, but, you know, the people doubt him on passing the ball. I like when he throws the ball down the field. I think he had over 300 passing and, I think, what, 390-something total? That’s what we expect from him and that’s what he can do. I love it.

Jack Stoll: Gosh, favorite thing that Jalen did. I think just the way that he led the team. He really took command in the huddle. The way he really led us to that victory. He just took over, made some plays when plays needed to be made. That’s really the biggest thing, to me. The leadership. And it shows.

Jordan Mailata: Shoot. That bomb to Quez. That was amazing. That was cool. From my angle, that was pretty cool.

James Bradberry: I can’t really pinpoint one thing because he played pretty well. I enjoyed everything. Any time he’s back there working, orchestrating the offense, the way he was able to do it throwing the ball and also running the ball, making plays with his legs, is definitely admirable to watch. I guess if I had to pinpoint one thing, it would be the deep pass to Quez.

Fletcher Cox: Moved the ball around. I think we had some success on the ground also and he moved the ball around. All you can do is just be excited for the man. I know he hear all the doubters and all the naysayers, but we know what we see every day in practice and we all believe in him.

Nakobe Dean: Jalen, what was my favorite thing? Shoot, he did a lot of good things. I would say extending plays. To have a quarterback able to extend plays and also keep your eyes downfield and complete passes, and all those third-down conversions that he was able to make, it was great to see that.

Haason Reddick: How poised he was (laughs). That boy looked like he been doing it, been in the league for years, he was just poised, you know what I’m saying? Having his way, kind of.

Kyzir White: He just looked real comfortable out there and never looked rattled. Even when there’s defenders in his face, he’s staying in the pocket, rolling out, making a hell of a throw.

Jason Kelce: My favorite thing was the long pass down the left sideline to Quez. I feel like offensive linemen always wanna run the ball, but you can do that as much as you want (laughs). The run was great, but we talk about it all the time as a team. One of the biggest things that we believe in is big plays and turnovers. Because they end up being huge momentum shifts, and if you look at statistics that determine win and loss, those end up being probably the two biggest ones. So if we can get big plays down the field like that, it’s gonna open up so many things for our offense. And if you look at the best offenses across the league, they do that. Tyreek Hill in Kansas City for a long time, now he’s in Miami doing the same thing and they put up (five) touchdowns in one half. That kind of ability to score, it expands the field so much and it just opens up everything.

Kyron Johnson: When he juked trying to get in the end zone. The first touchdown. That was my favorite part right there. I was watching from the (JumboTron).

Javon Hargrave: I don’t know, everything. I guess throwing touchdowns and running the ball, controlling the whole offense. The bomb to Quez. That big run on the touchdown. He just made some great passes and looked like he had control of the game the whole time.

Number to know

Three, as in the Eagles’ place in the league rankings for EPA per drive, according to TruMedia, behind only the Chiefs and Dolphins. But if you stacked up the 10 best individual team performances through two weeks of the season, the Eagles are the only team with two top-10 games. Hurts, with an array of weapons and one of the league’s best offensive lines, is leading an elite offense through the early season.

Game ball: Offense – Jalen Hurts 

What, you expected Isaac Seumalo? Here’s another example of how Hurts proved he and the Eagles can win in multiple ways. In Week 1, his average depth of target, meaning how far beyond the line of scrimmage his average throw traveled, was 4.06, the lowest single-game mark in the league this season. On Monday night, it was 9.26, the ninth-highest in a game this season. He also completed over 80 percent of his passes while doing so. It’s hard to overstate how good he was and the Eagles can now realistically dream about running through one of the league’s easiest schedules on the way to a very high playoff seed.

Game ball: Defense – Darius Slay 

If Hurts played the game no one was sure he was capable of, Slay played the game the Eagles envisioned when they traded for him in 2020. He intercepted Kirk Cousins twice in the red zone and nearly picked a few more. Justin Jefferson, the walking, Griddying reminder of what could have been for the Eagles, seemed to be the focal point of the defensive game plan. He was covered on occasion by Avonte Maddox in the slot and was double-teamed down the field in zone coverage. But when it was time for someone to cover him man-to-man, Slay followed Jefferson across the field. The result? Six catches for 48 yards on 12 targets. That’s only one more catch than Slay had passes defensed.

“I take no matchup lightly, but he is one of the best in the world,” Slay said after the game. “I am one of the best in the world, too. I was looking forward to the matchup.”

After his first interception, Slay ran across the field to deliver the ball to Harden. The second ball, Slay said, will go to one of his sons because Jefferson is his favorite receiver. All the funnier that he gave the first one away.

“The older you get, they think you are falling off, but I am not one of those guys,” he said. “I am still at an elite level. I deserve a lot of respect.”

Five thoughts and leftovers 

1. That was the best defensive performance of the Jonathan Gannon era. By EPA per drive, it was the Eagles’ third-best game since the start of last season, but the opposing quarterbacks in those other two games were a hobbled Jared Goff and Jake Fromm. Against Cousins and an offense that excelled against the Packers in Week 1, the Eagles held Jefferson in check, shut down the running game and forced turnovers. One area in which it seemed like the Eagles had regression on their side heading into the season was in the red zone, where they were near the bottom of the league in 2021. If you’re going to play with a bend-but-don’t-break ethos, you have to actually not break. In Week 1, they allowed touchdowns on all four of the Lions’ red zone trips. On Monday night, they held the Vikings to just seven points on four trips thanks to Slay’s two interceptions. Maddox’s interception also came just outside the red zone.

It has only been two weeks, so keep the small sample size in mind, but Gannon has blitzed more often than he did in 2021. Last year, the Eagles ranked 29th in blitz rate and 29th in defensive EPA per play when they did blitz. This year, they rank 12th in blitz rate and third in the league in defensive EPA per play when they bring pressure.

2. One of the few moments Monday night when it seemed like the Eagles were in danger of loosening their grip on the game came when Patrick Peterson blocked Jake Elliott’s 41-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. Vikings cornerback Kris Boyd picked up the bouncing ball and took off for the Eagles’ end zone, only to be taken down 27 yards later by Eagles punter Siposs. Had Boyd run in for a touchdown, the Vikings would have closed the gap to 24-14. Alas, Cousins threw an interception three plays later and the Eagles never really feared a comeback again.

“I’d rather us put three points on the board, but yeah, look, you just gotta see where the ball is and try and have a shot at it, try and make the play and it happened that way,” Siposs told The Athletic after the game. “Defense went out and did their thing. Worked out all right in the end.

“I played Aussie rules (football growing up in Australia), but we still tackled. I’ve got a little bit of background on it, which is kind of nice. But ideally, we’d wanna put the three points on the board and really put it out of reach. … Pretty heated in the game, I guess, but the boys got around me, which was good, and acknowledged that it was a pretty big play in the game.”

It looked like Peterson looped around the edge protected by Noah Togiai, but we’ll hear more from special teams coordinator Michael Clay about the block later this week.

3. I thought one of the most important big-picture sequences for the Eagles took place at the end of the first half when they got the ball on their own 5-yard line up 21-7 with 1:21 left and three timeouts remaining for both teams. For the best offenses in the league, that’s an opportunity to go steal points before halftime. For everyone else, it’s a time to play for one first down and hope to run the clock out.

The Eagles opened up that possession with a well-designed nine-yard run for Hurts out of an empty formation. Kenneth Gainwell then picked up the first down with a three-yard run and the Eagles called timeout. But after a first-down incompletion intended for Brown and a short Gainwell run, Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell called timeout to stop the clock in hopes his offense would have a chance to steal points. Dan Campbell did a similar thing in Week 1. This time, O’Connell too was bit in the kneecap.

Hurts proceeded to throw three consecutive first downs to Smith (16 yards), Goedert (19 yards) and Goedert again (24 yards), setting up a 38-yard Elliott field goal.

If the Eagles are going to have one of the league’s best offenses, they should act like it. And they did.

4. No one who pays attention to the team was surprised to see Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen dial up a target to Smith on the first play of the game, which went for a five-yard completion. Smith’s lack of catches in the season opener was very much on the team’s radar, but even if they telegraphed how much they wanted to get him involved, they still had to go out and do it. Smith caught seven passes on seven targets for 80 yards, while Goedert led the team with 82 yards receiving on five catches. Brown and Watkins each had 69 yards receiving (nice) while eight Eagles in all caught passes from Hurts. Maybe it doesn’t matter if one guy dominates the target share, as long as the production is the same, but locker room dynamics are real and spreading the ball around keeps more people happy.

“Like I said, when the ball comes to you, you have to make the most of your opportunity,” Smith said. “So just going out there, us as an offense, executing, everybody got their opportunities and everybody made the most of them.”

5. Leftovers. … Aside from Siposs’ tackle, the other big missed opportunity for the Vikings was an Irv Smith drop on what would have been a walk-in touchdown after Cousins’ long pass down the left sideline sailed over Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who misread the trajectory. That would have cut the Eagles’ lead to 21-14 and instead turned into the end-of-half field goal. … You will hear that the Philadelphia crowd was unkind to Jalen Reagor in showering him with boos when he was on the field. But a boo is a sign of passion, which is better than no reaction at all. For his part, Reagor played into the interaction by waving at the crowd before his first punt return. He finished with one catch for seven yards, a 17-yard run and two punt returns for five yards. … Britain Covey, meanwhile, had three punt returns for 14 yards. The Eagles, who have an open spot on the 53-man roster, will have to sign him to the active roster if they want Covey to keep that job after promoting him from the practice squad the maximum two times already. … Cousins led the Vikings with 20 rushing yards. … The Eagles leaned heavily into 11 personnel in this game, lining up with three wide receivers on the field on 60 of 68 plays (88.2 percent, up from 68.1 percent in Week 1).

Up next

With one fewer day of rest than usual, the Eagles travel the arduous road to Landover, Md., for a division showdown with Carson Wentz and the Commanders. The Eagles are currently listed as 6.5-point road favorites.

About the Author: Mofazzal Hossen

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