An organization can do everything right during a rebuild: Hire a good, young coach, make shrewd, smart personnel decisions, lead the NFL in rushing, make the playoffs. Those are all signs of a team trending upward.
However, if you were to peruse Philly news outlets, you’d think Jalen Hurts was Ryan Fitzpatrick or Alex Smith — a shrug-inducing quarterback whose limitations are evident, rather than a second-year starter who has yet to reach his ceiling. While I’m not saying there’s a Patrick Mahomes-ian version of Hurts waiting to be unleashed with the right coaching staff, he could be a serviceable starter capable of winning the NFC East and, by rule, making the playoffs.
Hurts’ passing stats don’t elicit saliva from fans, finishing the 2021-22 season with 3,100-plus yards on 61 percent accuracy, 16 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. There would be more slobber on his scrambling/rushing outputs — 784 yards and 10 rushing TDs — if they came in a Lamar Jackson-type fashion. I mention Jackson because Hurts actually ran for more yards than the Baltimore quarterback last year (767). Granted, the final margin was only 17 yards, and Hurts played three more games than Jackson, the Eagles’ QB still had eight more rushing scores than Jackson.
When you take into consideration the 2019 NFL MVP has never thrown for 3,144 yards in a season like Hurts did during his one year behind center, the noise coming out of Eagles’ training camp is a little unwarranted. It’s not surprising — this is Philly, whose fans have pelted Santa with snowballs and thrown batteries at J.D. Drew, we’re talking about — but new receiver addition AJ Brown should be learning his routes, not deflecting strays aimed at his QB.
Derrick Gunn, an NFL reporter based in Philadelphia and plugged in with the franchise, offered up a less-than-sterling account of a practice sequence featuring Hurt this offseason that was relayed to him secondhand.
“One person said, ‘Let me just give you a scenario of what he went through in one day of practice. It’s a 10-play scenario. He had three picks, four incompletions, and three sacks.’ That was his 10-play series, OK.”
As mentioned, this caught the eye and ire of Brown, who let the world know it was fake news.
The former Titan also had a little fun at the expense of the we-can’t-smile-because-we’re-Philly media.
I know hypercritical is the way sports are covered in the City of Brotherly Hate, and complaining about it only makes them stronger. That said, offseason exchanges about OTAs drown out what should be at minimum a cautiously optimistic vibe.
Backup QB Gardner Minshew asked about the starting gig in January, and was turned down by head coach Nick Sirianni, who has addressed his confidence in the position many times. There have been the obligatory puff pieces this offseason about how Hurts is expected to elevate from fantasy darling to top-tier quarterback, and asking if he’s the next Lamar Jackson. (Slow down, CBS.)
Yet there’s never a question of which voice will be loudest in Philly. In his interview about Hurts’ very bad day of 7v7s on Sports Take alongside Rob Ellis and Barrett Brooks, Gunn went on to say he’s rooting for the young QB “because [of] all of the negativism out there surrounding him right now. ‘He sucks.’ You hear more of the ‘he sucks’ than ‘he’s the quarterback, the answer.’”
That’s what you have to overcome in Philly, though. Unrelenting criticism, anger straight from the spring, “negativism.” It’s all part of it.
Stadiums and arenas overflow with skeptical in-laws constantly evaluating why not to let you in the family. And when you constantly look for flaws and reasons not to tip, the prophecy is going to get spoken, written, and tweeted into existence.
Pro Football Focus has Hurts projected to break the 4,000-yard passing mark this year, which has only been done by one other Eagles QB (Carson Wentz in 2019). And yet, after playing relatively well and making the playoffs in his first year as a starter, he’s already in a do-or-die season.
Hurts’ career arc probably falls somewhere between Dak Prescott and a journeyman — and occasionally those distinctions can be determined by franchises and fan bases. He certainly played better than a lot of pundits expected. Imagine the narrative if his debut season came in Dallas, and he was fresh off winning the division while being (statistically) the most mobile quarterback in the league.
If Cowboys are constantly overrated due to media adulation, then what does that make Eagles? I would wish Hurts good luck, but he’s already shit out of it.