Jalen Hurts is Playing Like an MVP, Again

Jalen Hurts finished the 2022 season second in MVP voting and had a Super Bowl trophy just outside of his grasp. This year, he is looking to right those outcomes, and his play on the field is showing that he can.
by Shawn Syed|November 16, 2023

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Jalen Hurts’ demeanor does not change often. On the field, on the sideline, and in press conferences, his focused eyes and quiet confidence shine through regardless of the scoreboard, play result, or question asked.

After a 2022 season that saw Hurts steadily climb through the ranks of NFL quarterbacks, change seemed inevitable. A new contract, a new offensive coordinator (Brian Johnson replaced Shane Steichen), and a quality Hulu commercial were all on the horizon.

Despite the changes, the 2023 Eagles sit in a nearly identical driver’s seat to the one they occupied in 2022. Heading into Week 11, the team is once again 8-1, leading the NFC East, and in possession of the best record in the league.

Jalen Hurts also happens to be playing at an MVP level, again. Hurts is more productive through the air, against the blitz, and in expected pass situations — all without the same designed rushing success he enjoyed last year.

Passing

Numbers

Jalen Hurts walked into the 2022 season surrounded by questions and walked out of the Super Bowl having delivered impressive answers. He closed the year in the top five in total EPA, EPA per play, and rush EPA. He showed fewer examples of bailing from the pocket and hung in to deliver tough throws. His scramble percentage dropped from 10.9% in 2021 to 8.6% in 2022.

There were also fewer clips of dirted throws and more eye-popping highlights. Hurts jumped from 20th in Completion Percentage Over Expected in 2021 to 7th in 2022, thanks in large part to the addition of star receiver A.J. Brown.

Though regression hits most players in the NFL and the already long in the tooth Eagles grew another year older heading into 2023, Hurts has been able to maintain, if not surpass, his success from last year. Hurts has managed to increase his EPA per pass from last season and is continuing a neat visual trend that reflects his trajectory in the NFL:

The success exists even when the Eagles don’t push easy buttons like play action, RPOs, and screens:

In 2022, Hurts ranked 27th in EPA/pass when blitzed. This year, he is 9th:

Hurts’ interceptable throw rate was 2.53% in 2022 and sits at 2.96% in 2023. That 2.96% would have been good for second lowest in the league last year. This is happening while his air yards per throw have taken a slight uptick from 8.3 in 2022 to 8.7 in 2023 (5th in the NFL). Even when the defense is expecting a pass, Hurts is excelling:

Hurts is more productive than last year on a per play basis, is better against the blitz, and is succeeding on pure dropbacks throwing the ball deeper down the field. The numbers come to life when you turn on the tape.

Film

If we were to ignore the numbers above and focus strictly on the film, Hurts is throwing fireballs through keyholes. He is also making throws that look like the high-level passes he made in last year’s Super Bowl:

The throws, and the play calls on those throws, look eerily similar to what we’re seeing this year:

Here is the one that inspired the fireballs through keyholes line:

While every throw is not a highlight, Hurts has demonstrated an increased comfort in the pocket even while dealing with a knee injury. The Eagles have built more check-downs into the passing game, and Hurts has been selective in deciding when to take off. His passing success is happening despite some inconsistencies in the run game.

Rushing

Among rushers with at least 65 attempts, Hurts is first in success rate, total EPA, and EPA per rush. Parsing rushing numbers for Hurts and the Eagles can be difficult because of the influence of the push sneak. The push sneak’s success should be attributed to the Eagles incredible offensive line (and their unique technique) as well as Hurts’ comical play strength as evidenced by replication failures in other parts of the football world. Even then, the low yardage but high leverage play can muddy the stats.

Digging a bit deeper, we can separate Hurts’ QB sneaks, designed rushes, and scrambles:

2022 (EPA per rush) 2023 (EPA per rush)
QB Sneaks +0.62 +0.42
Designed Rushes +0.18 -0.13
Scrambles +0.63 +0.46

 

2022 (Success Rate) 2023 (Success Rate)
QB Sneaks 89.7% 78.6%
Designed Rushes 51.5% 31.0%
Scrambles 63.3% 65.5%

Hurts’ numbers are down across the board, but the most notable decrease is in designed rushing efficiency and production. The film confirms the stats; there are less plays that end up looking like these from 2022:

Instead, more plays end up looking like these in 2023:

Teams are doing a better job of scrape exchanging against zone read runs by having the defensive end chase the running back to encourage the keep from Hurts while a linebacker works over the top for a tackle for loss. Still, the defense needs to respect the threat of Hurts on the ground as shown by Hurts holding two defenders on this handoff:

The Eagles have started to use different RPOs and two running back backfields to change things up, but Hurts’ success this season is not because of designed rushes. As the Eagles come off their bye, the hope is that Hurts’ banged up knee is healthy enough to positively impact the running game down the stretch.

Causes for concern?

Going into Week 11, Hurts’ Completion Percentage Over Expected is 7.4%. That is second in the league this year and would have been the highest number in every single year dating back to Ryan Tannehill’s 7.7% in 2019. Hurts’ Expected Completion Percentage ranks 24th in the league while his actual completion percentage ranks sixth. That hints at a potential regression in the number of plays that look like this and result in completions:

A.J. Brown has been on a historical heater, and there is a chance that more 50/50 balls end up on the ground. Dallas Goedert’s injury is expected to sideline him for more than a month, which removes the Eagles main threat over the middle of the field. Teams could now have more flexibility in how they allocate resources to Brown while DeVonta Smith looks to increase his target share.

The path forward is also daunting (or an opportunity!). The Eagles head to Kansas City for a Super Bowl rematch in Week 11 before playing the Buffalo Bills, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Dallas Cowboys. But through 11 weeks, Hurts’ performance rivals his breakout 2022 season. He is making high-level throws, is aggressive against tight coverage, and is finding answers against the blitz. That is all without the designed rushing success he enjoyed last year.

If you asked Hurts about all of this, though, his demeanor probably would not change. His eyes would remain focused, and his tone would remain even. With eight regular season games left and a likely postseason run ahead, everything Hurts wants is right in front of him.

The stats in this article are courtesy of SumerSports.com, FTN, nflfastR, and the always appreciated hard work of Tej Seth.

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