The Eagles got an impressive win over the previously top-seeded New Orleans Saints on Sunday in rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts' first start in the NFL. Watching the film, Hurts was nothing if not efficient. He took care of the ball, kept the offense on schedule, and executed a well-scripted, highly schemed game plan that relied on the run game and well-defined throws to move the ball downfield.
He did a really nice job, especially considering the fact that it was his first start against a quality defense like that one. What exactly did the game plan entail? Well, let's start off with the run game.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS
The Eagles have long been known as having a very "multiple" run game, meaning that they utilize a very wide variety of schemes up front to move the ball. You'll see several different zone schemes, gap schemes, and misdirection schemes, depending on the game plan. This goes back to 2016, so no matter who was at quarterback, this was the case. Well, Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Jeff Stoutland and Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs Coach Duce Staley have never had an athlete quite as dynamic as Hurts in the backfield at quarterback, and so his presence really added several layers to the rushing attack.
Not only did we see some of the Eagles' staple zone concepts and sweep plays and power runs, but we saw designed quarterback runs, whether it was straight QB Power or QB Draw. We saw the option run game, whether it was zone reads or RPOs (Run Pass Options). And my favorite wrinkle off those was at the end of that clip, where the Eagles ran a Triple Option look and then pitched the ball to Jalen Reagor on a reverse late in the game to set up the game-sealing touchdown. I can't wait to see what new wrinkles the offense busts out this week!
Another aspect of the run game that must be accounted for is Hurts with his legs as a scrambler. These are not designed runs, but defenses must have answers for when he breaks the pocket!
Run game vs. New Orleans
• "Regular" RB Runs – 7 plays/12 yards/1.7 yards per carry (YPC)
• Designed QB Runs – 6 plays/22 yards/3.7 YPC
• Zone Reads – 11 plays/44 yards/4.0 YPC
• Run Pass Options – 4 plays/103 yards/25.8 YPC
• QB Scrambles – 4 plays/50 yards/12.5 YPC
• Gadget Plays – 1 play/19 yards/19/0 YPC
• Kneeldowns – 3 plays/-4 yards/-1/3 YPC
Total: 36 plays/246 yards/6.8 YPC
All in all, the Eagles ran for a season high in rushing yards, controlling the ball by moving the chains and busting off a huge play as well. The 82-yard touchdown run by Miles Sanders in the second quarter really broke the game open early. Here's how that came to be.
Did linebacker Kwon Alexander take the wrong gap? Was he trying to cheat it and go back door to try and get into the backfield? Or was he purposely just attacking that gap so that the nose tackle will get play side? That's tough for me to say, but he goes back side on this play, Jason Kelce holds his block, and now it's one-on-one for Sanders with Malcolm Jenkins in the hole after the block from Zach Ertz. Sanders makes Jenkins miss and sprints the rest of the way to paydirt.
With the run game down, let's look at the pass game. I thought the Eagles did a lot to help Hurts out from a game plan standpoint in this matchup. Hurts dropped back 36 times against the Saints, and on those plays we saw some simple one-read concepts, crossing routes that created defined looks, and screen passes. Head Coach Doug Pederson called plays that moved the pocket. There was a lot of purposeful pre-snap motion to help get information to the quarterback. They did a lot of different things, and Hurts absolutely executed them to a high level.
Whether it was the classic Mesh play to Reagor, screens to receivers and running backs, or half-field reads on bootlegs outside the pocket, the Eagles used a lot of tools from the toolbox to help simplify things for the rookie. That's good coaching!
That being said, it wasn't just a stroll through the park for Hurts, because he took some shots in this game against a tough Saints defense. He wasn't sacked once, but he was hit multiple times in the pocket as he delivered. His touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery was a great example.
The offense stayed on schedule, didn't turn the ball over, and was efficient against a great New Orleans defense. We'll see if that can continue against the Cardinals on Sunday, a team that loves to bring pressure and now has a game of film on the rookie.
Defensively, I was blown away by the performance of the linemen. Fletcher Cox had a strong outing. Derek Barnett and Malik Jackson were violent and chased plays down from sideline to sideline. Brandon Graham was disruptive. But the two guys who stood out above the rest? Josh Sweat and Javon Hargrave.
Sweat continues to flash, making plays on a near-weekly basis against both the run and the pass. I'll say it again, but it's been so much fun watching him develop since entering the league. Similarly, it's been fun watching Hargrave become more and more comfortable in this Eagles scheme now that he's fully healthy. After missing all of Training Camp with injuries, it was a bit of a slow start out of the gate for Hargrave, but he's really come on in the last month.
Lastly, let's look at the linebackers. In this space last week I brought up Duke Riley for his play against the Packers, and he followed that up with another solid afternoon against the Saints, a day that included this interception in the first half to help the Eagles put points on the scoreboard.
Riley was Johnny on the Spot, buzzing to the flat and then coming through with the great catch off the deflection. This was a picture-perfect blitz call by Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz, who forced Taysom Hill to throw his checkdown a bit faster and harder than he might have liked, leading to the pick.
Riley was in on a couple of other plays as well, but I want to take this time to also focus on Alex Singleton, who continues to fly downhill and wreak havoc for the defense. Singleton's aggressiveness and decisiveness are his hallmark traits, but his discipline on the perimeter led to the team's critical fourth-and-2 stop by Josh Sweat. Singleton has played every snap for the last month on defense. We'll see if he can continue that level of play moving into the back end of the 2020 season.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices, and opponents.