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Spadaro: Jalen Hurts stares down Giant challenge this Sunday

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

The date was November 28, 2021, and in the fog of a tough 13-7 defeat at the New York Giants, through the bitter feelings of the loss, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts put himself front and center taking responsibility.

"Today, I put us in a bad situation with those turnovers I had in the first half, especially going in with the opportunity to get points before halftime," said Hurts, who threw three interceptions and went 14-of-31 passing for 129 yards, finishing with a 17.5 quarterback rating. "It's something we have to overcome and we will."

Since that game, the Eagles are 15-2 in the regular season, their losses an end-of-2021 game against Dallas and a loss to Washington after an 8-0 start this season. Hurts has more than overcome that hiccup at MetLife Stadium, as his Most Valuable Player-level season continued on Sunday with an NFC Offensive Player of the Week performance – 380 passing yards, 3 touchdowns in the win over Tennessee – for a second consecutive Sunday.

And since that day at the Giants, just over one full calendar year to the date, the Eagles have found their identity on offense. It has taken some time, of course, because there is a long learning period when a new coaching staff comes in teaching the scheme to a quarterback in his first full season as a starter and the pieces around the quarterback take some time to fit just right.

"I think we have things going pretty well right now, but there is always room to get better and that's what we're focused on," wide receiver A.J. Brown said. "We've got the Giants coming up and we know they're a good football team with a very physical and tough defense."

Brown was the key piece added for the 2022 campaign as the Eagles returned intact offensively from '21. His presence has helped take the passing game to a new level, with DeVonta Smith being every bit the dynamic player the team hoped he would be in Year 2. The running game has Miles Sanders on the verge of 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career and the variety of the attack has kept defenses off balance throughout the season.

The offensive line has been at the top of its game, mashing defenses in the run game and providing Hurts with a stable pocket in the passing game.

Versatility is the key for this offense as it prepares for a return visit to MetLife Stadium on Sunday against the 7-4-1 Giants, who are a playoff contender largely because a strategically sound, blitz-efficient defense has kept the team in every game this season. Hurts and Co. return to the scene of one of 2021's toughest afternoons, understanding just how far this offense has come in 12 months.

"I've said that there's different ways that we can attack a team and there's different ways that teams are going to attack us," Hurts said on Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex. "The goal is always to be efficient in everything that you do and try to have efficiency in the run game and the passing game and being well rounded in those areas ... I think you have to be ready to attack in many different ways."

There is no emotion with Hurts, as he admitted on Wednesday, and instead, the focus is "on what is in front of us and stay true to the process, stay true to the grind. Stay true to you, stay true to this football team." With that, the Eagles have another test on Sunday as they return to New York a different team on its 2022 journey. Hurts says the Eagles are "chasing progress, chasing consistency" as they work for win No. 12.

That loss last season at New York wasn't all on Hurts, of course. There were other mistakes made – a turnover late in the game, a missed chance for a touchdown catch at the very end, a lack of takeaways by the defense – but he stood up and took it all as well as the subsequent criticism from the fans and media in the aftermath of the loss. Since then, Hurts has been on the climb, bringing along an offense that now stands as one entirely evolved from the one that played against the Giants last November.

He battled an ankle injury that day that forced him out of the game two weeks later against the Jets at MetLife Stadium, and Hurts played with that injury the rest of the season, never letting on how much it hampered him.

This season, it has been full go for Hurts and for an offense that has its identity as the multi-dimensional, yards-churning, point-scoring, knock-the-stuffing-out-of-the-defense attack that has been as consistent and as prolific as any offense in the NFL.

"But that's not how we look at it," left tackle Jordan Mailata said. "We're leaving a lot out there on the field. How many penalties did we have on Sunday? It was too many, I can tell you that. I think there isn't one person who is satisfied with what we've done so far. The objective is to score every time we have the football. I think every team would say the same thing.

"All I know is that the Giants are a tough team and they're going to play with a lot of confidence. They know how important this game is for both teams. There is a lot on the line and that makes it fun. So, we're going to play football, something we love to do, and have fun. Trying to get better from where we were on Sunday."

Playing like a team that knows what it is: The Eagles will attack you in a lot of different ways, all behind a physical, grinding offensive line, one that has come a long, long way since the last time it played the Giants at MetLife Stadium.

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