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Jalen Hurts’ improvement in an underrated area

Jalen Hurts’ improvement in an underrated area in Roob’s Observations originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

A critical area of improvement from Jalen Hurts, a key for the Eagles vs. the 49ers and an under-the-radar big-time play by DeVonta Smith.

As the Eagles get ready for their home opener Sunday, here’s our Week 2 edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations!

AN ENCOURAGING SIGN FROM HURTS: Jalen Hurts was one of only eight QBs opening weekend that didn’t complete a pass of at least 30 yards. And I love that. Because that means he wasn’t forcing anything down the field and he was taking what the defense gave him. And he was so accurate he was able to put up 32 points without taking any deep shots. Hurts last year had the second-most 30-yard completions in the entire NFL the last five weeks of the season, which has a lot to do with that 52 percent completion percentage. Those are fun plays but they’re low-percentage plays. He was chucking it deep all the time just because why not? He was trying to make something happen in a dead offense. He showed so much growth Sunday in terms of discipline and not trying to make a play that wasn’t there. There’ll be times where the Eagles need deep shots from Hurts and there’ll be times the receivers are open down the field, and Hurts can make those throws. But why take those chances when you’re moving the ball up and down the field so easily with the short passing game and running game? There’s something to be said for restraint. Hurts deserves a lot of credit for what he didn’t do Sunday.

THE KEY VS. THE 49ERS: The Eagles were the only team in the NFL that didn’t allow a play longer than 18 yards Sunday. They allowed just two plays over 10 yards after the first quarter. After last year, when the Eagles allowed 62 plays of at least 20 yards (12th-most in the NFL), that was an encouraging sign. Jonathan Gannon’s biggest message to his team is don’t let the ball go over your head. Keep the play in front of you. The 49ers hit a few big plays against the Lions – Jimmy Garoppolo’s 79-yard TD pass to Deebo Samuel, Elijah Mitchell’s 38-yard TD run and a Garoppolo 35-yarder to George Kittle. This is a big-play 49ers offense and they will present more of a challenge down the field than the Falcons. It’s a matchup I’m really looking forward to. Kyle Shanahan’s offense vs. Gannon’s defense. I know one thing. If the Eagles limit the 49ers’ big plays, they’re not losing this game.

“LET’S GO FOR TWO:” One of the more impressive moments in the Falcons game Sunday came after the Dallas Goedert touchdown, after the Falcons were called for an illegal formation penalty on the PAT. With the ball now at the 1-yard-line, there was no hesitation from Nick Sirianni. He left the offense on the field, and Miles Sanders ran it in for two points and a 15-6 lead. Sirianni spoke during training camp about how he and the offensive coaches one night had gone over dozens and dozens of game management scenarios and how to handle them depending on the score and situation. So when that flag was thrown, Sirianni didn’t have to think about whether he wanted to kick the PAT or go for two. He knew. There were no concerns about the clock running down or having to call a timeout. He just knew. It might seem like a no-brainer, but in the moment every second counts. It’s just another example of a rookie head coach in his first game being totally prepared and mentally locked in.

FIRST TIME EVER: Get this: Sunday’s game was the first season opener in Eagles history where two wide receivers – Smith and Jalen Reagor – caught at least six passes.

JALEN HURTS STAT OF THE WEEK: Hurts has rushed for at least 60 yards with at least a 5.5 average in four of his five career starts – all four games he’s started and finished. No other quarterback in NFL history has done that within his first five starts. Randall Cunningham and Tim Tebow each had three games in their first five starts with 60 rushing yards and a 5.5 average. Since opening day last year, only four RBs have had more such games – Nick Chubb (7), Derrick Henry (6), Ronald Jones (5) and Alvin Kamara (5).

THE MIRACLE OF JORDAN MAILATA: It’s crazy to ponder just how far Jordan Mailata has come in the last year. He never played a meaningful snap of organized football on any level until Sept. 13, 2020. On Sept. 11, 2021, he signed a four-year, $64 million extension. In other words it was less than a year from the first time he played football until he was paid $64 million. That’s insane.

DID YOU NOTICE? One of DeVonta Smith’s most impressive catches Sunday wasn’t a touchdown or a big gain. It was an otherwise mundane three-yard reception on a 1st-and-10 in the second quarter. What’s the big deal about a three-yard gain? Because he caught the ball as he was about to go out of bounds on the right sideline, but he tap-tapped his feet to make sure he was in bounds. You only need one foot in bounds in college, so here’s a kid playing his first NFL game – his first game with the two-feet-in rule – and he had the presence of mind to tap that second foot in bounds as he was catching the ball. Just another example of how good this kid’s court awareness is.

AN UNDER-RATED SEASON DEBUT: Much of the conversation around the Eagles’ offense this week surrounded Jalen Hurts, DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Jason Kelce and Jordan Mailata. But I really liked what I saw from Miles Sanders, who netted 113 scrimmage yards on 19 touches. Sanders had two of the Eagles’ three-longest plays – a 25-yard catch and run and a 23-yard run – and secured all four passes Hurts threw his way. He also became the fastest Eagle ever to 2,500 scrimmage yards, getting there in his 29th NFL game. Sure doesn’t hurt to have that o-line in front of him, but it was a terrific opener for Sanders.

HOW MANY SACKS? It’s a little surprising, but the Eagles allowed the 8th-most sacks in the NFL from 2016 through 2020 – 42 per year. They’ve only allowed fewer than 2.0 per game twice since sacks became an official stat in 1982 – 23 sacks in 2008 and 28 in 2006. Honestly, after what I saw of Hurts on Sunday – his blitz recognition, his ability to escape pressure and his comfort in the short passing game – along with this gifted offensive line, I think fewer than 2.0 sacks per game is within reach this year. The Eagles haven’t ranked in the top 10 in fewest sacks allowed since 2011, when they were 10th. I’ll be shocked if they’re not back up there this fall.

EAGLES ALUMNI SHOWDOWN: With Andy Reid’s Chiefs facing John Harbaugh’s Ravens Sunday night in Baltimore, I was reminded of a story one of them – I forget who – told me several years ago. It was after the 2011 regular season, and the Ravens were in the playoffs, and for the first time since 2007 the Eagles weren’t. Reid and Harbaugh spent a decade together with the Eagles, and Reid was instrumental in Harbaugh getting hired in Baltimore in 2008. They’re very close, and one evening soon after the 2011 season ended, Big Red was in his office at the NovaCare Complex and Harbs was in his office at the Ravens’ facility in Owings Mills, Maryland, and like they often did, they spoke for hours on the phone talking life and football as Harbs prepared for the postseason. They lost track of time and it got later and later, and finally Big Red decided the phone call had gone on long enough. He told Harbs to sit tight. Andy jumped into his car and headed south on I-95. At some point very late at night or very early in the morning he arrived in Owings Mills and these two best friends picked up the conversation in person.

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