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How much will Jalen run against the Giants?

Jalen Hurts

Photo Credit by Philadelphia Eagles

OCR Logo Color 300DPI 2When the Giants played the Eagles in Week 18, Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale knew Jalen Hurts wasn’t going to run very much because of his injured shoulder and planned accordingly.

This week, Hurts was nowhere to be found on the team’s injury report. Does that mean his sprained throwing shoulder, which coach Nick Sirianni acknowledged “hurt like hell’’ after the last game, is completely healed?

No, it doesn’t mean that. Hurts didn’t make a trip to Lourdes during the bye week, so, the shoulder almost certainly still isn’t 100 percent.

How that will impact their offensive gameplan Saturday night in Eagles-Giants III remains to be seen. Going in, they want Martindale to believe that Hurts, whose 145 rushing attempts were second among NFL quarterbacks to the Bears’ Justin Fields (151), will be as aggressive as ever and won’t be reluctant to run with the ball.

Given what’s at stake Saturday night, Hurts almost certainly is going to be more aggressive than he was two weeks ago when he didn’t run the ball a single time in five red-zone opportunities. The Eagles, who spent much of the season as the league’s No. 1-ranked red-zone offense, converted just one of those five trips inside the 20 into a touchdown against the Giants’ defense, as Martindale basically ignored the possibility of Hurts running.

While there’s no tomorrow if the Eagles lose Saturday, there is if they win. That likely will factor in at least a little bit into how much the Eagles want to use Hurts as a runner against the Giants. But his running also is a key to the success of their offense.

Hurts finished third in the league in rushing first downs with 67, behind only Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (97) and Browns running back Nick Chubb (69). Eagles running back Miles Sanders had 62.

Hurts’ 13 rushing touchdowns were the second most in the league, behind only Lions running back Jamaal Williams, who had 17. Hurts’ 23 rushing TDs the last two years are the most ever by an NFL quarterback in a two-year span.

Sneak attack

The Eagles attempted an NFL-high 33 quarterback sneaks this season, converting 29 of them. That’s the most QB sneaks in a season since at least 1990, according to Sports Info Solutions. The Browns were a distant second with 20 sneak attempts (made 17).

Hurts was 28-for-31 on sneaks. Gardner Minshew was 1-for-2. Hurts converted 11 of 12 sneaks last year. The Eagles have been one of the league’s most successful quarterback-sneak teams for a while now, largely because of center Jason Kelce.

The five-time All-Pro center is one of the league’s best point men on sneaks. Over the last six years, the Eagles have converted 88.4% (84 of 95) of their quarterback sneaks. During their 2017 Super Bowl season, they were 11-for-11 on sneaks.

“Jason is often going against 320, 330, 340-pound guys, and he’s maybe 290 tops,’’ said former Eagles wide receiver Mike Quick, who is the team’s longtime radio analyst. “But it’s about technique. It’s about quickness. It’s about leverage. It’s about getting off the snap and taking the fight to them before they can take it to you. If he’s quicker to the punch than the defensive guy and he’s in a good leverage position, that’s where he wins.’’

The Eagles also have integrated the Tush Push into quarterback sneaks this season, having players like tight end Dallas Goedert and running backs Miles Sanders and Kenny Gainwell push Hurts from behind on sneaks. Pushing a ball carrier forward has been legal in the NFL since 2005, but few teams took advantage of it the way the Eagles are this season. Now, almost every team in the league is copying it.

“I’d be surprised if, out of the next 100 quarterback sneaks, 99 of them don’t have some form of someone pushing the quarterback,’’ NFL on CBS analyst Charles Davis said. “Just a pure quarterback sneak, I don’t know that we’re going to see it anymore.’’

Last year, the Eagles had 30 and-1 situations on third and fourth downs. They ran the ball on 26 of them, but just nine (34.6%) were by Hurts. It’s been a different story this year. The Eagles have had 42 and-1s on third and fourth downs. Thirty-nine have been runs. Hurts has been the ball carrier on 29 (74.3%).

The Giant Killer

Nobody is happier that the Eagles are facing the Giants Saturday night than running back Boston Scott. The Giants seem to bring out the best in him.

Eight of his 60 career NFL games have been against the Giants. In those eight games, he’s scored 10 of his 17 career touchdowns, has amassed 414 of his 1,209 career rushing yards, and 636 of his 1,723 yards from scrimmage.

Scott has scored at least one touchdown in every game he’s played against the Giants, including three in a division-clinching 34-17 win in 2019.

He has averaged 4.8 yards per carry against the Giants and 4.1 against everyone else. In his last five games against the Giants, he has averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 45 carries, with five touchdowns.

A look at the Giants

–The Giants had 28 first downs and 431 total yards in last week’s 31-24 wildcard-round win over the Vikings. The 28 first downs were their most in a game this season. The 431 yards was their third-highest total. They put up 445 yards in an earlier regular-season game against the Vikings in Week 16 and 436 in a 23-17 win over Jacksonville in Week 7. Their 31 points against the Vikings last week was just the third time this season that they’ve scored more than 24 points in a game. They finished 16th in scoring, averaging 21.5 points per game.

–If you don’t include their 22-16 loss to the Eagles when they played their backups, the Giants have averaged 31 points and 423.3 yards per game in their last three games.

–In his last four games, including last week’s playoff win over the Vikings, Saquon Barkley has averaged 5.3 yards per carry. In the four games before that, he averaged 2.9. In the Giants’ 48-22 loss to the Eagles earlier this season, Barkley was held to 28 yards on nine carries.

–While much is made of Jalen Hurts’ running prowess, the Giants’ Daniel Jones also is a dangerous runner. He had 57 rushing first downs this season. The only quarterbacks in the league with more were Hurts (67) and the Bears’ Justin Fields (65). His 708 rushing yards were fifth among QBs, behind only Fields (1,143), the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson (776), the Bills’ Josh Allen (762), and Hurts (760).

–Jones had a season-high 17 carries for 78 yards against the Vikings last week.

–Jones has thrown just one interception in his last seven games and only three in his last 14. His 1.1 interception percentage (five picks in 472 attempts) is the best in the league.

–Jones has a 101.1 passer rating in his last six games, including a 71.7 completion percentage. He threw for 301 yards against the Vikings last week. It was just his third 300-yard passing game of the season and his first in a victory. The other two both came in losses – 341 in a 31-18 loss to the Lions and 334 in a 27-24 Week 16 loss to the Vikings.

–The Giants’ receiving corps has been considered one of the worst in the league for much of the season. But wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins has been productive of late. Hodgins, a 2020 sixth-round pick of the Bills, was claimed off waivers by the Giants in early November. In his last six games, he has 33 catches and five TDs. Had the first 100-yard receiving game of his career last week against the Vikings. (8-105-1).

–The Giants are a big play-action team. One hundred fifty-four of their 520 pass attempts this season have been off of play-action, according to Pro Football Reference. That’s the fourth most in the NFL.

–The Giants allowed 21.8 points per game this season. That’s the most of any of the eight teams still in the playoffs.

–Their defense had just six interceptions. That tied the Raiders for the fewest in the league.

More numbers that matter

–The Eagles had a plus-eight turnover differential this season. That was the third-best in the league, behind only the 49ers (plus-13) and Cowboys (plus-10). Just one of the eight teams still in the playoffs has a negative turnover differential. That’s the Chiefs at minus-3. For what it’s worth, the last team to win the Super Bowl with a negative turnover differential in the regular season was the 2015 Broncos (minus-4). The combined turnover differential of the last 10 Super Bowl participants: plus-66.

–The Eagles had a league-best plus-15 turnover differential through their first eight games, including a league-high 18 takeaways and a league-low three giveaways.  Won the turnover battle in all eight of those games. In their last nine games, however,  they have a minus-7 TO differential. Just nine takeaways in those nine games and a league-high 16 giveaways, including 11 in their three losses to the Commanders, Cowboys, and Saints.

–The Eagles have won the coin toss a remarkable 14 times in their 17 games. Nick Sirianni has deferred in all 14 instances and taken the ball to start the second half. The strategy has been successful on the front end – opponents have scored on their first possession just four times this season (Lions, Texans, Colts, Saints) – but not so much on the back end. The Eagles have scored on their first possession of the second half just six times (three TDs, three FGs) in the 14 games that they’ve won the toss and deferred.

–Rick Gosselin released his annual special teams rankings Friday. Interestingly, the league’s top two playoff seeds – the Eagles and the Chiefs – finished at the bottom. The Eagles were 31st and the Chiefs were 32nd. Gosselin, who has been doing the rankings for more than three decades, ranks the 32 teams in 22 different kicking-game categories and assigns them points from best to worst, depending on where they finish in each category.

–The Eagles’ 70 sacks this season tied the ’87 Bears for the third most since the NFL made sacks an official stat in 1982. The ’84 Bears own the record with 72 and the ’89 Vikings had 71. An interesting side note about the Eagles’ pass rush this season: they had just seven batted passes, which was the fourth fewest in the league, according to Pro Football Reference.

–The Eagles outscored their opponents in the second half by just 12 points this season (181-169). That’s the lowest second-half point differential of any team left in the playoffs. The other seven: Cowboys (plus-97), Bills (plus-82), 49ers (plus-67), Jaguars (plus-59), Bengals (plus-46), Chiefs (plus-42), and Giants (plus-24).

The Eagles ran an NFL-high 193 RPOs. That’s 25 more than the second-place Falcons. One hundred thirty-six of those 193 RPOs were pass plays.

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