The Eagles clinched the NFC’s top seed Sunday with a closer-than-it-should-have-been 22-16 win over the Giants JV team.
And while the fact that they earned a first-round bye and home-field advantage were all that really mattered about that game, there is one troubling statistic from it that could be a prelude to playoff problems:
That was the Eagles’ red zone success rate against the Giants backups Sunday: one touchdown in five trips inside the 20.
It was very uncharacteristic of the Eagles offense. Before Jalen Hurts injured his shoulder against the Bears in Week 15, the Eagles were churning out touchdowns in the red zone at a league-best 73.5% clip.
During a nine-game stretch beginning with their Week 6 win over the Cowboys through the Bears game, they converted 23 of 28 red-zone opportunities into touchdowns (82.1%).
The Eagles’ red-zone effectiveness this season has been built, not on Hurts’ passing, but on his running. He’s thrown just nine touchdown passes in the red zone and only one in his last six starts.
He has the league’s ninth-lowest red-zone completion percentage (50.0) among quarterbacks with at least 30 red-zone pass attempts.
But he is first in rushing first downs in the red zone with 22. His 11 red-zone rushing touchdowns are the third most in the NFL, behind only Lions running back Jamaal Williams (16) and the Cowboys’ Zeke Elliott (12). He is eighth in red-zone rushing yards with 122, just seven behind teammate Miles Sanders.
The Eagles’ 66.3 run-play percentage in the red zone is the second highest in the league, behind only the Bears (66.9). On the other 80 yards of the field, their run percentage is 45.1. Hurts’ 41 red-zone rushing attempts are the fifth most in the league. No other quarterback has more than 22 (the Bills’ Josh Allen).
In the first 14 games before Hurts injured his shoulder, 101 of the Eagles’ 147 red-zone plays were runs. Forty-four of those 101 runs were by Hurts.
Getting back to Sunday and why the red-zone stat could be a bad omen: While Hurts played because of the importance of the game, his shoulder sprain clearly was nowhere close to healed. Officially, he had nine rushing attempts in the game. But four of them were kneel-downs. Just one of the other five was a designed run. That was a third-and-one quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles ran 17 plays in the red zone against the Giants – nine runs and eight pass plays. None of those nine runs were by Hurts.
Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale knew Hurts wasn’t going to run much, if at all, particularly in the red zone. So, he was able to plan accordingly and focus on Hurts the passer, which made it much easier to defend the Eagles even with backups doing the defending.
Hurts has made tremendous improvement as a passer this season. He jumped from 22nd to fourth in passer rating (87.2/101.6), from 15th to third in yards per attempt (7.3/8.0), from 26th to 11th in completion percentage (61.3/66.5), from 24th to 12th in touchdown percentage (3.7/4.8), from 13th to fourth in interception percentage (2.1/1.3) and from 17th to fourth in completions of 25 yards or more (24/33).
But the field shrinks once you get inside the red zone. Defenses don’t have to worry about the deep ball that Hurts has been so successful with this season since the arrival of A.J. Brown. Thirteen of Hurts’ 22 touchdown passes were non-red-zone throws this season. That’s tied for the most in the league with the Raiders’ Derek Carr.
If the Eagles are going to thrive in the red zone in the playoffs, they need Hurts to be able to run, and run effectively. But the shoulder sprain could impact that.
A source close to Hurts said that he initially thought he had separated his shoulder when Bears defensive end Trevis Gipson body-slammed him. He didn’t, but he’s clearly dealing with a fairly severe sprain.
“I think the whole world knows that I’m dealing with something,’’ Hurts told reporters Thursday. “This isn’t the first time I haven’t been (100 percent healthy). It’s happened a number of times before. It’s just that this time it’s a very public (story). It takes what it takes to be fully ready.’’
More Hurts stuff
–Just six of Hurts’ 30 aimed passes against the Giants (doesn’t include four throwaways and a batted pass) traveled longer than nine yards in the air. That likely had more to do with the amount of zone coverage the Giants played rather than the condition of Hurts’ arm. It was Hurts’ fourth fewest throws of more than 10 yards this season. He had just two in the first game against the Cowboys, four in their Week 1 win over the Lions, and five in their Week 10 loss to the Commanders.
–Hurts’ completion percentage went up at every throwing distance this season. He completed 40.3% of his throws of 20 yards or more, up from 35.9% last year. His completion percentage on throws of 11-19 yards improved from 58.2 to 63.8. On 0-10 yards throws, he improved slightly from 76.5 to 77.6. And his 96.9 completion percentage on throws behind the line of scrimmage was considerably better than last year’s 89.4. Hurts had 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions on 20-plus-yard throws. Last year, he had three TD passes and five interceptions on deep balls.
–Hurts has 67 rushing first downs this season. That’s the third most in the league, behind Lions running back Jamaal Williams (93) and Browns running back Nick Chubb (69). He’s tied for second in rushing touchdowns with 13. Williams has 17. Hurts’ 23 rushing touchdowns the last two seasons are the most ever by a quarterback over a two-year period.
–The Eagles have turned the Tush Push into an art form this season. With a little help from his friends, Hurts has converted 16 of 19 quarterback sneaks on third-and-one and nine of 10 on fourth-and-one.
Jalen Hurts working at practice #Eagles pic.twitter.com/Pe3PFVYNKg
— John McMullen (@JFMcMullen) January 13, 2023
–The Eagles have used 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) on 71.8% of their offensive plays this season. That’s a significant jump from last year when they used 11P 63.8% of the time.
–Their run-play percentage with 11P is just 40.1% (324 of 807 plays). It’s 64.9% with 12-personnel and 80.2% with three-tight end 13-personnel.
–The Eagles are averaging 5.3 yards per carry with 11P and 4.3 with 12P. Miles Sanders, who is averaging 4.9 yards per carry overall, is averaging 5.4 with 11P (159-852) and 4.5 with 12P (76-339).
–Jalen Hurts’ passer rating is almost identical with 11P (106.6) and 12P (106.2). He has a 68.3 completion percentage and 8.3 yards-per-attempt average with 11P. Seventeen of his 22 touchdowns and all six of his interceptions have been with 11P. But he hasn’t been as effective lately throwing with 11P. In Hurts’ last three starts, he has just a 77.9 passer rating, including a 61.1 completion rate, two touchdowns, and three interceptions with 11P.