The Eagles are looking for improvement in a lot of areas from Jalen Hurts this season.
They are looking for improvement on third down and in the red zone. They are looking for improvement in his accuracy and his decision-making.
And they are looking for improvement throwing the deep ball.
Hurts wasn’t terrible throwing the deep ball last season, but he needs to be better, particularly given the calibre of pass-catching weapons he has at his disposal.
He finished 21st in completion percentage on throws of 20 yards or more (38.1) in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus, and had just four touchdown passes.
The Cardinals’ Kyler Murray led the league in deep-ball completion percentage (49.3), followed by the Chargers’ Justin Herbert (48.4), the Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa (48.3), the Texans’ Davis Mills (47.6), and the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins (46.5).
Hurts completed all six of his passes against the Jets Friday in an impressive performance that Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen properly described as “flawless.’’
The first of those six completions was an impressive 28-yard on-the-run strike to Quez Watkins. Steichen praised Hurts’ deep-ball throwing in training camp.
“You see it in practice,’’ he said. “The other day in practice, he hit that big one to Quez down the sideline. He hit another one to (Jalen) Reagor on a post. So it’s showing up.’’
Said wide receiver Zach Pascal: “His deep ball has been amazing. I see him getting better with it every day. His work ethic is incredible. It trickles down to the whole team.’’
Again, Hurts’ completion percentage on the deep ball last year wasn’t awful. When Carson Wentz made his MVP run in 2017, he only completed 38.5 percent of his 20-plus-yard throws. That dropped to 37.8 in 2018, 35.1 in 2019 and 33.3 in 2020.
But improving Hurts’ deep-ball prowess, particularly after the Draft Night acquisition of wide receiver A.J. Brown, definitely was on the coaching staff’s list of things to do during the offseason.
“We looked at a lot of things,” Steichen said. “We looked at something yesterday for a while with the wide receivers and quarterbacks. Some balls down the field and how we want to throw them and when we want to throw them.
“The (completion) percentage on throwing the deep balls is going to be lower. But if you can catch a defense in the right coverage with the scheme you’re running, you can create those explosive plays. Sometimes they’re wide open and sometimes you’ve got to make contested catches. Those are the things we’ve got to keep working on.’’
Like a lot of dual-threat quarterbacks, Hurts has occasionally been criticized for leaving the pocket too soon and not going through his progressions.
But Steichen echoed his boss, Nick Sirianni, saying that if all of Hurts’ receivers are covered, even if the protection still is holding up, he has no problem with him either extending the play or taking off with the football.
“If guys are covered, that’s one of his superpowers,’’ Steichen said. “He can get out on the move and create plays. We don’t want to take that away from him.
“When guys are covered, let’s go and create the big play on the move. He did a heck of a job with that the other night on the first play (to Watkins). Sometimes guys are going to be covered. So, don’t stand there. He’s a great runner. We’ve all seen that. And he’s going to make big plays that way.
“It puts the defense in a bind. Scrambles are hard to defend. They have to plaster on defense. Because when a play breaks down [and Hurts scrambles], their coverage changes. They’ve got to go find their guy and get on him. Because there are going to be big voids when you’re scrambling.’’