The challenge of keeping Jalen Hurts out of harm's way

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Keeping the franchise out of harm's way originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

If you watch all 17 of Jalen Hurts rushing attempts Sunday night, you’ll see him take off down the right sideline, you’ll see him take off down the left sideline, you’ll see him take off up the middle.

You’ll see him drop back, survey the field, and then take off, and you’ll also see him take the center snap and bolt.

You’ll see it all, but one thing you won’t see is Hurts taking a big hit.

Hurts is on pace for the most rushing attempts in NFL history by a quarterback, but you rarely see those runs end with him absorbing a bruising tackle or hit. 

When Hurts has taken big hits this year they’ve generally been in the pocket or late hits out of the pocket and occasionally on a keeper.

His ability to pick up big yards with his legs while keeping himself out of harm’s way is truly impressive.

“That's something to me that's very (instinctive),” Nick Sirianni said. “Don't take hits and don't go to the sideline and play what we (call) pound on the sideline (where you) keep the ball on your outside arm so you can lower your shoulder and play pound. I'm not looking for him to do that.

“Slide when you need to … but (one) thing you can't teach is how he moves his body so the (defender) doesn't get a clean shot on him. Or stick the foot in the ground and make the guy miss but also having this feel for where guys are around you. … How do I teach him where all these guys are around him? That's instinctual. He's got great instincts there.”

Hurts ran 139 times last year, 5th-most in NFL history by a quarterback, but he’s already got 127 carries this year, which puts him on pace for 196 if he plays all 17 games. (Ten of his carries last year and 15 this year have been kneel downs.)

Lamar Jackson has the three-highest single-season totals, with 147 carries in 2018, a record 176 in 2019 and 159 in 2020.

Hurts’ 127 rushing attempts this year are already 11th-most in NFL history by a quarterback, and that’s with six games left. 

Jackson, Cam Newton and Hurts are the only QBs with multiple seasons with 125 or more carries. 

Hurts has had five games this year with at least 15 carries – that ties Jackson’s record set in 2019 – and in just 30 career starts he already has the second-most 15-carry games in history by a quarterback with seven. Jackson has 14.

Randall Cunningham never had 15 carries in a game. Donovan McNabb never had more than 12. Michael Vick never had more than 11 as an Eagle, although he had one 15-carry game as a Falcon.

With three more rushing yards, Hurts will join Cunningham, Newton and Jackson as only the fourth QB in history with consecutive 600-yard rushing seasons.

Don’t expect Hurts to share any insight about how he avoids big hits. He doesn’t really think about it.

“There are a lot of things that I don’t really put too much into, to be honest,” he said. “I just try to protect myself. There’s no master formula for it. I just go out there and play my game.”

Because Hurts is so good about keeping himself safe, Sirianni and Shane Steichen have no problem with Hurts running this much.

“If the guy was constantly putting himself in danger, then it's our job to help him,” Sirianni said. “Just like with our kids. It's our job to help them and make sure they're not putting themselves in danger. 

“Even though you say sometimes, ‘Well, they should know that better.’ Well, maybe they don't, and we’ve got to help them. So it's the same thing there.

“The plays you call, the things you call, are built off of confidence … throughout time, and you call those plays knowing that they can be successful, but also in this situation, Jalen is going to keep himself safe.”

Hurts, whose 157 rushing yards against the Packers are 5th-most ever by a quarterback, said he never goes into a game thinking he’s going to run a lot.

But if the opportunities are there? The whole world saw Sunday night what’s going to happen.

“It’s whatever it takes,” he said. “I’ve always spoken on how games look different. Sometimes things happen. You may not go into a game thinking one thing, but it happens, and it’s just the reactionary thing. We prepare all week … we go out there and try to execute our plays, then we go out there and react to what we get, react to what we see.”