A key weapon in Eagles' offensive arsenal we might see more in 2023 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
And it just doesn’t matter.
If Jalen Hurts delivers a perfect back-shoulder throw, there’s just nothing anyone can do to stop it.
“I know it’s a tough position to be in for a corner,” Bradberry said. “Anytime you have a great throw, it’s going to make it even harder to contest that pass. I feel like that’s one of the hardest passes to contest in the game.”
We’re seeing a ton of them in this training camp.
Hurts was an MVP candidate in 2022 and he has looked like it this summer. Hurts has been dynamic throughout training camp and it’s clear his timing with top targets Brown, Smith and Dallas Goedert continues to improve, which should be scary for the rest of the league. This is already a top offense and it’s getting better.
With that added timing, we’re seeing Hurts throws to the back shoulder of receivers toward the boundary more and more. It’s an almost unguardable throw that can frustrate the heck out of corners, especially the ones who do everything right and still lose the rep.
“I think we’re trying to create frustration,” Brown said. “I think plays like a back-shoulder, there’s nothing really a DB can do if you do it right and he throws a good ball.”
Some of this is just the natural progression of an offense and the players in it. A couple years ago, Hurts wasn’t throwing the football with anticipation like this. Coming off the 2021 season, his first as a starter, no one was worried about back-shoulder passes. The only worry was whether or not Hurts could improve enough to show he was a franchise quarterback. The first step to that was being more accurate than he was in 2021, when he completed just 61.3% of his passes.
But in 2022, Hurts was the MVP runner-up, completing 66.5% of his passes. And he’s still getting better. These types of back-shoulder balls and other timing routes are just an example of that.
So what are the keys to hitting the back-shoulder plays?
“Well, without giving away all of it,” Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said, “I think a lot of it’s about timing and feel and having great players.
“I think A.J., Smitty, all those guys have an unbelievable feel and understand how they’re being played defensively to be able to react to those types of throws, and then the quarterback just trusting what he sees and how firm he should throw the ball or not.”
While some of the success of these types of plays boil down to reps and comfort between the quarterback and his receivers. It’s not all natural. The Eagles practice this stuff and the more reps with the quarterback, the easier it is to connect.
Smith’s big tip? Make sure you get your eyes around early. If you don’t, you won’t see the ball. He also said you have to practice these plays or they won’t work.
Goedert added even more detail when asked about the keys for him.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Goedert said. “You have to make sure you’re on the right page with the quarterback. We talk a lot about when to get the eyes back, when to jab for the quarterback, when to look. So it’s a big timing thing.
“To make a play, you just have to be able to contort your body in different ways. Turn and catch and be able to track the ball. Late hands, so the defender can’t get his hand in there and break it up. It’s really just a big connection thing between the quarterback and the receivers or myself, whoever’s catching them.”
Eagles receivers coach Aaron Moorehead played five seasons in the NFL, all with Hall of Famer Peyton Manning as his quarterback. Moorehead has been with the Eagles since 2020 and Nick Sirianni kept Moorehead on staff when he took over in 2021. Remember, Sirianni’s background is as a receivers coach, so it says something that he decided to keep Moorehead around. Moorehead is the guy charged with getting the most out of superstars Brown and Smith.
One way for these receivers to build on the offensive success of last season is to give Hurts every reason to trust them. We’re seeing that on these back-shoulder throws this summer.
Moorehead agreed that some of the success on these plays is natural but there are ways to work on it and perfect them.
“I think you just gotta have the understanding of where the DB is,” Moorehead said of the receiver’s responsibility. “The quarterback has to have an understanding of where he is and then you’ve got to have great body control. The guys that have great body control make those catches and make them look easy.”
The 2023 season will be just the second with Hurts, Smith, Brown and Goedert together. Brown joined the Eagles via a trade during the 2022 draft. They all already have a pretty strong rapport but as Hurts said this spring, there’s always room for growth.
We’re seeing that growth on these particular types of plays.
“Yeah, it gets easier every time you throw with him,” Goedert said. “It just gets easier for him just to be able to know where you’re going to be, when you’re going to be there. Just things like that. The more you play with a guy, the more you just have the same understanding. You see the field the same way, you see the game the same way. It just increases everything.”
The Eagles in 2022 had the NFL’s No. 9-ranked passing offense but they were 5th in rushing and 3rd overall. Hurts threw for 3,701 yards, while Brown had nearly 1,500 receiving yards, Smith had nearly 1,200 and Goedert had over 700 in just 12 games.
Despite all of that, there’s still room for growth in a lot of areas.
The back-shoulder pass is just one.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to throw the ball over the top,” Moorehead said. “But if it lends itself, there’s nothing wrong with throwing a back-shoulder or two.”