Why Jalen Hurts rushing success is not because of his legs, and one Eagle has a warning

PHILADELPHIA − It's easy to get caught up in the Eagles' running success Sunday night and think that it's just like last season, when there was no other way for them to win.

After all, Jalen Hurts hasn't surpassed 200 yards passing in any of the Eagles' last three games. That includes his performance Sunday night, when Hurts completed 16 of 28 passes for 153 yards.

But that's misguided.

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The Eagles are 10-1 and having success running the ball this season precisely because Hurts has shown that he can pass the ball. And, when something is working to extraordinary levels, like the Eagles' running attack was in the 40-33 win over the Green Bay Packers, why stop?

So the Eagles didn't.

Hurts ran for 157 yards, and Miles Sanders added 143 yards, both career highs. Hurts set a team record for rushing yards in a game for a quarterback, breaking Michael Vick's record of 130 yards set against the Giants in December 2010.

Only two quarterbacks have rushed for more yards in a game in NFL history − the Bears’ Justin Fields with 178 earlier this season and Michael Vick with 173 and 166 yards when he was with Atlanta.

As a team, the Eagles ran for 363 yards, just 14 yards short of breaking the franchise record set 74 years ago.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs for a first down during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Philadelphia. The Eagles defeated the Packers 40-33. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs for a first down during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Philadelphia. The Eagles defeated the Packers 40-33. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

It was going so well that Eagles coach Nick Sirianni was telling offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, who calls the plays, "Hey, run it again, run it again, run it again."

Then he added: "You feel that. I love when (tackle) Lane Johnson comes off the field and is juiced up. He's crushing the edge or crushing the combination block with (guard) Isaac (Seumalo)."

"It's so much fun," left tackle Jordan Mailata said. "Imposing your will on others. It’s the simple saying of moving a man against his will from Point A to Point B. In the trenches, that’s a real thing; we love that."

So the Eagles moved the Packers up and down the field, all night long, from Point A to Point B to Point C to the end zone.

Every now and then, Hurts would throw a strike, whether it was a 30-yard touchdown pass to Quez Watkins or a 6-yard TD to A.J. Brown.

This was the difference from last year, and why Hurts is an MVP candidate. Hurts couldn't complete those passes last season, so the Eagles had to run because they had no other choice.

"That’s playoff football," Brown said. "Whenever you can run the ball, that’s what you want. The pass helping out the run. When we’re doing a good job of that, that opens things up. I think when we’re running the ball so well, there’s no need for (the passing game) to do certain things."

But the Packers had to respect it.

Because they did, Hurts ran on them, right from the start. On the first series of the game, facing a third-and-10, Hurts took off and gained 24 yards. Later in the drive, he picked up 28 yards, and the Eagles eventually scored.

"The game plan could go either way," Sanders said. "We can take the top off or grind the ball out throughout the game."

After the Eagles coughed up a 13-0 lead, falling behind by a point later in the first quarter, Hurts ran for 45 yards down to the Packers' 3. The Eagles scored on the first play of the second quarter. By then, Hurts already had 102 yards rushing.

Why was he so successful on the ground early on?

"I don’t know how to answer that question, to be honest," Hurts said. "I ran, and they couldn’t get me."

The Packers tried using a linebacker to spy Hurts. It didn't work. They brought a safety closer to the line of scrimmage. That didn't work, either.

They cheated toward the middle, so Hurts gave the ball to Sanders, who ran to the outside. They cheated to the outside to stop Sanders, so Hurts ran up the middle.

"Oh, he opened it up, yes, he did," Sanders said about Hurts. "I appreciate him for that. It’s good to have a quarterback like him when you can just drop back, and if you don’t see anything, and it looks cloudy, you can just take off and get … 20 yards.

"That’s going to kill a defense and make them change their play calling with coverages and stuff like that. It makes them all discombobulated with trying to contain all the talent that we have with this offense."

That's the point.

Hurts' passing has made all of that possible. He's among the NFL leaders in completion percentage at 67.3 and passer rating at 105.8.

Just think about defending a guy who's just as likely to pull the ball and run as he is to hit an open receiver. That wasn't going to happen last season. Hurts completed just 61.3% of his passes, and his rating was a pedestrian 87.2.

In the playoff game last January, Hurts threw three interceptions. That's his total through 11 games this season.

Sirianni described what it's like trying to figure out how to defend Hurts.

"If I need to put another guy to make sure Jalen isn't getting loose, then that's one less guy in coverage," he said. "If I have to tell the defensive line not to rush a certain way because Jalen can break out, then typically on that you're telling them don't just jet up the field because this guy is going to get through the line of scrimmage and make a play."

In other words, a defensive end can't just take a circuitous route in his pass rush because Hurts can take off into the open space. That limits the defensive end's aggressiveness, giving Hurts more time to throw. Unlike last year, Hurts can make a team pay either way.

So he did.

But there is one measure of concern, something Brown mentioned when he was asked what it's like for him and the receivers to see Hurts run like that.

"Number one, I want him to be safe and get down," Brown said. "He’s just creating on his legs. As long as he’s safe, we’re fine."

Actually, they're more than fine.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Jalen Hurts' rushing success in Eagles' win wasn't because of his legs