By Ralph Vacchiano
FOX Sports NFC East Writer
It’s only Week 2 and there’s a long way to go, but the 24-year-old Hurts made a huge statement in the Eagles’ 24-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings. He played like an elite quarterback. He was more dangerous throwing the ball than he was running it. And he spread the ball around, showing everyone just how diverse and powerful this Eagles offense is.
It was his finest game as a pro. And if Hurts keeps playing like he did against the Vikings, if that Eagles offense keeps clicking, they will be a real Super Bowl contender this season. And those “M-V-P” chants Hurts heard from the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field? He might end up being a contender in that race in the near future, too.
“A big time performance by him,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “A big-time performance on a big-time stage.”
Hurts really was that good against a good Vikings team — and a Vikings defense, by the way, that held the Packers to just seven points in Week 1 and kept Aaron Rodgers under 200 passing yards. Hurts finished 26-of-31 for 333 yards with a touchdown and a late interception, and he ran 11 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles’ offense, even after slowing down in the second half, had 486 total yards.
But his performance was so much more than just the numbers. One week ago, the big criticism of the Eagles’ offense in their 38-35 opening day win in Detroit is that it was a bit too one-dimensional in the passing game. Everything seemed to run through their new receiver, A.J. Brown, who had 10 catches for 155 yards in his debut.
In Week 2, though, Hurts fixed all that. He was “in complete control,” Sirianni said, and he spread the ball around to everyone. He even started on the opening drive, which featured five runs and five passes and four different receivers. In all, eight different players caught passes from him. And tight end Dallas Goedert (5-82), receiver DeVonta Smith (7-80), and receiver Quez Watkins (2-69 and a 53-yard touchdown) all were more productive than Brown (5-69).
If the Eagles’ passing attack is that deep, it should terrify the rest of the NFC East, and it will be pretty concerning for the top teams in the NFC, too. Remember, the Eagles were the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL last season, and they already have 379 rushing yards through two games this year. Their offensive line might be the best in football and was absolutely dominant at times against the Vikings.
All the tools are in place. And now it sure looks like they have the quarterback, too.
“He’s put in so much work,” Sirianni said. “Of course [the game] is slowing down for him. It should at this point because he’s a year further into this process. He lives the theory of getting better every day. That’s why you’re seeing major improvements.”
A year ago, the jury was still out on Hurts, even though inside the organization their faith never wavered. He was a bit one-dimensional in the passing game, rarely throwing over the middle — mostly because he didn’t have receivers who thrived there. He was often too quick to pull the ball down and run at the first sign of trouble in the pocket.
Now he’s showing the poise of a veteran and the intelligence to run as a weapon, not just to bail out. A great example came on his 26-yard touchdown run late in the first half. He rolled right and had to read the Vikings’ safeties coverage of Goedert before making any decisions. When they got tied up, Hurts took off down the sidelines, following Goedert all the way. That wasn’t running just to run, or running in a panic. It was running as an option to keep the defense off balance and make a smart play.
That’s maturity and growth and all the things a team wants to see out of a young quarterback, especially in year three. And it’s going to create a lot of problems for defensive coordinators the rest of the season.
In fact, just about everything about the Eagles is going to create problems for opponents. They are now a dangerous, two-pronged offense, averaging 281 passing yards and 189.5 rushing yards through the first two weeks. Their offensive line is fantastic. They have three running backs, three receivers and a tight end who are all legitimate weapons.
And it sure looks like their quarterback now can do it all.
The big missing piece in the opener was their defense, which was shredded by the Lions for 181 rushing yards as they missed about a dozen tackles in a game Sirianni said “wasn’t up to our standards.” But that defense made its own statement on Monday night, too. It shut down the dynamic duo of Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson (6 catches, 48 yards) and running back Dalvin Cook (6 carries, 17 yards). The Eagles had three interceptions — two by cornerback Darius Slay — and their secondary was breaking up passes all night. They even turned up their dormant pass rush in the second half.
Again, they’re just two weeks into the season. But their schedule isn’t daunting. The division is weak. And the conference is really wide open. All the pieces really do seem to be in place for the Eagles to make a run deep into the postseason.
All they need is someone to lead them. And on Monday night, Hurts showed the world he’s ready to do it.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” Sirianni said. “I’ve seen the growth of him. He’s going to reach his ceiling.”
Added defensive end Brandon Graham: “He’s proving all the doubters wrong.”
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. He spent 22 years covering the Giants, Jets and NFL at large for SNY and the New York Daily News. He can be found on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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