The Monday after Week 1 of the 2022 NFL common season was my first day as a full-time worker right here at SB Nation.
And sure, I used to be fairly nervous.
As a morning crammed with conferences and orientation occasions wound down, it was time to start out working. I figured I’d ease into the day, and the season, with some low-hanging fruit:
The piece obtained, effectively, some combined evaluations. Some Philadelphia Eagles followers appreciated it, whereas others weren’t as satisfied.
However right here we’re, on the week of the Divisional Spherical of the NFL playoffs, and Hurts is able to begin his second playoff recreation, this time because the quarterback — and MVP candidate — of the highest seed within the NFC.
Simply how did we get right here?
There are myriad causes for the expansion of Hurts, and the Eagles, this season. Basic supervisor Howie Roseman deserves a ton of credit score, and our personal Mookie Alexander shall be diving into that side of the Eagles’ season shortly. However let’s concentrate on Hurts. Regardless of guiding the Eagles to a playoff berth in his first season because the beginning quarterback, Hurts was one of many largest query marks going through the staff as 2022 loomed.
With every part Roseman put in place across the quarterback, would Hurts take the leap?
It will appear that he has.
Hurts’ 2022 common season put him among the many NFL’s greatest in a number of passing metrics, and with the Eagles ending the common season with a 14-3 report – and the highest seed within the NFC – the QB vaulted into the MVP dialogue. Hurts completed fifth within the league with an Adjusted Web Yards per Try of seven.31, fifth within the league in Anticipated Factors Added per Dropback, fifth within the league in Completion Share over Expectation, and third amongst passers in EPA/CPOE composite.
When you end up clustered with the likes of Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen, you might be in good firm:
Information compiled by RBSDM.com.
There are two massive areas the place Hurts grew this 12 months that served as foundations for his growth and rise into the MVP debate.
Let’s break them down.
Attacking the center of the sphere
As a method of background, final season I co-hosted a podcast on Bleeding Inexperienced Radio with the extremely gifted Raichelle Privette, titled “The QB Manufacturing facility.” Every week, Raichelle and I’d dive into Hurts, breaking down intimately how he carried out, what he did effectively, and the place he wanted to enhance.
Coming into the 2022 season, one of many areas the place Hurts wanted to indicate development was in attacking the center of the sphere.
Whether or not as a consequence of scheme, consolation with the offense, his pocket administration – extra on that in a second – or another cause, Hurts struggled attacking defenses over the center.
For reference, right here is his 2021 passing grid from Subsequent Gen Stats. Not that NFL Passer Ranking is the very best of metrics, nevertheless it does present a place to begin for this dialogue:
this chart, you may see how his numbers in the midst of the sphere – an NFL Passer Ranking of 99.7 between 10 and 20 yards downfield – had been nonetheless above-average, however lagged behind a few of his success in different areas of the sphere. When you think about the two-high world we live in, discovering success in attacking that space of the sphere is important for an offense.
Now let’s check out Hurts’ 2022 passing grid:
As you may see, Hurts has definitely improved when attacking this space of the sphere. Now the Eagles are ready to actually stress a protection, and power them to defend “each blade of grass.”
Performs like this completion from Week 15 present Hurts’ development and luxury in attacking the center of the sphere this season:
On this completion towards the Chicago Bears, Hurts targets DeVonta Smith on a dig route in the midst of the sphere. The very first thing that stands out is the timing on this throw, as Hurts lets this move fly as Smith is popping out of his break. However Hurts additionally must layer this throw, dropping it over the beneath defenders, and in entrance of the cornerback breaking on the route. The timing, plus the trajectory of the throw, result in an enormous achieve for the Eagles.
Right here towards the Tennessee Titans in Week 13, Hurts offers one other instance of his development and luxury in attacking the center of the sphere. Tennessee drops into Cowl 2 on this play, and the Eagles assault the protection with 4 vertical routes. However pay attention to the center linebacker, who’s the “runner” between the safeties, to assist shield the center of the sphere. That defender slides to the best facet of the offense, away from tight finish Jack Stoll, who’s working a vertical route out of the left slot.
Hurts sees this, and makes an anticipation throw over the opposite linebacker to Stoll:
The anticipation Hurts reveals on this throw illustrates how comfy he’s attacking defenses over the center. Hurts confirmed flashes of this throughout 2021 however has grown comfy stressing defenses on this space of the sphere, forcing defenders to account for each route, each receiver, and each blade of grass.
In fact, the addition of A.J. Brown has additionally been a lift on this space. Brown is an elite receiver, and his mixture of measurement, energy, and fearlessness makes him a harmful goal when working over the center.
As you see right here on a dig route towards the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8:
Hurts’ consolation in attacking the center of the sphere, mixed with the presence of Brown working that space, has been big for the Eagles this season.
For a lot of Eagles followers, how Hurts dealt with life within the pocket was the largest space of concern heading into 2022. Hurts, like many athletic passers, faces a quandary within the NFL. For the majority of his soccer life, Hurts has been one among – if not the very best – athletes on the sphere each time he laced up the cleats.
Which means, if an idea broke down, or he didn’t just like the look within the secondary, tucking and working typically resulted in an enormous play.
Nonetheless, the extra you progress within the recreation, the higher and higher the athletes on the opposite facet of the ball are, and the extra harmful life exterior the pocket turns into. For Hurts to take that subsequent step as a quarterback, he needed to stability that athleticism, and his means to create, with a willingness to remain within the pocket at instances, give ideas an opportunity to develop, and combat slightly than flee.
That is one other space the place he has improved, and whereas the method started final 12 months, significantly down the stretch, it continued into 2022. You may see that willingness to remain and combat within the pocket on performs like this one from Week 10, towards the Washington Commanders:
Hurts opens as much as the left facet of the formation, to learn out a two-receiver idea. However with these choices lined, he will get his eyes to the center of the sphere, choosing up Quez Watkins on the bottom dig route. As that is occurring, the Commanders are blitzing each linebackers. Whereas the Hurts of 2020, and even early 2021, might need pulled this down and appeared for an escape route, this 12 months’s model of the passer hung within the pocket, acquired to his third possibility on the idea, and made a throw to maneuver the chains on third down.
Towards the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4, Hurts once more confirmed the type of pocket poise Philadelphia followers have been clamoring for. With the Eagles going through a third and 12, Hurts opens to the left to learn out one other two-receiver idea, with DeVonta Smith on a curl route and Kenneth Gainwell on a path to the flat. Seeing this lined, Hurts flips his eyes to the center of the sphere, choosing up Dallas Goedert on a sit route over the center.
Once more, Hurts does this within the face of stress, because the Cardinals convey a blitz off the left edge:
The poise from Hurts on this play results in one other third-down conversion.
Once more, moments like this had been a part of that debut piece right here at SB Nation referenced earlier. Hurts started the 12 months displaying the type of poise within the pocket Eagles followers had been hoping to see this 12 months. That continued in Week 2 towards the Minnesota Vikings, on this third-down conversion early within the recreation:
This was one other third-and-long state of affairs, with the Eagles going through third and 13. Hurts hangs within the pocket, giving the curl route from Brown to interrupt open close to the first-down marker. Somewhat than pull the soccer down, he provides the idea the time to develop, and the offense picks up an enormous first down early within the recreation.
Hurts confirmed nice strides down the stretch final 12 months in dealing with life within the pocket. Whereas it remained a query mark surrounding his recreation as 2022 started, it’s a query that he put to mattress early this 12 months.
Final 12 months, Hurts and the Eagles had been massive underdogs because the playoffs started, they usually had been outmatched within the Wild Card spherical towards the defending Tremendous Bowl champions.
This 12 months, nonetheless, is a a lot completely different story. The Eagles are the highest seed within the NFC and are thought of by many to be one of the vital full groups within the NFL.
Hurts, and the strides he made this season, are massive the explanation why.