It will take more than Jalen Hurts for a top passing game

In Roob’s Observations. Eagles need more than Hurts for a top passing game originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Welcome to the 26th consecutive weekly edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Offseason Observations.

When we reconvene next weekend, with training camp underway, we’ll lose the “offseason” tag. Finally.

For now, we’ll chat about the importance of the Eagles’ passing game evolving, an encouraging Miles Sanders stat, a former Eagles wide receiver who’s inexplicably been ignored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and lots more!

See you at Lehigh!

(I wish.)

1. The Eagles learned in the second half of last season that they could beat a lot of bad teams running the ball more than they threw it. They learned in the playoffs that philosophy doesn’t work against an elite team with a smart defensive coordinator and a 31-point third-quarter lead. The Eagles averaged 31 pass plays per game last year — the fewest in the NFL and the Eagles’ fewest since 1992. It was fun while it lasted, but when the Buccaneers forced the Eagles to throw, disaster struck. Jalen Hurts, a 23-year-old making his first postseason appearance, had to throw 43 passes, his most since Week 4, and the passing game just wasn’t evolved to the point where it could function. It wasn’t just Hurts. Jalen Reagor played 53 snaps on offense in that game (and had two yards), which will handcuff any quarterback. But the reality is that the Eagles just didn’t have the kind of high-powered passing game you need to be competitive these days. And that more than anything is what has to change this year. It’s not as simple as “Jalen has to get better.” It goes a lot deeper than that. Play calling has to improve with more variety and more aggressiveness. Pass blocking has to get better — the Eagles were only 14th in sacks allowed per pass attempt last year. Big plays have to increase — only six teams had fewer 30-yard completions last year. AJ Brown has to play like the star we think he is. And Dallas Goedert and DeVonta Smith have to keep doing what they did in 2021. With these backs and this offensive line, the running game will still be there when the Eagles need it. And there will be plenty of opportunities for the Eagles to deploy the running attack. But they can’t rely on it, and their ability to develop a big-time passing game is one of the biggest keys to this 2022 season.

2. Kind of got lost with everything going on surrounding his false start, but Devon Allen said in Eugene after he was DQ’d from the 110-meter hurdle at the World Track Championship that he was competing despite getting hurt the Wednesday before the race, which would have been July 13. He said the injury was serious enough that he had to back off his last few days of training before the trials on July 16. “I hurt my hamstring on Wednesday, wasn’t able to do anything until Saturday, the first round, which didn’t go as well as I wanted to. But my hamstring has been kind of holding it together.” With the first training camp practice scheduled for this Wednesday — two weeks after he initially got hurt — something to keep an eye on. Allen is fighting an uphill battle for a roster spot as it is. He can’t afford to start camp less than 100 percent.

3. Running backs in NFL history who’ve averaged 5.3 yards per carry (minimum 100 carries) in consecutive seasons before their 25th birthday. Dan Towler of the Rams in 1951 and 1952, Clinton Portis of the Broncos in 2002 and 2003, Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs in 2009 and 2010 and Sanders in 2020 and 2021.

4. Speaking of Sanders… I’ve said all offseason that Sanders became a smarter, more decisive ball carrier last year. He didn’t dance around as much as his first two seasons, he didn’t try to bounce everything outside at the first sign of trouble inside, he didn’t try for the home run all the time. The numbers bear it out. Sanders’ first two years he gained a lot of yards but also incurred too many negative runs, generally when he tried to do too much. Last year, he made big strides in that area. As a rookie, Sanders had a gain of zero or negative yards 22.9 percent of the time. In 2021, that dropped a bit to 20.1 percent. Still way too high. But last year he had a gain of zero or less on just 13.9 percent of his carries. Running backs need to understand they’re hurting the team by trying to turn a four-yard run into a 40-yard run but instead getting thrown for a loss. That 13.9 percent figure is really encouraging. Straight ahead, between-the-tackles Miles Sanders is by far the most effective Miles Sanders.

5. Memo to Jason Peters: Please: retire Phenomenal career. Hall of Fame career. All-time Eagle. But it’s time.

6. Jalen Hurts Stat of the Week. Hurts’ 1,138 rushing yards are fourth-most ever by an Eagles player before his 24th birthday, behind only LeSean McCoy [3,026]Sanders [1,685] and Mike Hogan [1,448].

7. Someone has to explain to me why Harold Jackson isn’t in the Hall of Fame. After 1981, his last full season, he was third in NFL history with 10,246 yards, trailing only Hall of Famers Don Maynard and Lance Alworth, and to this day he’s one of only six WRs in NFL history with 10,000 yards and a 17.5 average ( DeSean Jackson is another). From 1969 through 1979, an 11-year span, he had nearly 1,800 more receiving yards, 50 more receptions and eight more TD catches than anyone in the NFL. Jackson never had an elite quarterback but made the team of the decade for the 1970s anyway. Only 13 of the 29 modern-era WRs in the Hall of Fame made more Pro Bowls. Yet Jackson has never even been a Hall of Fame finalist. Ridiculous.

8. In 1990, Keith Byars threw four passes and four touchdowns, and Stan Humphries threw 156 passes and three touchdowns.

9. Reagor last year became the first wide receiver in NFL history to start 10 or more games, have 40 or more offensive touches and net fewer than 350 scrimmage yards.

10. Dick Vermeil’s first training camp, 46 years ago at Widener, began July 5, 1976, and continued through Sept. 3. Most days were double sessions with practices generally lasting two to 2 ½ hours. Subtracting for days before and after preseason games — and there were six preseason games back then — that leaves somewhere around 80 practices, most with full contact. That’s about 180 hours of practice. This year, the Eagles have nine so-called training camp practices scheduled at the NovaCare Complex, another at the Linc and two more each in Cleveland and Miami for 14 total sessions, most of which will last 75 to 90 minutes with no live drills. That’s about 19 total hours of practice. It’s incredible how much NFL training camps have changed since Vermeil’s first season. And it’s not that Nick Sirianni is just going easy on his guys. Most of the changes have been legislated over the years by the CBA to protect players, and Sirianni’s sessions are lighter and shorter than most. But think of it this way. If the Eagles have 19 total hours of training camp practice, that would be like Vermeil having four days of camp left.

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