NFL insider notes: Eagles, superb Jalen Hurts could be a factor, Jags must help Lawrence and more from Week 1

by 24USATVSept. 13, 2021, 2 a.m. 29
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Oh, my, was this the summer of the young quarterback.

Who would the 49ers draft? And how long would Justin Fields have to wait? And why were the Jaguars ever pretending Trevor Lawrence might not be their starter? And would Joe Burrow be ready for Week 1 (he was)? And could Mac Jones beat out Cam Newton? And was there ever going to be any competition brought in for Zach Wilson? Oh, and would anyone trade for Deshaun Watson despite his myriad legal problems, including maybe the Philadelphia Eagles?

Jalen Hurts was kinda the forgotten man in it all. Sure, he flashed well under adverse conditions a year ago in Philly, as Carson Wentz was trying to brood and force his way out of town. But to some, it didn't seem to really matter. Rival executives wondered if the Eagles might try to upgrade on their 2020 second-round selection in this past draft, or via trade. They did nothing except bolster their QB depth by acquiring Gardner Minshew in a minor swap, and were richly rewarded for such on Sunday in Atlanta.

Hurts, who I have maintained time and again I believe can be a winning quarterback in this league, was nothing short of superb in filleting a perpetually slow-starting Falcons team and spoiling yet another Atlanta home opener. Hurts got better and better as the game went on, quickly established himself as the best player on the field, spreading the ball around at will and doing all rookie head coach Nick Sirianni could have hoped for in his NFL debut. Sirianni far bettered fellow offensive-minded head coach Arthur Smith, making his debut as well, and served notice that with his unique skillset, behind a competent offensive line and with options in the run game, Hurts can be special.

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Hurts finished the game with a sterling box score – 27-for-35 for 264 yards and three touchdowns and no turnovers. He also ran seven times for 62 yards and was a dervish as the Eagles turned this into a second-half beatdown and the crowd took over the stadium, too. I don't want to get too carried away, given Atlanta's defensive shortcomings and their inability to muster anything against a stout Philly front, but this should be cause for optimism among this fanbase if nothing else. As Hurt spoke with FOX sideline reporter Pam Oliver after the game, fans were audibly shouting his name, but this young man was focused on what he could have done better and not bathing in any adulation.

"I look back on this game and there's a lot of money we left on the table," he told Oliver.

Perhaps, but this was a sharp outing. He responded after Atlanta took an early lead, hitting first-round pick DeVonta Smith for his first NFL touchdown, leading him to pay dirt. "It can be as special as we want it to be," Hurts told Oliver of his connection with Smith, highly polished for a rookie receiver. Five Eagles had at least three receptions and seven Eagles had at least two catches. Hurts' dynamic presence and ability to play around wit the mesh point also helped trigger a potent run game, with the Eagles gaining 173 yards on the ground at a robust 5.6 per carry, and 434 total yards in the game.

Philadelphia can be stout in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They are going to run for big yardage. And in the NFC East I wouldn't rule them out being a factor.

Chandler Jones was robbed of almost all of his 2020 season due to injury and then watched as management continued to reward others while expecting the star pass rusher to play out the remainder of his contract despite years of out-performing it.

Then he went out and took it out on Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan (who was benched) and whomever else Tennessee chose to try to line up against him. Jones was the catalyst for what quickly became a Cardinals blowout win in Tennessee, setting a tone by tossing Lewan aside to torpedo hulking All Pro back Derrick Henry for a loss (Henry had all of nine yards rushing 35 minutes into this game). Jones was a constant presence around quarterback Ryan Tannehill, serving as an opener with three early sacks, and the closer as well, ensuring a double digit lead with a second-half strip sack of Tannehill that essentially put the game away.

Five sacks in an opener – against a perennial playoff team on the road with no help from the crowd. Not too shabby. Makes the Cardinals look even more short-sighted for failing to engage in meaningful contract talks with him. Dude has another big payday in him.

Awful Jags need to help Trevor Lawrence

How the Jaguars incubate Trevor Lawrence will tell the tale of their season. After a rocky spring and summer it was no surprise that they were anything but a smooth operation in the opener, out of sorts, lacking direction, undermined by repeated procedural penalties and miscommunication gaffes and getting pounded by a Texans team many thought might be the worst in the NFL.

Their failure to address a weak offensive line already looks problematic and they'd better find a way to keep the first-overall pick in downs and distances that aren't conducive to him taking a beating. Consider on his first dive: There was 1st-and-15 pinned deep (illegal formation) and then second- and third-and-15 as well. Next drive: 1st-and-20 (holding). Third possession: 1st-and-16 (holding), 2nd-and-17, 3rd-and-19, with that drive continuing because of a roughing the passer call and ended with a touchdown. Then Lawrence faces 1st-and-20 (holding), 2nd-and-13 (leading to an interception) and then 2nd-and-9 after a too many men on the field call; Meyer opted to have him throw out of his end zone from the pistol there, late in the half, already down a bunch, and he tossed another pick.

The Texans were up 27-7, more sad football and turnovers were still to come, and the rout was on. Better find a way to run the ball and/or get the occasional stop on defense. Brutal start all around, but not one that shocking to those who have been doing any digging on that situation.
• Stud game from Joe Burrow. Got knocked around a bit but love how the staff eased him into the game, stayed very balanced, didn't go crazy with the empty-set stuff, set up high-percentage screens and passes early and got their franchise QB comfortable in his first game back from major knee procedures. Well done. Gutsy OT win for that bunch …
• A veteran personnel man at the Panthers/Jets game came away very impressed with Zach Wilson, despite going 20 minutes without a completion and making his share of mistakes. "He's great in moving around with his eyes up field," he said. "Really poised in the pocket. Looks like a seasoned vet." The longtime scout and coach was surprised by rookie head coach Robert Saleh's approach on defense, expecting it to be more aggressive. "Jets are dropping LBs 15 yards deep and (Christian) McCaffrey is just checking and releasing for chunks." …
• The WFT defense is very good but ran out of gas in the second half. The Chargers held the ball for 21:11 of the first half on a late summer day, and Washington couldn't get enough pressure on critical third downs against Herbert, who was masterful when it mattered …
• Huge win for the Steelers, but that offensive line and run game are going to have to get in gear quickly. But that defense looks as filthy as ever. Cam Sutton is gonna be a thing and Tuitt didn't even play yet …
• How about Tyler Lockett catching three balls for 92 yards and two touchdowns (on three targets) in the first half alone? Colts defensive staff is not going to like this tape …
• Sorry Lions fans. Too many smart personnel people who have watched them have told me how bad this season could be for them …
• I'm not sure how much Arthur Smith's presence was a boon to a Falcons offense that mustered all of 260 yards, but no longer having him calling plays in Tennessee certainly seemed to give the Titans fits. One of the worst and most meandering performances by that offense in recent memory.

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