NFL Week 15 preview: How long is Jalen Hurts’ leash vs. Washington?

Jalen Hurts Eages
Jalen Hurts
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles are firmly in the playoff hunt entering Week 15 with a golden opportunity to make up more ground for the seventh and final NFC Wild Card spot.

The 6-7 Eagles host the 6-7 Washington Football Team, who hold the second spot just ahead of them in the NFC East and that No. 7 spot in the NFC playoff picture.

A win over Washington on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m.) and a loss by the Minnesota Vikings, who face off against the lowly Chicago Bears, would see the Eagles get that last playoff spot — making Week 15 all the more imperative for first-year head coach Nick Sirianni.

Philadelphia has had plenty of time to prepare for Washington — who come off a 27-20 loss to the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys last weekend — as they emerge from their bye week with all eyes on their quarterback position.

Jalen Hurts has shown the intangibles of being the type of leader under center that the Eagles need. With his dual-threat capabilities, he’s also one of the more dangerous passers in the league thanks to his running ability.

But the second-year passer out of Oklahoma has batted inconsistencies — especially throwing the football — which was seen during a shock 13-7 upset loss to the New York Giants in Week 12 when he threw three interceptions.

After an ankle injury forced him out of their Week 13 matchup against the Jets, he watched from the sidelines as backup Gardner Minshew lit the Jets up — completing 20-of-25 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-18 rout.

Gardner MinshewBrad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Hurts is on track to start against Washington, as Sirianni alluded to immediately following Minshew’s big day against the Jets.

“Of course,” Sirianni said when asked if Hurts would be the man under center after the bye week despite Minshew’s big day. “I think he’s played really good football. There’s been times when he’s been one of the best in the league. The way he’s moved around, made plays.”

“We look at that quarterback rating and what he’s had there,” he added. “He’s played really good football when he’s in, so when he’s healthy and he’s back, he’ll be our starter.”

Washington’s defense has laid out a pretty simple game plan on how to have success against it — and it won’t be on the legs of Hurts or an Eagles’ offense that has rushed for at least 175 yards in six straight games.

The Eagles may struggle to run the ball against the Washington Football Team.Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With an aggressive front, Washington has allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards in the NFL this season. Their nine rushing touchdowns allowed are also tied for fifth-fewest. But their passing defense is a liability, having yielded the third-most yards through the air in the league (3,368) and the most passing touchdowns (27).

That means the Eagles are likely going to need Hurts’ arm much more than his legs on Sunday — and his most recent history doesn’t do much to move the needle. Over his previous two appearances, Hurts has completed just 49.1% of his passes (27-of-55) for 276 yards with no touchdowns and those three picks against the Giants.

It’s hampered his season stat line a bit, having completed just 60.1% of his attempts in 2021 for 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.

The 23-year-old has now played in 16 games — which before this season, was a full season’s worth — with 57.7% completion percentage, 3,496 yards, 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.

His ability to run covers up some of those blemishes — most notably the low completion percentage — but Sunday is going to provide a true test for Hurts. Can he lead the Eagles to victory when the run game might not have as much success compared to recent weeks?

If he struggles early in what could be viewed as a must-win game, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Minshew get the call.

It will help answer just how confident the Eagles can be in their young quarterback and if he truly is the long-term answer for the future.

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