When the 49ers played the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season, quarterback Jalen Hurts was starting his 16th career game. Hurts went 12-for-23 for 190 yards while adding ten carries for 82 yards on the ground, including a 27-yarder and a touchdown.
Outside of maybe Chicago in Week 15 this season — a game where Hurts suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for two games — Hurts hasn’t played anywhere near as poorly in 2022. It helps to have A.J. Brown, a more seasoned DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert as your weapons.
Hurts rushed for fewer yards on more attempts this season, but his legs become a threat when games are decided by one score. Hurts had seven games this season where he carried the ball ten or more times. The one game that wasn’t decided by less than a touchdown where Hurts had double-digit carries came back in Week 2 in a blowout victory against the Vikings.
Fred Warner was reminded Wednesday how the 49ers' defense has struggled against designed quarterback runs this season:
Fred Warner was asked about how the 49ers would defend the "read option" and his initial response sums up how players feel about PFF. pic.twitter.com/7YzZsE5HiN— KP (@KP_Show) January 25, 2023
While that reads like a jab at PFF, Warner is likely more upset at the information presented as well as the term “read option.”
I’d argue the plays where everyone is covered, and the quarterback breaks the pocket to scramble has been the most dangerous play for opposing quarterbacks this season. A week ago, Dak Prescott converted a 4th & 4 on this type of play. But he also had a designed run near the goal line, which the 49ers failed to defend.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan explained how Hurts has improved in a year and a half:
“He’s just gotten more consistent. You can see in that game, the ability that he has and what he was close to doing a number of times. He made some big throws in that game and we contained him fairly well, but I think we’re up 17-3, with five minutes to go and then he started getting going again and they brought it right into a one score game so you could see the ability that he had real early on and I know towards the end of that year he started getting on a roll and that’s when why they ended up making the playoffs last year because of how good he got after that, but we could see signs of it in that game and now just watching him this year hearing about it, he is borderline NFL MVP and then turning the film on these last two days, he’s just like how he was with potential and now he’s doing it down in and down out.”
Hurts is more of a threat to run than Prescott, is a better deep ball thrower, and doesn’t put the ball in harm’s way as much as Dak. Plus, Philadelphia’s weapons and offensive line are superior to Dallas.
There’s a reason the Eagles are in the NFC Championship, and their quarterback is near the top of that list.