PHILADELPHIA – It wasn’t supposed to be this way, where the Eagles have their quarterback and running back leading a potential Super Bowl run, while the Giants could be on the verge of starting over with theirs.
After all, the Eagles took their running back and quarterback in the second round – Miles Sanders in 2019 and Jalen Hurts in 2020, respectively – and the intention was not for them to become franchise players. After all, the Eagles already had franchise QB Carson Wentz on the roster when they drafted Hurts.
And running backs are mostly a crapshoot. That’s why few are taken in the first round.
GIANT STEPS:How these 2 Delaware high school stars beat long odds to find roles in the Giants’ playoff run
MORE REVENGE?Eagles’ James Bradberry has some thoughts on facing the Giants after his release
The Giants, on the other hand, were fully expecting franchise cornerstones when they took running back Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall in 2018 and quarterback Daniel Jones No. 6 overall in 2019.
That’s not to say Barkley has been a disappointment. After all, he has three 1,000-yard seasons, and is on pace to have the best season of his career with 1,055 yards so far this season.
Yet as the Eagles get ready to face the Giants on Sunday, it is very possible that Hurts will be the only player remaining on either team next season after firmly establishing himself as the franchise QB with an MVP-caliber performance for the 11-1 Eagles.
Still, Jones and Barkley are big reasons why the Giants are 7-4-1 this season after not winning more than 6 games in any season since they last made the playoffs in 2016. Barkley is listed as questionable for Sunday with a neck injury.
They are both eligible for free agency after the season, as is Sanders.
Jones can move on because the Giants did not pick up his fifth-year option for 2023 which would have paid him in the $25 million range next season. That’s about the middle of the quarterback pay scale. And that’s about where Jones rates as a quarterback.
ALL IN with Art Stapleton: A NY Giants Podcast – ALL IN with Art Stapleton: A NY Giants Podcast
That’s basically how Eagles coach Nick Sirianni put it when asked about Jones.
“I see him doing a really nice job on taking care of the football, not screwing anything up over there, just good quarterback play,” Sirianni said. “A lot of times, that is good quarterback play, where you’re not putting the ball in danger.”
Jones is 17th in passer rating at 91.2. But he’s more dangerous this season because his running ability, much like Hurts’, makes defenders account for him. That makes Barkley more effective, much like Hurts makes Sanders more effective.
Sanders is sixth in rushing with 924 yards. Hurts has 609 yards rushing, ranking third among QBs, while Jones has 522, ranking fifth.
But Hurts is on an entirely different level than Jones as a quarterback. Hurts is third in passer rating at 108.3. He has thrown 20 touchdown passes against just 3 interceptions, while Jones has thrown 11 TD passes and 4 INTs.
Giants coach Brian Daboll has known this about Hurts ever since he was Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2017, when Hurts was a sophomore. Hurts was coming off a freshman season when he led the Crimson Tide to the national championship. The next year with Daboll, Hurts took Alabama back to the title game, but was benched at halftime for Tua Tagovailoa.
Still, Daboll saw then what the Eagles are seeing now.
“I think one word that defines Jalen is consistency,” Daboll said. “He’s always hungry. He’s one of the best leaders that I’ve been around, and he was young at that particular time … He was all-day football. He knew how to relate to everyone in his unit. The mental toughness that he has, and his ability to just focus on the next thing, and not worry about what happened the last game or the last play.
“The things that he’s done this year, he should be at the top of the list of the MVP discussion.”
To see the difference, all you have to do is look back to the last time Hurts played at MetLife Stadium, on Nov. 28, 2021, when the Eagles lost 13-7 to the Giants. Hurts had his worst game in the NFL, throwing 3 interceptions, completing just 45.2% of his passes for a career-worst 17.5 passer rating.
He hurt his ankle in the third quarter, and that clearly affected him the rest of the season. He even missed the Eagles’ next game because of it. He ended up having offseason surgery.
Since then, Hurts is 14-1 as a starter, not including the playoff loss to Tampa Bay. He has thrown 23 touchdown passes against 4 interceptions, and his passer rating since then is 107.0.
Hurts was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in each of the last two weeks, making him the first Eagles player to be so honored in consecutive weeks. He’s also the first QB in NFL history to throw for 300 or more yards one game after rushing for 150 or more yards.
So what did Hurts learn from that Giants game?
“I think there’s a reflection after every game, and you want to be honest with yourself when you look in the mirror and assess the way you played and assess the way you did your job,” he said. “That’s after every win (too) … I had an ankle. And you turn the ball over and good things don’t happen.
“That’s something we’ve learned from every other game. I don’t want to just single out this game. You learn from everything.”
As for the bigger picture, it is much more important to draft the right quarterback than it is the right running back.
After all, 5 of the top 10 leading rushers play on teams that wouldn’t make the playoffs if the season ended today. As for the top 10 quarterbacks in passer ratings, only 1 wouldn’t make the playoffs.
“I’m happy for Saquon, happy with the way his year’s been going,” Sanders said. “I know before the season, we talked, and we were both like, stay healthy and we’ll be in the top five both of us. We’re trying to keep that thing rolling.”
It just might be with someone else after this season.
Here’s the Giants’ only chance:
The Giants would be wise to borrow a page from the Eagles’ playbook in order to have a chance Sunday.
Back in 2021, the Eagles didn’t have the passing attack or wide receivers to win with Hurts’ arm, so they used his legs. And that, in turn, made the running backs better, whether it was Sanders, Jordan Howard or Boston Scott. The Eagles led the NFL in rushing, finished 7-3 and made the playoffs after a 2-5 start.
The Giants don’t have the passing attack this year, other than deep threat Darius Slayton. But Jones’ running ability has helped Barkley. If the Giants can control the time of possession, at the very least they’ll keep the Eagles’ offense off the field.
And really, they’re going to have to. On defense, the Giants aren’t expected to have star defensive tackle Leonard Williams, and they won’t have top cornerback Adoree Jackson.
So the Eagles can pretty much pick their method of attack, whether it’s through the air with AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith, or the running game with Hurts and Sanders. In fact, they can probably switch back and forth during the game.
Prediction: Eagles 31, Giants 13
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.