Packers defensive plan fails from the outset despite 10 days to prepare for Jalen Hurts

Kassidy Hill
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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PHILADELPHIA − The Green Bay Packers had 10 days to prepare for this game. They had 10 days to watch film of Jalen Hurts, to assess his threat as a runner, balance it against his ability as a passer and craft the best counter possible. There were 10 days to look at the Philadelphia Eagles' previous nine wins and one loss and determine how to best bottle up Hurts and running back Miles Sanders. 

One has to wonder what was done with those 10 days. 

Because on Sunday, the Packers' 40-33 loss to the Eagles came on the heels of Hurts pulling off the best rushing performance by a Philadelphia quarterback in a franchise history that includes Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb. By the time dust had settled, Hurts had 157 yards on 17 rushes. As a team, the Eagles ran for 363 of their 500 total yards.

“That’s just … I don’t know. I don’t know,” Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas said after the loss. 

Hurts had 103 rushing yards in the first quarter alone, the most by an NFL quarterback in a quarter in 45 years. The damage started on the game's third play. On third-and-10 from his own 25-yard line, Hurts broke away from initial pressure by Preston Smith, spun out of missed tackles by Quay Walker and Darnell Savage (who was hurt on the one snap he played) and scampered for 24 yards before Rudy Ford finally knocked him out of bounds. 

There will always be humbling moments when playing against Hurts. He was averaging 44 yards on the ground per game before Sunday night, always picking and choosing his moments to run while preferring to be a pass-first quarterback. But the Packers' inability to tackle in the open field manifested itself in the Eagles going up 13-0 in the first 6 minutes of the game. 

“I think our guys charted for 15 missed tackles,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “It’s tough to stop anything if you have 15 missed tackles. They have a great scheme. They have great players. We knew this was one of the best offensive lines in the National Football League coming into the game. 

Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles runs with the ball during the first quarter as Darnell Savage of the Green Bay Packers attempts to tackle him.

“When you go out there and have a great scheme with great players that can go out there and execute, it makes it difficult. It’s hard to look at that number. We have to be better. We have to have a better plan. We have to go out there and execute better. We have to tackle better. Because that can’t happen in this league.”

Added Douglas, “He knows how to make guys miss out of space. That’s what he always, he’s always been that way and that’s what he did … I think we could have tackled better but he made plays.”

On the next third down on the same opening drive, facing a third-and-6 from the Green Bay 24, Hurts emptied the backfield just before the snap. A linebacker followed the Eagles running back, signaling man coverage, and Hurts used the numbers to his advantage on a designed quarterback draw from the pass-run option to pick up 28 yards. Two plays later, the Eagles scored. 

“We just kind of played it how they were playing it. We knew we were being dominant on the ground so we just kept going,” Eagles receiver AJ Brown said. "I (was) pretty sure they’re gonna play a lot more zone, put a spy on him. But once again, (Jalen) was just running around. I think that’s just one of his gifts.”

The Packers offense responded, taking a 14-13 lead at one point, tying the game at 20 another and pulling within one possession in the fourth quarter. 

“The way that the game was going, personally, I thought it was just gonna be that type of game,” Douglas said, “where our offense was scoring, their offense was scoring. Eventually it’s gonna slow down.” 

But it didn’t slow down, on either side. As the Packers offense put together one of its better performances this season, the defense was unable to respond. 

The other issue with the Packers defense against Hurts was its inability to keep him from breaking out beyond their containment. Losing containment on a shifty quarterback is one thing. Never having containment is another matter and one that starts before the ball is snapped. The plan, at least in theory according to Packers defensive players, was to keep a spy on Hurts.

Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders ran for 143 yards against the Green Bay Packers.

“We all got rules so we were playing our keys, playing our rules,” defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. “They do a good job. He had a couple of counter QB reads and he got out of the pocket on passing situations, so we gotta do a better job of contain.” 

Said Hurts: “I think you have to go out there and respond to what they’re giving you. You have to be able to see what they’re giving you and react to it accordingly and appropriately. I feel like we were able to do that the majority of the time today. There were some unique things that they did and I think we tried to overcome them, which we did.” 

Asked after the loss if the right game plan was in place, safety Adrian Amos responded, “Well, we gave up 40 so I guess not.”

Whether the game plan was right or wrong, though, Amos knows more can be done.

“We can go to the film and as player you can't just say that,” Amos said. “You can't just be like 'oh well, we didn't have the right game plan.' 'Cause we lost, we did, but we gotta go watch film, we gotta evaluate ourselves and where we could've been better regardless of what the plan was going out there.”

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On the Packers sideline, Clark preached much the same message. 

“Stick to it, stick to it. We got rules and as long as we do our job, (Hurts) was gonna be fine,” Clark said. “After that first half, we didn’t really get that many quarterback reads 'cause we adjusted to it, did what we was supposed to do. So as long as we do what we supposed to do, he wouldn’t have tried those plays. So we need to do better overall.” 

Hurts had seven rushes for 31 yards in the second half, but then the Eagles turned to Sanders, who gained 92 of his 143 rushing yards after halftime. 

“I think collectively, we have to be a lot better,” LaFleur said. “Every individual on the defense. And it wasn’t just the defense. I mean we can’t turn the ball over. So bottom line is you win as a team, you lose as a team. It has to be better, period.”

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