Welcome to Heavy In The Trenches, a weekly Wednesday column by Heavy NFL insider Matt Lombardo, bringing you insight on the latest storylines and rumblings around the league. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattLombardoNFL.
Playing his second game of a season-long audition to be the Eagles’ future, and the franchise quarterback, Hurts announced his arrival to the nation.
The three-year veteran Hurts authored the kind of performance against a prolific Minnesota Vikings team that was reminiscent of some of Michael Vick’s, Donovan McNabb’s, and Randall Cunningham’s signature moments in the City of Brotherly Love.
Hurts looked vastly improved, and more patient, in the pocket as he completed 83.9 percent of his passes for 333 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. And, as mobile as ever. Hurts picked his spots when to run against the Vikings, rushing for 57 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 26-yard dash to the end zone that made hurts appear indiscernible from Lamar Jackson.
On a national stage, with the likes of Bradley Cooper, James Harden, and Bryce Harper in the seats at Lincoln Financial Field, Hurts threw his coming-out party.
“He has all the confidence you could ever ask for at that position,” an NFC personnel executive told Heavy. “They gave him more weapons. The team got better, he got better, and maybe most importantly, it’s another year in the same system.”
That confidence shined through, especially during a brilliant first half that saw Hurts complete 17-of-20 passes for 251 yards and 1 touchdown while rushing for 2 more scores.
Since walking off the field in the Eagles’ humbling NFC Wild Card loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Hurts has grown leaps and bounds in terms of his patience in the pocket going through his progressions, improved his accuracy, and has really maximized the likes of A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins in Philadelphia’s revamped receiving corps.
“The thing with Jalen and these other young quarterbacks,” the executive pointed out. “It’s all about getting another year in the same system, building confidence, and then adding players around them. He has no choice but to be pretty good.”
Hurts has been better than good.
Through two games, the three-year veteran has completed 69.8% of his passes for 576 yards with 1 touchdown, 1 interception and averaged 5.3 yards per rush with 3 rushing touchdowns.
“Jalen’s a guy I wouldn’t bet against,” Jim Nagy, the Executive Director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, where Hurts appeared in 2020, told Heavy. “When you have a guy who is that determined and has that kind of work ethic, I don’t want to bet against guys like him.
“You hear a lot of people talking about how Jalen’s gotten better every year since his freshman year at Alabama, that’s the truth. He got better during the week here in Mobile [at the Senior Bowl], and then I went to the NFL Combine and was on the field watching him throw at that workout, and he threw the ball better there than he threw it here, and this guy just keeps making the jump. When you have the leadership and the intangibles that he has, and factor in his work ethic, what he’s doing now, I wouldn’t bet against him.”
If Hurts keeps up this torrid pace, not only will the Eagles undoubtedly surge into the catbird seat of a wide-open NFC, but the biggest question facing the franchise will be answered: Can general manager Howie Roseman deploy a pair of 2023 first-round NFL draft picks to build around Hurts, rather than creatively use them to wheel and deal to take another spin at the quarterback roulette wheel?
At least for now, Hurts is making an emphatic statement that this is his team.
Beyond a statistically prolific start to the season, Hurts has all the leadership intangibles that teammates are drawn to, and will run through a wall for. He’s also built for surviving and thriving in the Philadelphia pressure cooker.
“What I like the most about Jalen Hurts is that he’s a very mature guy, especially for his age,” the executive said. “He’s been through a lot, and he’s handled it right. Physically, he’s built for success. He has all the tools you need.”
Meet the Artist Bringing Chargers’ Offense Into Focus
Joe Lombardi isn’t just the Los Angeles Chargers’ offensive coordinator, he’s the artist who gets to bring to life a blank canvas each week.
Lombardi’s palate includes franchise quarterback Justin Herbert, All-Pro wideout Keenan Allen, Pro Bowl running back Austin Ekeler, and rookie fullback Zander Horvath, who’s already caught 2 touchdowns in his first two NFL games.
Horvath knows a thing or two about works of art, in a way that mirrors Lombardi’s creativity and imaginative play calls and game plans each week.
The rookie out of Purdue is an accomplished artist, who has done everything from commissioned pictures of homes and landscapes, to sketches of his teammates and coaches, at their request.
The 23-year-old has been drawing since he was a child and credits his mother, who has made several commissioned pieces over the years, with instilling the love of artwork in the Chargers star from a young age.
“I’ve been in the art area all my life,” Horvath told Heavy by phone. “It’s the kind of stuff I was always really good at, but I didn’t really pick up again until that first COVID break. I just had a ton of free time in the house, thought I’d pick that up again.”
Horvath’s sketch of a car that he later posted on Facebook drew traction with family and friends, which inspired not only a lucrative business drawing commissioned pieces, but fueled an off-the-field passion.
“I even did a couple portraits of my teammates and coach,” Horvath said.
Just as Horvath’s artistry requires meticulous patience; as he explains it by first using pencil to sketch a concept before adding detail with colored pencils, and eventually markers to make the finished product shine, so too does his craft on the gridiron, in the Chargers’ backfield.
“Both definitely require patience,” Horvath explained. “Whether you’re studying, watching film, or focused on the playbook, you aren’t just going to get it. You have to look at it for a long time, it takes repetition.
“Repetition is what is going to make you really perfect something. When I first started out, my drawings were decent, but the more I did, the better they got. It’s just like the more you study film and get to know your team, the better you’re going to get on the field.
Those reps are already paying dividends.
Pro Football Focus lists Horvath as the highest-graded fullback in the league, with a 73.8 overall mark. And, Horvath has sketched out a real role in a crowded offense that’s loaded with star-power. No small feat for a seventh-round pick.
Beyond a lucrative hobby, Horvath says his artistry has given him an edge on the competition when it comes to preparing for each week’s games.
“In order to perfect your craft, you’re going to have to be critical of yourself and detail-oriented,” Horvath pointed out. “You have to take input from people; in artwork, it’s my Mom, who I ask to take a look at my stuff. In football, it’s asking coaches to be critical of me, especially because you want to make improvement. You don’t want to be complacent. I think they both tie to each other really well.”
Top-10 NFL Power Rankings for Week 3
1. Buffalo Bills (2-0)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (2-0)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (2-0)
4. Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0)
6. Miami Dolphins (2-0)
7. Los Angeles Rams (1-1)
8. Green Bay Packers (1-1)
9. Baltimore Ravens (1-1)
10. San Francisco 49ers (1-1)
Quote of the Week
“That’s the part that’s bigger than football. There’s a football piece of that, but the bigger piece of the pie there is Dane (Jackson)’s health and well-being. That’s true for every one of our players and staff. We’re trying like heck to win games, but at the end of the day it’s quality of life and making sure everyone’s doing well that way.”
– Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott on CB Dane Jackson, following a frightening injury in Monday night’s Week 2 win over Tennessee
Jackson walked out of the hospital on Monday night, after being taken by ambulance to Erie County Medical Center, following a violent collision that caused his head and neck to snap backward while colliding with teammate Tremaine Edmunds.
Football is a thrilling sport, but hits and injuries like the one Jackson suffered on Monday night are a reminder of how violent a sport it truly is.
Thankfully, the best news received anywhere across the NFL on Tuesday was of Jackson’s release from the hospital, following one of the scarier scenes you’ll ever see on the field.
The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been a series of fits and starts through a 1-1 opening two weeks of the season.
As veteran quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has failed to surpass 200 passing yards in either of the first two games, Yinzers have been screaming on 93.7FM The Fan, and to anyone who will listen, that it’s time to get a look at first-round rookie Kenny Pickett.
They aren’t alone.
“They absolutely should go to Kenny Pickett, today,” an AFC Scouting Director told Heavy. “Mitch has never been a winner.”
Trubisky’s inconsistency combined with the Steelers coming up a field goal short against the New England Patriots in the Week 2 home opener in the Iron City, have created a maelstrom on the confluence.
However, not everyone agrees the time is right to pull the plug on the six-year veteran Trubisky, signed in the early stages of free agency. Even if the move is in favor of Pickett, the lone quarterback chosen in the first round of the 2022 draft.
“Not yet, the last thing you want to do is risk rushing him,” an AFC offensive coordinator told Heavy. “If I were in that room, I’d let him develop through the year. But, if it gets to the point that things aren’t going well after Week 6 or 7, that’s the perfect time to make the move.”
Pickett is intimately familiar with the pressure that comes from quarterbacking the Steelers. After all, he’s experienced it up-close-and-personal as the Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh share a connecting practice facility.
Prior to being chosen No. 20 overall, Pickett set the all-time passing record at the same program Dan Marino attended, producing 12,303 yards.
Gone are the days of quarterbacks taking a redshirt NFL year, or carrying a clipboard, for a season before actually getting on the field. While there are varying schools of thought on the best approach to beginning a quarterback’s career, the Steelers have the receivers, the running game, and an offensive scheme that could set Pickett up for immediate success.
Pickett also might be able to deliver the spark the Steelers desperately need in a hyper-competitive AFC North.
“For a young guy in the NFL, a rookie to come out of the chute, a lot of it is tied into the work ethic of a kid like Kenny [Pickett],” Jim Nagy explained, a year removed from hosting Pickett in Mobile, Alabama. “If you put in the work, the veterans on that team will follow you. I don’t know if they’ll go in that direction with him, but I do know if they put him in, he’s going to have the full support of all 10 other guys in that huddle.”
Winning also builds respect and support for whoever is behind center.
For Mike Tomlin and the Steelers, it is hard to believe that if the talent is close right now between Trubisky and Pickett that there is any upside to continue playing the veteran. If the wins don’t start stacking, maybe the change will come quicker than expected, and Steeler Nation will get their wish.
“I just haven’t seen an offense that Kenny Pickett has run over the last three years, where he didn’t move his guys,” Nagy explained. “I caught a few of their preseason games this summer, and he certainly didn’t look like a rookie from knowing where to look to go with the football, making quick decisions, he looked like a pretty experienced guy.”