Style Points in the Desert as Jalen Hurts Keeps Eagles in a Shootout

The Arizona Cardinals edged the Eagles, 33-26, Sunday afternoon, and inched closer to a playoff position while also putting Philadelphia on life support
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The Arizona Cardinals edged the Eagles, 33-26, Sunday afternoon, and inched closer to a playoff position while also putting Philadelphia on life support, but the real winner in the desert may have been Lincoln Riley.

The Oklahoma coach who mentored both Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts in recent seasons watched both of his star students set career-highs in passing yards as Murray, the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner with the Sooners, did just enough to outlast his successor at OU, the 2019 Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts.

Murray tossed for 406 yards and three touchdowns while adding 29 more on the ground and another score for the Cardinals (8-6). 

Hurts, making his second professional start after Carson Wentz was benched, answered with 338 yards and three scores and 63 more rushing with another score as the Eagles' (4-9-1)  dream of another late-season run toward the NFC East title took a potential death blow.

Style points are never the goal in the NFL but Hurts earned plenty despite failing to get the Eagles over the top fighting through the adversity of an early 16-0 deficit and keeping the Eagles until the waning seconds.

Here's the report card for a number of the key components:

Jalen Hurts - A: The Eagles rookie is cooler than the other side of the pillow. No matter the situation, no matter the stakes, Hurts' hands are steady and his pulse is resting.

In theory, the three biggest hurdles Hurts had to overcome in his second professional start figured to be the familiarity, consistency, and the somewhat unique pass-rushing package Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph can unfurl.

The Cards were the first team to face the Eagles' rookie with professional tape at their disposal and the knock on most young QBs in staying consistent from week to week. 

Meanwhile, Doug Pederson acknowledged that the Eagles would have to rely on veteran center Jason Kelce for the right protection calls against the exotic pash-rushing looks.

Down 16-0 with the wheels coming off in all three phases, Hurts simply went back to work and gave the Eagles opportunities right down to the final moments when two seam passes to Dallas Goedert were nearly completed and a couple of Hail Marys had Cardinals fans hitting the oxygen tanks.

The Banged-Up Secondary - C: The bad news came on Saturday when the Eagles announced that Darius Slay would not travel to Arizona, unable to get through the concussion protocol in time for Sunday's playoff-like matchup. That came a day after Avonte Maddox was shut down for the rest of the regular season after being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Long story short, that meant the Eagles would roll into the desert against a Kliff Kingsbury offense that uses four wide more than any other team in the NFL with veteran slot man Nickell Robey-Coleman and a cast that just introduced itself to one another like Kevon Seymour, undrafted rookie Michael Jacquet, and practice-squad callup Jameson Houston. 

Despite that, Jim Schwartz kept Jalen Mills at safety with Marcus Epps filling in for Rodney McLeod, who was also lost to a torn ACL last week and the outmanned group battled.

DeAndre Hopkins was spectacular with nine receptions for 169 yards in 11 targets but Jacquet made him work. Eagles killer Larry Fitzgerald also found the end zone with a brilliant catch.

All things considered, however, things could have been much worse.

The Red-Zone Defense - B: The Cards came into the game having not turned it over in the red-zone even once in 13 games.

The Eagles not only got them twice but it was the young, unproven guys victimizing the Arizona stars. Jacquet stripped Hopkins early and Epps intercepted Murray in the end zone.

The Special Teams - F: Murphy's Law has settled on Dave Fipp's watch and it all came crashing down in Arizona. A blocked punt, a rare Rick Lovato bad snap, being caught on a fake punt, and a Cam Johnson concussion. This has been the worst special teams season of the Fipp era and this was the worst game of the season.

Quez Watkins - B: Of all the speed Howie Roseman brought in this spring, someone finally translated it to the field in Quez Watkins.

The rookie got the edge on a WR  screen thanks to a Chuck Foreman-like spin move and good blocks by Dallas Goedert and Jordan Mailata. From there he simply flashed deuces to those trailing him for his first NFL touchdown. Even Jalen Reagor's 73-yard punt return didn't look as explosive as Watkins in real-time.

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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