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New Orleans Saints brace for challenge of new starting quarterback for Philadelphia Eagles

Rookie Jalen Hurts will make his first NFL start on Sunday against Saints

Game action photos from the New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons matchup in Week 13 of the 2020 NFL season.

Jalen Hurts hasn't provided for the New Orleans Saints an extensive sample size to plan from, but enough that the Saints seem to have a good understanding of what to expect when Hurts makes his first NFL start at quarterback for Philadelphia on Sunday.

The Saints (10-2), winners of nine straight and with one of the top across-the-board defenses in the NFL, will face the Eagles (3-8-1) on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia when Hurts, the Eagles' second-round draft pick this year, opens at quarterback.

Hurts had played sparingly until last Sunday, in Philadelphia's 30-16 loss to Green Bay. In 10 previous games he'd completed all three pass attempts, for 33 yards and no touchdowns, with no interceptions. Mostly, he'd been a running threat (12 carries for 56 yards).

But with the Eagles' offense struggling, Hurts relieved starter Carson Wentz against the Packers and completed five of 12 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, with an interception, and ran five times for 29 yards.

"There's an element of the running game that's unique, and it's not just zone read," Saints Coach Sean Payton said of Hurts' presence. "It's some of that, you saw (it) with Carson (Wentz). Both of those guys are athletic guys that can make plays out of the pocket. They're both very good out of the pocket.

"But there is an element of the run game that will be important for us this week if we're getting some designed quarterback runs. They're different, and yet we have to defend the offense that we see and have good eyes and be smart enough to see what's new that maybe we hadn't seen."

Eagles Coach Doug Pederson reiterated Wednesday that the quarterback switch was made in an effort to jump-start the offense.

"Just looking for something to just kind of get the offense in rhythm, try to click," Pederson said. "And it's unfortunate, but usually the quarterback position is the one change that you have to make. And I made it on Sunday, and then this week.

"In Jalen's case, he does have a unique skill set. He's mobile, much like Carson, and a good arm and things of that nature. But I just need him to go in there and just execute and run the offense. Just be Jalen Hurts, and do the things that got him to this level, won him a couple of college championships (at Alabama) and just be him."

Hurts played three years at Alabama, started as a true freshman and sophomore and completed 394 of 637 passes (62 percent) for 4,861 yards and 40 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions, in his first two seasons. He also had 345 carries for 1,809 yards and 21 scores.

But after Tua Tagovailoa took over as the starter entering Hurts' junior season, he transferred to Oklahoma to play as a senior. There, he completed 237 of 340 passes for 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and ran 233 times for 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns.

"I remember his college film, I remember going through the interview process," Payton said. "All of it. He's someone that obviously won games. He transferred from Alabama, he was definitely one of the quarterbacks that we were paying attention to and making sure we researched and graded thoroughly."

Pederson said that Hurts' growth has shown during the season.

"I think the biggest thing is his communication, just understanding our offense and communicating it not only to the players, but back to us as coaches," Pederson said. "His understanding of what we're trying to get done

"It's a lot of information for young quarterbacks to take on at this level, and he's done a really nice job with that. He's in a good position. Again, I'm not going to ask him to be Carson Wentz. I'm going to ask him to be Jalen Hurts and do the things that he can do, but he does have a good grasp of our offense since Day 1."

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