Eagles notebook

Eagles notebook: Why Jalen Hurts was excited to meet LeBron James

In the latest Eagles notebook, Jalen Hurts meets LeBron James, third-down defense and more.

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Jalen Hurts isn’t seen out on the town very much but he made an exception last week, taking his dad Averion to the Sixers-Lakers game at Wells Fargo Center.

It was a chance for father and son to watch greatness from up close.

“I rarely go but I had never been able to see LeBron (James) play, I never met him,” Hurts said on Wednesday. “He’s a great player. He’s so transcendent in terms of the things he’s been able to do on the court, off the court. He’s changed the game in so many different ways. Just thought it would be cool to go see him and obviously I had the opportunity to meet him and I wanted him to shake my dad’s hand too.

“That’s a guy that my dad has watched being an older guy, watched him grow into the monumental figure he is now. He’s been doing it for 21 years, 22 years, something like that. So it’s just all love and respect for him.”

James is 38 now so Hurts was thinking the way most sports fans think. Better see  him while you have the chance.

But the cool thing about Hurts’ trip to the game was that LeBron was just as excited to meet Hurts as Hurts was to meet LeBron.

“It’s just an appreciation there,” Hurts said. “Like I said, everybody has different walks and everybody has different avenues that they go down to achieve their goals and chase their dreams. There are a lot of people that look up to him. That’s something to appreciate. Just meeting him and feeling that mutual respect and just being able to talk to him, he’s very down to Earth and definitely a competitor and about his business. Much respect to him.”

Need to get off the field

The Eagles were able to pull off an improbable win last week against the Bills. Had they lost that game, we probably would have spent a good portion of the previous week talking about their third-down defense.

It wasn’t very good against Buffalo.

The Bills converted on 13 of 22 third downs in Week 12 and 6 of those conversions came on 3rd-and-7 or longer.

What were the issues against Buffalo?

“Comes down to a lot of things,” defensive coordinator Sean Desai said. “Always starts with me trying to put them in different calls and get our guys in better positions to make some plays. And give credit to them. They did a good job. The quarterback did a good job of extending some plays and making some courageous throws in some tight windows, and even converting a couple with his feet.

“And so, I think it's a function of everything. It's a function of me putting our guys in better positions and our guys executing and straining a little bit longer when you play a quarterback like that. It was a good experience because that's what will help mitigate some of our rep counts, too, getting off the field in those critical situations.”

A big part of the problem against the Bills was simply Josh Allen. He was the best player on the field and used his legs to avoid pressure and either throw for first downs or run for them. But it’s not like this game was a complete outlier either.

Entering Week 13, the Eagles are 29th in the NFL when it comes to 3rd-and-7+ situations. They have given up 28 first downs on 95 such attempts:

32. Cardinals: 33.8%
31. Broncos: 32.9%
30. Bears: 30.6%
29. Eagles: 29.5%

Smitty catches everything

DeVonta Smith catches everything. OK, not everything. But pretty close.

Since Week 8, Smith has caught 23 of 26 targets and he has the highest catch rate in the NFL during that span among receivers with at least 20 targets. What makes it even more impressive is that Smith is averaging 15.4 yards per catch during that span, which is higher than his career mark of 13.3.

So it’s not like he’s just catching a bunch of high-probability passes. Here’s a look at the top 10 league-wide in catch percentage since Week 8.

1. DeVonta Smith: 88.5% (15.4)
2. Rashee Rice: 81.8% (12.3)
3. Khalil Shakir: 81.0% (19.7)
4. Brandin Cooks: 80.0% (17.2)
5. Keenan Allen: 78.5% (10.6)
6. Amon-Ra St. Brown: 77.5% (14.1)
7. Tyreek Hill: 76.1% (12.1)
8. Jakobi Myers: 75.0% (13.7)
9. Michael Pittman Jr.: 73.9% (8.7)
10. Zay Flowers: 73.1% (9.0) 

“I think you've seen the last couple games he has had more opportunities with Dallas (Goedert) out,” head coach Nick Sirianni said.” But he's always going to be a focal point on our offense because we know how good of a football player he is and his playmaking ability.

“I think right now we have the target share the way we envision it. Is that going to be a perfect science every time? No. There will be times he has more targets than A.J. and sometimes A.J. has more targets than him.

“There is no doubt about it that he's a big-time playmaker in our offense, and we have a lot of good play makers in our offense. It's a challenge to get them all the football, but it's a good challenge to have, because the options are obviously you feel good about your play calls any time it's going to No. 6, No. 11, No. 88, No. 0.”

Who is WR3?

At wide receiver, the Eagles have A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith at the top of the pecking order but there’s not a clear cut No. 3 receiver.

And Sirianni doesn’t think they need one.

“Yeah, I don't think that's necessary,” Sirianni said. “I think they all do a nice job of having their different strengths and different things they can do. So, no, I think the more guys that you can play in that role, the deeper you are, that's a good thing for us.”

Early in the season, the Eagles did have a clear cut No. 3; it was Quez Watkins. He played 52 of 66 snaps in the season opener but suffered a hamstring injury in Week 2 and things have really changed since then. Olamide Zaccheaus has made some plays this year and the Eagles signed future Hall of Famer Julio Jones in October.

Against the Bills, Jones had 47 snaps, while Zaccheaus played 18 and Watkins played 16. But it’s also important to note that Jones might be getting more reps right now because Dallas Goedert has been out with a forearm injury.

It’ll be fascinating to see what happens at WR3 the rest of the way.

“We’re pleased with Julio, we're pleased with Quez, we're pleased with OZ,” Sirianni said. “They've all done different things in different games that have helped us win games. We'll continue to use all three of those guys. And Britain (Covey) obviously too, has a role that maybe you don't see a lot of plays out of it right yet, but maybe you'll continue to see him in that as well.

More rain coming

There’s some rain in the forecast for Sunday, which won’t be anything new to the Eagles. Their last two games — in Kansas City and home against the Bills — have been in rainy and cold conditions.

“You obviously can’t let an external factor dictate the game or dictate how you approach the game,” Hurts said. “Of course it’s awesome to have down South in Florida or in Houston, wherever the domes are, those things are obviously convenient for that. 

“But you always want to try to use it as an advantage. It’s something that we’re able to prepare in and prepare for. There are a lot of other teams that don’t experience those conditions. So when they come up here, it’s something they have to deal with.”

The Eagles spend some time during the week preparing for rain when it’s in the forecast. They’ll wet the footballs and sometimes they’ll come up with some innovative ways to simulate rain, especially on special teams. One things we’ve noticed on punt return drills is wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead squeezing a water bottle as the punt returners settle under the ball. They’ll also wet the hands of snapper Rick Lovato and Braden Mann, who had perfect execution on that 59-yarder last week.

Maybe this stuff works, maybe it doesn’t. But it can’t hurt.

“When it does present itself, you're ready for it,” special teams coordinator Michael Clay said. “And Nick does an unbelievable job of allowing us as coaches and reminding us as coaches, ‘hey, there may be inclement weather on whatever day we're playing, let's get these guys ready and prepared so it's not the first time it happens in a game;’ they've already done it.

“We always implement that, whether it's on the side or in a period, to get these guys ready. And again, they do an unbelievable job preparing themselves for those types of conditions.”

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