American Football

Secrets of the Push Jalen Hurts Club


Secrets of the Push Jalen Hurts Club
Mike Tanier
07 Feb 2023, 10:36am

Eagles QB Jalen Hurts

PHOENIX – The first rule of the Push Jalen Hurts Club: at the start of a quarterback sneak, make sure Hurts actually has the football. 

“The first time we did it, I pushed too early,” said Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert, speaking at Super Bowl Opening Night on Monday. “Jalen didn’t quite have the snap and he almost fumbled it.”

“My only job is to make sure the ball is snapped clean,” running back Miles Sanders said, emphasizing that ball security is priority one.

The second rule of the Push Jalen Hurts Club should be obvious: PUSH JALEN HURTS.

“First, make sure he gets the snap,’ said rookie tight end Grant Calcaterra, who often finds himself among the teammates tasked with cramming the Eagles quarterback into the pile on fourth-and-short or at the goal line. “Second, once he gets the snap, just push him as much as you can.“

“It’s all about timing,” Goedert said. “And once Jalen gets the ball up to his chest, I just start pushing.”

“Hopefully, he’s low enough,” Sanders said. “And then we just use all our power.”

The third rule of the Push Jalen Hurts Club is the one you saw coming since the opening sentence: don’t talk about the Push Jalen Hurts Club.

“There’s a lot more that goes into it than what you think,” Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said of his team’s sneak tactics.

Like what, Coach?

“That’s the secret to the sauce,” Stoutland said. “You look like a nice Italian guy. You probably have a little secret to your sauce, right? Well, does your mom tell that to everybody? No.”

Stoutland was correct on all points, though not helpful. 

Eagles OL coach Jeff Stoutland
Eagles OL coach Jeff Stoutland
Eagles TE Dallas Goedert
Eagles TE Dallas Goedert

Here’s what we do know: the Eagles began pushing Hurts (and Gardner Minshew) from behind on quarterback sneaks with more intentionality and force than the modern NFL has ever seen midway through the season. As I wrote for The New York Times in January, the Eagles became the most prolific sneaking team in modern NFL history, as well as one of the most productive. The Eagles converted 29 first downs or touchdowns on 33 sneaks in the regular season, both figures the highest on record. 

The Eagles’ success on sneaks emboldened Nick Sirianni to lead the NFL in Aggressiveness Index at 1.57. That means that the Eagles were 57% more likely to go for it on fourth downs than other teams facing similar situations (based on the norms established over the last five years, when teams have grown much more aggressive in general). 

Other teams are emulating the Eagles success; if the “push sneak” remains legal — the competition committee is likely to take a long offseason look at a play which at least appears hazardous to the quarterback’s health — it will probably revolutionize fourth-down and short-yardage tactics.

Stoutland was reluctant to attribute too much of the Eagles’ success to the fact that two or three teammates are using Hurts like a battering ram. “It helps,” he said. “But we did it for years without that. And we had a lot of success.”

Stoutland may be underselling the value of the push. As former Chiefs offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz told me for that Times piece, push-the-quarterback tactics work against the defense’s long-standing tactic of going low to create a pile of writhing mayhem for the quarterback to cope with.

“If defenders go low, the offensive line can go over the top, and it becomes like a springboard for the quarterback to get shoved over the pile,” Schwartz explained.

If nothing else, extra manpower results in extra muscle propelling the quarterback forward. “I guess they think I’m a big, strong guy, so having me push him could get us the extra half yard that we need,” said Goedert, who believes he has logged more time as one of the pushers than any of his teammates.

Still, if there are any subtleties to the art of shoving Hurts to glory, then Eagles players, like Stoutland, aren’t talking much about it.

For example: there’s not really any specific strike point on Hurts’ body that his teammates are aiming for. 

“It’s just instinctive,” said tight end Jack Stoll, who has been among the pushers a few times.

“Whichever hip you’re on, push that hip,” Calcaterra explained.

“Sometimes I get him in the back,” Goedert said. “Sometimes I get him in the butt. Whatever we need to do to get that first down, that’s what we’re gonna do.”

Goedert enjoys his role as one of the primary pusher men. “It puts me in the backfield instead of running my face into a defensive end,” he said. “It makes my job a little bit easier.”

None of the Eagles players said that they were surprised when the push-sneak became so integral to the team’s offense. Sanders said the Eagles ran a few push plays when Carson Wentz was at quarterback. Calcaterra saw the tactic used now and then in college. Also, no one expresses too much worry about a Hurts injury, which may be a knock-on-wood situation.

So maybe there is nothing all that novel and unique about surrounding the quarterback with teammates and advancing like a Roman legion in a turtle formation.

Nah. Take it from someone who has been watching the NFL for over 40 years and has been tracking sneak stats for months: the Eagles sneak is very novel and unique.

The Eagles sneak is also not just one play. Watch a dozen Eagles sneaks and you might see a dozen variations on personnel groupings and formations.

Again, no one wanted to talk much about the differences, though Goedert provided a hint. “We’ve got so many quarterback sneaks in our playbook, it’s unheard of.”

A whole playbook full of sneaks? Maybe that’s the secret in the sauce.

Stay tuned to Football Outsiders for more sights and sounds from the Super Bowl throughout the week.

by Chuckc // Feb 07, 2023 – 11:36am

The push play needs to go. It’s ugly and has no place in modern football.

Points: 0

by dmb // Feb 07, 2023 – 11:42am

I don’t mind the aesthetics, but I will say that 4th-and-shorts provide much more tension / drama when the outcome doesn’t feel like a foregone conclusion.

Points: 1

by Oncorhynchus // Feb 07, 2023 – 12:56pm

I disagree. I kind of like the feeling of inevitability. It really puts the defense in the role of the tie fighter vs the Death Star. I’m all for doomed efforts in lost causes. Because when you do get a stop it’s that much more exhilarating. It’s sort of like a missed extra point – but worth a lot more. The EPA of an extra point is like -0.93 or something. The EPA of failed QB sneak at 4th and goal from the 1 is probably more like -5.5.

I mean, would you prefer the Eagles do something like, I don’t know, say throw a pass from on second and goal from the 1 yardline while trailing by 4 with 20 seconds left in the Super Bowl? Seems kind of stupid to me.

Points: 1

by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 07, 2023 – 11:42am

Defenses need to start using cataphracts and horse archers.

Points: 1

by anotheroldguy // Feb 07, 2023 – 12:06pm

Discussed in another thread a month or so ago, I don’t remember who, but a commenter stated it exactly right IMO: The ball should be dead immediately as soon as an offensive player is deemed to be materially pushing (or pulling IMO) the ball carrier forward. Sort of parallel to the rule about losing the ball carrier’s helmet added a few years ago.

No penalty needed, just remove the incentive to do this. It’s dangerous, and AFAIC it’s ugly and unnecessary and outside the spirit of the game. “Incidental” hands on the ball carrier can be ignored.

Points: -2

by mrh // Feb 07, 2023 – 12:10pm

It’s not just the Eagles’ sneak, pushing the ball carrier has become ubiquitous.  Pushing the ball carrier forward should be made illegal, IMO.  But part of it is refs’ not ruling forward progress stopped.  Just re-watched SB LIV and there was one play where the back was pushed forward about two yards before going down, but the refs had blown the play dead before the pushing started.  This year he would have gfotten the additional yardage.

Points: 0

by BigRichie // Feb 07, 2023 – 12:28pm

Speaking as a rugby player, the ‘Push!’ play is so so cool! It’s great fun watching the big fat guys pushing on a pile and the pile going forward!

(intellectually speaking, I more agree with dmb)

(oh, and when the Eagles lined up for the ‘Push!” play and then pitched it outside instead, that was cool too!)

Points: 0

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