• Jalen Hurts performing at high level: The third-year quarterback owns PFF's top passing grade through four weeks (85.7).
• Detroit Lions putting up big points: But while the offense is thriving (141 points, most in NFL), the defense is struggling (140 points allowed, most).
• New York Giants sitting at 3-1 under Daboll: The Giants are already just one win away from matching their 2021 season total.
Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins
JALEN HURTS’ ASCENSION INTO TOP NFL QB
NFC analytics executive: Buy
The Philadelphia Eagles are the NFL’s only remaining undefeated team through four weeks, and beyond all of the improvements they made this offseason in free agency, trades and the draft, they have quarterback Jalen Hurts’ improvement to thank the most for having the league’s best record.
Hurts owns PFF’s top passing grade, an 85.7 mark, and his 80.0 overall PFF grade ranks fourth among NFL quarterbacks. Hurts improved every year he played in college, and now he’s done the same in his ensuing NFL seasons.
There are five current NFL starters who played at Alabama (Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones) or Oklahoma (Hurts, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield). Tagovailoa, Jones, Murray and Mayfield were all top-15 draft picks. Hurts went in the second round and is currently graded the highest.
An NFC analytics executive we spoke to believes in Hurts’ improvement and sees significant improvement from the third-year pro as a deep-ball passer.
“His rushing ability is a real problem for defenses, as he has one of the highest scramble rates in the league,” he said. “He’s forgoing checkdowns and throwing the ball downfield a lot more than he did in previous years.”
Hurts has thrown just four checkdowns across 163 dropbacks (2.4%) this season. That’s down from 23 checkdowns on 592 dropbacks (3.9%) last year. Hurts also has a 92.6 PFF grade on intermediate-to-deep passes this season. That’s up from an 85.7 mark in 2021. His 91.8 PFF grade on deep balls is up from a 75.5 mark last year.
The NFC analytics executive did point out that Hurts has struggled against the blitz this season, however. His 64.4 PFF grade when blitzed ranks 20th among 35 qualified quarterbacks. He’s first with a 90.1 PFF grade when not blitzed.
“I don’t know how long he will be able to keep it up, but a team is likely to expose him this year via exotic blitzes and containing him in the pocket,” he said.
The Eagles’ expected points added per passing play figure drops to 24th in the NFL when blitzed (-0.167) from second in the NFL when not blitzed (0.299).
It’s an area where Hurts has actually seen some negative regression. He earned a 67.8 PFF grade when blitzed in 2020 and 2021.
The Eagles face off next against a 2-2 Arizona Cardinals team that ranks 25th in EPA per passing play against.
DETROIT LIONS’ OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION
AFC pro scout: Sell
The Detroit Lions lead the NFL in both points scored (140) and points allowed (141). They’re the first team in NFL history to have scored 140 points through the first four weeks of the season and have a losing record. Their combined 281 points scored and points allowed is an NFL record through the first four games of a season.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride in Detroit with an offense that ranks third in expected points added (EPA) per play and 31st in EPA per play against.
We asked an AFC pro scout about the Lions’ defensive struggles.
“It's the result of a poorly constructed team, I think,” he said. “Without high-end talent or depth on that side of the ball.”
There’s some hope for the future on the Lions’ defense. Rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson has 14 total pressures through four games, linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez is one of PFF’s highest-graded rookie defenders, safety Tracy Walker has a 74.3 grade in three games and cornerback Jeffrey Okudah asserted himself well against DeVonta Smith, Terry McLaurin and Justin Jefferson before struggling in Week 4 against the Seattle Seahawks. But the Lions also have some obvious talent deficiencies, with eight defenders grading out lower than 50.0 through four weeks.
That same AFC scout wasn’t entirely optimistic about the offense, either.
“In theory, they've got talent and scheme working together,” he said. “In reality, (QB Jared) Goff has always been streaky and the wheels could come off at any time.”
People around the NFL are high on what offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has accomplished this season, and Detroit has serious talent at wide receiver with Amon-Ra St. Brown, D.J. Chark Jr. and, eventually, Jameson Williams, running back with D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams and Craig Reynolds and tight end with T.J. Hockenson. In Week 4, the Lions scored six touchdowns without St. Brown, Chark, Williams or Swift, and Hockenson went off for 179 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches. Goff graded out well in Week 4 with a 74.6 mark but only has a 64.3 grade on the season. His 62.5 passing grade over the past two seasons since joining the Lions ranks 30th among 46 qualified quarterbacks.
With some offensive negative regression expected, the Lions’ defense will need to improve. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn received head coaching interviews this offseason, but his unit has disappointed through four weeks. The Lions’ defense could have a chance to get right in Week 5 against a New England Patriots offense that ranks 25th in EPA per play and may be forced to start rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe, depending on how Mac Jones’ high ankle sprain heals and if Brian Hoyer can clear concussion protocol.
NEW YORK GIANTS’ IMPROVEMENT
Third NFC analytics executive: Buy
The New York Giants are one of the NFL’s biggest surprise teams at 3-1 this season, and so far, they’ve shown improvement both on offense and defense this season after going 4-13 last year.
A third NFC analytics executive said he’s not shocked by New York’s hot start, however, since some improvement was expected with new head coach Brian Daboll taking over for Joe Judge. The Giants have played a relatively easy schedule early in the season, as well.
In 2021, the Giants ranked dead last in EPA per play and 22nd in EPA per play against. Through four games, they’re 15th in EPA per play and 13th in EPA per play against.
The biggest difference on offense has been going from Judge and former offensive play-callers Jason Garrett and Freddie Kitchens to Daboll and new offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. Running back Saquon Barkley appears fully healthy and already has 84 carries for 463 yards with two touchdowns and 15 catches for 107 yards. Left tackle Andrew Thomas has also taken a leap as PFF’s top-graded offensive lineman.
On defense, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence has dominated with 15 total pressures and five defensive stops through four games. The 342-pounder is 13th among interior defenders with 200 snaps. He’s fifth among interior defenders with a 90.0 PFF grade and first with a 90.8 pass-rush grade.
The Giants have benefited from playing the 2-2 Tennessee Titans, 1-3 Carolina Panthers and 2-2 Chicago Bears, however. They did lose to the 3-1 Dallas Cowboys with backup quarterback Cooper Rush at the helm. Their next test comes in London against a 3-1 Green Bay Packers team that went to overtime against Zappe and the Patriots. The Packers’ defense currently ranks 30th in EPA per run play against, so Barkley could feast across the pond.
Giants starting quarterback Daniel Jones is currently dealing with an ankle injury, though head coach Brian Daboll said the quarterback was feeling better on Monday. Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor is in concussion protocol. The Giants have Davis Webb, who was with Daboll from 2019 to 2021 on the Buffalo Bills, on their practice squad as the only fully healthy quarterback.
The Giants have been without rookie wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson since Week 1 and 2021 first-round pick Kadarius Toney since Week 2. The offense will receive a further jolt when both young wideouts are back in the fold.