Week 13’s Top NFL Storylines: A QB Controversy in Philly … And Also New Orleans?

The biggest stories to emerge from football this week, and whether we’re buying or selling them

December 8, 2020 8:31 am
Week 13’s Top NFL Storylines: Jalen Hurts, Gregg Williams and a QB Controversy in New Orleans?
Jalen Hurts looks to pass against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Getty Images

With a pair of Monday Night Football games wrapped up and the Cowboys and Ravens now set to play each other in an odd Tuesday night game, Week 13 of the 2020 NFL season is almost in the books. While we can’t get to everything — like the Chiefs locking up a playoff spot — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from Week 13, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.

Buy: The Eagles should keep starting Jalen Hurts at QB

Midway through the third quarter of Sunday’s 30-16 road loss to the Green Bay Packers, rookie Jalen Hurts replaced an ineffective Carson Wentz at quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. The second overall pick in 2016, Wentz completed just 6-of-15 passes for 79 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions and was also sacked four times before being yanked in favor of Hurts.

Following Sunday’s horrendous performance against a Green Bay defense that is decent but not one of the NFL’s best, Wentz is now first in interceptions (15) and sacks taken (50), 30th in completion percentage (57.4 percent) and 29th in yards per attempt (6.0) among QBs with at least 200 pass attempts.

As those numbers bear out, Wentz, who was signed to a four-year, $128 million extension in the summer of 2019, has been terrible all season and has shown no signs of regaining the MVP-caliber form he displayed before being injured during the Eagles’ Super Bowl season.

Now 3-8-1 on the season and trailing both the Giants and Washington Football Team for first place in the NFC East, the Eagles have lost four in a row and have games coming up against the Saints and Cardinals.

In a nutshell, Philly’s season is over — and Wentz’s should be as well.

Despite the substantial investment Philadelphia made in Wentz in 2019, there clearly was some concern about whether he was truly a franchise quarterback heading into 2020, as the team made the surprise move of taking Hurts in the second round of April’s draft at 53rd overall.

A dual-threat who scored 52 touchdowns for Oklahoma last season — 32 passing and 20 rushing — while finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Joe Burrow, Hurts was 5-of-12 for 109 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing five times for 29 yards in relief of Wentz.

While he wasn’t amazing, Hurts was clearly better than Wentz and, if given a full week of practice reps as the No. 1 quarterback, should be better next time out. Even if he isn’t, the season is already down the drain for the Eagles and they’d be better off finding out what they have in the 22-year-old QB.

If Hurts can play, great. If he can’t, the Eagles — who would be picking sixth if the draft was held today — can weigh their options and decide whether or not selecting another quarterback in 2021 makes sense. That sounds drastic given where Hurts was selected and what the team is paying Wentz, but, as the old saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none. Better to start Hurts and find out one way or the other.

Sell: There’s a QB controversy in New Orleans

In three games (all wins) filling in for Drew Brees as the starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, Taysom Hill has been more than serviceable, completing 54-of-76 passes (71.1 percent) for 543 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. A gifted runner, Hill has also carried the ball 34 times for 176 yards with four scores and two lost fumbles.

Brees, who has missed eight games over the last two seasons and watched the Saints win every single one of them, is reportedly nearing a return and could be ready to return as soon as Week 14. And when he is back, the starting job is his, no questions asked.

Though Brees drew the ire of many of his teammates due to some tone-deaf comments he made about kneeling during the national anthem over the offseason, the 41-year-old was able to resolve those issues and has been pretty good on the field in 2020, with 18 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions on the season. Hill has been dynamic as a fill-in starter for Brees, but his real value for New Orleans is as a change-of-pace to the Saints’ longtime starter.

Brees, who isn’t even half the athlete Hill is at this point in his career, still gives the Saints the best chance to win ballgames, as he is still the better passer and also has far more experience reading defenses and calling audibles at the line of scrimmage.

For his part, Hill told Pro Football Talk on Sunday that he’s ready to start full time in the NFL.

“Coach (Sean Payton) and I have had, we’ve had a few conversations about (being a full-time starter),” Hill said. “And I have said that. He knows how I feel about how I can play, and I know how he feels about me, too.”

Thanks to his strong play, Hill, who signed a two-year, $21-million contract prior to this season, probably will get a real chance as a starting quarterback in the NFL, possibly as soon as next year for the Saints. But as long as Brees is healthy, he should be under center for the Saints and Hill should be used situationally. There’s no controversy in New Orleans.

Buy: The Giants may have found a coach in Joe Judge

To start the season under first-year coach Joe Judge, who spent last years coaching wide receivers for Bill Belichick in New England, the New York Giants got off to an 0-5 start, with three of the losses coming by double digits. New York then got a win in the team’s sixth game of the season before dropping another two games to fall to 1-7 halfway through the 2020 campaign. Things did not look good for Judge or his team and it appeared as if the organization may have erred in hiring the 38-year-old to run the G-Men.

But since then, the Giants have reeled off four wins in a row, with their latest victory coming on the road in Seattle as a double-digit underdog to the Seahawks.

Now at 5-7, the Giants are actually in first place in the NFC East, and if the season ended today, Big Blue would actually, somehow, be a playoff team. As promising of a development as that might be for New York, it’s even more important that Judge, who may or may not have lost a fistfight with former offensive line coach Marc Colombo before firing him last month, seems like he might actually know what he is doing as an NFL head coach.

It would have been very easy for Judge to lose the locker room after New York’s slow start, which included losing star running back Saquon Barkley for the year in Week 2, but he was somehow able to keep the team playing hard and mentally focused. The Giants may not be very talented, but Judge clearly has them playing motivated and hanging tough until the final whistle, as evidenced by the fact that New York has played eight games this season that have been decided by five points or fewer.

During the four-game winning streak, New York’s defense has given up an average of 16.5 points per game and the offense has done just enough to keep the Giants in games despite getting inconsistent play from Daniel Jones (as well as backup QB Colt McCoy against the Seahawks). Along the way, Judge has shown an attention to detail, going so far as to alter a decades-old team travel policy to get his players better sleep. He’s also shown a dedication to winning that has won his players over and is now translating to wins on the football field.

“We realized how much he cares about winning, and he cares about us being successful,” Giants star pass-rusher Leonard Williams told NBC’s Peter King of his coach. “He just does such a good job of getting guys to buy-in. It’s hard to be a leader and get that many people bought in, in a short amount of time as well. And I think he did a great job of doing that even when we were losing and could’ve fallen apart.”

The Giants aren’t great, but they are together, win or lose. Judge deserves credit.

Sell: The Jets should have fired Gregg Williams

With the Jets leading by four points with 13 seconds to play on Sunday against a Raiders team that was out of timeouts and had the ball at the 46-yard line of the Jets, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams neglected to drop eight or nine defenders into coverage to defend the goal line.

Instead, Williams sent New York on an all-out blitz and left rookie cornerback Lamar Jackson in man-to-man coverage against speedy wideout Henry Ruggs III, who was able to haul in a bomb from Derek Carr and take it to the house for a game-winning touchdown.

Williams’s decision to send the house was a historical blunder, as the Jets were the only defense to send more than six rushers under similar circumstances out of the 252 pass plays in the past 15 seasons, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. After being ripped to shreds by the media, the internet and his own players following Sunday’s game-losing play call, Williams was let go on Monday.

But unlike Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, who should have been canned at halftime of San Diego’s 45-0 blowout at the hand of the New England Patriots, Williams should not have been fired by the Jets. (Lynn, somehow, is keeping his job.) Reason being? He’s helping them do exactly what their goal should be at this point in the season: lose games.

Now at 0-12 on the season, the Jets are just weeks away from clinching the worst record in the NFL and the rights to the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Had Williams done the intelligent thing on Sunday and defended against the hail-mary pass Carr was obviously going to throw, it is possible the Jets would have won the game and improved to 1-11, tying them with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the league’s worst record. That, not the loss, would have been a disaster.

A joke on defense and completely inept on offense (last in passing yards and points scored), the Jets have nothing left to play for in 2020 except the right to draft quarterback Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson in 2021 to replace third-year QB Sam Darnold, who, perhaps because of the ways he’s been managed and coached, appears to be a bust.

The only thing that could make this disastrous season worth it for New York is getting Lawrence, and the Jets need to keep losing games in order to make utterly sure that happens. A win, even one, could make the season a waste.

For the Jets, it is time to embrace Al Davis’s anti-motto: Just lose, baby. Had he kept his job, Williams would have continued to help them do it. After all, his record speaks for itself … Williams was also the defensive coordinator of the 0-16 Cleveland Browns.

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