The intentions were the same, but the ultimate goal was different.
When the Eagles were using Jalen Hurts as a “gadget” quarterback last season while Carson Wentz was the starter, it was mostly to force the defense to prepare for two different quarterbacks.
It certainly wasn’t to groom Hurts to take over for Wentz.
We all know how that turned out. Wentz had by far the worst season of his career. By Dec. 6, Wentz was benched for Hurts and then traded after the season.
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Hurts, of course, is the unquestioned starter for the Eagles this season. He threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns, plus ran for 62 more yards in the Eagles’ 32-6 season-opening win over Atlanta.
The expectations are somewhat different for Trey Lance with the 49ers, the Eagles’ opponent on Sunday. The 49ers are grooming Lance, the No. 3 pick in the draft last spring, to take over for starter Jimmy Garoppolo.
It’s just a question of whether it will be later this season or not until the start of the 2022 season.
In the meantime, Lance is learning by working in with Garoppolo. Garoppolo sort of admitted last week that he didn’t like getting pulled. While Wentz never admitted that, it was clear that he wasn’t happy about it either.
After all, he wanted a trade after the season.
Lance had five snaps last Sunday in the 49ers’ 41-33 win over the Detroit Lions. On his first, he faked a handoff and threw a 5-yard TD pass to Trent Sherfield.
That means the Eagles have to prepare for both, and cornerback Darius Slay said that could be a daunting task.
“My opinion right now is (they’re) like a younger (Colin) Kaepernick and an older Alex Smith back when they had them at the same time in San Fran,” Slay said about the 2012 season, when both Smith and Kaepernick played.
During that season, Smith suffered a concussion and Kaepernick took over. He ended up leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
“I think getting a guy any playing time when he’s the number two quarterback helps his development more than getting no playing time,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters who cover the 49ers.
But the Eagles faced some drawbacks last season when they did it with Wentz and Hurts.
For one, Wentz never left the field when Hurts came on, thus basically eliminating one offensive player because Wentz would line up out wide, mostly so he wouldn’t get hit. That situation didn’t change until Nov. 30, when Wentz left the field for both of Hurts’ snaps.
The next week, Hurts took over in the second half, then started the final four games.
Secondly, Hurts never played more than seven snaps in any of those first 11 games, and he only tried three passes during that time. While Lance threw a pass on his first NFL play, Hurts didn’t even get on the field until Week 3. He didn’t try his first pass until Week 5.
After some initial success, Hurts’ presence on the field became an easy adjustment for opposing defenses. That’s because they knew Wentz wasn’t a threat as long as he remained on the field, and they also surmised that Hurts wasn’t going to pass.
So when Hurts came in, defenses focused their attention on Hurts and Miles Sanders as runners.
The 49ers are handling it differently.
And it’s possible that they could end up using Lance even more on Sunday. That’s because top running back Raheem Mostert was lost for the season with a knee injury during the game against the Lions.
Elijah Mitchell, a sixth-round pick, replaced Mostert and rushed for 104 yards. Having Lance in the game could make Mitchell more effective.
Either way, the 49ers’ quarterback situation will keep the Eagles guessing. At the same time, it will quicken Lance’s development while keeping him out of high-pressure situations.
“We gotta play it like we’re going to play Garoppolo. He’s the main guy,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “Then (Lance) is the guy who comes in right there, he does this, he does that. He can throw too.
“He’s their future, but right now, they’re working him in, and we’ll see what they throw at us.”
Oh, and there’s one more benefit for the 49ers this season with Lance. He is the scout team quarterback in practice. Lance can give the defense a look similar to what it will see on the field with Hurts.
“It’s awesome when you do go against a running quarterback, and your scout team quarterback has that skill set,” Shanahan said.
Sweat gets new deal
For the second straight Saturday, the Eagles signed one of their 2018 draftees to a contact extension before they hit free agency.
Last week, it was left tackle Jordan Mailata, who signed a 4-year deal worth as much as $64 million. On Saturday, it was defensive end Josh Sweat, who signed a three-year deal worth a reported $40 million with $26.9 million guaranteed.
Tight end Dallas Goedert and cornerback Avonte Maddox could also join Sweat and Mailata with extensions at some point this season.
Sweat had 6 sacks last season playing 38% of the defensive snaps. Last week, Sweat had 56% of the snaps and had 6 tackles.
Sweat’s signing could mean that Derek Barnett, the Eagles’ first-round pick in 2017, is headed to free agency after the season. Barnett is making $10 million this season, the final year of his rookie contract.
With Sweat signed, the Eagles already have four defensive linemen under contract next season earning more than $10 million, with Grahm, Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave.
The proverbial cat is out of the bag.
The 49ers, who spent the week in West Virginia rather than traveling back to San Francisco after their game against the Lions, had plenty of video to study of the Eagles’ true offense under new head coach Nick Sirianni.
The Falcons didn’t have that luxury since the Eagles didn’t show much during the preseason games.
But that only goes so far.
The 49ers are a better team than the Falcons, especially defensively with a front-7 led by defensive end Nick Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner.
But San Francisco is reeling at cornerback as starter Jason Verrett was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
The 49ers do have a dynamic set of receivers led by tight end George Kittle, who torched the Eagles for 183 receiving yards last season, although the Eagles won 25-20. In addition, wide receiver Deebo Samuel had a career-high 189 yards receiving last week against the Lions.
The Eagles will no doubt try to keep the 49ers pass rush off-balance with screens, RPOs and designed runs from Hurts. The Eagles were successful last week getting receivers Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins the ball on short passes with room to run.
But look for Hurts to test the 49ers depleted secondary with deep passes to DeVonta Smith. The offensive line will have to hold off Bosa and company long enough for Hurts to have the time.
If they can, the Eagles will improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2016.
Score: Eagles 26, 49ers 21
Contact Martin Frank at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.