PHILADELPHIA − It's easy to forget that the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round in 2020 mainly as a cheaper alternative to back up franchise quarterback Carson Wentz.
That, of course, began the chain reaction that led to Wentz's disenchantment. That led to the worst season of his career, his eventual benching, trade to Indianapolis, then to Washington.
So as the Eagles get ready to face their former teammate at FedEx Field on Sunday, it's interesting to note how the two quarterbacks have essentially changed roles.
Hurts has become the ascending quarterback, or the Eagles' franchise quarterback that Wentz once was. Wentz, meanwhile, faces a make-or-break season to determine if he can once again become a franchise quarterback or if he'll become the latest journeyman starter/top backup.
The Commanders are clearly hoping for the former.
"He’s a guy we really felt could come in and be part of what we’re trying to do and help us as we go forward," Commanders coach Ron Rivera said in a conference call.
The Eagles are already seeing this with Hurts, much as they did in 2017 when Wentz was at his best. That season, Wentz was on his way to becoming the league's MVP, leading the Eagles to an 11-2 record before tearing his ACL. The Eagles won the Super Bowl behind Nick Foles.
Wentz hasn't played to that level since. The injuries kept coming, but so did the stubbornness to play what many have called "hero ball."
Colts coach Frank Reich referred to this last March, before Indy traded Wentz, when asked what Wentz needs to improve.
"Just make the layup," Reich said, meaning the simple pass.
So far this season, Wentz has thrown an NFL-high seven TD passes, and he's second in the NFL in passing yards with 650. He ranks sixth with a passer rating of 100.3.
But Wentz has also thrown three interceptions, and his stats were greatly enhanced last week after the Commanders fell behind 22-0 to the Detroit Lions in the first half on their way to a 36-27 loss.
Wentz was 9-for-17 passing for 59 yards in the first half, with a passer rating of 60.7, which is about as pedestrian as you can get. In the second half, Wentz went 21-for-29 for 278 yards with three TDs and an interception.
The Colts saw this, too. In the season finale, needing just to beat the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars in order to make the playoffs, Wentz again threw for just 59 yards in the first half. The Colts trailed 23-3 late in the third quarter. Wentz finished a more respectable 17 of 29 for 185 yards, with a TD.
Wentz also threw an interception and lost a fumble.
"The biggest thing about Carson is he’s still got the arm talent," Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "He’s still making throws down the field, making guys miss. He’s still slippery when it comes to ducking blocks and making guys miss."
But he's not as slippery as he was in 2017, for example.
Hurts, meanwhile, has completed 69.8% of his passes this season with only one interception. His passer rating of 97.1 ranks 10th in the NFL. But Hurts also leads all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards with 147.
That ability to run also opens things up for Hurts' receivers.
Just ask Zach Pascal, who played with Wentz last season in Indianapolis before signing with the Eagles this spring. He called Wentz "a great teammate and a great player."
"They both can make plays, but Jalen can make plays in many different ways and situations," Pascal said. "Not saying that Carson can't. But obviously, Jalen is more athletic than Carson, so he can extend plays and make things happen."
The Eagles lead the NFL in total offense, averaging 470.5 yards per game. They have had at least 450 yards of total offense in back-to-back games for the first time since the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl in the 2017-18 season.
Hurts, meanwhile, leads the NFL in explosive plays with 21. Those plays are defined by the Eagles as passes of at least 16 yards and runs of at least 10 yards.
But one play that stood out to Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen was Hurts' 23-yard pass to Dallas Goedert near the end of the first half against the Vikings. On that play, Hurts checked down to Goedert and got the Eagles into field-goal range.
"The decision to see it as fast as he did and ... it was like, 'Here, ball,'" Steichen said. "I was on the sidelines seeing it unfold and I was like, there's Dallas. Boom."
Does Hurts make that play last season?
"It’s hard to say," Goedert said. "I think he probably could have made that play."
Does Wentz make that play? Not if the Eagles can help it.
No doubt Vikings cornerback Kris Boyd received a lot of ribbing this week from his teammates after Eagles punter Arryn Siposs tackled him from behind as he was running back a blocked field goal.
The Eagles had a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter when Jake Elliott tried a 41-yard field goal early in the third quarter. Boyd picked up the carom and seemed headed for a TD that would have shifted the momentum until Siposs caught him at the Eagles' 30.
Soon after, Darius Slay intercepted Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins at the goal line.
"It was just kind of a spur of the moment thing," Siposs said. "The adrenaline kicks in when you have to go make a play, and it worked out all right. I thought he was definitely scoring, but something came over me."
The #Commanders are allowing 7.5 yards per carry this season, the highest through two games in the #NFL since 1951.
The #Eagles are 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards per game (189.5) and 5th in yards per carry (5.2). pic.twitter.com/DZqQo6t5s2
— Jeff Kerr (@JeffKerrCBS) September 23, 2022
Eagles' 2 big edges
As much as the focus will be on comparing the two quarterbacks, this game will be won on the lines. And the Eagles have big advantages on the offensive and defensive lines.
That might seem surprising given Washington's talented D-line with Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat. But there isn't much depth, and that is evident in the Commanders' run defense.
According to CBSSports, the Commanders are allowing an average of 7.5 yards per carry, the highest through two games in the NFL since 1951. The Eagles are second in the NFL in rushing, averaging 189.5 yards rushing per game.
The Commanders' offensive line has been weakened over the years with the losses of star Trent Williams, and both starting guards from last season in Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers.
The Commanders also placed starting center Chase Roullier on injured reserve last week, further depleting the line.
Expect a big game from running back Miles Sanders, especially if the Eagles can get an early lead. That will force Wentz to throw. And the more he throws, the more the defense can tee off on him. Past history shows that won't end well.
Score: Eagles 31, Commanders 16
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: How futures changed for Eagles' Jalen Hurts, Washington's Carson Wentz