It was only his second start in the NFL and there were some rocky moments, but Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts showed his promise in a Dec. 20, 2020, visit to play the Cardinals.

The scoring began on a safety when Hurts was guilty of intentional grounding in the end zone and the Cardinals led 16-0 after the first quarter.

However, Hurts and the Eagles battled back to tie the game at 26 in the third quarter, but the Cardinals scored the winning points on a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kyler Murray to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins with 7:17 remaining in the game. In the 86-yard game-winning drive, Murray and Hopkins connected on a third-and-8 play from the 16-yard line for 44 yards.

Hurts did drive the Eagles to the Cardinals 11-yard line late in the fourth quarter, but he was sacked on first and second down for a total loss of 11 yards and had incompletions on the Eagles’ final two offensive plays of the game.

While he was sacked six times, Hurts was 24-for-44 for 338 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 102.3. He also rushed 11 times for 63 yards and a touchdown.

Meanwhile, Murray was 27-for-36 for 406 yards, three touchdowns and a 127.8 rating. He rushed for only 29 yards on eight attempts, but did have an 8-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals totaled 526 yards in the game and the Eagles 422.

Hurts played his first three seasons at Alabama before being replaced by Tua Tagovailoa in 2018 and transferring to Oklahoma for the 2019 season, the year after Murray’s final season. Hurts was a runner-up to Joe Burrow in Heisman Trophy voting that year after Baker Mayfield and Murray had won it the previous two years.

Murray was asked this week if Hurts reached out to him while he was deciding about transferring. He said, “I remember (Lincoln) Riley hit me up about him. I never really had any experience with him, never met him, but when he got to campus, we ended up meeting, talking about the offense and all this stuff. He was just speaking about Riley and all the things that he was doing on the offense. He asked me a couple questions, but no he never hit me up about the decision to go to OU.”

Hurts played in high school in the Houston area, but knew about Murray’s exploits.

“Since I was in high school, I always had a lot of respect for Kyler,” Hurts said this week. “Texas is a really big state, and it’s a football state. I always remember him doing his thing in the DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) at Allen. He won every game he played in in high school. That’s very impressive, and he was able to do great things at OU in his collegiate career, winning the Heisman, off to a great start in his career now, doing great things. So I have a lot of respect for him.”

He acknowledged the presence of Riley plus what Murray and Mayfield accomplished led him to Norman.

Hurts said, “I give a lot of credit to those guys and Coach Riley. Just what he’s been able to do at ECU (East Carolina), at (Texas) Tech, and at Oklahoma. He’s doing the same things with Caleb (Williams) at USC now. It was kind of a collective group effort. I’m fortunate to have played for Coach Riley. And I’m fortunate to have learned and watch tape on the guys before me.”

Now, Murray and Hurts play again with Murray owning a 4-0 record against former Oklahoma quarterbacks, including three over Mayfield.

Hurts has shown rapid improvement and the team’s 4-0 start is not that surprising when looked at in the context of last season when the Eagles won seven of nine games and six of seven prior to a loss to Dallas in Week 18 when most of the team’s starters sat out because their playoff seeding was clinched.

Cardinals personnel have raved about Hurts’ play all week.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “He’s tremendous. I told our staff, he’s one of the best decision makers in the league as far as where to go with the football, when to throw it, when to tuck it, and when to make plays. He’s always been a winner. I remember recruiting him in high school and he just had a legendary work ethic; whether it was in high school, at Alabama or now Philly. You hear stories of how late he’s there, how hard he’s working, and it pays off. He’s a tremendous talent. They’ve done a great job building that offense around him. Great o-line, great skilled position players and he’s really operating on a high level.”

Kingsbury also credited the Eagles’ staff of coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, who came to the Eagles in 2021, along with general manager Howie Roseman for what the team is accomplishing.

“I think him (Sirianni) and Shane Steichen building it around Jalen and bringing in great pieces obviously, but then the way they’ve adapted to his skill set and really maximized it. You have Shane Steichen who coached (Chargers quarterback Justin) Herbert when he had the monster year as a rookie and then was with Philip Rivers in completely different systems. To be able to come in, adapt to this, build, and continue to evolve with Jalen; it’s impressive to watch. The culture, you can tell those guys are having fun and they’re playing hard for him, so Nick’s done a great job there.”

As for Roseman, Kingsbury said, “Howie’s put together an incredibly talented roster, one of the tops in the league. They’re very well-coached. Nick’s created a great culture there. They’re having fun, high energy, and then schematically in all three phases, it’s really, really good. They adapt to their personnel and do all the things you want. So, they’re rolling right now.”

Cardinals defensive end Zach Allen had one of the team’s six sacks in 2020 and he also added 11 tackles (six solo), a tackle for loss, quarterback hit and pass defensed. He said of Hurts, “A guy like that is definitely probably the hardest for a pass-rush group to go against just because he can affect the game in so many ways and he has grown so much. Seeing what he’s doing now, he’s an incredible player so definitely it’s a challenge, but that’s why you play football. We’re competitive and we’re ready for the challenge.”

Said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, “He’s grown a lot since the time we played them two years ago. The scheme hasn’t changed much. That’s (Colts coach) Frank Reich and those guys; it’s Frank Reich’s guys. It’s Nick and Shane. The scheme’s pretty much the same. The concept hasn’t changed on the quarterback and that’s huge for that kid, but he has mastered it and he’s playing at a high level.”

Breaking down where Hurts is now compared to two years ago, Joseph said, “He’s poised, he’s smart, he makes quick, sound, clean decisions. As a passer, he’s grown and he’s throwing the ball to really good players. Their line is very good, probably the best we’ve played in a long time as far as the five guys across the board. The center (Jason Kelce) is amazing as far as picking up pressures and different exotic looks. That’s where it starts. Obviously, offense has been built and designed for him. He’s doing a great job of execution and it’s not simple, it’s really assignment-option football. It forces you to be disciplined and if you make any mistakes, they’re gonna take advantage of it. You can be simple, but still be complicated when it comes different ways to do certain plays.

“It’s a hard offense to stop because the quarterback, if it’s not cover zero you don’t have a gap for him, a player for him, and that makes it tough. If you’re in cover 3, cover 4, cover 6 or 8, you can’t account for the quarterback. So if he pulls out and runs, that comes from scheme and some poor guy is having two gaps now. Then the pass game happens, so it’s a tough offense and it’s been run in college for a long time but now in this league, it’s here, and he’s doing a great job of not taking hits, taking care of his body, but also being excellent as a runner and that’s tough. The numbers speak for itself. They’re winning. He’s playing at a high, high level, so it’s working for him.”

Meanwhile, the Eagles are trying to prepare for Murray the same way. Said defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, “All the coaching details that go into that with off-schedule plays, we’ve got to be on it and understand that those are going to come up in the game and what he likes to do when he tries to make off-schedule plays, and he can make them. He has a very unique skillset. He’s very dangerous. He’s got arm talent. He runs around. He’s not like a stick-and-cut guy. He’s not afraid to give ground and lose 20 yards from the line of scrimmage and runs around and finds open people. It’s hard to cover for a long time that long.

“So, we’ve got to have a good plan and we’ve got to execute it and we’ve got to stay disciplined. Our eyes got to be right. We’ve got to rush as a unit. We’ve got to cover as a unit. It’s going to take all 11 out there to slow this guy down.”

Eagles pass rush

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph claims it’s not important how many sacks his group accumulates, but something tells me that’s not what the compromised Cardinals offensive line thinks preparing for Sunday’s game against Philadelphia.

In four games, six Eagles defenders have totaled 16 sacks and there was one credited to the group. The Cardinals have four sacks among three players: defensive end J.J. Watt 2.0, defensive end Zach Allen 1.0 and outside linebacker Dennis Gardeck 1.0

Leading the way for the Eagles is linebacker Haason Reddick with 3.5. Yes, the same Hasson Reddick that had 12.5 sacks with the Cardinals in 2020, signed a 1-year contract as an unrestricted free agent with the Panthers in 2021 and had 11.0, and then signed a three-year deal with the Eagles on the second day of the league year last March worth $45 million with $30 million guaranteed.

Coincidentally, this will be the second consecutive season Reddick returns to State Farm Stadium. On Nov. 14, 2021, with the Panthers, Reddick sacked quarterback Colt McCoy on the third play of the game, forcing a fumble. It was recovered by defensive end Morgan Fox and five plays later Carolina had a 7-0 lead on the way to a 34-10 victory.

In the game, he had four tackles (two solo), 1.5 sacks for 17.5 in lost yardage and three quarterback hits.

“You’ve got to have a plan for him, there’s no doubt,” Kingsbury said this week. “It’s been great to see just his evolution, how he’s become one of the best pass rushers in the league. When I got here, he was a standup (player) and we were trying to make him a middle linebacker. Finally, we were like, ‘Hey, let’s try him where he played so well in college.’

“It’s just been awesome. He’s such a great person, to see the success he’s had. You’ve got to have a plan. He wrecked that game against Jacksonville last week creating those turnovers there late, so we’ve got to have some way to try and slow him down.”

In that 29-21 victory, Reddick had four tackles, one for loss, 2.0 sacks for 15 yards, a quarterback hit, two forced fumbles and two recoveries and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

In addition to Reddick, defensive end Brandon Graham and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox each have 3.0 sacks, defensive end Josh Sweat has 2.5, linebacker T.J. Edwards has 2.0 and defensive tackle Javon Hargraves has 1.0.

Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz said “They’re six guys deep on the D-line. Maybe even more. They roll off the ball. They’re extremely talented. Fletch and BG have been doing it for 11, 13 years. Guys that have been All-Pro, Pro Bowlers. Hargarve is a stud. That D-line, the key to our success is trying to nullify them. It’s easier said than done. We got a great scheme going into the game and we’ve got some good O-linemen as well, so I’m excited to see them go.”

The NFC West

There were 15 NFL teams with 2-2 records entering Week 4, including all four teams in the NFC West

The Rams host the Cowboys and have worked on silent counts in practice to prepare for the onslaught of Dallas fans expected in SoFi Stadium. The 49ers are in Carolina, while the Seahawks are at New Orleans.

Murray said this week, “I think the division’s just super competitive. I think you take pride in playing in this division. The 49ers were in the game to go to the Super Bowl playing the Rams (last season), and the Seahawks have always been good. If anything, that puts more on us. We’ve got to be better and I’m excited for it. I’m super competitive, so to me it’s set up right for us.”

As for the challenge of facing the undefeated Eagles, Murray added, “We started off slow this season. We’re entering the second quarter of the season and I think it’s a great opportunity. We’ve got a great team coming in. In order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best and this is the opportunity for us.”

Battle of practice-squad kickers

Both teams have injured kickers and each elevated one from the practice squad for the game.

Matt Ammendola will be the Cardinals kicker instead of Matt Prater, while Cameron Dicker will be kicking in his first NFL game replacing Jake Elliott.

The coincidences and connections for Dicker are breathtaking.

On Oct. 6, 2018, the freshman kicker booted a 40-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining as Texas defeated Oklahoma, 48-45, in the annual Red River Showdown. That thwarted an Oklahoma fourth-quarter comeback that had tied the game at 45 after trailing 45-24. He also had a 44-yard field goal in the game and six extra points.

And, yes, Murray was the Sooners quarterback that day. But there’s more. Much, much more.

Murray completed 19 of 26 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for 92 yards on 11 attempts, including a 67-yard touchdown run that brought Oklahoma to within 45-38. Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown had nine receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns, one from 77 yards.

Running back Trey Sermon, who is now on the Eagles’ roster, had a 7-yard touchdown run that led to the 45-45 tie with 2:38 remaining in the game. Texas running back Keaontay Ingram, now with the Cardinals, rushed 13 times for 86 yards. Oklahoma totaled 532 yards in the game and Texas 501.

Dicker went undrafted this past April and was signed by the Rams on May 9. He was waived Aug. 16, signed by the Ravens Aug. 26 and waived Aug. 28 before being signed to the Eagles’ practice squad Wednesday.

In the first full week of the preseason while with the Rams, he had no field-goal attempts and three extra points in a 29-22 win  over the Chargers. In the final preseason game, Dicker had a 38-yard field goal and two extra points that helped Baltimore extend its preseason winning streak to 23 with a 17-15 win over the Commanders.

As for Ammendola, Kingsbury has referred to him having success in the NFL, which is surely a stretch. In 11 games with the Jets last season, he was 2-for-5 on field-goal attempts from 40-49 yards and missed three attempts from 50-plus.

He kicked two games for the Chiefs this season after being elevated from the practice squad, but was released after missing a 34-yard fourth-quarter field-goal attempt and an extra point in Kansas City’s 20-17 Week 3 loss to the Colts. He did hit field goals of 19 and 31 yards and add three extra points in the Chiefs’ 27-24 Week 2 win over the Chargers.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the Red River Showdown was Saturday? Texas defeated Oklahoma in dominating fashion, 49-0.

The quotebook

Kingsbury on not having won a home game since Oct. 24, 2021: “Have we? I didn’t realize that. I look at it as we’ve lost two games this season. We lost to the defending Super Bowl champs and one of the better teams in the league right now at home, so we’re 0-2 this season at home. Last year is last year. Whatever happened the year before, that is the year before that. Got to find a way to play better. I wish I had the answers.”

So, do a lot of people.

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Howard Balzer is in his 47th year covering professional football as a writer, editor and broadcaster and has covered 41 Super Bowls. His connection with pro football began in 1976 with College and Pro Football Newsweekly, and since then he has been a featured columnist for The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, USA Today Sports Weekly and The Sports Xchange. Balzer moved to St. Louis in 1978 to work for The Sporting News, where he became Pro Football Editor in 1979. He was an analyst on ESPN's initial broadcast of the NFL Draft in 1980 and continued in that role through 1988. He has won seven writing awards in the Professional Football Writers of America competition, won an Emmy for commentaries on KPLR-TV in St. Louis in 1986 and was nominated for an Emmy in 1988 and 1990. He was named the 2016 winner of the Bob Broeg Media Award presented by the St. Louis/Tom Lombardo Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The award is for enthusiasm, integrity, professionalism and devotion to the game of football and is reserved for individuals whose contributions to football in the St. Louis area have made a significant difference. Balzer was an officer (secretary and secretary/treasurer) for the Professional Football Writers of America for 33 years and was inducted into the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Balzer relocated to the Phoenix area in 2020 as the publisher of the FanNation AllCardinals site and is now the Cardinals reporter for PHNX. He is entering his 19th year as one of 49 voting members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is also on the Hall's Seniors Committee. He is the co-host of the weekly Pro Football Hall of Fame radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio and is a part-time host at ArizonaSports 98.7 FM.