There is a good chance Jalen Hurts may have to fly solo on quarterback sneaks next season.
The league’s competition committee is expected to take a hard look at the Tush Push play that was so effective for Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles this season.
Hurts had 10 rushing first downs in Sunday’s 38-35 Super Bowl LVII loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Six of them came on quarterback sneaks. On each one of them, the Eagles lined up two or three players behind Hurts and then they pushed him forward after the ball was snapped. Hurts converted an impressive 36 of 40 quarterback sneaks this season.
Pushing a ball carrier to help move him forward has been legal in the NFL since 2005 and in the college game since 2013. But amazingly, the Eagles really have been the first team to weaponize it. After getting a season-long look at it, the league doesn’t like what it sees.
“I think the league is going to look at this, and I’d be shocked if they don’t make a change,’’ said Dean Blandino, a rules analyst for Fox Sports and The 33rd Team, who was the NFL’s vice president of officiating from 2013 to 2017.
The league’s competition committee will meet in two weeks at the league scouting combine in Indianapolis and then again prior to the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix in late March. The Tush Push will be on their agenda. Any rule change recommendations by the committee would be voted on by the owners in Arizona.
“I was talking to (Denver Broncos coach) Sean Payton during Sunday’s game, and he said we’re going to do this every time next season if they don’t take it out,’’ Blandino said.
“It amounts to a rugby scrum. The NFL wants to showcase the athleticism and skill of our athletes. This is just not a skillful play. This is just a tactic that is not an aesthetically pleasing play, and I think the competition committee is going to take a look at it.’’
Blandino compared the Tush Push to a now outlawed tactic teams used on PATs and field goals.
“If you remember on field goals and extra points, they used to be able to push the defensive linemen into the formation,’’ he said. “You would find the weak link on the offensive line. [The offensive line] would have their legs interlocked. And you would get two, and sometimes three, defensive linemen, and two linebackers all pushing into that player. We got rid of that.’’
The competition committee has three options with respect to the Tush Push: 1) recommend no change, which, given the considerable negative sentiment around the league to what the Eagles did this season, isn’t likely; 2) recommend the total outlawing of pushing the ball carrier; and 3) recommend just getting rid of it on sneaks.
Blandino is in favor of the second option and thinks it’s the most likely scenario.
“[Outlawing it] on sneaks is easy,’’ he said. “The downfield stuff, you just put the tape together, show it to the officials and you just start calling it. That’s the key. To desensitize it, you’ve got to throw flags. I don’t think it will be a major issue.’’
For decades, it was illegal in the NFL for players to help the ball carrier advance. So, why did they decide to change it in 2005? Because the officials weren’t calling it.
“The officials weren’t being directed to call it, so they stopped calling it,’’ Blandino said. “Unfortunately, the rulebook was changed to accommodate the way the game was being officiated rather than the other way around.’’
With or without a helpful push from teammates, Hurts is going to be effective on sneaks. He can squat and deadlift more than 600 pounds and has the lower-body power of a fullback. On one sneak Sunday, he drove back the Chiefs’ All-Pro defensive tackle, Chris Jones.
A bigger blow for him on sneaks than the outlawing of the Tush Push could be the loss of five-time first-team All-Pro center Jason Kelce. Kelce, 35, is considering whether to retire and is expected to make a decision in the next two or three weeks. He is coming off perhaps the best season of his career and was an integral part of the Eagles’ success on quarterback sneaks.
“Kelce obviously doesn’t have the size that a lot of guys have, but he has unbelievable lower-body strength and first-step quickness,’’ said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who was an offensive lineman in the league for more than a decade.
“On that (sneak) play, there’s going to be a side you should favor depending on who it is, who’s in the A-gap, whether the linebackers are going over the top or low. Kelce has a knack for knowing where they should go with the ball. Stick it here.’’
Paul Domowitch covered the Eagles and the NFL for the Philadelphia Inquirer for four decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.