EAGAN, Minn. – After kicking off their season against – and defeating – Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings are preparing for a much different challenge in Week 2.
Minnesota is slated to visit Philadelphia on Monday Night Football and is spending this week readying for Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The third-year passer has proven his mobility both inside and outside the pocket, and the Vikings understand the dual threat he poses.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson spoke to Twin Cities media members Friday and emphasized the importance of the secondary sticking to its coverage. With a quarterback like Hurts, you can't assume a play is over until the whistle says so.
"He's a guy that does a really good job of extending plays and looking for his receivers downfield. I mean, I can go on and on about how many plays he made just off last year and looking at the Detroit game last week, what he was able to do on a … couple key third-and-long situations," Peterson said. "Preparing for a team like this, it keeps you up at night. You have to account for that extra element."
Hurts put up clean passing stats against the Lions last week, going 18-of-32 passing for 243 yards and no interceptions. His passer rating was 80.6. On the ground, however, he racked up 90 yards and a rushing touchdown.
Hurts can do damage with designed runs or improvisations to offset blitzes by defenders.
"A lot of Cover 0 blitzes [by the Lions last week]. You could tell they were playing a lot of fire zones against him, trying to get him off his first read. I think with those guys dialing up pressure and making that look for him cloudy, his second option was to take off," Peterson said. "And sometimes it is not even to take off to run – it's takin' off looking for the third or fourth, maybe even the fifth option. That's where the plastering to your coverage becomes a big part as to when he does get out of the pocket, because you don't want to make a broken-down play turn into a touchdown.
"This is a different game," he continued. "This is a different game that you have to prepare for, because traditional quarterbacks, you don't have to worry about scramble drills and quarterback options, read options, quarterback designed runs."
According to Next Gen Stats via NFL Media Research, Hurts has reached at least 15 mph on 91 rush attempts since 2021. That's 33 more than Dalvin Cook, who ranks second in the NFL in that span.
To simulate Hurts' speediness, Peterson said the Vikings have lined up practice squad receiver Trishton Jackson at QB for some plays.
Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks didn't team with Hurts during his time in Philadelphia, but he's well-aware of the challenge he presents.
Scrambling is what Hurts does best, Hicks said.
"He's as dynamic as they come with his legs, and he's a really good football player, so we've got to do everything we can to stop him," he explained. "Whether it's scheme runs or him breaking contain, breaking the pocket, we've all got to keep eyes on him and be there."
Hicks said it's important for him and fellow linebacker Eric Kendricks to "trust the guys in front" to maintain good rush lines and keep Hurts from escaping the pocket.
"When you have somebody that gets out, it's hard," Hicks said. "We've got to keep eyes on him and have good pass-rush responsibilities but not give him open coverage on the back end.
"Initially he's looking to pass, obviously, but when he's ready to tuck, he's a running back," Hicks added. "He's tough to bring down, he's strong, fast, is quick on his feet and makes really good cuts."
View photos of Vikings players during practice on September 14 at the TCO Performance Center.
Though Hurts' passing numbers in Week 1 weren't flashy, the Vikings know they can't discount his arm and accuracy, either.
In 15 starts for the Eagles last season, Hurts logged a completion percentage of 61.3 and threw for 3,144 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said he doesn't believe Hurts gets enough credit for his well-roundedness in both the run and the pass.
"And just his ability to attack all three levels of the defense and do it with the way they package things together," O'Connell said. "He can impact the game in rhythm, he can impact the game off-schedule as everybody has seen obviously, but then he's a major, major part of their run game. I think the physicality probably would be the difference than some of the other guys that have those skill sets in the league, that can really change the game on one play."
Peterson pointed out that Hurts isn't afraid to throw contested catches his receivers' way – which can provide an opportunity for a defensive back but also increase the likelihood of a pass interference penalty going against the good guys.
"When we are in that plastering or in that scramble drill phase, nine times out of 10, our back is against the quarterback," Peterson explained. "So the receiver is taught to come back to the quarterback if it's not there, break up-field, and most of those passes are underthrown, but as a DB, we can't see that – and we end up running into the receiver, and the rest is history after that. But for the most part, as a defensive back, we just have to have an internal clock in our head and understand how to read the receiver's hands, his eyes, giving us an indication that the ball is on its way to a certain guy."
Hurts poses a unique test, to be sure. But Peterson believes the Vikings defense is up to the task.
"I think we have a really good game plan. [Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell], he's seen this scheme before," Peterson said. "I believe we're in really good hands. Now it's up to the players to go out there and execute the game plan."