Throughout this Eagles season, the day after games will be marked by “Day After Digestion”s: 5 in depth observations on the team’s performance on Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday). Sometimes you need some time to sleep on a game, re-watch some plays, and get a better feel for how the birds actually played rather than what we felt immediately after the game. Thankfully for Eagles fans, their week 1 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons didn’t require any sleeping on. Nick Sirianni’s first game as a head coach in the NFL was not flawless, but it was about all you could ask for given the circumstances. Here are some of the key things that contributed to Sirianni and the Eagles opening day win yesterday, and some other takeaways from the opener:
One of, if not the focal point of the Eagles season is going to be the play of Jalen Hurts. It’s not too dramatic to say that he will be the deciding factor in the speed of the team’s current rebuild. Yesterday, Hurts took a big first step towards proving he could be a franchise QB in Philly. His decision making was sound, especially when compared to the unnecessary risks that Carson Wentz took during his time under center in midnight green. He was incredibly accurate, completing 77.1% of his passes on the afternoon, and didn’t throw an interception on his way to 3 passing TDs. Maybe the easiest thing to notice, though, was Hurts’ ability to escape pressure. There were still times where a more experienced QB would have stepped up into the pocket and not bailed out on a play as early as Hurts did, but when he felt pressure coming, he was almost impossible to get a hand on. His arm will still need to show consistency, but Hurts’ legs are an absolute difference maker.
The first half saw way too many false starts and other mental lapses from the Eagles’ offensive line, but outside of that, the big men up front were dominant against the Falcons. Where do we even start? Isaac Seumalo had a rough start with multiple bad penalties in the first half, but he settled down in the 2nd half. Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks were their regular pro-bowl caliber selves despite some rust early in the game. The two that really stood out though, were newly extended Jordan Mailata and the always dependable Jason Kelce. Take a look at these two plays:
Just two absolutely dominant plays by Mailata and Kelce. Mailata showed off his athleticism to get all the way out and send a defensive back to the shadow realm, and Kelce looked like a runaway train leading Miles Sanders to a huge gain. If this line stays healthy – the starting 5 played 100% of the offensive snaps Sunday - they’ll be one of the best lines in football.
Jason Kelce appreciation tweet.pic.twitter.com/t8yKDi6IWU— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 12, 2021
Not everything was perfect yesterday, but luckily the Eagles’ new head coach’s biggest problem didn’t end up affecting the outcome of the game. Sirianni was just a little too aggressive when it came to 4th down situations in his debut. It may have just been an instance of a young head coach trying to do too much, but the two 4th down conversion attempts seemed ill-advised. The first opportunity came early in the 2nd quarter with the Eagles holding on to a slight 7-6 lead. The ball was on Atlanta’s 36, which would’ve made it about a 50 yard field goal attempt. Sirianni elected instead to go for it, which resulted in an incomplete pass and a turnover on downs. With perfect kicking conditions and a relatively reliable kicker, this should have probably been a field goal attempt. The 2nd attempt at converting a 4th down was even more questionable. Instead of kicking a chip shot field goal from Atlanta’s 20 yard line, Sirianni elected to try to extend a drive in the middle of the 3rd quarter with a Kenneth Gainwell rush. Not only is the choice to run with your backup RB on 4th down probably not your best bet, but leaving 3 more points on the board is not a strategy that Sirianni should get used to employing. Hopefully it’s an adjustment he’ll make.
This might be mainly attributed to the fact that there was not a player wearing number 11 under center on Sunday. Carson Wentz, who had a fumble in Indianapolis yesterday, was a turnover machine during his time in Philly. Through one game, it looks like Jalen Hurts could be the opposite. His throws were relatively risk-averse, and he held onto the ball securely when he took off on the run. Not only was Hurts under control all afternoon, but Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell both showed ball security out of the backfield. This may have been because the Falcons defense played a bad game, but it’s an encouraging sign for a young offense.
Yep, you read that right. The Eagles actually blitzed Matt Ryan yesterday! Jonathan Gannon’s first defensive game plan in Philadelphia actually involved sending extra rushers to try and put pressure on a non-mobile QB, and it paid off. The Eagles got to Ryan 3 times yesterday, which is not a monster day rushing the passer, but the way they did it was refreshing. Jim Schwartz was notorious for not sending blitzes very often, but it seems that those days in Philadelphia are officially over. For a generation of fans that grew up watching Jim Johnson send what felt like 15 players on a blitz, it was refreshing to see Gannon make that element of his scheme more of a focal point. It only led to a 0 TD day and a measly 136 yards passing for Atlanta. Ho hum. They’ll have a much tougher task coming this week against a dynamic San Francisco 49ers offense, but hopefully this strong defensive performance thanks to the added pressure will become a hallmark of the 2021-22 Eagles defense.