By Connor Thomas
As fun as the Eagles’ opening week win in Atlanta was, this Sunday’s home opener against the San Francisco 49ers was rough. And that’s to say the least. It seemed that the birds reverted back to their mean in many ways, including the play of Jalen Hurts, the play calling of Nick Sirianni, and the attention to detail during the game. For the first time in this era of Eagles football, this coaching staff has things to answer for after their team falling to 1-1. Here are 5 observations from yesterday’s home opener and what to take away from the birds first loss of the 2021-22 season:
Yes, despite a rough afternoon, we’re going to start with the main positive from Week 2. Jonathan Gannon’s defensive unit looked awesome again Sunday. The 49ers are a dangerous offensive team, with burners everywhere, a premier tight end, and a QB that, despite some obvious deficiencies, just seems to keep winning. The Eagles held them to a mere 17 points, and handled them even better than that score suggests. For the first time in the Kyle Shanahan era, the Niners went without a 1st down in the 1st quarter. It took til late in the 2nd quarter for San Fran to even get on the board. A couple costly penalties hurt them late, but all in all, the Eagles defense has proven that they can be one of the better units in the NFL.
In the opener, Jalen Hurts did everything he was asked to do. It takes more than one game to turn a corner though. We saw a different #1 this Sunday, as Hurts completed only 12 of 23 passes for 190 yards. When you tighten the scope to just the 2nd half, it’s unacceptable to see that the Eagles only completed 4 pass attempts after halftime. In a game they were trailing. Against a team that was playing Josh Norman at one of their CB spots. Not to mention that Hurts’ arm strength was also questionable yesterday afternoon. Yes, he completed a bomb deep ball to Quez Watkins, and another to Jalen Reagor, despite that one being nullified. However, there were a couple deep balls to DeVonta Smith that could have gone for big gains that were underthrown. Which Jalen Hurts will we see more of this season? Unlike some of his deep balls yesterday, that’s still up in the air.
Can you really call it a regression if the man has only coached one other game in his head coaching career? I’m not sure, but I’m going to. Sirianni had trouble all afternoon with scheming some plays to consistently move the football, but there was a specific sequence that everybody is still stuck on, and will be all week. The Eagles had a 1st and goal from the 1 yard line; 4 chances to punch in a score. The play calling was atrocious by Sirianni in that situation, capped off by a 4th and goal “Philly Special” attempt that had no chance at being converted. You have an above average running back in Miles Sanders, and an athletic QB in Jalen Hurts. Oh, not to mention you have a great offensive line. RUN IT DOWN THEIR THROAT ON THE GOAL LINE. Whether it’s a QB Sneak, or a simple HB Dive, Sirianni left points on the board for his team there. Aggressiveness is fine as long as it is smart. Going for that score is not the issue, it’s more the play call. You don’t always need the most creative play call to be successful in the red zone, and I think Sirianni has now learned that lesson the hard way.
Sirianni is a new head coach for the Eagles, but he has a trend that has held over from before his tenure. Last season under Doug Pederson, the Eagles were tied for the 2nd most penalties in all of football. This year, through 2 weeks, the birds have already amassed 22 penalties, the most in the NFL. That is not a great sign for their long term prospects this year, but what’s even worse is the timing of some of their infractions yesterday. Derek Barnett was perhaps the biggest offender, with a huge personal foul penalty in crunch time, hitting a 49er in the back well after a play was over to get San Fran out of a nightmare long down situation. There were also some costly false start penalties and a flag in the end zone that led to the Niners’ first TD. The entire team will have to clean up their act as the season progresses, or we will all be in for a long, undisciplined year.
There were a lot of injuries across the NFL yesterday, and the Eagles were not immune to what became a trend as the Week 2 games played out. Brandon Graham’s season is done, following a major Achilles injury he sustained during yesterday’s game. This is a huge blow to an Eagles defense that has had a very impressive start to the season, but more importantly, it’s a blow to the locker room. BG is quite possibly the most beloved player by his teammates in Philadelphia, and his leadership on the field on Sundays will be hugely missed. Speaking of huge, stalwart Guard Brandon Brooks also went down yesterday with some sort of pectoral injury. There is not yet word as to the seriousness of Brooks’ injury, but any time missing an All-Pro lineman makes your team worse. Fortunately, the Eagles have Landon Dickerson waiting in the wings, but the rookie has had injury issues of his own, and is still raw when it comes to playing in the NFL. Brooks will be sorely missed, despite the potential Dickerson has as a fill in over the next few weeks (or more). Losing 2 of probably your best 10 players for an extended period of time is not a recipe for success, but it’s one that the Eagles have become accustomed to. The war of attrition that is the NFL Season has begun, and right now, the Eagles are losing that war.