This time, Julio Jones caught the ball.
Only he was out of bounds, so it didn’t count. No touchdown, Eagles win, and everybody exhales at one o’clock in the morning.
What a night to kick off the title defense, right?
It started with Shawn Mendes getting everybody pumped up at Penn’s Landing.
Then we took it down to Lincoln Financial Field, where a 40 minute rain delay put off the start of the game until 9:05 p.m.
After that, we suffered through a first half featuring zero touchdowns and 16 penalties as the Eagles were booed off the field just two quarters after unfurling the first Super Bowl banner in team history.
But whatever slop we had to endure for the first two hours, the second half more than made up for it, with a series of events that played out in eerily similar fashion to what we saw just eight months prior in the NFC divisional round playoff game.
Again it came down to 4th and goal, and again the Falcons couldn’t find the end zone. Even after they were thrown a lifeline on an illegal contact call, Steve Sarkisian went back to the fade and Matt Ryan put it up for Jones, who couldn’t bring it down in play. Multiple times the Atlanta offense stalled out in the red zone as the Eagles defense propped up a sluggish offense that ultimately put enough points on the board to win.
It really was very comparable to what we in January, with the Eagles hardly operating like a well-oiled machine but finding a way to execute when it mattered. The Birds began with zero yards on their first three drives, committed a special teams gaffe, and turned the ball over at an inopportune time. They gave up the lead in the 4th quarter but responded by engineering the game-winning drive.
In many ways, it was the same thing we saw from last year’s squad, a squad that found a way to get the job done even when they weren’t at their best.
1) Play calling
I thought Doug Pederson looked a little rusty to start, leaning on Darren Sproles and running about 98% of his early offense out of the shotgun. Corey Clement and Jay Ajayi were almost entirely absent in the first half along with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
I tallied up the totals and came up with this output for the night:
- 18 runs from the shotgun
- 5 runs from under center
- 35 passes from shotgun (5 run/pass options)
- 1 pass from under center (play action)
There were some early calls that didn’t make sense to me. The two-yard out on 3rd and 9 jumped off the page.
But I thought Doug did a really nice job on the second drive of the third quarter, when he threw in the Philly Special 2.0 (more on that later), the shovel pass, and showed two under-center run looks en route to the end zone.
Ajayi finished with 15 carries for 62 yards and two touchdowns. Clement had only five for 26 yards and Sproles ran it five times for 10 yards. It was something like a 35 to 27 pass/run split, which is a typical Eagles number, so Doug ultimately did well to mix it up once the offense loosened up just a little bit in the second half.
I think part of the thing with the shotgun is that it just helps Nick Foles find a comfort zone. And you don’t need to run under-center plays to set up play action because your RPO package essentially functions as play action anyway. Would I prefer more downhill running instead of the Chip Kelly shotgun looks? Sure, but all three backs have enough burst and dive to be effective carrying the ball in multiple ways.
2) The banged up receiving corps
Not much to highlight here.
Zach Ertz led the group with 5 grabs for 48 yards but only reeled in half of his 10 targets. Agholor put in a nice performance for a PPR fantasy league, with 8 catches for 33 yards on 10 targets as he moved from the slot to the outside and back on multiple occasions. Mike Wallace and Shelton Gibson did not have a catch and DeAndre Carter grabbed one for 10 yards.
It really seemed like they missed Alshon Jeffery in this game. Foles had two deep looks for Wallace that he couldn’t connect on, the latter coming in the fourth quarter on a very nice defensive play by cornerback Robert Alford. You get the sense that Foles and Wallace don’t have that timing or rhythm down yet.
As for Ertz, he had the pair of second half drops, one which hit him in the chest and one that was sort of an awkward lean with a guy coming to take his head off from the secondary. For whatever reason, Foles couldn’t seem to find him on that bread and butter seam route down the right side of the field.
NFL Next Gen Stats posted his route tree, which features the route itself in white and the yards after catch in green. Just not a lot of YAC for him last night and only three routes that took him further than 10 yards down the field:
I thought we’d see a lot more of Ertz with Jeffery not available to carry the load.
As for Goedert, I wouldn’t put that interception on him necessarily, just a great play by the defender. Still, I think he’ll learn how to sit in that soft spot and take the route a bit more shallow, which would prevent that tackle and pick from taking place.
3) Personnel stuff + wrinkles
Nate Gerry started at linebacker with Malcolm Jenkins in the slot on Julio Jones. As Jones moved around, different guys saw a bit of him, with Ronald Darby getting a chunk of looks. Jones got his yards, 169 on 10 catches, but again the Eagles minimized the damage by keeping him out of the end zone.
Sidney Jones also got some significant slot time in this game, winning snaps ahead of rookie Avonte Maddox.
I don’t think there were any other surprises here, but it feels like we didn’t see a lot of Michael Bennett last night. Destiny Vaeao rolled with the first team defensive line alongside Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Derek Barnett. I don’t have the snap counts yet, but I’m interested to see how they mixed and matched with the front seven.
And even on the other side of the field, Atlanta did some things differently, showed a bit of cover 2 and got away from some of the single high safety and cover 1/cover 3 sets that they typically use.
Here’s Foles on that:
“Honestly this is one of those unique games where it’s not really a rhythm thing, you’re just going to fight all game. They did a great job of playing us, covering us, doing zone and man. They went two-high safeties and they don’t do that a lot. It was just one of those things where it wasn’t a rhythmic game, but I thought our guys fought hard and I thought we made some big plays when we needed to. Our defense did a great job [and so did the] special teams. It was a very unique game.”
Yes. Yes it was.
Ajayi and Lane Johnson both pointed out that the Atlanta defense was doing some slanting up front, which resulted in the Eagles going back to the locker room, making some run game adjustments and finding more success in the second half.
4) The defense
I think a lot of us predicted that the offense would start slow and that the defense would carry the load in the first half.
The goal line stand on the first drive was massive. And they held Atlanta to a field goal on the second drive, resulting in a 3-0 scoreline that could have very easily been 14-0 instead.
The tone setter was a phenomenal bit of work by Kamu Grugier-Hill to shed not one, but two blocks and stuff Devonta Freeman before he could reach the pylon.
I saw this on Twitter via @GuoBlue and it made me laugh, so I gotta share it here:
Hah! Anyway, the Eagles defense did this:
- held Atlanta to 74 yards on the ground (6 for 36 for Freeman and 9 for 19 for Coleman)
- limited Matt Ryan to 21/43 passing for 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, and a 57.4 QB rating
- sacked Ryan four times for a loss of 26 yards
- stood firm on third down, keeping ATL to a 4-15 conversion rate on the night
I’d actually give a big shout out to Chris Long first, for his 4 QB hits and 1.5 sacks. He forced a fumble that Atlanta was able to recover and was generally disruptive all night long. Jordan Hicks also looked like his best self, finishing with team-high 7 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one defended pass, and a pair of QB hits. Fletcher Cox had a sack and 4 QB hits.
I’m not sure Barnett had the best night. He negated a sack with an offside call and saw a screen pass go over his head for a big first half gain. Later, he lined up offside on a 3rd and 5 and gave Atlanta a cheap first down.
Overall, however, just elite stuff from the defense, who were put in some difficult positions by the other two units but still found a way to limit a very good offense to just 12 points.
5) Special teams and the offensive line
Some good and some bad.
Shelton Gibson, who I thought might feature in the passing game, committed a 15 yard penalty because he ran out of bounds as a gunner and didn’t get back in play fast enough. He also tried to a return a kick out of the end zone but only made it to the 10 yard line but made up for it with a 30 yard return the next time around.
Tre Sullivan had the punt gaffe, when he found himself surrounded by Falcons and too close to the ball, which resulted in him being bullied into brushing the ball with his foot for an Atlanta recovery.
Cameron Johnston looked pretty good, however, booting the ball six times for a 52.2 yard average. He chunked a 60 yarder in the second half that was called back for a pair of offsetting penalties.
As far as the O-line, they were steady after making the adjustment. Jason Peters looked like his Pro Bowl self for much of the night.
Specifically, on the game-winning touchdown, I picked out three excellent blocks from Peters, Brandon Brooks, and Mike Wallace, who did a nice job to finish the play and let Ajayi find the end zone:
Actually, it might be a hold on Brooks, but whatever. I’m told that offensive linemen hold on every play, you just have to make it look like you’re not. For him to get over to the opposite side of the field and move his guy back towards the left hash shows a phenomenal bit of mobility and strength.
6) Philly Special, part two
Not exactly the same as first one, which Foles clarified post game, explaining that the Super Bowl play was called the “Philly Special” and last night’s play was “Philly Philly.”
What’s the difference?
Well, this time they had Foles take the snap and hand it off to Clement for a reverse to Agholor and pass. In the Super Bowl, it was a direct snap to Clement. Same concept, but with one extra step here instead of Foles faking the pre-snap audible and walking up to the line:
"YOU WANT PHILLY PHILLY?" pic.twitter.com/oa4bMmJ8lu
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 7, 2018
This was exactly what the Patriots ran last season in the Super Bowl.
Also, no issues with the formation. Remember how New England fans complained about illegal formation the first time around because they didn’t think 7 guys were on the line of scrimmage? That’s not the case here because there are six down linemen and a slot receiver, plus a wideout who is considered to be playing at the LOS as well.
7) What is a catch?
Nobody knows. They still don’t know:
— Tim Dennis (@TDennisSportTog) September 7, 2018
Also, because I don’t know what other section to put it in, I wanted to mention that we had zero penalties for lowering of the helmet last night. 26 penalties, but zero for lowering the helmet. That’s a good sign.
8) Doug’s best call?
Philly Special 2.0, for sure.
A post game question about that:
Q. Was there part of you when you called that play, Philly-Philly, that you saw the same type of situation, that this offense and this building needed a spark and it was a good time for it? (Jamie Apody)
DOUG PEDERSON: A little bit. Offensively, we were sort of misfiring a little bit early in the game, first half in particular. And we came out in the second half, and just the same type of thing, and just were looking for a big play, somebody to make a play, and you kind of look for that from time to time. Again, just felt like it was the right time to make that call, and the guys executed it well.
I also think he just showed more variety on that second drive of the third quarter, and loosened up a bit by taking the load off of Sproles and getting Jay Ajayi more involved. That also helped tilt time of possession 32 minutes to 28 minutes, which is almost the same exact split from the January playoff game.
9) Doug’s worst call?
I don’t know if throwing the challenge flag on the second drive after a four-yard reception made the most sense. Then he decided not to challenge the Sanu catch at the end of the 3rd quarter on a 3rd and 5 situation that ultimately led to a first down when Derek Barnett lined up offside on the ensuing play.
They also burned a time out on the 4th down at the end of the first half, I’d assume because they thought they had a first down, but did not. He also had to burn a timeout on 3rd and 14 in the 4th quarter, which could have been costly later on.
10) The broadcast
The nice thing about the rain delay was that we got extra bonus coverage from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.
I appreciated Michaels pronouncing Marvel Comics as “Mar-velle” Comics. Not sure if you caught that.
I also thought I heard Collinsworth take a dig at himself during the Pederson review, which made me laugh. He said something to the effect of, “no way am I gonna try to tell you whether or not that’s a catch.” He also made a fair call on the play where Chris Long went low into Matt Ryan and got flagged for roughing the passer. I thought they also did a really nice job identifying that Rasul Douglas had come in for Ronald Darby and was 1v1 with Jones just prior to the interception.
Seriously, I thought Michaels and Collinsworth were fair and balanced, like FOX News. I thought Collinsworth was fine, but I still feel like Michaels sounds.. tired? I’m not sure. His touchdown calls are lacking energy these days and he seems like he’s just sort of going through the motions out there. I guess I’d be tired, too, if I was 73 years old and started my career in the 1960s.
RE: the “Green Zone” – it feels redundant to me. You’ve already got the yellow line showing the first down spot, so why do we need a darker shaded portion of the field? I don’t really see the purpose since that area of the field is really unimportant compared to the line of scrimmage and line of gain, which we were already highlighting.
I also didn’t understand the camera angle they used during the first Falcons drive of the 3rd quarter. I think they went Skycam from behind Matt Ryan for four straight plays, which gave us a bad view of the Julio Jones bobble. I know broadcasters want to try new things and evolve their coverage, but this ain’t it.
Also, if you care, Malcolm Jenkins did not do the fist salute during the national anthem.
And finally, the audio and video were not synced-up during the pregame fight song:
What an incredible scene.pic.twitter.com/kHR1OoVGLO
— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) September 7, 2018
Other than that, and the Shawn Mendes shit, no complaints. Nice win to start off the Super Bowl defense.