Bird on Bird Crime: Thoughts after Eagles Crush the Falcons 32-6

Sep 12, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) celebrates as he runs off the field towards the Philadelphia Eagles fans after beating the Atlanta Falcons 32-6 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony is doing the Eagles recap today because Kevin had a baby, a bit earlier than expected. That makes two CB writers last week.

The best part of an Eagles game, any Eagles game, doesn’t actually take place on the field.

It’s the aftermath.

There is always an overreaction. Whether it’s the insurmountable excitement born from a victory that suddenly has fans daring to dream about Super Bowls, or whether it’s the overwhelming dread that the entire team is terrible, the coaches stink, and Howie Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie are to blame for their arrogance and constant meddling respectfully following a loss.

Both are equally entertaining if you truly can sit back and be objective. If you fancy yourself that way, I’m sure you’ll agree.

That being said, and as someone who definitely identifies with the more objective set, and someone who, when asked for an official prediction for the Eagles season prior to Sunday’s game offered up 6-11 with a margin of error of one win either way, I can honestly say that although I had Week 1 firmly in my collection of six wins, I didn’t see the outcome being so emphatic in favor of the Birds.

A 26-point victory by a first-time head coach with a inexperienced quarterback and a lot of question marks on offense? A defense that was being gouged early but made adjustments in-game rather than waiting until halftime? A thorough domination in the entire second half of the game?

Kudos, Eagles. Kudos. Standing ovation well-deserved. Even the overreaction is more understandable – and acceptable than usual.

There were a lot of questions about the Eagles, and they tried to answer each and every one of them in Week 1. And they did, at least temporarily.

And I say that not because it’s not possible that they can keep strengthening their answers in the coming weeks, but also as a word of caution that this triumphant debut for Nick Sirianni and his coaching staff, for Jalen Hurts as the de facto starting quarterback, for Devonta Smith as a big play receiver, for Jordan Mailata as a big money left tackle, and for Jonathan Gannon as a defensive coordinator with some question marks other than on the defensive line, may also have been exacerbated because the Atlanta Falcons are terrible.

There’s nothing wrong with that. If you want to be a good team, which the Eagles certainly want, then you have to beat bad teams like Atlanta in this fashion.

So, with the exception of some penalties (14 by the Eagles to be exact), this was about as complete a domination as you can have of one team over another.

So, go ahead. Revel in the victory. Dare to dream of what it can mean. Don’t worry about the gauntlet that is the  49ers, Cowboys and Chiefs, and after that a quick visit to Carolina having Tampa Bay on a short week until later.

The Eagles are 1-0 and in first place in the NFC East all by themselves. That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment considering the circumstances.

Let’s talk about why they got here.

 

Hurts So Good

There were certainly doubters about Hurts’ ability to be a quality NFL starting quarterback. After all, what was seen in his brief stint as the man at the end of last season was a mixed bag. There were some good moments, there were some not so good ones.

National pundits paid Hurts very little respect this season. Local squawkers debated whether he had the package necessary to compete in the NFL.

And yes, the caveat has firmly been established that his first test should be graded on a bit of a curve because of the ineptitude of the opponent, but the fact of the matter is Hurts still passed with flying colors.

He was 27-for-35 for 264 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 62 yards rushing, second-best on the team, behind Miles Sanders.

It’s hard to argue with that kind of efficiency.

He was well-protected y his offensive line, which had a strong game overall, and he was put in a good position to succeed by his coaching staff, as the the Eagles ran one quick-hitter play after another. Heck, Hurts’ first three completions were little swing passes to Quez Watkins. He then ran the same play with Smith later on in the game.

There weren’t any shots downfield, so it was more a matter of moving the ball in smaller chunks but doing so in a fashion where the percentage of success was high.

The most impressive thing was the speed at which the Eagles moved the offense. It wasn’t quite Chip Kelly-esque, where the defense ended up being on the field for two-thirds of the game, but it was up tempo enough to keep a good flow to the offense and to keep the Falcons guessing.

The most impressive drive by Hurts was the 12-play drive at the end of the first half. It went 62 yards and ended with this touchdown to Dallas Goedert:

And although I swore I saw a replay where that ball hit the ground (and Goedert’s left arm was out to the side, and no longer under the ball) it was in fact ruled a touchdown. Go figure. We have replays in pro sports and the officials still can’t get it right.

But hey, the Eagles will take it.

And I pointed out this drive for a reason. I mentioned that it was 12 plays and 62 yards. But the length of the drive? How about just 1:42. That’s right, Hurts guided the Eagles on a drive that was 12 plays long and took just 1:42. That’s less than 12 seconds per play.

One might want to laud the coaching staff for such efficiency. And it’s fair to give them some credit, after all they called these plays, but the execution is on the players on the field, and the quarterback is the guy directing that traffic with the internal clock that was on point, Sunday.

That’s where Hurts was at his best– managing the offense and it’s efficiency. That bodes well, even against better teams, as long as he doesn’t get rattled.

Oh, and this pass to Jalen Reagor for the icing on the cake touchdown, was impressive because it showed poise by Hurts and a belief in the play being called. He hung in, took a hit and still made the completion at a perfect time, just as the blocking in front of Reagor developed:

 

Devonta Debut

There was a lot of reason for excitement about the Eagles being able to still draft Smith at the No. 10 spot in the 2021 draft.

The Heisman Trophy winner came with an Alabama pedigree, and an overwhelmingly positive scouting report about how his game would transition to the NFL.

After one week, that assimilation seemed to be a smooth as silk.

Smith debuted by catching six balls for 71 yards and a touchdown on his first catch as a pro.

Here’s the touchdown, which Smith said afterwards he “knew” he was going to score as soon as the Falcons lineup in man-to-man defensively:

Not to be lost on this play was the pick by Zach Ertz to allow Smith to get open, but whatever, Hurts to Smith seems to have great chemistry.

His six catches matches a franchise record for a rookie debut and his 71 yards are second only to DeSean Jackson’s 106 yards in 2008.

But maybe the best thing about Smith isn’t something fans saw on the field, but rather something that was captured afterwards in the locker room.

This from NBC Sports Philly‘s Dave Zangaro:

“Miles Sanders said the Eagles locker room after the 26-pont win was like a party. And you’d assume one of the younger players on the team would be enjoying it like everybody else. But Smith is no ordinary rookiee. He comes from a major program in Alabama and isn’t going to act like the Birds just one the Super Bowl.

‘Everybody is excited but we understand,’ Smith said. ‘We enjoy this for 24 hours and then move on to next week.’

All business.”

That’s impressive.

 

Coach was First Class

Sirianni had a heck of a debut as well. His scripted plays were unique. Different. But most importantly, they played to the strengths of his players and didn’t expose their weaknesses.

It’s a little concerning there weren’t any shots downfield, especially with the kind of speed the Eagles have at wide receiver this year, but maybe he just didn’t want to show that card yet because he feels it’s something he can exploit in the coming weeks against better teams.

Siranni also proved to be a gambler, going for it twice on fourth down. Neither call ended up working, but it’s not like either instance was a questionable decision whether or not to go for it. He didn’t get caught up in conservative coaching. He was bullish, and trying to find every advantage he could.

Stealing an extra point when there was a penalty on Atlanta on the extra point try, Sirianni gave back the point kicked by Jake Elliott and instead chose to go for two points, which was punched in easily by Sanders.

Most of the running plays, by design, were read option, with Hurts having the choice to hand off to either Sanders or Kenny Gainwell (who also scored a touchdown) or for Hurts to pull the ball back and keep it himself.

Good first day for Sirianni. He definitely outcoached Arthur Smith, the Falcons first-year coach who interviewed for the Eagles job. But he’s got some veteran coaches coming up on his schedule that ought to pose more schematic preparation challenges.

 

Never Underestimate the Presence of a Quality Punter

I don’t want to waste too many words on this already too-long recap on Arryn Siposs, but he replaced Cam Johnston and did so emphatically.

In his NFL debut, Siposs punted three times inside the 10 yard line, and only one was returned by the Falcons… to the 14 yard-line.

Forcing teams to start 10 yards or more further back than they expect is definitely a positive for the Eagles. That’s got to bring the point conversion rate down by a good 10-15 percent, which is a boon for the defense.

OK, enough about punting. Bring on the 49ers.

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