Not an Instant Classic – Ten Takeaways from 49ers 17, Eagles 11

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was deflating.

Out came the Birds on Sunday afternoon in front of a raucous and electric home crowd. A full stadium! There were vibes of 2017 in the air as the Birds’ defense showed us glimpses of the glorious past, when they made opposing quarterbacks look slow and rattled and overmatched. The offense moved the ball up and down the field and seemed to be carrying into Week 2 what we saw in the blowout Atlanta win.

Then.. what? What happened?

You looked at the scoreboard to see the San Francisco 49ers up 7-3 at halftime despite doing “diddly poo” on offense, as the great Jim Mora once said. Jimmy G looked more like Christian Hackenberg for parts of the first two quarters, yet somehow had his guys ahead at the break, because the Eagles left points on the board. They blew a couple of scoring chances and came away empty handed. They let ’em off the hook!

Take a couple of missed opportunities, a blocked field goal, and suspect play calling, then grind it all up with the mortar and pestle. Out comes a fine powder of impotence, like the anti-Viagra. A concoction that makes you flaccid instead of erect. If the Birds’ offense looked like a Maserati in Atlanta, then Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts were co-piloting a 1994 Nissan Altima on Sunday afternoon.

1) Hurts so average

Jalen Hurts went 12 for 23 for 190 yards and ran it 10 times for 82 yards and a touchdown. The box score is a little generous, because if you take away the 91-yard Quez Watkins bomb, then Hurts went 11-22 for 99 yards on the rest of the afternoon. It’s just not good enough from a guy who showed a lot of Week 1 poise and hit a variety of targets in the process.

A couple of things that were bothersome on Sunday afternoon:

  • Tight ends were only targeted four times in this game. The first catch didn’t come until the fourth quarter.
  • The deep ball left something to be desired. On that early deep shot to DeVonta Smith, Hurts’ back foot came off the ground and he just didn’t have enough oomph on what was admittedly a long toss. On some of the other shots, he seemed to loft it up there and his receivers had to stop and come back and try to go up and get some contested catches.
  • He did get stripped once on his blindside, but the Birds recovered.

If you go through his chart, you see Hurts tried eight passes of 15+ yards and only hit on two of them:

Those downfield shots aren’t easy to hit, but the Birds have multiple speedy guys who can wriggle free in those areas. Watkins, Smith, Jalen Reagor, etc. In a way, you feel like the Eagles offense was really “boom or bust” because of that on Sunday afternoon, and unfortunately is more of the latter and less of the former.

2) Empty possessions

Nothing profound here, but the Eagles put together multiple first half possessions where they left points on the board.

Their drives:

  1. five plays, 18 yards, punt
  2. eleven plays, 53 yards, field goal
  3. ten plays, 54 yards, blocked field goal
  4. six plays, 94 yards, turnover on downs

That’s 219 first half yards of offense, which is excellent. They started those drives at their own 32, 17, 21, and 3, so yardage wasn’t the problem. They just couldn’t finish those drives, and it came back to bite them in the ass.

3) Takeaways, or lack thereof

You can’t blame this one on the defense, though it was excruciating watching the Niners dink and dunk and bullshit their way down the field on that 16 play, 92 yard drive that ate up almost nine minutes of clock. It was bread and butter Kyle Shanahan, and you were just really itching for somebody on the Eagles’ defense to make a play, which never came. The pass rush cooled off. The linebackers seemed to be a step behind. Whatever urgency was there in the first half just seemed to disappear.

It seemed like they had secured their first takeaway of the season, at a crucial time, but got flagged when K’Von Wallace was judged to have gone helmet-to-helmet on Trey Sermon on a bang-bang play in which Sermon seemed to be going down after taking a hit from Anthony Harris:

These plays drive you crazy because the action is happening so quickly. What do you want Wallace to do there?

Said Fletcher Cox of the play:

“I don’t agree with the call. It is what it is. They threw the flag, they stuck with it and that was a big turning point in the game for us and, as a player, being honest, it just sucked the air out of you when things like that happen.”

As it stands, the Eagles are one of five NFL teams without a takeaway through two games. There’s always going to be luck associated with jumping on fumbles, or getting deflected passes to go your way, but the bottom line is that the defense is going to have to find that next level and have individuals make a play or two. Since logging 31 takeaways during the Super Bowl year, the Birds have finished bottom-half league wide in this category every year since.

4) Ref, you suck?

Not sure if you saw this, but on the QB sneak that iced the game, the play clock hit zero:

The countdown you see on your screen is not official, but FOX and the other broadcasters are usually sync’d up with the on-field clock. A couple of people at the game messaged me saying that the clock also hit zero at the Linc, so it would seem as though the refs blew a pretty important call here. The zebras really screwed it up.

5) Injury city, USA

The Eagles’ newfound injury luck ran out just two weeks into the season.

Brandon Graham, as you know, is out for the year with a torn Achilles. Brandon Brooks came off the field with a pectoral issue and was replaced by rookie Landon Dickerson. And Davion Taylor, returning from a calf injury, once again injured his calf and had to leave the game.

The latest on Brooks:

Stupid day for NFL injuries. Seems like half the league went down. Brooks, B.G., Carson Wentz, T.J. Watt, Tua, etc. It’s deflating when this stuff happens.

6) Mistakes and breaks

A somewhat long list:

Mistakes:

  • Zech McPhearson bumbling that first punt into the end zone. Tough play, but he could have tried to just get out of the way and let a third teammate down the ball.
  • Block in the back penalty on a punt return.
  • 3rd drive – miscommunication with Miles Sanders on a route.
  • Blocked field goal. (did appreciate the broadcast showing Kyle Shanahan, who said “oh fuck” when Dallas Goedert picked up the ball and tried to run for a first down)
  • Red zone offside on the offensive line, “the entire left side.”
  • Encroachment to open the second half on Javon Hargrave.
  • Fletcher Cox illegal hands to the face.
  • Anthony Harris DPI in the end zone.
  • Derek Barnett with his one dumbass penalty per game. Guy never learns. Always some dirty or unnecessary bullshit from him.

The Birds got really unlucky with that Jalen Reagor TD that was called back, and you felt like that was a key turning point that really took some air out of the team. The broadcast explained this sequence well. It was “illegal touching” because Reagor went out of bounds prior to the catch and did not re-establish position. Sirianni noted after the game that Reagor needs to “save” room on the sideline with how he releases off the line of scrimmage.

Breaks:

  • Josh Norman DPI on the Birds’ first drive.
  • Niners not being able to catch a screen pass for the entire first quarter.
  • San Fran deciding to run on 3rd and 8 and just being super conservative on that 2nd quarter drive. They punted from the Eagles’ 38 yard line, which I think made Jimmy Kempski’s head explode.
  • Getting a fresh set of downs on a second Norman DPI.
  • Jack Stoll grabbing the loose ball on the Jalen Hurts strip.
  • Refs picking up the flag on that Alex Singleton hit. The fact that it was even considered a penalty in the first place is ridiculous.
  • Niners TD called back on review (….and San Fran scored on the very next play).
  • Late hit on the Jalen Hurts big fourth quarter run.

7) ancillary wins and losses

Let’s go back through some of the key statistics from the Doug Pederson era and see how the Eagles did in Sirianni’s second game:

  • lost time of possession 34:53 to 25:06
  • 0 turnover margin (neither team coughed up the ball)
  • 5-12 on third down (41.6%)
  • 0-1 on fourth down
  • allowed Niners to go 6-14 on third down (42.8%)
  • lost 13 yards on two sacks
  • 1-2 success rate in the red zone
  • 8 penalties for 57 yards
  • 18 first downs, 23 for San Fran
  • ran 55total plays, San Fran 68

Nothing in there is particularly glaring. They didn’t turn the ball over, but neither did San Fran. Third downs were fine, but the Niners matched them. It was impressive from San Francisco in that regard because even though they started incredibly slow, they didn’t do anything to exacerbate those struggles, and they settled while controlling the block and limiting penalties and playing solid defense. It was a very “game manager” type of performance from Jimmy G, who didn’t light the world on fire, but didn’t have to. QB sneaks, short passes, etc. Effective stuff.

8) Nick’s best call?

Couple of candidates.

I liked the deep shot from their own end zone. Man to man coverage on the outside? Let your speedy receiver go and get the ball. A 91-yard reception.

And it was the right call to go for two while down eight. The analytics back this, and now you’ll see a lot of coaches do it. Win probability increases when you go for the conversion first, then set yourself up to win with an extra point. It’s kind of complicated to explain, but the computers like it, and so now the more progressive portion of coaches like it.

9) Nick’s worst call?

Woof. There are quite a few candidates here.

First, not sure about that 3rd and 6 run call on the first drive. Wonder if Hurts saw something he didn’t like and checked out of it. They did not seem to have a box advantage on that play.

And then there’s the decision to go for it on 4th and goal before halftime. They ran a reverse pass with Greg Ward. A BALLSY play! A version of the Philly Special that didn’t come off.

Said Sirianni on that:

Q. 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line after the 91-yard pass and then the subsequent PI in the endzone, why not just sneak it as many times as necessary until you get in? (Jimmy Kempski)

NICK SIRIANNI: I think that that sneak is a little bit more from a little closer to be honest with you. But, as it was in the end of the game when we snuck it when we were on the half-inch line or whatever it was. I don’t think I called good plays in that area. There are going to be times where you’re going to look at it and be like, ‘I want those calls back.’ When they work, it was a good play. They didn’t.

So, it was my fault. I didn’t call good enough plays right there. I didn’t put the players in good enough positions, but we’re all in this together, coaches and players.

That entire red zone trip left a lot to be desired. The bigger concern should be about the play calls on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down, which netted a grand total of -2 yards and put them on the San Francisco three. One appeared to be a busted shovel pass attempt.

Trick plays are high-risk, high-reward, but the fact that they looked like the Bad News Bears before that fourth down choice should result in some consternation.

Sirianni again, this time on the gadget play itself:

“Give them credit, first of all. I think they did a great job, their defensive coordinator just did a really good job. So, I give them credit for some of the false things they were showing us. We thought it was a certain coverage; it wasn’t. They did a good job of disguising it. 54 [49ers LB Fred Warner] gets the show running out there and can get everybody lined up the way he needs to, so I give them credit first. Then I felt confident in the play. The play looked good in practice this last week. Felt confident in the coverage we were getting, and they didn’t play it. That happens sometimes.

On second thought do I want that play back? Of course. Any time you call a play that doesn’t work, especially in tight games and especially down there in a seven-point play you’re going to want that back. So, I’ve got to call a better play.”

If the Birds kicked the field goal there, they’re up 6-0. Not amazing, but points were at a premium in a game featuring two good defenses. They went for a 10-0 lead, didn’t get it, and sat there at 3-0 instead.

10) Broadcasting excellence

We were blessed with Adam Amin, Mark Schlereth, and Shannon Spake for this broadcast.

I would personally describe this crew as “serviceable.” Maybe “steady” is a good word. There aren’t high highs but there aren’t low lows either, and what I mean by that is that you don’t hear anything dumb but you also don’t hear anything amazingly erudite or profound. Schlereth is a 2x Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion, so you’d think you’d get something a little more deep from him, but he was a lineman, so his thing is analyzing every block ever made:

My biggest gripe with the broadcast was when they cut to commercial during the Sermon non-fumble. It should be illegal to go to commercial break until we know exactly what the fuck is happening on the field. Surely one of these useless politicians can write up some legislation to fix this recurring issue. 

Amin did say something that bothers me, and it was in the third quarter when Jalen Hurts ran a simple zone read. Amin called it something like an “RPO play,” and it seems like people still don’t understand exactly what an RPO is. Just because the QB pulls the ball and runs does not mean that the other option was to pass. You can have two-option plays that are QB run or tailback run.

It was this play:

The receivers aren’t running routes, which is your first sign that this isn’t an RPO. The second sign is that some of the linemen are downfield blocking. If Hurts pulled that ball to throw it, you’d be able to flag multiple guys for being illegally down the field, since you are not allowed to block beyond the one-yard line on a passing play.

Anyway, that’s today’s RPO lesson. Have a fantastic Monday.

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