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October 03, 2021

Final observations: Chiefs 42, Eagles 30

The Chiefs' offense went through the Eagles like a wet paper bag on Sunday, earning a 42-30 road win over Philadelphia. Nick Sirianni's first matchup with Andy Reid as a head coach did not go well, with the first-year coach erring in numerous ways to contribute to the loss.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• I suppose it was only a matter of time that Eric Wilson would make a play after I mocked his play in the first half, but his interception was more about the work being done up front than Wilson's coverage aptitude. Javon Hargrave was wrecking shop in the opening minutes of the second half, and with the Chiefs committing an extra man to Hargrave at the point of attack, Josh Sweat was freed up on the outside to rush the QB. He did not waste the opportunity, hitting Patrick Mahomes as he was in the process of throwing to force a turnover:

These are the sort of plays we have been waiting for (and really, that this defense is built around) and it could not have come at a better time for the Birds. Kansas City was one drive away from making this a two-score game and putting the Eagles in a suboptimal position, and it swung the momentum in a big way. That's why this man just got a big payday in mid-September. 

• DeVonta Smith had been quiet after a strong opening game in Atlanta, and the Eagles wasted no time getting him going against Kansas City on Sunday, tossing him an early screen pass with blockers in front of him to get the rookie wideout going. Whether that early dose of confidence made any difference is up for him to say, but Smith ate in a big way, putting up his first 100+ yard game and coming up with some absolutely terrific catches throughout Sunday's game.

Some of this comes down to versatility in his usage. The aforementioned screen was nice, but the Eagles also found Smith on a decent chunk of intermediate plays, including on some plays down the sideline late in the first half, with Smith showing off beautiful hands and footwork to move the Eagles toward scoring during their (eventually) unsuccessful two-minute drill.

One question I would have four weeks into the year: why aren't the Eagles trying to feature Smith or their wide receivers more in the red zone? Yes, their tight ends are better built to come up with tough catches in traffic, but on a lot of plays deep in enemy territory Smith is barely even being used as a decoy, which seems like a waste of his ability to beat guys off of the line of scrimmage. 

• Sunday was Kenneth Gainwell's coming-out party, with the rookie running back showcasing all of the versatility that got him drafted in the first place. Sirianni put him in motion, put him in the slot, used him in the backfield, and asked him to be an essential cog in Philadelphia's offense. And after a game filled with red-zone issues, it was the diminutive running back who helped them punch through a touchdown when they needed it the most, bringing the Eagles within a score early in the fourth quarter. 

Gainwell's success as a pass-catcher is a nice footnote for this game regardless of the final outcome. 

The Bad

• Getting beat up by the Chiefs through the air is something that happens to opposing teams week after week no matter how many bodies and scheme variants they try to throw at the problem. There would have been no shame if Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and Eric Bienemy just trashed Philadelphia's secondary all afternoon because they are capable of doing that to just about anybody.

That is, well, not exactly what happened on Sunday. The Chiefs got theirs through the air, but they also smoked the Eagles in the trenches and ran the ball whenever they wanted, picking up seven yards a pop through the first three quarters even with some small escape runs from Mahomes mixed in. That number came down some in the fourth quarter as Kansas City transitioned into clock management mode, but it did not make the problem feel any less dire, with the Chiefs getting what they wanted up the middle for most of the afternoon.

There were sequences where you could not tell the Eagles had a linebacking core, with the Chiefs winning the battle up front so handily and so early in plays that Chiefs blockers got to the second level and knocked their second guy over, opening giant holes for their runners. Linebackers have not been an organizational priority for a huge chunk of my life, and perhaps it's about time to revisit and rethink that philosophy.

We have probably taken for granted how good the Eagles were at stopping the run for years. You give yourself a real chance to hang in with superior teams when you can cut off one part of an opponent's attack. The defense has had some great moments and even good performances already this year, but ever since Brandon Graham went down with a season-ending injury, they have taken a nosedive. Stiff competition or not, they need to figure it out.

Philly's defense was so bad on Sunday that it's barely worth spotlighting any individual failures. Outside of the sequence to open the second half, they were outgunned in every way imaginable, disappointing even within the context of a tough matchup. Kansas City laid a beatdown on these guys and they had no answers.

• The Eagles traded assets to get Darius "Big Play" Slay, gave him a handsome extension, and I still struggle to remember more than a handful of plays where you saw him attempting to cover an impact player on the Chiefs, let alone making a "Big Play" on Sunday. I don't think he's a particularly big problem on his own, but he's supposed to be a big part of the solution, and they don't even use him in a way that indicates he can be that player.

• Four weeks in, Sirianni's approach from the lead chair seems too reactive rather than proactive. And he's not even especially reactive within the game — the Eagles' gameplan felt tailored to criticisms Sirianni faced after the loss to Dallas last week. We didn't run the ball enough? Okay, we'll run the ball down multiple scores to Kansas City with just six minutes to go in the game? No motion in our offense? Okay, let's have guys in motion throughout the game, including the second-string running back who rose to prominence this week.

Over the last few weeks, rarely have you looked at the offense and thought, "Man, they really caught the other team by surprise with this one." The Eagles are under a brand new head coach with young talent at all the skill positions, which should theoretically be a recipe for catching teams napping early in Sirianni's tenure. Bad news: other teams already seem to be familiar with what they want to do in important spots. There have been a lot of botched plays that are dead before they even have a chance to work, and that reflects poorly on the staff, even if they're limited by the talent at their disposal. Attention to detail and creativity for this group have just been abysmal. 

• This is a tough Jalen Hurts game to evaluate for me. On the one hand, the Eagles' QB looked much better than he did on the road in Dallas, moving the ball between the 20s with ease and making a wider variety of throws to all areas of the field. On the other hand, he outright missed or was just inaccurate enough on a handful of important plays in high-leverage situations, and the Eagles ultimately left a bunch of points on the board in the process. Do you highlight the positives or the negatives?

I think there's probably space for both. Hurts' numbers were considerably better against Kansas City and the improvement over last week's performance deserves kudos. He had a few head-scratching plays, and you could argue he was bailed out on one or two of those, but he made quicker decisions and better reads on the whole. Hurts was not at fault on a pair of touchdowns that got wiped off of the board due to penalties, and he struck a good balance of trusting his arm vs. his legs, making solid reads out of RPOs and making some timely plays on the ground to keep Kansas City slightly off-kilter.

We also can't ignore the miscues, the misfires, and the throws where he's forcing guys to try to make tough catches after they've already created separation. This is not a team with a large margin for error, and Hurts has to be able to capitalize on most (if not all) of the easy ones if they're going to try to compete for a shot to win the division, even with the NFC East looking bad once again. Overthrown passes are easy to spot and critique, though the throws that are just slightly off are increasing in volume and just as impactful. You don't keep a quarterback job long-term by moving the ball between the 20s.

If DeVonta Smith doesn't get forced out on Hurts' throw down the sideline in the fourth, perhaps we're looking at this as a more positive outing. But when you add on some bewildering decisions — why are you throwing the ball away on fourth and long down two scores in the fourth quarter? — it's hard to spin this into an overall positive day for Hurts even with some notable points in his favor. "Better" does not necessarily mean "good enough". 

The Ugly

• We touched on this in our first half observations, but Sirianni's clock management and decision-making was inexcusably bad against the Chiefs. Taking a timeout on fourth-and-three in the red zone early in the first quarter was horrific on its own, and it ended up costing the Eagles later in the half as a result. With the clock winding down and the Eagles looking to put points on the board, Philadelphia rushed to the line of scrimmage rather than using one of their final two timeouts, and they got the worst of both worlds, with the Chiefs forcing a Hurts fumble on a busted play and ultimately ending the half in the process. Gunshy to use one of those timeouts, Sirianni (and Hurts, for that matter) had no one to blame but himself for the offense falling apart in that moment.

The mistakes continued into the fourth quarter, with the Eagles in scramble mode trying to get back in this game. I can certainly have sympathy for a first-year coach with a young-ish team having some execution errors and what we'll call "growth" mistakes. It's a lot tougher to sell me on not being able to understand basic game theory and football situations, regardless of whether you've been at the helm for one season or 20. Don't be stupid with the clock. You could get a teenager off of the street with extensive Madden experience who could school you on most of this stuff. Stick them in the booth with a headset and I bet you'd materially improve the team, which is just sad.

On top of that, this group was way too conservative in a matchup against an ass-kicking offense like the Chiefs have. You have to go into a matchup with KC knowing they can and will score at will. Kicking field goals won't get it done. Again, this is stuff that I would expect the most casual football fan to know, let alone the coaching staff of an NFL team. When you come into a game as heavy home underdogs, you have to carry yourself accordingly. Andy Reid was more aggressive running out the clock than Sirianni was when the game was hanging in the balance. That's just pathetic.

The pandering t-shirts and highlighters in the visor are going to wear out their welcome fairly quickly if he doesn't get this ship turned around. In the case of the highlighter, I think I saw enough tweets to suggest no one in Philadelphia ever wants to see it make an appearance again.

• Eagles fans would love to accuse the officiating crew of "bias" or some such thing because of the iffy penalty that wiped out a Zach Ertz touchdown in the third quarter, but this crew was just downright bad for both teams throughout the game. They missed a Kenneth Gainwell fumble deep in the red zone in the first half, which would have completely changed the game if it was called correctly.

Frankly, the stuff that is actually worth getting mad at is the arbitrary nature of penalties in the NFL. Holds on one play are let go on another with no rhyme or reason to the calls. When league broadcast crews (which include officiating experts a lot of the time) can have opinions that skew so far from what actually plays out on the field, it shows you there's a big problem and disconnect to deal with.

• On the subject of penalties, the Eagles continue to shoot themselves in the foot with awful penalties no matter who they're playing or who ends up at fault on a given play. This is an undsiciplined group from the young guys through the veterans, productive players through the depth scrubs who shouldn't be out there in the first place. They give first downs away, shorten the distance teams need to go to pick up first downs, wipe out their own successes, and ultimately fail to avoid mistakes in spectacular fashion.

They simply can't go through a full season this sloppy if they have any aspirations to string wins together. If the consequence was just being a bad football team, that would hurt enough on its own, but it also sucks a lot of the joy out of trying to watch them. Even when they come up with a stop or a big play, you're always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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