September 13, 2021
The Philadelphia Eagles opened their 2021 season — and the Nick Sirianni Era, for that matter — in style on Sunday with their 32-6 win over the Falcons down in Atlanta.
For the Birds, pretty much everything went right, from Jalen Hurts' impressive start to DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor and Kenny Gainwell each scoring a touchdown, to the defense holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons to just six points (and none in the second half). Even Sirianni, who had plenty of doubters right up until kickoff, proved that the job of head coach — something he'd never done before this season — wasn't too much for him to handle. In fact, he looked like a veteran out there.
Even some of the things that didn't go the Eagles way, like that embarrassing first-half run defense or all those early penalties, were cleaned up in the second half, not only showing that Sirianni can get through to his players in the locker room, but also allowing the team to pull away and pile on even more momentum heading into their Week 2 matchup against the 49ers in front of their home fans.
But before we start looking too far ahead, let's allow Eagles fans to enjoy the moment, one that's certainly deserved after suffering through a miserable 4-11-1 campaign a year ago that ultimately led to the firing of their head coach and the trading away of their franchise quarterback.
On Sunday, Hurts and Sirianni made Howie Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie look smart. Let's take a look at what they're saying about the 1-0 first place Philadelphia Eagles...
We'll start over at ESPN, where Dan Graziano took a look at some Week 1 overreactions to determine whether or not they were, in fact, that. And while the veteran NFL writer believes Hurts still has a lot of growing to do — and fully aware that this is a small sample size — he also believes that Hurts is going to quickly make Eagles fans forget about their former quarterback. What's his name again? He just played here last year...
Jalen Hurts is going to make the Eagles forget about Carson Wentz
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. First of all, after last season and how he forced his way out of town, what makes us think the Eagles don't want to forget about Wentz? Hurts has plenty of wrinkles in his game to iron out, but guys do iron those out very often. He has the toughness teams want in their starting quarterbacks, and his ability to beat teams with his legs should help cover some of the flaws while he develops.
The Eagles have (likely) three first-round picks in next year's draft and are poised to upgrade at quarterback if they need to, but it's not a major stretch to imagine a world in which Hurts proves he can be their answer. Everything came up Eagles this week. Every other team in the NFC East lost, and the Colts lost while Wentz played the whole game. This last part matters because the second-rounder the Eagles got for him becomes a first-rounder if Wentz plays 75% of Indy's offensive snaps. And it becomes a better first-rounder every time the Colts lose.
Long way to go, as we keep saying, but it was a great start to the season for the Eagles and Hurts, who surely believes he can make them forget about Wentz before long. [ESPN]
It's probably a safe bet that Wentz won't be forgotten any time soon. At least not before Eagles fans find out whether or not they're getting that first-round pick from the Colts...
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports said he's been on the Hurts train for some time now — I don't have the receipts but I'll believe him — and Sunday's performance certainly isn't going to make him waver there. He was so impressed by the Eagles, however, that he thinks they can make some noise in the NFC East.
Hurts, who I have maintained time and again I believe can be a winning quarterback in this league, was nothing short of superb in filleting a perpetually slow-starting Falcons team and spoiling yet another Atlanta home opener. Hurts got better and better as the game went on, quickly established himself as the best player on the field, spreading the ball around at will and doing all rookie head coach Nick Sirianni could have hoped for in his NFL debut. Sirianni far bettered fellow offensive-minded head coach Arthur Smith, making his debut as well, and served notice that with his unique skillset, behind a competent offensive line and with options in the run game, Hurts can be special.
Hurts finished the game with a sterling box score – 27 for 35 for 264 yards and three touchdowns and no turnovers. He also ran seven times for 62 yards and was a dervish as the Eagles turned this into a second-half beatdown and the crowd took over the stadium, too. I don't want to get too carried away, given Atlanta's defensive shortcomings and their inability to muster anything against a stout Philly front, but this should be cause for optimism among this fanbase if nothing else. [...]
Philadelphia can be stout in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They are going to run for big yardage. And in the NFC East I wouldn't rule them out being a factor. [CBS Sports]
Interestingly enough, as we wrote on Monday morning, the Eagles have already climbed ahead of the Giants when it comes to the best odds to win the division. Now, with news that Ryan Fitzpatrick is headed to IR, it's worth wondering if the Eagles might find themselves ahead of Washington as well before long, with only the Cowboys remaining as the favorite.
Hurts wasn't the only one who impressed on Sunday. Sirianni, whose tenure in Philly didn't get off to the best of starts if you remember that introductory press conference, was also a bright spot for the Birds. As Jeff McLane points out, there were signs all along the way that this was going to be the case, but when you're talking about a guy who has never really called plays before and was making his head coaching debut, you always want to see it before you believe it.
And even with a few hiccups, McLane was left walking away confident in the head coach's abilities...
There had been signs with each successive interview, and more importantly, with every opportunity there was to see Sirianni on the field with his players and how they executed his schemes. But there was still the great unknown of how a first-time coach would fare once the lights came on.
We now know after the Eagles upended the Falcons, 32-6, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium: the franchise is in able hands with Sirianni. One game is just that. A Hall of Fame coach it does not make. But the Eagles looked like a team that bought into a coach who was anonymous in Philadelphia just nine months ago. [...]
The Eagles weren’t especially sharp Sunday. They committed 14 penalties. The defense missed a handful of tackles by the half. The offense left yards and points on the field. And Sirianni had a few dubious moments himself.
“We have to clean up the things that require no talent,” he said.
But they never dug themselves a hole they weren’t ready to climb out of. It helped that the Falcons appeared hapless. Arthur Smith doesn’t have the roster Siranni does, but the other first-time coach at the Benz — another offensive-minded coach the Eagles interviewed in January — didn’t look anywhere near as prepared. [Inquirer.com]
It's a small sample size, sure, but you can only judge off the information you have. And so far, so good.
Each week, NBC Sports Philly's Reuben Frank has his 10 observations, and it's no surprise this week that the top three spots belonged to Hurts, DeVonta Smith and Sirianni. In a sense, all three were making debuts of sorts. Smith was playing in his first NFL game. For Sirianni, it was his first game of any kind as head coach. And for Hurts, it was his first season opener as the team's starter — not the guy coming off the bench late in the season after things have fallen apart. The expectations this time around are different.
Hurts didn't look fazed. Neither did Sirianni or Smith. And that's a great sign moving forward for the Birds. We've got plenty on Sirianni and Hurts in here already, so let's take a look at Roob's observation on Smith...
2. It didn’t take long for DeVonta Smith to show why there’s been so much hype around this kid. So smooth. Terrific body control. Real knack for getting open. And catches the ball effortlessly. You can see the chemistry he and Hurts have. Smith had the early 18-yard touchdown, making him the first Eagles rookie with a TD catch on opening day since tight end Keith Jackson's 8-yarder from Randall Cunningham in Tampa in 1988. He finished 6-for-71, and only DeSean Jackson (106 vs. the Rams in 2008) has had more yards for the Eagles in a career debut. This franchise has been waiting for a kid like this for a long time. [NBC Sports Philly]
As Bo Wulf of the Athletic pointed out, it wasn't just individual performances that stood out in this one — although there are plenty of them to discuss — but also the overall vibe of this Eagles team, which was different than in recent years.
That definitely starts at the top with Sirianni (and Hurts, to be sure). And while we don't yet know for certain just how good this team is going to be, the one thing we do know is that they're going to be fun. And for a team that entered the year with relatively low expectations — expectations that might be a bit higher after Sunday's win — that's about all you can ask for.
Are they good? Who knows, it was one game. There will be plenty of time to figure that out later. For now, focus on fun.
You would be forgiven for checking out on the Eagles during the offseason after the slog of 2020, but the signs have been there. Zach Ertz, who is still on the team, told reporters this summer has been “the most fun I’ve had coming to work in a long time.” Sirianni, the first-year head coach who gives off low-key Ted Lasso vibes because of his unrelenting earnestness, has emphasized the importance of the team connecting with each other more than he’s talked about ball security. Sometimes that attitude can come off as hokey. So far, the players appear to have bought in.
For the Eagles, Week 1 was refreshing. No longer is every game a referendum on the quarterback’s entire career. No longer does it look like the team has no answers on offense. Right now, those exhausting Sundays are a thing of the past.
So what did we learn? We learned the head coach is no doofus. In his first game as a head coach, Sirianni handled things as if he’d been there before. In the first half, he kept all three timeouts in anticipation of the end-of-half two-minute drill that led to a touchdown. He then took advantage of the Falcons’ penalty on the ensuing extra point and sent his offense on the field for an easy 1-yard two-point conversion. In his first game as a play caller, Sirianni rotated personnel and formations without being predictable. [...]
Most of all, we learned the team has juice. Maybe the whole season will be fun. [The Athletic]
Maybe it will. But this team is going to lose eventually. And the true test of Sirianni's control over the locker room will be in how his players react to that adversity.
So, how good can this team actually be? Are we all reading too much into one win over a bad team? Should we maybe wait to see how they fare during this upcoming slate of difficult games? Over at ESPN, Tim McManus offers up his confidence rating on the team following that big Week 1 victory. And it might not be as high as you think...
How high is this team's ceiling? That kind of convincing road win will get people talking about coach Nick Sirianni and the Eagles. Expectations were low entering this season, but the Eagles overperformed on both sides of the ball Sunday, particularly on defense by keeping Atlanta and its talented skill players out of the end zone. The upcoming stretch in the Eagles' schedule will tell the true tale: Their next five games are against the Niners, Cowboys, Chiefs, Panthers and Buccaneers. -- McManus
McManus' confidence rating: 6.3. The Eagles impressed in coach Nick Sirianni's first game at the helm. It will take more evidence before believing they're the real thing, but it was about as good a start as they could have asked for. -- McManus [ESPN]
I think that confidence rating is probably right on the money from McManus. The Eagles looked good, sure, but at the end of the season will we look at that win as the outlier or as a sign of things to come? Right now, it's probably too early to tell, but if the Eagles can back that up with some solid showings against better opponents in coming weeks, even if they don't win, then maybe the Birds are on to something here.
There's been a lot of talk about the difficulty of the Eagles' schedule this season, and while they face a few tough matchups in the coming weeks, it's actually the easiest of any team in the NFL based on last year's winning percentage (which isn't always predictive of future success/failure). Go figure.
The easiest schedule belongs to the Eagles, by a significant margin (.430 compared with .452 for the next team), thanks to playing in such a lousy division last year. They are followed by the Cowboys, Falcons, Buccaneers, and Dolphins. The Eagles only have four games against .500 teams, and the Cowboys and Eagles only have five games against playoff teams. [BostonGlobe.com]
Maybe La Canfora's bold proclamation that the Eagles can "be a factor" in the NFC East isn't actually that bold after all?