In case you didn’t notice, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside started in the 32-6 wipeout of the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
No biggie, Jalen Reagor was in before too long, and Arcega-Whiteside would log just another 15 snaps the rest of the afternoon.
Nevertheless, Nick Sirianni liked what he saw from his third-year WR. Not in the passing game, because he wasn’t targeted, but in the run game.
“I thought did an excellent job of blocking,” said the head coach on Monday afternoon. “He was aggressive. He was able to make some plays, kind of sprang out there for extra yards.”
Sirianni referenced three blocks, in particular, the first two were to Quez Watkins to begin the game, the other was a run by quarterback Jalen Hurts when Arcega-Whiteside “pinned the safety.”
“The message to the receivers is, ‘Hey when that ball gets out on the perimeter, you never know when that's going to happen, so you have to be blocking your tails off every single time,’” Sirianni said. “Because when that ball gets on the perimeter and you do your job, we can turn a 10-yard run into a 20-yard run or 30-yard run or 40-yard run or whatever it may be.
“And I saw J.J. do that very well and very efficiently. And we didn't just throw him out there to do that because we didn't have a feel that he was going to do that. He's been showing that to us every single day in practice.”
At some point, expect Arcega-Whiteside to get some targets.
“He'll be rewarded with catches from that,” said the coach. “I know he wasn't (Sunday), but we're going to have to marry things together so he's getting some touches off that, as well. So we have that threat to run and pass it. But I thought he did a great job.”
Here’s more from Sirianni’s day-after videoconference:
HURTS SO GOOD
After watching the tape, Sirianni said Hurts did “an excellent job” picking up the blitz, something the Falcons tested him with plenty and keeping his eyes down the field.
“Jalen [Hurts] just was able to have these quick movements to get out of it,” said the coach. “Like, there's a couple times where I – ‘Hey, Jalen on this coverage, on this play, I want your eyes over here.’ All right, and there's a guy blitzing over here, and he felt and he went out. So, he kind of showed really good instincts of just – and good feel.
“Like, ‘I see the structure of the defense, I'm not really looking at it, but I'm feeling it.’ And so, he got us out of a couple binds that we made a couple mistakes on (Sunday)…You know, be that passer first and then go and run. So, yeah, I was really pleased with how he handled the pressures. And they brought a lot of different things at us.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance from the Eagles’ offensive line, and if the team had lost to the Falcons, their mistakes might be more of a storyline.
As it was, a 32-6 blowout victory in the season opener can some of those warts, mostly which were penalties. There were fourteen of them for 89 yards, and half were against the offensive line, with Lane Johnson called twice for holding and being illegally downfield on a touchdown throw to Kenny Gainwell that was negated, and two false starts against Isaac Seumalo.
Ah, but there was plenty of good: Jason Kelce wiping out two defenders with two different blocks on a big-play rush from Miles Sanders and Jordan Mailata burying rookie Richie Grant with a devastating block on Jalen Reagor’s touchdown.
So, it’s easy to forget the penalties, especially when you factor in that it really was the first time the starters played together since Aug. 12 in the preseason opener against the Steelers.
“There's a difference between aggressive, out of control, and aggressive while playing within the rules of the game, right?” said head coach Nick Sirianni in his day after videoconference call.
“And, obviously, at all points, we want to be mean, we want to be physical, we want to be aggressive while still playing completely under control. And that's the ability of a good football player, really, to be honest with you. Like, ‘Hey, how do we do all these things that we just talked about, but be completely in control?’ There's an art to that.”
That art, Sirianni said, is discipline, and that goes for both sides of the football and special teams, too.
For the most part, though, Sirianni was pleased with his O-line.
“I thought they played a really good game,” he said. “They were really able to show some dominance in the run game of how they were coming off and with working some double-teams. And that just showed up over and over again in our run game.
“Really pleased with the offensive line, how they played. I'm not surprised. I know that this is the unit that we're going to – that determines whether you win or lose games.”
Safety Marcus Epps is in concussion protocol and sounds like the most serious ailment coming out of the win.
Arcega-Whiteside is day-to-day with an ankle injury.
Tight end Zach Ertz who left the game briefly with a hamstring issue is OK, though Sirianni said he was still being evaluated.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.