ATLANTA – It was hard to find much wrong with the way the Eagles played in Sunday’s 32-6 season-opening dusting of the Falcons, other than the 14 penalties for 89 yards and the 0-for-2 on fourth downs.
They won the time of possession, 31:03 to Atlanta’s 28:57.
Their defense held the Falcons to just three third-down conversions in 14 attempts (21.4 percent) and their offense converted six of 13 tries on third down (46.2 percent).
Beyond the numbers, though, this game turned on a pair of red-zone stops by the defense and a two-minute drive at the end of the first half engineered by Jalen Hurts.
Here’s more in my Eagles rewind:
There was so much to like about the Eagles’ two-minute drive to close the first half, a 12-play, 12-yard masterpiece from Hurts on the field and head coach Nick Sirianni off the field calling the plays.
The Eagles converted two third downs on the drive that began with 1:44 left in the second quarter.
Hurts picked up the first, scrambling 11 yards on third-and-five from the Atlanta 45.
The second the QB dropped a dime into Dallas Goedert on another third-and-five, this one that covered 12 yards and set the Eagles up for first-and-goal at the 4 with 15 seconds left.
This is what I liked best from that point forward:
Hurts never let a nullified 4-yard touchdown throw to Kenny Gainwell faze him because of a penalty on Lane Johnson. He came back and threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Goedert on the very next play.
But what really stood out was Hurts’ decision, as the play is going on, not to run the ball and try to score when he broke to his right. It looked open, but if he is stopped short, the play clock, which was at 9 seconds when the ball was snapped, expires because the Eagles didn’t have any more timeouts and the score stays 7-6 at the half.
"Taking what the defense gave him, Siriuanni said afterward when asked about the drive and Hurts’ play on it. “Methodically going down the field, making big throws when he needed to make big throws, create, checking it down when he needed to check it down, making a run when he needed to make a run. Just playing good quarterback and just good quarterback play.”
The late score made it 15-6 with two seconds to play and after a Miles Sanders PAT run.
Huge turning point.
“Nine seconds left in that situation,” said Hurts afterward. “Think about, do you want to scramble around; do you want to make a play? I’m in a situation where a play was made. Dallas [Goedert] caught the ball right through it. It's good. I'm happy we scored.”
RED ZONE DEFENSE
The Falcons marched 72 yards on 14 plays to the Eagles’ 3 on their first drive. On fourth-and-goal from there, Arthur Smith opted for a 21-yard field goal.
On their second possession, the Falcons went 74 yards in 15 plays, using more than six minutes of clock, reaching the 2 for first-and-goal after a holding penalty by DT Hassan Ridgeway put them that much closer. Instead, after a Falcons motion penalty, Smith again went for a short field goal on fourth-and-goal at the 9.
After that Atlanta pretty much did nothing on offense.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was asked that by SI.com Eagle Maven on Tuesday.
“I would say they had a good plan to start the game, all un-scouted looks, which we figured they would do,” he said. “I think the main two things that changed were we cleaned some technique issues up after the first couple series there. I think guys settled in a little bit better and started trusting their keys. We talk about alignment, assignment, key, technique. If you don't have those, if one of those four things is wrong, it's hard to play good team defense.
“It's a credit to our players, they settled down and just started getting back to the basics of that.”
FOURTH DOWN FIZZLERS
Twice, the Eagles attempted to convert a fourth down but failed both times.
The first came early in the second quarter after the Eagles reached the Falcons’ 36 needing four yards. It would have been a 53- or 54-yard field goal try, not out of Jake Elliott’s range. Still, a sort of no man's land area of the field.
The drive ended when Hurts threw incomplete.
The second fourth down came midway through the third quarter and the Eagles still clinging to a 15-6 lead. They had reached the Atlanta 20 and needed two yards for a first, but Kenny Gainwell was stopped one yard short.
It is a bit easier to second-guess that decision when the Eagles could have gone up two touchdowns at 18-6.
The Eagles' defense, and two offensive pass intrfer3nce penalties, though didn’t allow the momentum to shift though and the Eagles' offense got the ball back in good shape, right at the 50. Six plays later, Gainwell raced in virtually untouched from eight yards away and it was 22-6 with 1:25 to play in the third.
Not long afterward, Falcons fans began streaming for the exits.
“I felt good about the calls,” said Sirianni afterward. “We didn't execute it. They were definitely green lights for us to be able to go for it with the field position that we had that way the defense was playing…I have to do what my gut says, and it was greenlight. I followed it that time and just didn't work out.”
DID YOU KNOW?
- The Eagles never won by a margin of 26 points on the road during Doug Pederson’s five seasons?
- Did you know LG Isaac Seumalo was the second-highest graded pass blocker in Week 1, per Pro Football Focus, and the highest-ranked guard?
- The three Eagles’ cornerbacks were ranked in the top 20 by PFF: Avonta Maddox 10, Darius Slay 14, and Steve Nelson 20?
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.