Birds Rush For 4 TDs In Opener Win Vs. Lions
Week 1 of the 2022 season for the Philadelphia Eagles resembled Week 1 of the 2021 season for the Eagles – for about three quarters.
The Eagles looked well positioned to score another road blowout win in their season opener, like last year’s 26-point triumph in Atlanta, but the Lions on Sunday displayed much more resolve than the Falcons did last year, scoring touchdowns on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter to close within three after falling behind by 17.
A 24-yard run on 3rd-and-1 by Miles Sanders, helped by a second-effort cut to his left after an initial stonewall, right before the two-minute warning helped the Eagles secure a 38-35 win at Ford Field in Detroit, giving head coach Nick Sirianni his second 1-0 record in as many years.
A 4th-and-1 sneak a few plays later by Jalen Hurts allowed the Eagles to drain the final minute off the clock and put the finishing touch on the win.
The Eagles churned out four rushing touchdowns from four different ball carriers, including Hurts, and scored a defensive touchdown in the season-opening win, and also got 10 receptions for 155 yards from prized trade acquisition A.J. Brown.
Last year, the Eagles opened their season with a 32-6 blowout win against the Falcons in Atlanta, starting the Sirianni era with an eye-opening triumph … that they followed up by losing three straight and five of their next six and causing Sirianni to make wholesale changes in his offensive scheme.
But after surviving the Lions on the strength of their run game, RPO game and pass defense, the Eagles can feel better about what’s ahead. Their next game is against the Vikings on Monday night at the Linc in the home opener.
Let’s go with the observations:
1) The RPO game that we’ve said on ITB is going to be a major part of the offense helped give the Eagles great balance and keep the Lions on their toes. Some of the Eagles’ best gains came from the RPOs, and the success allowed Jalen Hurts and the offense to mix their attack between runs by the running back, runs by the quarterback, and quick passes on fake handoffs. But remember – this is how the Eagles’ offense started last year against the Falcons before reality ensued. It’s not an easy offense to run if you’re behind. But with the stronger defense and with A.J. Brown’s addition, the Eagles should be able to work the RPO more favorably this year.
2) The offensive balance, helped out also by a dominant job up front by the line, is exactly how this offense should look – not over-reliant on the run but also not so pass-happy that the run is forgotten. The Eagles passed for more than 200 yards and ran for more than 200 yards.Not every game will have this kind of balance, of course, but the Eagles should be more equipped to mix the pass and run efficiently and keep teams guessing more often than not. You’d like to see Hurts and the offense be more effective passing against the blitz – the Lions executed better defensively in the fourth quarter – especially against better teams.
3) Didn’t take long to see how A.J. Brown can make a difference, at every level of the field and especially on third down. His combination of explosion, strength and hands were all on display. He took a 3rd-and-5 slant 16 yards to the Detroit 5 at the start of the second quarter, just out-muscling the defender to make the catch and run and set up the game-tying touchdown. Then came a 27-yard pitch-and-catch off an RPO on 3rd-and-2 to help set up Miles Sanders’ go-ahead touchdown. The real beauty was his 54-yarder down the right side in the two-minute drill before half on 3rd-and-4, showing those late hands to reel in a nice pass from Hurts to beat the blitz as the Eagles moved inside the Detroit 10 before settling for a field goal.
4) Credit to Jonathan Gannon for making a quick adjustment on defense after a horrid first Lions possession that exposed the Eagles’ run defense and four-man front with three down linemen and an overhang defender. After the Lions churned out 77 rushing yards on their opening drive, including 50-yard run up the gut from DeAndre Swift, the Eagles switched their defensive front to get first-round pick Jordan Davis and defensive end Brandon Graham on the field. On the Lions’ second possession, the gained just three yards on their first two runs. On their next possession the Lions picked up four yards on first down before a holding penalty backed them up and led to Jared Goff throwing an interception that James Bradberry returned for a touchdown. The Lions would pop their run game at times, especially up the middle, but they’ve got good runners and a good offensive line. They weren’t afraid to play old-school, under-center, downhill football. They gashed the Eagles more than a few times up the middle, something to watch going forward.
5) Good composure for the most part by Jalen Hurts in the face of an intense Lions pass rush and on the road in an arena that was rocking from the start. Ford Field isn’t usually field with screaming diehards, but Lions fans showed up and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn treated them to a flurry of pressures, most of them designed to flush Hurts to the left side, where it’s tougher for him to make throws on the run. Hurts was on the run frequently and wisely ditched the ball a few times before taking a sack. He’ll have to be careful about intentional grounding calls when he tries to ditch the ball while still in the pocket, but overall Hurts did a good job running the offense. He killed some Lions pressures with his running ability. There were a few balls batted down at scrimmage – he’ll have to be careful about that, too – but to take as many hits as he did, to run as much as he did, and not turn the ball over is a major positive. I anticipate teams playing a good deal of single-safety high and man defense while pressuring Hurts to his left.
6) Mostly positive results for the new-look secondary, and not just the Bradberry touchdown return. Daris Slay broke up a few passes. Marcus Epps looked shot out of a cannon, coming from deep to make a few tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Avonte Maddox combined to break up a third-down pass. Tackling could be a little better and coverage wasn’t as tight in the second half, allowing the Lions to hang around. Too much diving at ankles and arm-tackles. Also, there were a couple occasions where Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick were asked to drop into coverage. The results aren’t going to be pretty there. Defending the flat and carrying the wheel routes will be something to watch.
7) The Miles Sanders no-touchdown stat from last year was an anomaly used by his skeptics and detractors in attempt to portray him as less than what he really is, which is a pretty good running back who runs tougher than he’s given credit for by most. Sanders ran hard against the Lions, and we’ve been saying on ITB for years that he’s a tougher inside runner than most think. He’s certainly not perfect and his struggles to stay healthy are well documented, but he’s still the best running back on the roster by a decent margin. He rushed for 96 yards and added nine more yards on two receptions. You’ll take that 100 total yards on 15 touches any day.
8) The return games were, well, it depends on which return you’re judging. Undrafted rookie Britain Covey did a good job in his first NFL action as the punt returner, picking up 11 yards on one return. Quez Watkins looked uncertain on some of his kickoff returns. He’s an explosive receiver and speedy as it gets but it didn’t translate on his returns.
9) Surprised the Eagles played as much 12 personnel as they did. Even got Noah Togiai in there. Maybe it was matchup-driven, but the emphasis on multiple tight end personnel groups took Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal out of the equation more than I anticipated.
10) The Lions get some credit for never giving up, playing tough, giving their fans some reason for optimism that they can win at least sox or seven games. But the onside kick, which they’ve done a lot with former Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp presiding, was a terrible idea. Not because it didn’t work but because it gave the Eagles, already leading, half the field to go after the Eagles opened the third quarter with possession.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.