Birds Sloppy All Around In Linc Opener, Fall To 49ers
Points and a pass rush came so easily to the Eagles in their season opener in Atlanta that their jacked-up diehard fans showed up early and rocked out the Linc on Sunday in the home opener, hoping coach Nick Sirianni would once again push all the right buttons to outlast a tough San Francisco team.
But for most of the second half, silence fell on the Birds’ home as Sirianni’s offense struggled much more than the week prior, and the defense could only hold up for so long against Kyle Shanahan’s machine, as the Eagles lost a 17-11 home opener to the 49ers and were outscored 17-0 after an early Jake Elliott field goal until a late fourth-quarter touchdown.
The Eagles, who have some extra time before their Monday Night Football showdown against rival Dallas, should remember this game for the missed opportunities – and, oh, there were too many to count – that included a blocked field goal, a botched 4th-and-goal play call, a touchdown rescinded by a penalty and another penalty meltdown in the fourth quarter.
Add those ingredients – sprinkle in the loss of two starters to injury, perhaps for the long term – and you have the recipe for a tough loss that deflated what had been one of the more fired-up crowds in over a year.
On with the observations:
1. The fairly obvious here: The Birds left a lot of points on the board, especially in the first half – a blocked field goal, a Jalen Reagor touchdown called back by Reagor first running out of bounds, a botched trick play on 4th-and-goal and some terrible penalties in the second half. We’ll have to see what broke down on blocked field goal that Javon Kinlaw batted down. Reagor going out of bounds – that happens in the NFL, as he was contacted during the route. The botched Nick Sirianni version of the Philly Special that ended with Greg Ward throwing an incomplete to nobody felt like a first-time head coach getting too cute in his home debut. But there were other moments that enabled this inability to find the end zone. Hurts, while thorough for much of the game, under-threw Devonta Smith on a deep seam route on the opening possession that resulted in a punt. Darius Slay did an excellent job batting down a third-down pass on the Niners’ first possession of the third, but Slay had a gift-wrapped chance to pick off the pass and couldn’t hang on, and the Eagles got the ball back at their own 7.
2. Defensive penalties killed them, just killed them. And not good-effort penalties either. Fletcher Cox’s illegal hands to the face penalty came on a third-down pickup by Jimmy Garropolo, but the extra 15 yards put the 49ers at the Philadelphia 26-yard-line, where they had been just once at that point in the game. Two plays later, Garropolo capped the 91-yard drive with a sneak for the touchdown to make it 14-3. With very little offense in the second half, the Eagles had a great chance to climb back on San Francisco’s next possession when JaMychal Hasty fumbled out of bounds for an eight-yard loss, but Derek Barnett did Derek Barnett things, with an illegal, unnecessary hit for 15 yards. On the very next play, the refs flagged K’von Wallace for a helmet-leading heat on Trey Sermon that had caused Sermon to fumble, which negated Darius Slay’s recovery and return deep in Niners territory.
3. Jalen Hurts played a good enough game, but struggled in the second half against the pressure of the Niners’ defensive front. The loss of right gurd Brandon Brooks hurt the overall line but one replacement – Landon Dickerson making his debut – shouldn’t have made that much of an impact. The 3rd-and-2 sack that Hurts took from Nick Bosa, the second sack of the game for Bosa, was killer for Hurts and the offense. Tape will have to show if someone was open but the ball has to come out sooner than it did. On the play before, Hurts amazingly scrambled for an eight-yard pickup but he had stayed in the pocket for several seconds. Either his receivers were struggling to get open against a banged-up Niners secondary or Hurts didn’t trust his eyes. Hurts showed his trademark poise in the fourth, leading the Eagles on a 75-yard touchdown drive but the Niners were all too happy to give him the running room and let the clock wind down as the Eagles moved down the field; they knew the most the Eagles could do was come within six with very little left and all they’d need was to convert a first down, which they did.
4. The Eagles were surprisingly brutal in short yardage for most of the game. Some stuffed runs and strange play calls. Sirianni is apparently allergic to calling quarterback sneaks when there’s one yard to first down, despite the presence of an All-Pro center and despite Hurts’ mobility. They couldn’t convert a 3rd-and-1 and a 3rd-and-4 in the second quarter against a Niners defense that had all sorts of banged-up players and backups starting in the front seven. Hurts also went deep on 3rd-and-3 in the fourth but couldn’t connect with Devonta Smith. Again, tape will show if this breakdown was more on Hurts or Sirianni or obit. Either way, a disappointment after the opener.
5. The Eagles’ defensive line made life miserable for the 49ers in the first, especially in the run game. Their constant stunting and movement up front overloaded gaps and narrowed rush lanes for Elijah Mitchell and other Niners running backs, which put Garropolo and the offense behind the sticks for much of the first half. The interior tabdem of Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox were a menace up front for the Niners’ interior offensive line. Mitchell, a fifth-round rookie, had it easy last Sunday against the Lions compared to this game. An honest run game is the backbone of Kyle Shanahan’s attack, along with the ability to work play action. Without positive yards on first down, the Niners’ offense really couldn’t function the way it usually does, which was a big testament to the Eagles’ D-line….
6. Of course that’s why they don’t stop after playing after one quarter or one half, because the table turned late in the second. Football is an amazing sport in that the actions that happen within nanoseconds can completely turn a game. Garropolo had such little time to throw in the first half as the Eagles were barreling down on him, but he wasn’t sacked, and that was key for him. In fact, several of his first six or seven passes were either underthrown or overthrown because of the coming pressure, but his receivers were open. The Niners were literally a split second away from striking on some screens and crossers, which was good for the Eagles at the time but also forecasted problems if the Eagles suffered an injury up front (which they did) or figured out how to protect the quarterback for a split second longer, which they also did.
7. The losses of Brooks and Graham, if long term, will test the team’s depth, especially on defense. Dickerson picked the perfect game to be ready to play, but there were snaps where his inexperience showed. He should be the right guard going forward if Brooks is out for a long time. Graham’s injury could complicate the pass rush. Now, the Eagles will have to start Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett, two pass rushers they’ve rotated to keep fresh and productive. Both have lined up across left tackle, but Barnett appeared to move over across right tackle after Graham left on a cart. Also, the Eagles have closely monitored Sweat’s snaps throughout his career because of knee injuries going back prior to his pro career. Before this season he had never played more than 38 percent of the defense’s snaps in a season. He’s obviously due for more snaps with the contract extension he signed Saturday and even more now with Graham out. Backup defensive ends Milton Williams and ran Kerrigan stand to see more snaps now, so we’ll see if the Eagles pass rush can hold up.
8. The Niners converted four of seven third downs in the second half after making just two of seven in the first, but this game was lost by the offense. How do you have a 91-yard completion and not score any points on the drive? Gonna guess that doesn’t happen very often in the NFL. Hurts ran for 82 yards but 36 of them – or almost 50 percent – came on the final possession. Just 125 total yards after the break. The Niners have some good players on defense, but with all their injuries, the Eagles should’ve been able to move the ball better. Devonta Smith needs to get the ball in his hands more than two times for 16 yards,
9. Give some credit to the Niners, who didn’t go home after their 41-33 win over the Lions but instead stayed in West Virginia and got bad injury news all week. They came to the Linc, were dominated for the first 10 minutes as the Linc crowd’s “12th man” effect was palpable but never let the game get out of hand. Garropolo had to be wondering if Shanahan would pull him for Trey Lance after the way he started off but he hung in there. Deebo Samuel made some tough catches and Brandon Aiyuk made an amazing fingertips catch – his only catch of the game – on 3rd-and-2 as the Niners went on a 91-yard march to take the 14-3 lead.
10. You measure a young coach like Sirianni by how he responds, and how his team responds, to adversity like this. The Eagles lost a sold-out home opener after looking in control at the onset of the game. They stumbled over themselves, they had some awful play calls, and many self-inflicted wounds. Let’s see how Sirianni and his staff respond to their first loss, and how the Eagles players react to Sirianni’s message and body language throughout the week. It’s not easy to lose a home opener and then go down to AT&T Stadium on a Monday night and battle that Dallas offense.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.