On The Ground, In The Air, Rookie RB Kenneth Gainwell Gave Birds Added Firepower Vs. Falcons
The oft-theorized offensive system that Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni and his staff spent months implementing was finally unveiled Sunday afternoon in a 32-6 rout against the Atlanta Falcons.
In his first game as a primary play caller, a poised, confident, and aggressive Sirianni presided over an offense that netted 434 total yards, including 173 yards on the ground and 261 yards through the air.
Sirianni’s game plan, distinctly devised to underscore the strengths of his personnel, included RPOs and read option schemes. The personnel packages were diversified and featured glimpses of 11, 12 and 13 personnel.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts executed Sirianni’s offensive script nearly flawlessly in Atlanta, conveying his signature calm, confident demeanor while making calculated decisions and protecting the football. The second-year signal caller appeared in total command of the offense.
But another, even more encouraging storyline to emerge from Sunday’s victory, was Sirianni’s balanced plan of attack – a concept occasionally lost on previous regimes – and an intriguing deployment of running backs.
While fourth-year running back Boston Scott appeared primed for a prominent rotational role behind starter Miles Sanders, Sirianni – somewhat unexpectedly – looked in a different direction. Rather than leaning on Scott’s experience, Sirianni inserted rookie running back Kenny Gainwell into the game in relief of Sanders, revealing a new-look, complementary rushing attack.
Gainwell, who accounted for 43 yards and a touchdown on 12 touches, was utilized in a two-minute situation before the half as well as in the red zone. The multi-faceted running back ran tough between the tackles and seems to have carved out a role as the team’s principal outlet receiver, a responsibility similar to the one that Nyheim Hines fulfilled for Sirianni in Indianapolis.
”He’s able to do it,” Sanders said after the game. “Everybody in our room, between me, him, and Boston, are able to do anything – routes, coming out of the backfield, in the slot. We’re all capable of doing it. [Kenny] just showed the most efficient way of doing it in practice. That’s just easy to him. Like I said, he has the best hands in the RB room to me, in my opinion. That’s his thing, 2-minute drill.”
The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Gainwell steadily progressed throughout training camp, and it was likely his late-summer surge that enabled him to leapfrog Scott in the pecking order and squeeze one-dimensional veteran Jordan Howard off the 53-man roster.
Gainwell entered Sunday’s contest with just 18 games of collegiate experience on his resume, as he opted out of the 2020 college football season to prepare for his NFL future. Still, the Memphis standout managed to parlay a prolific 2019 campaign that included 2,069 yards of total offense into an early Day 3 selection.
With limited tread on his tires and a translatable skill set to modern-day NFL offenses, Gainwell should factor prominently into Sirianni’s weekly game plans. He might only average 6-to-8 touches per game, but Gainwell’s versatility, pass-catching prowess, and football intelligence unlocks another dimension to an ever-evolving offense.
In the aftermath of the team’s 1-0 start, Gainwell earned a telltale endorsement from his head coach, who recalled where his confidence stemmed from in the fifth-rounder.
“Practice,” Sirianni said. “It’s just a great indicator of what you’re gonna get in the game. And he practices hard. He practices to get better. He has no choice because the team is demanding that of him, the players on the team are demanding that of him, we’re demanding that of him.
“And so, he showed us what he can do every day at practice. When guys are tough and they really love football and they have talent, those guys reach their potential. Obviously, that’s only Kenny’s first game, but you like those things about him that make you trust him to be able to make some plays in those moments.”