Yesterday’s 17-11 loss to the 49ers was a reality check. After expectations ballooned following the Eagles blowout win in Atlanta to open the season, they showed their ugly side against San Francisco. Despite a one score deficit, this was a two-score game for much of the fourth quarter, and one that the 49ers seemingly controlled from the end of the first half onward. Here are the major takeaways from this disappointing loss:
1. Sirianni’s poor play-calling
The Eagles felt in control of this football game for much of the first half, only to see that momentum swing at the end of the second quarter. Following a 91-yard completion that took the Birds from their own three yard-line to the 49ers’ six, the offense failed to get in the end zone on three straight plays. Rather than taking the points, Sirianni opted to run a knock-off Philly Special on fourth down that ended with Greg Ward throwing the ball out of bounds.
Though it may sound easy to say in hindsight, kicking the field goal and taking the three points was as obvious of a decision in the moment as it was afterward. In a low-scoring game you simply never want to take points off the board—that’s as basic as it gets. Beyond that, having had a field goal blocked earlier in the quarter should reinforce the thought-process behind taking the points in that situation.
On the subsequent possession San Francisco proceeded to march down the field and score a touchdown, taking a 7-3 lead into halftime of a game in which they had been outplayed in up until that point. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan even said after the game, “For it to be 7-3 at halftime was pretty unbelievable.” Indeed it was, and while this was only Sirianni’s second career game as a play-caller, here’s to hoping he doesn’t make similar mistakes moving forward.
2. Jalen Hurts struggles
Outside of the aforementioned 91-yard bomb to Watkins, Jalen Hurts finished yesterday completing just half of his 22 pass attempts for a meager 99 yards—brutal. Turnovers or not, Hurts’ limitations were on full display in this loss, and his effectiveness on the ground isn’t enough to mask that.
The Eagles entered this matchup against a banged up 49ers secondary with designs to attack that weakness downfield, and put simply that gameplan failed. Hurts doesn’t have the ability to make opposing defenses consistently pay through the air, and Sirianni found that out the hard way.
Hurts recipe for success in week 1 was a getting the ball out quick, making simple reads, and playing within himself. However, in an attempt to gameplan against the opponents weaknesses this week, Sirianni ended up steering his quarterback away from his own strengths.
Given that this was Hurts 6th career start he shouldn’t be judged too harshly, but this performance is a sharp reminder of his need to play within a system designed specifically for his skillset. While that obviously poses a limitation on Sirianni in terms of gameplanning week-to-week, it’s his reality, and he ought to get used to it.
3. This defense is for real
Through two weeks of the season the Eagles defense has allowed a total of just 23 points on 283 yards per game—both marks good for 4th best in the NFL on this young season. Expectations on that side of the ball were fairly high entering the year, and so far Gannon and company have delivered on even the loftiest of projections.
It’s fair to say that the Eagles defense has the makings of a top-10 unit, if not top-5. The front-four is as disruptive as any in the league, the linebacker play is much-improved, and the secondary is finally buttoned up in a way that’s been lacking for a decade. Though we’re only two games into the season, this current group of defenders could be better than the Eagles Super Bowl defense in 2017.
4. Injuries mount: Brandon Graham is done for the season
The only thing more disappointing than the loss itself is perhaps the post-game injury report. A season-ending injury to Brandon Graham (achilles tear) is a massive blow for the Eagles both on the field and in the locker room. Not only has Graham been the best EDGE defender for the Birds over the past few seasons, but he’s the undoubted heart and soul of this football team.
While the Eagles are actually well-equipped to deal with this injury as far as personnel goes—Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan are as capable of backups as they come—it’s fair to be concerned with how the team will respond in the locker room. That sort of consideration may sound superfluous, but BG’s impact on the culture and mentality of this football team can’t be overlooked; and we can’t possibly know how the locker room will respond without him leading them each day.
Ultimately, it’s too early in the season to draw any grand conclusions about a 1-1 football team. With that said, this loss to the 49ers validates two things that we already suspected: 1) the Eagles defense is in fact elite, 2) but Hurts/Sirianni and the offense are still a major work in progress.