Ain’t that just the way it goes? You wait the best part of 7 months for the NFL to make its glorious return, and, when you’re mere moments from being welcomed home, you’re forced to wait another 45 minutes.
Electrical storms forced the NFL to put their 2018 opener on a short hold, but we eventually got the season underway at 2.05am Unfortunately, the quality of the product between the reigning Super Bowl Champions, Philadelphia Eagles, and their challenger, Atlanta Falcons, won’t inspire many to rewatch any time soon.
Less a defensive standoff, more an offensive circus, the Eagles managed to outduel the Falcons 18-12. Things can only get better, folks.
Week One has long been compared to a fifth pre-season game, and Thursday night certainly had that feel to it. There were plenty of talking of points, however. Certainly more than a few worth talking about. So here are 6 things we learned about the Falcons and the Eagles after week one.
Three things we learned about the Atlanta Falcons
Steve Sarkisian has learned nothing
In the immediate aftermath of the NFC Divisional game between these two sides, I wrote a fairly lengthy piece about why I felt Steve Sarkisian should be removed from the Falcons. Over the summer, we were repeatedly assured Sark had been hard at work to rectify the atrocious redzone offense that ultimately killed the Falcons Super Bowl aspirations. Thursday night was the perfect opportunity to show off all the new wrinkles he’s added.
Atlanta marched down the field on the opening drive. From inside the 5, Sarkisian dialled up 3 running plays into a stacked box, with a pass on 3rd down in the mix. That passing play had Austin Hooper and Eric Saubert, Tight Ends, out wide, and Devonta Freeman in the slot. Unsurprisingly, Atlanta turned the ball over on downs.
18-12 down, with less than 30 seconds on the clock, Atlanta were back in the redzone. Their last trip ended with a Tevin Coleman run for a touchdown. But, with no time outs, Atlanta had to go for it all. 4 straight passes, 3 of which were targeted at Julio Jones, fell incomplete, but Atlanta were given a reprieve thanks to a penalty against Philly. One second, one play. A wide receiver screen to Julio Jones.
It’s not just the redzone that should cause concern. Barring the opening and closing drives INTO the redzone, Atlanta struggled to move the ball at all. Running players were shut down early and often, passing plays were often dead before they began. Both Coleman and Freeman rattled off chunks of receiving yards against an inexperienced Eagles linebacking unit, but Sarkisian seldom used them in the passing game. Just like last year.
Week One isn’t the time to get panicky, but it’s hard not to when you’re seeing the same mistakes being repeated from 8 months previous. Atlanta were promised a more dynamic offense, one that would rival the all-world efforts of 2016. Talent wise, it’s better than it’s ever been. But you’ve got a guy who can’t get the best out of that talent, so what’s the point?
Matt Ryan does not trust his weapons
One of the concerns of the off season was that Julio Jones’ contract holdout would make it difficult for Matt Ryan and Jones to get on the same level. In reality, it appears the opposite effect has occurred.
Julio Jones went for 169 yards from 10 receptions, equalling just under 70% of Atlanta’s passing game. First round draft pick, Calvin Ridley, was targeted twice. Mohamed Sanu managed 18 yards from 4 grabs. As mentioned in the above section, No one was trusted on the final drive, but Julio. That’s a shocking analysis of a team that is supposed to be one of the more dangerous in the league.
The below analysis from Inside Zone Editor, Tom Like, sums up the state of affairs in Atlanta. Despite having all the weapons in the world, Matt Ryan stares down the only player consistently making plays on offense. Had he progressed through his reads, an open Tevin Coleman was open to deliver the game winner. He had Julio-vision, and that suggests he doesn’t trust anyone else.
Here’s that final play again.
Matt Ryan was continually spooked in the pocket due to the amount of pressure #FlyEaglesFly D-Line was generating. If Ryan quickly went through his progressions, it could have led to a different outcome #NFL #NFLUK #InBrotherhood pic.twitter.com/8jnuriDAjU
— Tom Like (@TomLikeNFL) September 7, 2018
Ryan needs to get on the same page as everyone else. Drops in key moments, and generally wayward passes in others aside, this offense cannot afford too many showings like this. It’s too talented and too dynamic to only score 12 points a game. Let’s hope for improvement moving forward.
Defence wins Championships?
For all the negativity on offense, it’s easy to overlook a quietly very good performance from Atlanta’s defence. Granted, there were some key players missing, but the side that managed 41 points on the New England Patriots in February laboured to 18 on opening night 7 months later.
Early on, Atlanta shut down the Eagles running game, with an impressive performance from rookie Deadrin Senat up front. Some questionable PI calls aside, corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford put on a good show shutting down the Eagles receivers. Zack Ertz, a player described by soon to be incarcerated Mychal Kendricks has “the best receiver” in Philadelphia, was basically shut down by the linebackers and safeties on defence. It was all very good.
Unfortunately, as the game wore on, tiredness set in, and LONDON BORN JAY AJAYI, and Corey Clement, settled into a grove that ultimately won the game for Philly. But the Falcons should be pleased with what they saw from all members of the defence, and hopefully we can expect a very good season in that sense.
Three things we learned about the Philadelphia Eagles
Philly need Carson
Yes, he won the Super Bowl MVP award. Yes, he caught a pass for the second straight competitive game. Yes, he didn’t lose the game. But Nick Foles is severely limiting the potential of this Eagles offense.
One thing I want to make absolutely clear: the Philadelphia Eagles absolutely should hold Carson Wentz out as long as they can. The longer the rehabilitation process lasts, the stronger his ACL and MLC will recover, the better chance we have of seeing Carson Wentz return to the level he was performing at last season.
Unfortunately, that means sticking with Nick Foles. Foles is a veteran guy, the city absolutely adore him, he’s clearly a great teammate, and you can’t blame him for enjoying the situation. But, he is limited as a Quarterback. He ended the night with 117 yards from 34 attempts, with 0 touchdowns.
Over a full season, that’s pretty unsustainable. Foles’ NFC Championship and Super Bowl performances were unbelievably good, but that form has not carried over, at least just yet. Over a full season, you wonder if the Eagles would challenge at the top of the NFC. While it’s best for Wentz to truly be given time to recover, he may be called on sooner rather than later.
The Eagles offensive line is still absurdly good
Forgetting an early pair of sacks, the Atlanta Falcons struggled to get much pressure on Nick Foles. The Eagles o-line stood tall as they welcomed on efforts from the Falcons talented rotation, giving Nick Foles plenty of time to pick, and often miss, his targets.
Not enough credit is given to the Eagles offensive line. While it gave up fairly middle of the road sack numbers last season, it ranked 3rd overall in run blocking, creating the holes that sprung over 2000 yards on the ground.
While the unit spluttered in the first half, it sprang to life in the second. Part of this can be attributed to the absence of Keanu Neal, who will now miss the remainder of the 2018 season with an ACL tear, but also the blocking efforts of the men up front. The running back room of Ajayi, Clement, and Sproles, combined for 98 yards total, the bulk of which came from a drive that culminated in Jay Ajayi’s second touchdown of the night.
If the Eagles are to succeed in Wentz’ absence, they will need their offensive line to do their part in helping these runners control the clock. Against a pretty stout Atlanta defence, the proved they can do just that.
Doug Pederson is one gutsy man
I’ll admit, I openly had my reservations over the Doug Pederson hiring in Philadelphia two years ago. After seeing the Chip Kelly experience blow up, the Eagles took the route of hiring a guy close to one of their successful coaches in Andy Reid. Pederson would be a rookie head coach, who’s work as Kansas City’s OC was nothing more than safe and predictable with Alex Smith at the helm.
Hiring Doug Pederson to rebuild your franchise is a gutsy call, all said and done. You kind of see that paying off by finishing 1st in the NFC in his second season. You basically cash the cheque in when he makes the Super Bowl in year 2. Philly Philly? Well that’s interest.
Calling a pas to your second string QB in the Super Bowl is bold. But calling it again, 7 months later? When your offense has struggled all day? I’m not much of a gambling man, but I can see them a mile off. And Doug Pederson is a gambler. Right now he’s winning.
As long as Doug Pederson is a the helm, there will always be part of you thinking something totally insane could happen. Your defence will be trying to prepare for the most outlandish scenarios imaginable. That’s not a bad way to run your offense, no matter who you are.
For both teams, the focus for the rest of the week is being more cohesive offensively. Neither side looked the part on the attack, and an extended week on the practice field could do both units the world of good. Though the Eagles showed they can grind it out, the Falcons are leaning way too heavily on their defence heading into week 2.
Philadelphia will travel to Tampa Bay, while Atlanta play host to the Carolina Panthers. Both sides will see these match ups as winnable, should the necessary adjustments be made in mid-week.