Week 1 of the NFL season is usually loaded with trap doors and whoopee cushions. Sometimes, it is very difficult to separate fact from fiction, and on Sunday it's going to be even tougher given the fact that two rookie head coaches will be on opposite sidelines when Nick Sirianni (Eagles) faces Arthur Smith (Falcons). This is the first time since 1973 that it's happened with the Eagles (Mike McCormack against Don Coryell, then the rookie head coach of the St. Louis Rams).
So, how do you prepare for a head coach when he's never been a head coach before?
You step back into history and take it from there. You look at everything you can get your eyes on from Smith's past, from his coordinators' past, and you combine that with the preseason tape and you enter the game with a plan, and then you made adjustments on the fly after kickoff on Sunday.
"I think it's to both of our advantages. I'm imagining they thought the same thing that we did. That's pretty common on new staffs," Sirianni said. "So, they haven't shown some things either. We just got to go back and look at tape of any of our time in the past. But, again, not a lot of film on either of us."
Sirianni's offense is preparing for the pressure packages of Atlanta Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, in his 48th season of coaching. He has seen everything in his time in the NFL with New England, Baltimore, and Tennessee. He has this great quote about blitzing – "We're going to come from everywhere every week, so hang on." – meaning that Atlanta is going to blitz, blitz, and blitz some more to create pressure on the backfield and havoc throughout an offense.
That's a huge challenge for a second-year quarterback with young receivers on the road in a hostile environment – a full-house crazy in Atlanta for the first time since the 2019 season – and the new head coach on the sidelines.
"We just have to be ready for it. Just have to be ready for it," Sirianni said. "I think the first blitz meeting that we always do is we have a standard operating procedure of how we handle different packages. So, recognizing the package, recognizing what they're doing out of the package, and being ready against a coach like Coach Pees who's a phenomenal coach. Being ready for anything that they can throw at you. And so knowing that, hey, we can look at all the tape that we've had on him and played against him in the past, obviously we were in the same division with him for a little bit, but also knowing he's a good coach and he's going to have some wrinkles too that we haven't seen.
"So being ready to adjust to the different things we see once we get on the field. My experience with that is when you have guys like we have with Jason Kelce and Jalen Hurts, being able to talk through those things on the sideline when there is a new wrinkle. So, it's really good to have the veteran leadership that we have on this team to be able to go through that. And then Jalen is really smart, too, so look forward to seeing how he handles those adjustments we have to make on Sunday."
That's just one of the many interesting stories to think about leading up to an intriguing Sunday regular-season opener. The Eagles placed a lot of value in their joint practices with the Patriots and the Jets and kept it vanilla in their three preseason games. We don't have a true sense of what the Eagles want to do on Sunday – how they want to play defense against what is expected to be an explosive Atlanta offense or how they want to attack the Falcons' remade defense.
"We have to look at a lot of what Tennessee did when their coach (Smith) was there (as offensive coordinator) and watch what they did in the preseason," linebacker Alex Singleton said. "There is a lot to think about, but at the end of the day it comes down to playing football and executing all the things you need to execute every game. The basic stuff, that's what is important every time you step out on the field.
"We're going to make adjustments just like we do every week. I'm sure we will have a feel for what they want to do on offense and they're going to add their own stuff and we are going to have to adjust."
Yep, this will come down to which team tackles best, which team takes advantage of the matchups and the moments where the ball is loose and it's on the ground for either team to recover. The first couple of weeks in an NFL season are usually the most off the wall. This year, with three preseason games, with the stadiums filled again with fans after last year's empty seats, everything old is new again.
Is there an advantage to being the new kid on the block? Sometimes, yes. But in the case of the Eagles in Week 1, not really. The level of mystery and uncertainty is pretty darn much even-steven.