In Sunday's decisive Week 1 win over Atlanta, there was a lot that I could have chosen to focus on for this piece, but to me, the most important sequence in the game happened late in the first half. We all know that the Eagles' final offensive possession of the opening 30 minutes resulted in an outstanding touchdown throw from Jalen Hurts to Dallas Goedert, but it was the lead-up to that play on all three sides of the ball that really stood out to me. In a complete team victory, I felt it was right to highlight all three phases coming together to play smart situational football.
With just over four minutes remaining in the first half, the Eagles choose to punt the ball away, facing a fourth-and-27 from midfield. What happens next is an outstanding example of situational football. I thought that FOX analyst Greg Olsen did a great job of pointing this out on the broadcast, so this is not an original thought on my part, but let's take a look at what made this play so special.
Defensive back Andre Chachere, who the Eagles claimed off waivers from Indianapolis last week, is working as the gunner at the bottom of the screen. Atlanta is going for the punt block here, so Chachere only has one jammer to beat. Working his way downfield, Chachere gets pushed out of bounds. The referee in the area throws his hat, indicating that Chachere left the field of play. He is not allowed to touch the ball unless the returner picks it up. You can see Chachere yelling at teammate Zech McPhearson, saying that it must be the rookie who downs this kick. Arryn Siposs dropped the ball perfectly inside the 10-yard line, McPhearson downed the ball, and Atlanta took over at its 8-yard line.
That was a great job by the Eagles' special teams unit on this play, but it wasn't just ONE good rep for them on the afternoon. Siposs placed three punts inside the 10-yard line on Sunday. The Eagles were also close to blocking a punt, and the kickoff unit with Jake Elliott consistently forced touchbacks. That was a strong debut for coordinator Michael Clay and the Eagles' special teams group.
With 3:38 left, the Eagles have all of their timeouts as the Falcons' offense takes the field. If they can force a quick stop here, they have the ability to force a punt and get favorable field position with plenty of time left to put points on the board.
On first down, the Falcons go with a stretch lead play. These zone runs worked really well for Atlanta early in this game, as Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson were able to find cutback lanes multiple times on the first couple of drives. But the Eagles were able to shut the door here. Josh Sweat sets a strong edge, blowing the tight end 3 yards into the backfield. That forces the running back to bounce further outside off his initial path. Darius Slay is there waiting, and the back slows down before being stopped for a short 1-yard gain by Sweat and linebacker T.J. Edwards.
On second-and-9, the Falcons commit a false start, so now they face second-and-13 from just inside their 5-yard line. This time, rather than attack the perimeter, they go with a downhill "Duo" run. Safety Anthony Harris and linebacker Eric Wilson fly toward the line at the snap, and with Steve Nelson coming from the defensive right side, running back Mike Davis sticks his head down and plows forward for a modest 4-yard gain. This is a win for the defense, as they now face a third-and-9.
With about two-and-a-half minutes remaining, the Eagles (smartly) decide not to use a timeout to stop the clock. Quarterback Matt Ryan lines up in the shotgun and hands it off to Davis for a 3-yard gain instead of dropping back to pass. Javon Hargrave made the play this time, quickly beating the block from the left guard before retracing back to find the ball. Sweat once again set a razor-sharp edge on the play to keep the ball inside.
The Eagles' defensive line controlled the game on that side of the ball after the first quarter. After allowing drives of 14 and 15 plays (that resulted in six points), the Eagles forced three-and-outs on three of Atlanta's next four possessions (including this one). Whether it was against the run or the pass, the Falcons could not get anything going the rest of the afternoon. As Sheil Kapadia from The Athletic noted, the Eagles were the only team heading into Monday that had not allowed a play of 20-plus yards in Week 1.
This drive featured some good decisions from quarterback Jalen Hurts, both as a runner and as a passer, as he played within rhythm and showed the ability to beat the rush from Atlanta in multiple ways. His scramble on third-and-5 was a thing of beauty, stepping out of a tackle attempt by Grady Jarrett on his way to a first down. A few plays later, his ability to escape resulted in a first down for Jalen Reagor. Now in a rhythm, Hurts hits Goedert on the sail route to stop the clock (great job by Goedert getting out of bounds).
A good two-minute drill usually has a decent amount of adversity. On first-and-goal, the Eagles thought they had reached the end zone with a touchdown pass from Hurts to Kenny Gainwell, but the play came back on a penalty. With nine seconds left, and a chance at – max – two more cracks at the end zone, Hurts reached the end zone for real.
This touchdown put the Eagles up 15-6 going into the locker room, and was a back-breaker for the Falcons. But remember, this was not the culmination of just a great offensive drive because all three phases were needed to make this happen. If Chachare gets penalized on the punt, or if the defense doesn't get off the field on three plays, the dynamic of the two-minute drill changes. The Eagles saved all three of their timeouts, used them wisely, and bled the clock down to almost nothing as they reached the end zone for the score. THAT is a full-team win.