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Spadaro: A critical key to the Eagles' 6-0 start? Discipline

Dave Spadaro On the Inside 1920

There are a lot of things to like about the Eagles' 6-0 start to this 2022 season and we can run down the very long list that includes the running game, an explosive passing game, a defense that leads the NFL with 14 takeaways, and an offense that has only given the ball away twice. The Eagles have won games with a pinch-kicker (thanks Cameron Dicker), they've won raucous home games, and they've gone on the road and done it in front of equally off-the-chain Eagles fans in enemy territory.

Something about the first six games that jumped off the page – and something we all saw in the Week 6 win over Dallas – was a team that has played with terrific discipline. The two offensive giveaways speak to that – a number that is by far the fewest in the league and helps the Eagles to an NFL-best +12 in the giveaway/takeaway category – and so does the team's penalty picture. Philadelphia is averaging 5.2 penalties per game, seventh best in the NFL. In Sunday night's 26-17 win over the Cowboys, the Eagles committed just two penalties for 10 lost yards.

Impressive. And important.

"I think fundamentally we just keep getting better," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "Our players are getting better fundamentally, and our coaches are coaching them better fundamentally. Players are going out there and executing and not putting themselves in tough spots sometimes. When we are making penalties, I don't think we did a good enough job explaining it to them and talking it through with them and then them having to go out and do the hard job and executing it."

You know when you hear Sirianni talk about "correcting mistakes" and you think, "Well, what is he correcting? How can I know for sure?" The penalty numbers spell it out very clearly. In the opener at Detroit, the Eagles had 10 penalties called against them, seven on the offense. It was a bit of a sloppy start, with a handful of those penalties happening when offensive linemen were whistled for being downfield prematurely on a passing play. In the Week 2 win over Minnesota, the Eagles had eight penalties called against them, with seven on the offense.

"We have some things to clean up," guard Landon Dickerson said after that game, "and we'll get them cleaned up."

The Eagles have done exactly that. They were penalized five times for 52 yards at Washington – zero against the offense – and then were called for three penalties and 20 lost yards against Jacksonville in the rain and the next week were penalized three times for 30 yards at Arizona.

Then last Sunday, it was Dallas and two penalties, while the Cowboys were whistled for 10 penalties.

One of those penalties came late in the first quarter when the Eagles' offense lined up for a fourth-and-4 at the Dallas 10-yard line. Quarterback Jalen Hurts called out the signals, tight end Dallas Goedert went in motion and ... Dallas jumped. Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. stepped into the neutral zone and left tackle Jordan Mailata reacted as he is taught by Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland by tapping Fowler on the helmet and the whistle blew.

Penalty, Dallas. Five yards for the Eagles and a first down on the Cowboys' 5-yard line. On the next play, the first of the second quarter, running back Miles Sanders reached the end zone and Philadelphia had a lead it would not relinquish.

"We work different scenarios there," Sirianni said. "We do a lot of on-the-ball, going-fast things, so you (defense) don't know if we're on the ball going fast, you don't know if we're on the ball checking to a play, because we do that as well, and you don't know if we're on the ball trying to get you to jump offsides. There is a balance to the different tempos that you run that puts doubt in the defense's mind.

"That's what you're trying to do with everything. You don't want to be predictable with anything that you do. You want to put a seed of doubt in their mind … It was exciting, that when you put that work in and the players execute it, that's pretty sweet."

Sirianni reacted by jumping in celebration on the sideline. It was a teaching success.

"This is an emotional game," he said. "It's OK to show emotion. This isn't a golf match, where you have to be quiet."

Sirianni isn't shy about showing his emotions, so when something like that happens, when something the team has worked on in practice works to perfection, he's going to feel good about it. Just like this 6-0 start, and the long list of things that have gone well, including a penalty number that has dwindled week after week, there is much to like about what's going on.

Yes, of course, the Eagles need to be better and sustain their strong play over the course of 60 minutes and use this week of self-scouting to improve, but don't overlook something that is the result of good coaching and players who execute the plan: Discipline has been a key for the Eagles and it will continue to be a point of emphasis moving forward.

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