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Spadaro: Do Nick Sirianni's season openers offer any clues for Sunday?

Nick Sirianni
Nick Sirianni

There is always a sense of the unknown when the NFL opens its season and, no doubt, this year is no exception for the Eagles. They're going against a New England team that has a new offensive coordinator in Bill O'Brien and a defense that, for the first time in a dozen seasons, doesn't have star defensive back Devin McCourty. Unknowns, unknowns, unknowns.

Of course, it is the same with the Eagles, who have spent the last couple of weeks introducing their game plan for the September 10 opener. All of those open Training Camp practices at the NovaCare Complex? Those were primarily the basics, a shell of what the Eagles will scheme from week to week in this 2023 regular season.

So, we venture into new territory starting Sunday when the team can finally start answering all of those "What is the identity of this football team?" questions.

In the meantime, with time to spare before the opener, let's take a look back at Head Coach Nick Sirianni's two openers, wins at Atlanta and Detroit, that helped the team get off to positive starts in each playoff season.

Philadelphia at Atlanta, September 12, 2021

Eagles 32, Falcons 6

We had no idea what to expect in this one with Sirianni in his first game as head coach and Jalen Hurts starting the season at quarterback for the first time. After Atlanta took a 3-0 lead on a 14-play, 72-yard drive, Hurts and the offense took the field and showed what was to come: three consecutive completions to wide receiver Quez Watkins gained 23 yards, Hurts ran for 13 yards, two Miles Sanders carries gained 11 yards, and then Hurts went up top to No. 1 draft pick wide receiver DeVonta Smith for 18 yards and a touchdown and the Eagles had a lead and would never look back. The Eagles showed they could hurt defenses in a number of ways offensively with Hurts leading the way with 264 passing yards and three touchdowns and another 62 added on the ground and Philadelphia ran for 173 yards and a touchdown on 31 attempts.

The defense was swarming after allowing two field goal drives. The Eagles shut down the Falcons in the second half and ended up sacking quarterback Matt Ryan three times and keeping the Falcons off the scoreboard after those first six points. Final score: Eagles 32, Atlanta 6.

There were many takeaways from this game. Hurts played mistake-free football, made great decisions, and the offense showed it could win in the air and on the ground. Smith had no learning curve in the NFL as he was an immediate contributor. The offensive line dominated. The defense got better and better and forced the pressure on Ryan and clamped down when it needed to do so. The coaching staff was impressive with its out-of-the-box preparation and adaptability.

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Philadelphia at Detroit, September 11, 2022

Eagles 38, Lions 35

This one was definitely a battle against a fired-up Detroit team at raucous Ford Field. Detroit came to play after a "Hard Knocks" summer and gave the Eagles everything they could handle. D'Andre Swift gained 50 yards on the game's second play from scrimmage and the back-and-forth slugfest was on. The Eagles won because the defense made some big plays – cornerback James Bradberry intercepted a pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter and some breathing room at halftime.

But Detroit continued to plug away and a Swift 7-yard touchdown run brought the Lions to within 21-14 early in the third quarter. Then the Eagles made it 31-14 early in the fourth quarter before things became hairy. With just under four minutes remaining in the game, the Lions pulled to within three points and then the Eagles ran their four-minute offense to perfection – Sanders had three runs for 32 yards and Hurts converted a fourth-and-1 play from the Lions' 40-yard line with 1:09 remaining in the game, and the Eagles iced it from there. Final score: Eagles 38, Detroit 35.

The takeaways were significant. For anyone who wondered what kind of impact new Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown would have on the team wondered no more – he caught 10 passes for 155 yards on 13 targets. New cornerback Bradberry made an immediate impact. Sirianni had the utmost confidence in Hurts, who threw for 234 yards and added 90 more on the ground, many early against Detroit's blitz-heavy pass rush. The Eagles ate the final minutes off the clock behind their devastating offensive line. Philadelphia won a road game against a tough opponent and it set the storyline for what was to come in the 2022 season.

What's next for the Eagles? A sense of the unknown against New England and the start of the 2023 campaign and a chance to win on the road and get things off to a roaring start.

Relive the greatest games and plays between the Eagles and the Patriots ahead of Sunday's season opener.

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