ARLINGTON, Texas — In the wake of his team’s embarrassing loss to the Cowboys on Monday night, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said his team came into the game with the mindset that they wanted to keep up with their high-scoring opponent.
But he also punted twice from Cowboys’ territory.
Two times in the second quarter of the Eagles’ 41-21 loss, the Eagles were faced with a 4th-and-5 from across midfield. Both times, Sirianni elected to punt.
Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe if the Eagles went for it on either of those two plays, things would have just gotten worse. But something didn’t quite add up and Sirianni’s explanation left plenty to be desired.
So the Eagles knew they were in a game that might turn into a shootout? And Sirianni went conservative?
“I’m looking at the chart and deciding when to go for it and not go for it,” Sirianni said. “I felt comfortable following the chart there and the chart said to punt in those situations.”
That’s not an answer that instills much confidence in Sirianni. Or in his chart.
The Eagles are an organization led by Jeffrey Lurie that wants to use their analytics department in their favor. And it’s hard to imagine the analytics both of those times called for punts. It makes you think that whatever chart Sirianni is working from is more conservative than you’d expect.
But in some instances, the Eagles have shown some aggressiveness early this season under Sirianni, which is why it was so strange to see them go conservative here.
Of course, the argument for not going for it on these fourth downs would be that the Eagles’ offense was struggling on Monday night. Maybe that was taken into account. If you can’t trust your offense to convert, then it doesn’t behoove you to be aggressive. But in a game where you’ve already established you’re going to need to score — and you’re already down two touchdowns — it does seem like an approach that is too safe.
Perhaps the Eagles will not be as aggressive under Sirianni as they were under his predecessor, Doug Pederson.
Let’s take a look at both decisions:
1. The first 4th-and-5 came with 5:09 left in the second quarter. The Eagles just went down 20-7 and after getting the ball at their own 25 gave the ball to Miles Sanders for a 24-yard run. The Eagles then picked up five yards on two plays before an incompletion to Dallas Goedert on third down. That brought up the 4th-and-5 from the Cowboys’ 46-yard line.
At least one analytics model says the Eagles should have gone for it:
Instead, the Eagles got a great punt from Arryn Siposs to pin the Cowboys at their own 6-yard line. The defense then did its job, got a 3-and-out, but the Cowboys flipped the field thanks to a 56-yard punt and a holding penalty on the return.
2. The second 4th-and-5 came with just 20 seconds remaining in the first half. After some head-scratching time management from Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, the Eagles had a decision to make on the Cowboys’ 49-yard line.
This one wasn’t as strong, but this model from The Athletic again pointed at going for it, albeit more mildly:
Instead, the Eagles punted the ball to the Cowboys who then took a knee, happy to go into the locker room with a 13-point lead.
Under Pederson, the Eagles faced 34 situations with a 4th down opportunity of 5 or fewer yards from their opponents 40-49 yard-line. Pederson punted 10 times and went for it 24 times. Just one of those was a 4th-and-5 and the Eagles punted — but that was in a 6-0 game in the first quarter.
Ultimately, these two decisions might not have changed the outcome of the game on Monday night. But they’re something to keep in mind as we move forward in the Sirianni Era.
Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast: