DETROIT — The Eagles didn’t look like the Eagles on Sunday.
They looked like the team fans want them to be.
Nick Sirianni ran the ball between the tackles all game. He let his big offensive linemen move forward and establish the run with physicality. And Jonathan Gannon’s defense finally challenged. They played more man coverage, ditched the Cover 2 on occasion and even dialed up a few well-timed blitzes.
The end result was a 44-6 win over the Lions in a game that finally proved these Eagles aren’t soft.
Sure, it’s the Lions; they’re winless and aimless. And because of their deficiencies the Eagles came in with game plans that fit what fans have been clamoring for them to do.
But there have to be some lessons in this win, right?
Because the Eagles, no matter the opponent, looked pretty good running the ball.
And the Eagles, no matter the opponent, looked pretty good with a defense that was just a tad more aggressive.
The Eagles’ top two coaches adjusted on Sunday and it worked.
On offense, the Birds finished with 236 yards on the ground. While 71 of those yards came from Jalen Hurts, they also had big performances from Boston Scott (12 carries, 60 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Jordan Howard (12 carries, 57 yards, 2 touchdowns). After having some out-of-whack run-pass ratios this season, the Eagles ran it down the Lions’ throats.
Sirianni said that of their first seven plays, they planned five runs.
“We wanted to establish the run game early,” Sirianni said. “We really value our offensive line and what they can do. That’s what we wanted to go out and start with. We had some good play action game off of it that, Jalen (Hurts) executed well. That was definitely a part of our plan to be able to go out there and run the football like we did.”
So it was already their plan to run in this game. And then once his offensive linemen began to come to the sideline and tell Sirianni to keep it going, he did.
After last week’s loss in Las Vegas, Sirianni put some heat on Gannon, saying the Eagles’ defense needed to challenge more. While there’s some strategy in playing very passively against teams with big-play threats, that passive style only works when the defense gets off the field. In the Eagles’ losses this season against top quarterbacks, that hasn’t happened.
Against the Lions, the Eagles just simply couldn’t play the same style of defense. It wouldn’t match up against a Lions team that rarely hits big plays and a quarterback that loves to check it down.
As obvious as these adjustments seemed, it was still encouraging to see Gannon make them.
“I know that he’s been having to answer a lot of questions, we’ve been having to answer a lot of questions,” Sirianni said. “He went and did what we had to do to win that game. We put a little more pressure on him. As you can see, we got to the quarterback a little bit more than we have. Again, it started up front there. To lean on those guys up front, at any level that you’re playing, high school football, college football, pro football.
“If you win up front the way we won up front you’re going to be able to win football games. Relying on those guys there to win up front initially and then just tightening it up in the coverage with some more man-to-man, a little bit more zone match when they gave us a couple different looks to be able to still match even if we were in zone coverages.”
Heading into this weekend, Sirianni and Gannon were under intense scrutiny and a lot of it was earned. There were a lot of folks wondering what would happen if the Eagles went to Detroit and lost to the winless Lions. We’ll never know.
The word “identity” often gets thrown around when a young team is trying to find its way. What’s its identity on offense? What’s its identity on defense?
Sometimes it ends up being something different than expected. Sometimes it reveals itself.
That’s not to say the Eagles are going to become a run-first offense. And that’s not to say Gannon is going to completely abandon his Cover 2.
But if nothing else, maybe this big win proved to the Eagles that sometimes adapting and changing can work. And maybe it gave them a few new tools to use the rest of the season.
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