DENVER — The Eagles’ whirlwind transition from a fluffy, finesse-driven squad into an aggressive, rough and tumble team was cemented on Sunday during a dominant 30-13 win over the Denver Broncos at Empower Field.
Head coach Nick Sirianni and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon put together game plans that bullied the Broncos on both sides of the ball.
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Despite coming into the game as a top-10 run defense, the Broncos were run over by the Eagles to the tune of 214 rushing yards. On the opposite side of the ball, the Eagles switched up their coverage plan and the defensive line took advantage while putting pressure on Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater.
It was an impressive all-around outing for the Eagles, who enter a seven-game home stretch that features only two matchups against opponents with winning records.
Here are nine observations from Sunday’s win over the Broncos:
Sirianni calls an impeccable game
After two strong weeks of play-calling, Sirianni put together his best showing of the season on Sunday. Wideouts were getting open regularly, screen passes were working consistently and the running game was dominant.
The Eagles produced five offensive scoring drives, 386 net yards and 22 first downs, and the offensive line led the way throughout.
Sirianni’s opening script put the Eagles up by 10 points to start the game, and despite an early three-and-out, the unit was able to work its way down the field throughout the majority of the game. The Eagles produced six plays of 20 or more yards, and that success was largely due to the scheming of Sirianni and the execution of his offense.
Give Gannon credit where it’s due
Gannon was criticized for this passive play-calling throughout the first nine weeks of the season. The secondary played with soft-zone coverage and the defensive line under-performed without time to get to the quarterback.
Sunday, that recipe would have killed the Eagles against Bridgewater, who is among the smartest and most accurate QBs in the league. That’s why Gannon finally switched things up against the Broncos, calling for press-man coverage, which allowed the defensive line to create pressure and impact the QB.
Also, Gannon did a nice job of disguising coverages and rotating personnel, which helped the unit zero in on passing plays. The group also played relatively well against the run, outside of a touchdown-scoring driving the first half.
The Eagles’ defense allowed 308 net yards, but only one touchdown and three scoring drives. The group also produced two forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown.
For the defense to progress, Gannon needs to continue to adjust his system to defeat opponent’s weaknesses.
It’s alarming how good the running game is without Miles Sanders
The duo of Boston Scott and Jordan Howard has been rolling over the past three weeks. The pair have combined for 392 rushing yards and five touchdowns with Miles Sanders missing from the lineup.
Sanders is now eligible to return from injured reserve, but with Howard and Scott producing, the Eagles might slow-play the former second-round pick’s activation. After all, re-introducing Sanders to a thriving running back rotation could stall its progress.
Against the Broncos, both Scott and Howard eclipsed 80 rushing yards. Remember, the Broncos were a top-10 run defense entering the game.
Jalen Hurts is growing in his new role
Hurts was sensational in the first half of the matchup against the Broncos. He led four scoring drives and would have had three first-half touchdowns if wideout Quez Watkins didn’t drop a 34-yard beauty from Hurts in the end zone. Hurts looked accurate, decisive and dangerous as a passer, and he got the ball out quickly in the pocket.
His 36-yard touchdown throw to wideout DeVonta Smith in the first quarter was the best of his young career. He also made several impressive throws on the run, including a third-down strike to tight end Dallas Goedert that went for a 24-yard gain.
Hurts has been showing signs of growth in his new role as a dual-threat disruptor. Instead of forcing Hurts to be the “be all, end all” on offense, the Eagles are allowing him to pick his spots and provide complementary support to a run-heavy attack. Hurts is electric as a runner and he produced 53 rushing yards -- including a 31-yard jaunt -- against Denver.
It wasn’t a perfect showing from Hurts, but he is clearly developing in various aspects of his game. He did have a near-pick broken up by Smith, and later made a bad decision while throwing under pressure, as he targeted Watkins in double coverage. Hurts was hit as he lofted the ball to Watkins, and it was picked off by safety Justin Simmons.
Those two blunders weren’t enough to derail Hurts’ strong day in Denver. He’s trending upward.
Hurts completed 16 of 23 passes for 178 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against the Broncos. He was only sacked once.
It’s always Derek Barnett
Another game, another couple of blunders from Derek Barnett.
Barnett was whistled for a false start on a second-quarter field-goal scoring drive by the Broncos. The penalty was on first-and-goal, and while that should have been damning, the Eagles were able to hold tight and force the Broncos to take three points instead of seven.
Barnett’s bigger mistake came in the third quarter. On third-and-7, Barnett was flagged for roughing the passer, as he took Bridgewater down after a short pass. Barnett was called for the penalty after he pressed Bridgewater down as he pushed himself up off the QB. The Eagles would have forced a punt without the penalty, but the flag kept the Broncos’ drive alive and that led to another field goal.
Barnett is constantly making poor choices. The coaching staff can continue to stick up for him, but it’s apparent he has no tact on the field. While he did collect the Eagles’ only sack of the game in the first quarter, the two penalties are what will be remembered.
DeVonta Smith is THE Playmaker
The Eagles’ first-round pick is special. On his 23rd birthday, Smith made a pair of dynamic touchdown catches. The first, the aforementioned 36-yard score, featured the lanky wideout out-muscling his former Alabama teammate Patrick Surtain for an acrobatic touchdown. Smith plucked the ball out of the air and was able to land inbounds for the highlight of his rookie season to this point.
Smith later showed off his route-running ability, breaking free for a five-yard score in the end zone. Smith finished with four catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns, and he now has 42 catches for 603 yards and four touchdowns on the season. He’s on pace for 71 catches for 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns.
The 10th overall pick has shown he’s a top-flight playmaker and everything the Eagles wanted when they traded up to select him. Durability and size narratives be damned ... Smith is an absolute stud of a playmaker.
The special-teams unit makes big plays
The Eagles’ special teams unit really showed up against the Broncos. Safety K’Von Wallace blocked a field-goal attempt in the third quarter, linebacker Shaun Bradley made a tone-setting stop on a kickoff return and punter Arryn Siposs averaged 51.3 yards on three punts.
Perhaps most important of all, kicker Jake Elliott continued his impressive bounce-back season. Elliott connected on all three of his field-goal attempts -- including a 52-yarder -- and all three of his extra-point attempts.
It’s been a strong first season for special teams coordinator Michael Clay.
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Linebackers and safeties show up
The Eagles’ linebackers and safeties have been social-media punching bags all season. However, against the Broncos, both position groups played well.
Safeties Anthony Harris, Rodney McLeod and Marcus Epps rotated throughout the game, and Harris and Epps had a couple of impressive stops.
At linebacker, T.J. Edwards, Davion Taylor and Alex Singleton all had their moments. Edwards was efficient against the run and made some key stops on the ground. Taylor forced two fumbles, including one that led to a touchdown by cornerback Darius Slay.
Following the game, Sirianni was quick to praise Edwards, Taylor and Singleton. The trio needs to build on this performance for the rest of the season.
Darius Slay is money with the ball in his hands
After producing just one turnover last season, Slay has been around the ball a lot this year. On the season, Slay has two fumble recoveries for touchdowns and two interceptions.
Against the Broncos, Slay picked up a loose ball after Taylor forced Melvin Gordon to fumble on a fourth-down run. Slay maneuvered around the field to create a crease and then sprinted upfield for an 83-yard touchdown return.
Slay has played very well in his second season with the Eagles.
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Mike Kaye may be reached at [email protected].