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Eagles aggressiveness at halftime the difference between losing and winning

A shocking touchdown just before the half meant everything.

Philadelphia Eagles v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This win is on the head coach.

I’ll be honest with you, when the Eagles’ defense allowed the Rams to march 75 yards in six plays, culminating in a Puka Nacua 22-yard touchdown on 3rd and 10 with 38 seconds left in the first half, I was not a happy camper. Clinging to a 10-7 lead, the Rams jumped on top 14-10 and were going to get the ball to start the second half.

I fumed as the Eagles, who had marched up and down the field throughout the first half but had just an opening drive touchdown and field goal to show for it, were staring at the prospect of a 17-10 or 21-10 deficit before they touched the ball in the third quarter, thanks to L.A. winning the opening toss and deferring. While not a death knell, it would have been a substantial hole to try and crawl out of.

No one really thought, with just 32 seconds remaining in the first half, the Birds were going to get much done.

No one except Nick Sirianni.

While it was unlikely the Eagles would take a knee and jog into the locker room following that L.A. touchdown, it was silly to think they were going to re-take the lead before the half. Could they scratch out a field goal? Given Elliott’s ability to hit from long range, the odds were decent, as we’ve seen the Eagles manage that before.

Most NFL head coaches shove the ball into the belly of their running back and ask him to try and break a 30-yard run between the tackles in that spot, usually to no avail. They then jog into the locker room with the idea of 30 minutes of football left and adjustments already on their brains. After the game, that coach can say to himself, “Hey, we ran a play to give ourselves a shot, but there just wasn’t enough time to do anything else.”

That coach is, of course, a loser. That is not what Nick Sirianni did.

With the ball at their own 25, Jalen Hurts scrambled out of bounds for a nine-yard gain. Getting out of bounds was key, as it stopped the clock with 24 seconds left and didn’t cost the Birds a timeout.

Hurts, on Sunday, went out of his way to prove to everyone that he still had the ability to affect the offense dramatically on the ground, barreling through defenders, extracting every yard possible and silencing any questions about that aspect of his game with a team-leading 72 yards on 15 carries, including a long of 17 yards. He was, once again, a dual threat.

After an incompletion on a short pass to DeVonta Smith on 2nd-and-1, Hurts then connected on the play of the game, a deep ball across the middle to A.J. Brown for 38 yards all the way down to the Los Angeles 28.

Ever since his emotional outburst on the sidelines during Week 2’s win over the Vikings, Brown has been completely unstoppable.

The play alone put the Eagles in prime field goal range and, under normal circumstances, with just seven seconds left, Jake Elliott would have trotted onto the field goal and brought the Eagles to within one. But defensive back Derion Kendrick grabbed the neck of Brown’s jersey and hauled him down for a horse collar, 15-yard penalty, putting the ball at the Rams’ 14-yard line.

Had the Eagles decided to just run the ball into the line of scrimmage and hope for a miracle, they never would have benefitted from Hurts’ and Browns’ athleticism, and for fortune to smile on them with a Rams penalty to give them a legitimate shot at the end zone just before half.

Instead of bringing the field goal unit onto the field, Sirianni let Hurts have a crack at a touchdown. Again, most coaches probably don’t take that chance, but Sirianni trusts his franchise QB, who was looking for Brown in the end zone when the star wideout was pulled to the ground for a defensive pass interference penalty, putting the ball at the one-yard line with two seconds left.

Sirianni was faced with the third decision on this drive that many coaches would have made differently. If you go for the touchdown, you run the risk of not getting any points after this miracle gift of a possession. However, if you go for the six points and get them, you go into the locker room with all the momentum, plus a three-point lead with the extra point.

Perhaps making the decision easier for Sirianni was The Tush Push, or The Brotherly Shove (can we decide on one of these before the league bans it next year?). Knowing a conversion was almost automatic, Sirianni rolled the dice on this highest of high percentage plays and the Eagles scored their game-altering go-ahead touchdown to grab a 17-14 lead.

It was a shocking turn of events, and it was the difference in the game.

Sure, Sean Desai’s second half adjustments held the Rams scoreless, and the Eagles’ offense moved the ball at will, although had to settle for too many field goals inside the red zone. Perhaps the Eagles still would have won even if they didn’t score before the half, given how the rest of the game played out, but Sirianni’s aggressiveness set the tone.

Despite their perfect 5-0 record, the Eagles themselves are not perfect. Their red zone struggles are maddening, the defense has started slow in most games this season, and they’re still not clicking on all cylinders. They are not the 49ers, not right now anyway, although the season is long and winding. A lot of football remains.

But it’s clear Sirianni and his Eagles aren’t going anywhere. They are a threat anytime they get the ball. As a defense, you can never rest against them, and if you give them an opening, 95 times out of 100, they’re going to take advantage. The Eagles’ aggressiveness before the half on Sunday was made possible by the incredible, game-changing skills of Hurts and Brown and Sirianni’s chutzpa. The pressure they applied on the Rams forced L.A. into the backbreaking penalties that ultimately ended up in a seven-point swing, and the Birds’ fifth straight victory to start the season.

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