There were plenty of big storylines to monitor in the Week 1 showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons that ended up being a lopsided affair in favor of the underdogs. Philly — which came to Atlanta as 3.5-point dogs — routed the Falcons by 23 points.
Here’s everything you need to know about this surprising finish.
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The Arthur Smith effect was apparent in the Falcons’ passing game. His patented usage of early down play-action was in full force and at levels Matt Ryan and Co. are not used to. Through the first two quarters of action when the game was within reach, Ryan had used a play-action concept on 83.3% of pass plays, which was nearly double that of any other team in the 1 p.m. slate. The Falcons found little success on such concepts and really on any others.
Ryan rarely pushed the ball downfield and ultimately finished with only three completions over 10 yards downfield.
Matt Ryan Lowest Average Depth of Target in a Regular Season Game
|2012 Week 8 at PHI||4.4|
|2009 Week 9 vs WAS||4.5|
|2013 Week 10 vs SEA||4.6|
|2021 Week 1 vs PHI||5.1|
|2019 Week 10 at CLE||5.2|
Mike Davis got the brunt of the carries in Atlanta’s backfield, but it was dynamic weapon Cordarrelle Patterson who had the most success. Patterson handled seven carries and turned four into explosive gains of 10 or more yards, the most by any ball-carrier in this game. Patterson has been a position-less player at times in his career, and Atlanta used him all over the field, but most of his reps came from the backfield. The fantasy community will be juicing over this in the coming days:
Cordarrelle Patterson Snaps By Position
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts was fed plenty of opportunities by Atlanta, playing all over the field. He owned the highest target rate of any Falcons receiver (22.6%, seven total targets).
Kyle Pitts Snaps By Position
Pitts converted a cluthch fourth down on a whip route and also had an explosive reception of 15-plus yards down the seam, but it wasn't the type of debut that suggests a record-breaking rookie season is on the horizon. He generated exactly 1.0 yard per route run and had just one first down.
Calvin Ridley’s lone big play came on the first play from scrimmage. Overall, he finished with 1.34 yards per route run, which would have been his third-lowest mark of the 2020 season.
The Falcons' offensive line entered the year in questionable territory, ranking 24th in PFF’s Preseason OL rankings. After Week 1, the situation could be worse than expected. Atlanta allowed a 41% pressure rate and gave up three big sacks late in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta’s defense was expected to be among the worst in the NFL at getting after the quarterback, and the pass-rush unit confirmed that against Philly. Starters Grady Jarrett, Dante Fowler Jr., Steven Means and Tyeler Davison all finished with sub-10% win rates for the game. The defensive line as a whole combined for eight total pass-rush wins, three times less than Philadelphia.
Deion Jones made a couple of impact plays as a blitzer, but his performance in coverage is what is going to be the reason for his lackluster overall grade for the game. Jones allowed a touchdown and four additional first downs on 32 coverage snaps. Overall, he allowed more yards in coverage than anyone on the team.
Foyesade Oluokun played cleaner than Jones, with only one first down allowed in coverage. At the same time, he had only one defensive stop.
Second-year corner A.J. Terrell held his own on the outside for Atlanta. He logged 31 coverage snaps there and allowed only 11 yards in coverage. Terrell did give up two catches for first downs on the couple of coverage snaps he had in the box, though.
Jalen Hurts may have had a low average depth of target and high rate of yards after the catch, but make no mistake — he had a career day. Hurts was decisive inside the pocket and executed a short passing attack that found plenty of success as opposed to holding onto the ball and taking risks like he did in 2020.
Jalen Hurts inside the pocket
|2020||2021 Week 1|
|9.7||Avg. Depth of Target||3.0|
|0.19||EPA per pass||0.55|
Along with that, Hurts was his playmaking self on the move outside of the pocket and didn’t put the ball in harm’s way on such plays.
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) September 12, 2021
Hurts completed five of eight passes for 50 yards and a touchdown outside of the pocket and also took a couple of scrambles for 15 yards.
Atlanta had a tough time defending Philly’s ground game and Hurts' read option threat. Through the first three quarters before the game got out of reach, Philly generated 0.24 EPA per rush between Hurts, Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell, the best figure of of the 1 p.m. slate.
Sanders also showed off his receiving chops with 2.14 yards per route run and four broken tackles on two receptions.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
First-round rookie DeVonta Smith was the lone receiver in this game to have multiple receptions of 15-plus yards (three in total). One was his first career touchdown on a schemed rub. He generated a 148.5 passer rating when targeted in his all-around solid debut.
While Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz played nearly the same amount and had the same level of production on a per-route basis (1.62 and 1.48 yards per route generated, respectively), it was Goedert who had the better performance thanks to his diving grab in the end zone.
Philly’s offensive line had no issues handling the middling defensive front the Falcons trotted out. Four of the five starters finished with a pass-block grade above 75.0 on first review and not one lost multiple reps. They also helped provide 2.7 yards before contact in the run game.
The Eagles' pass-rush feasted on Ryan as the game progressed. Five different Eagles finished with win rates north of 15%. Their two top performers were interior defenders Javon Hargrave and Hassan Ridgeway, who combined for eight sacks plus hits and pass-rush grades above 85.0 upon first review.
Singleton was the best performer of the bunch on first review. Thirty-five of those snaps came in coverage and not one ended in a first down allowed on his part.
Steven Nelson and Darius Slay saw a combined 12 targets manning the outside spots, and they effectively did their job by combining for only one first down allowed, three passing stops and one forced incompletion.