Birds of change: Eagles, Falcons out to establish early flight pattern
Major offseason changes make projecting the scene in Atlanta a serious challenge when the Falcons host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
Two of the NFL’s worst teams underwent wholesale overhauls, hiring first-time head coaches and parting with faces of the franchise to begin anew.
The Eagles parted with Doug Pederson during the 2020 season and named Nick Sirianni, previously offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts, head coach before trading quarterback Carson Wentz to Indy.
That pushed Jalen Hurts into a starting role in a brand-new scheme. He’ll be at the controls of an offense Sirianni promises will be “different.”
A massive remake is underway in Atlanta, where Arthur Smith was named head coach following a successful run as play-caller for the Tennessee Titans.
The Falcons jettisoned wide receiver Julio Jones in a trade with the Titans.
“I think it’s to both of our advantages. I’m imagining they thought the same thing that we did. That’s pretty common on new staffs,” Sirianni said. “So, they haven’t shown some things either. We just got to go back and look at tape of any of our time in the past. But, again, not a lot of film on either of us.”
Like the Eagles and Heisman Trophy-winning rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the Falcons unveil their prized draft choice — No. 6 overall pick Kyle Pitts — and he’s expected to be featured. Arthur Smith targeted tight ends early and often in a system with roots in the Joe Gibbs scheme from the Washington glory days.
Described as a “unicorn” during the draft process, Pitts was largely kept under wraps this summer. He played one snap and had one catch in the preseason.
“I am very comfortable,” Pitts said Wednesday. “I think (Arthur Smith) did everything for a reason. He does a great job of teaching. He kind of made it easier for me to learn. And I found ways to learn his way. Me and him, we kind of jell.”
Hurts went through the offseason and preseason operating as if he’d be the starter, but Sirianni saved the official call at quarterback until last week. For an opening test, the tandem gets to stare down the ultra-aggressive blitz scheme of Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Pees isn’t working with a ton of proven talent as Atlanta moves away from the Cover-3 scheme — and personnel — Dan Quinn employed. But he promised one thing about his group: Blitzing from every possible direction.
To counter, Sirianni has had multiple sitdowns with center Jason Kelce and Hurts to establish calls and signals for all situations in what will likely be a noisy environment.
“I think the first blitz meeting that we always do is we have a standard operating procedure of how we handle different packages,” Sirianni said. “So, recognizing the package; recognizing what they’re doing out of the package; and being ready against a coach like Coach Pees, who’s a phenomenal coach. Being ready for anything that they can throw at you.”
Youth is no longer an apt description of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who has seen it all a couple of times with Atlanta. Sirianni said Arthur Smith’s offense gives opponents a lot to think about because of his mix of personnel packages and willingness to run out of any set. Smith appreciates the advantage experience provides with Ryan under center, noting the offense is infinitely faster-moving now than it was a month ago.
“It’s not Matt’s first rodeo,” Smith said.
–Field Level Media