Eagles coach Nick Sirianni gets Philly fans, but even they know beating the Cowboys is just one step

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni gets Philly fans, but even they know beating the Cowboys is just one step

How about them Eagles?

Nick Sirianni did almost everything he could to downplay the rivalry with the Cowboys last week. The Eagles coach told his players at a team meeting that the “Beat Dallas” shirts he made for the team and wore proudly last year were a mistake.

“This was stupid on my part last year,” Sirianni said before symbolically threw the shirt aside. “It’s about us. It’s about playing for each other.”

But when the Eagles beat Dallas, 26-17, on Sunday night, Sirianni allowed himself to enjoy the moment, or more likely, share the experience with the fans, as he changed Jimmy Johnson’s famous boast about the Cowboys just before going into the locker room. room at Lincoln Financial Field.

“How about them Eagles?” cried Sirianniand once again, with greater emphasis, “What about them Eagles!?!?”

Them Eagles are 6-0 and atop not only the division but the entire NFL, and that’s about all that needs to be said to what is essentially a rhetorical question. And it’s the Jamestown, N.Y., native who bounced around the nation as a college and pro assistant but had to return to his East Coast roots in Philadelphia that has them there.

Sirianni has made his share of mistakes, especially in the first seven games of his first season as a head coach, but since opening 2-5, the Eagles have won 13 of their last 16 regular-season games. And the 41-year-old has held himself accountable and shown a growth mindset that is a necessity for any manager.

Slogans aren’t exactly a bad thing. And while Sirianni’s shirts may have a college feel about them, wearing them is just the coach being true to himself. But the problem with the “Beat Dallas,” he told his players, was the messaging.

“In the grand scheme of things, does a T-shirt really make a big difference in a win or a loss? Probably not,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “But we preach, ‘Everything matters.’ And the reason Nick harped on it so much was just to emphasize how much he thought it was about us, and how much the team needs to focus on themselves.

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The Eagles were smoked by the Cowboys, 41-21, in their first meeting last season. They lost just as convincingly in the season finale as Sirianni rested most of his starters ahead of the playoffs. But even the stoic Jalen Hurts admitted, after initially downplaying the significance, that he still carried the Texas performance with him.

“You’d be naive to think I didn’t remember that,” the Eagles quarterback said. “I try to find value in all my experiences, and that was a valuable experience for me.”

The Eagles offense didn’t quite live up to the memory of their effort a year ago. They jumped out to another lead, only to go back again in the second half. Dallas had also figured out a few things on offense and began using a balanced attack to narrow the margin, 20-17, early in the fourth quarter.

But Sirianni, much like he did last week in Arizona when the Cardinals mounted a comeback, went heavy on the ground and ran the ball relentlessly on a 13-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a Hurts-to-DeVonta Smith 7-yarder touchdown with seven minutes left.

The first 11 plays were essentially rushes. The most pivotal came early in the possession on third-and-4 at the Eagles 44. Hurts hadn’t moved up to that point. With right tackle Lane Johnson out with a concussion, and Dallas’ ferocious pass rush, the quarterback was often under severe pressure.

But Hurts took off in this scenario, gave linebacker Anthony Barr a little crossover, and was able to pick up the first down. It was back to the ground on the next set of downs, however, and to running behind what is arguably the strength of the entire team: the offensive line.

» READ MORE: Eagles-Cowboys analysis: Birds rise to 6-0 after getting bounce against rival Dallas

“You rely on what your strength is in that scenario to get you out of the rut,” Sirianni said. “I’ve been taught that from the very beginning. You’re in a groove, get it to your playmakers. Our playmaker in that scenario was our offensive line.”

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It will probably be left for Sirianni to clean up. The offense hasn’t quite figured out how to survive blitzes, let alone exploit them. But it was enough for Sirianni and his coaches to do well to slow down what is one of the best defenses in the league.

Linebacker Micah Parsons was held to zero sacks and quarterback hits, and on two crucial plays, the Eagles unblocked him and Hurts threw to receiver AJ Brown — the other going for a 15-yard touchdown.

“You can’t block them,” Sirianni said of Parsons, “read them.”

In 2017, Doug Pederson took the same approach with Von Miller, another game-wrecking edge rusher, and took him out of what turned out to be a runaway over the Broncos. The Eagles of 2022 have yet to finish games as the eventual Super Bowl winning team.

But there are similarities between the squads, most are in their preparation. Pederson laid out one game plan after another that exploited a defensive weakness, but mostly emphasized the strength of his unit.

Sirianni, likewise in his second season, has done the same. Ultimately, it will be his and his coaches’ ability to stay ahead of their opponents that will have the biggest impact on the Eagles’ success.

He is a sponge for coaching wisdom. It starts with his father, Fran, his first coach, with whom he chatted briefly before the postgame press conference. And that extends to former mentors like Larry Kehres and Frank Reich. He said he recently talked to Tony Dungy, who he said had an 80-1 record with a 14-point lead, about playing from scratch.

Sirianni has relationships with coaches outside of football, from former Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright to even his son’s minor league baseball coach.

He is always looking for ways to improve, and that often involves how he builds a winning culture. Kelce said Sirianni’s team meetings are the best he’s ever experienced because of the amount of thought he puts into his messages. While throwing away the “Beat Dallas” shirt was about looking inward, it also said a lot about the coach, Jordan Mailata said.

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“It was a surprise, but it wasn’t a surprise,” the Eagles tackle said. “Everything he said in that meeting made sense and here we go again with the coach practicing what he preaches and taking responsibility for his actions from last year.”

That doesn’t mean some Eagles didn’t get caught up in the hype.

» READ MORE: Eagles win over Cowboys proves they are the best team in the NFL. Enjoy, Philly.

“It was kind of hard not to let the rivalry get in the way in the last quarter,” Mailata said. “It was starting to get a bit runny, a bit sloppy. You want to play smart football and put the game away. But it’s difficult, and you throw that rivalry in there and [they are] talk shit and you just want to fight them.”

Television cameras caught Sirianni getting animated during the late-game scrum. He’s a fiery guy, and while some locals initially mocked him for his slogans, T-shirts and messages, he has many traits that are Philadelphian.

He has adopted the city, and its sports teams, as his own. Sirianni’s attendance at Game 3 of the NLDS at Citizens Bank Park was not disappointing. There was a father who took his family to a Phillies game. But he was also a sports fan who enjoyed baseball in one of the best sports cities in America.

» READ MORE: Connect and trust: For Nick Sirianni, his Eagles training journey and fatherhood fit together

And the Sirianni who cried, “What about those eagles?” was the sports nut Sirianni, as much as coach Sirianni on the podium had to step down Dallas.

“What’s so cool about Philadelphia,” Sirianni said, “is it’s such a great sports town that it matters here.”

He gets it.

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