Eagles’ aggressive identity on 4th downs got them past the Niners and into the Super Bowl

    Eagles’ aggressive identity on 4th downs got them past the Niners and into the Super Bowl

    On the opening drive of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 31-7 blowout win over the San Francisco 49ers, head coach Nick Sirianni opted to go for it on fourth-and-3 at San Francisco’s 35. Jalen Hurts linked up with DeVonta Smith for a phenomenal 29-yard gain.

    Except this was obviously not a catch.

    The 49ers not throwing the challenge flag is not Philadelphia’s problem, and they cashed in on their fourth-down decision by scoring a touchdown on a Miles Sanders run just two plays later.

    While the Smith catch shouldn’t have been ruled as such, the decision by Sirianni was statistically the right move to make, and while the call on the field was incorrect, the process resulted in points.

    —> SF (0) @ PHI (0) <---
    PHI has 4th & 3 at the SF 35

    Recommendation (STRONG): Go for it (+3.2 WP)
    Actual play: (Shotgun) J.Hurts pass deep left to D.Smith to SF 6 for 29 yards (J.Ward). pic.twitter.com/RGYiYxMVwF

    — 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) January 29, 2023

    The other pivotal fourth-down call was made inside his own territory. With the score knotted at 7-7 and the Eagles struggling to muster anything offensively, Sirianni faced 4th and 1 at his own 34. By this point, Josh Johnson had already subbed in for the injured Brock Purdy but the 49ers had just scored a touchdown on their previous possession. Instead of punting for a fourth consecutive time, Sirianni dialed up the nearly unstoppable Hurts quarterback sneak for the conversion. The Eagles would get the go-ahead touchdown and blow the game open from there.

    Again, it was the analytically preferred decision even in a tied game in Philadelphia’s own territory.

    —> SF (7) @ PHI (7) <---
    PHI has 4th & 1 at the PHI 34

    Recommendation (STRONG): Go for it (+2.8 WP)
    Actual play: J.Hurts up the middle to PHI 35 for 1 yard (K.Givens). pic.twitter.com/pBKr90SqxI

    — 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) January 29, 2023

    Two fourth-down attempts, two conversions (officially!), and two eventual touchdowns while the game was still close. That’s winning football at its finest, and it’s also been Sirianni’s MO all season.

    During the regular season, the Eagles converted the second-most fourth downs in the NFL, had the fourth-highest conversion rate, and scored touchdowns a league-best seven times in those situations. In terms of fourth-down aggressiveness, the Eagles ranked sixth, up from 12th in 2021.

    After their 29-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in October, in which they converted three-of-five attempts on fourth down, Sirianni explained how his trust in Jalen Hurts influenced his decision making.

    “The very first thing of why we go for it on fourth down, or why we went for it on fourth down yesterday, I trust our guys. Who do you trust? I trust Jalen [Hurts] to make the right decisions with the football. I trust Jalen if it’s a pass. I trust Jalen that if it’s a run that he creates an extra gap for the defense. I trust the heck out of our offensive line and I trust our guys on the perimeter to make a play with the football in their hands. I trust our defense if we don’t get it that they’re going to get a stop.”

    […]

    “Does that mean we’re going to be 100% in those scenarios? No. We were, what, 60% yesterday, right? But I still have that trust in him, and of course that is built through practice, that’s built through the reps you have at practice, that’s built through the reps you’ve had together in games, and that’s built through the conversations that you have throughout the week and throughout the months and throughout the years that you have together.”

    Sirianni has quickly followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, Doug Pederson, who sparked a league-wide trend by consistently being among the leaders in “go for it” calls on fourth down, most notably the “Philly Special” play in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.

    Not every decision is going to be the right one and sometimes the right decision will yield an undesired result. For the Eagles, their fourth-down decisions have largely been correct, the success rate has consistently been high, and this offensive juggernaut is on the verge of another title thanks to a head coach who understands the most optimal ways to win in today’s NFL.

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