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Fan-Demonium: A Real Eye-Opener

Posted Sep 14, 2013

The Eagles win on Monday night was about as exciting a season opener as I can recall. I've seen the Eagles play great. I've seen them play in tight games. The win over Washington was a combination of the two. I think you would have to go all the way back to the overtime game against the Rams in 2001 or the Pickle Juice Game in 2000 to find such a compelling opener. 

Seeing Chip Kelly calling in plays as fast as he could on the opening drive was a bit of a eureka moment. That made things feel very real. The talk about Kelly and his up-tempo offense all offseason was somewhat abstract. You could watch Oregon games and even the Eagles in the preseason, but until Monday night it wasn't really real. 

You could see the urgency with which he called in the plays. The team responded by running them just as fast. There were four plays in the first minute of action. It truly was something to behold. Washington had no idea what hit them. They got lucky with the questionable call on the lateral that sure looked like a forward pass. It was so encouraging to see the Eagles get the ball back and march right back down the field, just as fast, just as furious. The offense was lightning quick and relentless in the first half. 

I think this Chip Kelly guy might actually know what he's doing. 

I love the fact that the Eagles won, but also that they didn't play a perfect game. Some teams come out and look great in the opener, then fade back to reality quickly. This wasn't a case of the Eagles using some trick plays that caught Washington off-guard. The Eagles threw short passes and ran the ball right down the field. There have been cases where a team built a perfect gameplan for one game, but then couldn't sustain it. The Eagles can not only replicate Monday's performance; they can improve on it. There were some great aspects to the game, but the coaches have plenty of mistakes to fix. Kelly talked about how the offense actually didn't move as fast as he hoped. 

The key to the Eagles offense was LeSean McCoy. He had a great game, rushing 31 times for 184 yards. You can really tell there is a new coach and new offense in place. McCoy set his career high for carries in his first game under Kelly. The days of pass-pass-pass-run-pass are over. There will still be plenty of passing, but this is going to be a running team as long as that part of the offense is working well. 

Words don't do justice to some of the cuts McCoy made. There were a few plays when he made multiple Washington defenders miss. Safety Bacarri Rambo is a rookie. I'm sure he had nightmares about No. 25 all week. He never faced anyone in college who could do what McCoy does. The runs that impressed me the most were the short-yardage plays where McCoy got the ball and aggressively attacked upfield. He didn't look for big plays. He concentrated on moving the sticks. In the past, he had some moments where he'd try to bounce those runs outside and would ruin critical situations. McCoy has learned from that. 

Michael Vick played well. Like the team, he was far from perfect, but his highlights were terrific. I was impressed by how he orchestrated the offense. Vick generally made good decisions. He was accurate with his throws. He got the ball out quickly, which let the receivers make plays for him. His touchdown passes to Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson were excellent throws. Vick didn't run a lot, but he did have a key first-down run in the first half and then had a 36-yard run in the second half which flipped the field and helped the offense eat some more clock. 

Vick ran out of bounds with the ball once, which is listed as a sack. He has to throw that ball away and not lose 5 yards. He forced the ball on a couple of throws and that made me nervous. Sometimes his arm strength gives him too much confidence. There were a couple of first half passes where he flat out missed wide open targets. He's too talented a passer to do that when he's got a clean pocket. I think he had good pocket presence and generally played a smart game. I hope the coaches convince him to not go block for McCoy. Vick takes a beating as it is. Don't look for extra contact. 

Jackson played his best game in a while, catching seven passes for 104 yards and a score. I was very encouraged by his performance. In recent years, Jackson and the coaches fell in love with him going deep over and over. This affected the defense, but didn't lead to much production. Kelly wants to get him the ball on short throws so Jackson has a chance to make plays. Jackson did make plays after the catch on Monday night. My favorite play came when he caught a short pass to the right side and then used great burst to explode up the field. He got 26 yards on that play. Jackson used the middle of the field better than he has in years. 

The other receivers didn't make many big plays, but their blocking was key. Riley Cooper and Jason Avant blocked well on McCoy's long touchdown run in the second half. They also blocked well on the short passes to Jackson. 

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

All this talk of the skill players is irrelevant if not for the big boys up front. The Eagles offensive line wasn't dominant, but they played well. The group hasn't been together much this summer. They need time to jeel. Still, there were some plays when they did blow the Washington defenders off the ball and gave McCoy lots of running room. Jason Kelce had some terrific blocks on the move. He put London Fletcher on the ground twice. I can't tell you how hard that is to do once, let alone twice. Rookie Lane Johnson was good in pass protection and as a run blocker. Jason Peters was a bit rusty, but did have some great blocks. It was fun to see him out there after a long year of Demetress Bell and King Dunlap. 

The Eagles defense had a strong showing in the first half. In fairness, Robert Griffin III struggled in his return from a knee injury and that helped. I think you still have to give the Eagles a lot of credit. The first half takeaways weren't easy plays. The safety was. Griffin III made a bad pitch and Alfred Morris had no choice but to fall on the ball. Trent Cole had no choice but to jump on Morris for the safety. 

Cole had an outstanding game. He looked like the player Eagles fans have grown to love over the years. Cole was very good against the run. He made hustle plays when the ball went away from him. He blew up runs that came at him. He pushed blockers aside as if they weren't even there. Cole didn't get a sack, but he hit Griffin III more than any other Eagle. There were hits in the pocket. There were hits just outside the pocket. There was even a hit out in space. Cole wanted to welcome Griffin III back to football in his own special way. 

Mychal Kendricks looks like he is going to be a star in this defense. He flew all over the field. Kendricks led the team with 10 tackles. He had a couple of big hits on Griffin III. The most impressive came when he was untouched on a blitz up the middle and he somehow managed to body slam Griffin III, but did so in a clean, legal way. That was old-school Eagles defense. That even got Seth Joyner fired up on Twitter. Kendricks recovered the fumble that Cole forced on the first offensive play of the game. Those two were playmakers, which is critical in the 3-4. 

DeMeco Ryans wasn't as flashy as Kendricks, but had an active game. The coaches let Ryans blitz quite a few times. Instead of using speed to shoot gaps, Ryans would charge into blockers at full speed. On one play, he drove a guard straight back to Griffin III. There were at least two other plays where Ryans put guards on the ground. He hit them so hard they just toppled over and landed on their back. It was very Trotter-esque and fun to watch. Anyone who doubts just how physical Ryans is should rewatch that game. He did have a sack when he was unblocked and put Griffin III on the ground. 

Eagles fans and the media piled on Cary Williams this spring and summer. I was part of that as well. The one note I and others made is that Williams could get everyone on his side with a good game. Boom. That's exactly what happened. Williams had a sack, interception and key pass break-up. He covered well and didn't give up any big catches to his side. Williams played great and looked like a free agent steal. Another game like this and he'll quickly become a fan favorite. 

While Williams was the playmaker outside, Brandon Boykin had an outstanding game in the slot. He picked off his first NFL pass. He had four solo tackles. Boykin also got to blitz a handful of times. He got some pressure. There were also a couple of play where he was blocked by an offensive lineman. It was funny to see him trying to get off a block, just like Cole or Brando Graham would. Boykin can be a very good slot corner for the Eagles this year. 

Washimgton admitted after the game that the defense did plenty of things they weren't expecting. Bill Davis and the coaching staff were honest all summer. They ran a vanilla attack and used the preseason as an evaluation period. Davis said this several times. The 3-4 isn't nearly as effective as a vanilla defense as when you start dialing up blitzes. I think you can see the defense will make some plays this year. There still is plenty to work on. The fourth quarter was too easy for the Washington. They had 175 yards and scored 14 points. That's not good. 

You can argue that the best part of the Eagles was special teams. Dave Fipp already has my vote for assistant coach of the year. He has done an amazing job, transforming a bad unit into one of the team's strengths. The Eagles pinned Washington deep several times in the game with good punts. Kickoffs were either touchbacks or well covered. Players are fired up on special teams. Chris Polk made a terrific tackle on one kickoff and looked like he was shot out of a cannon. James Casey had a couple of tackles and played well. There is an energy and enthusiasm that just wasn't there in recent years. Colt Anderson has to be freaking out. He doesn't have to make every tackle anymore. 

The Chip Kelly era is off to a good start. Monday night was a lot of fun, but it was just one game. In order for it to mean something, the Eagles need to play well on Sunday against the Chargers. You can bet that is exactly what Kelly is preaching to the players.

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