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Fan-Demonium: A Winning Feeling

Posted Oct 15, 2013

The Eagles beat the Bucs on Sunday, 31-20. That gives the Eagles two wins in a row, both by double digits. After a 1-3 start, a winning streak, even a short one, feels very good. The win got the Eagles back to 3-3 for the season. 

The big story was the play of Nick Foles. He had a terrific game. The numbers were impressive. Foles was 22-of-31 for 296 yards. He accounted for four touchdowns and didn't have any turnovers. Sometimes numbers can be deceiving. That's not the case here. Foles passed the eye test and looked like a good starting quarterback. 

One thing that impressed me is that he had to lead the Eagles on a comeback for the second week in a row. The Bucs led 17-14 at the half. The game was back and forth early on. The Eagles led 7-0 and then trailed 10-7. The Eagles regained a 14-10 lead before trailing at the half. Foles threw a long touchdown pass in the third quarter and the Eagles went on top for good. This wasn't a dramatic comeback (nor was last week), but it was good to see Foles have to earn the wins. The Giants and Bucs are winless, but they played with a sense of desperation. That helped them for part of the game. It just wasn't enough to help them win. 

I loved the fact that Foles spread the ball around. Damaris Johnson had his first catch of the season. Jeff Maehl had a catch. Jason Avant had four. DeSean Jackson had six. Riley Cooper had the best game of his career. He caught four passes for 120 yards. He had the longest touchdown of his career. Cooper caught a 47-yard bomb in the third quarter. He did a good job on that play. Cooper ran by the corner initially and then slowed down to locate the ball. He and the corner made contact late on the play, but Cooper used his size and strength to stay clear and then made a smooth catch right at the end zone. Cooper also had a 44-yard catch-and-run after that. He caught a short pass, made the corner miss and then took off down the field. He didn't have the speed to go all the way, but that play put the Eagles in scoring position. On the very next play, Foles hit Jackson for a 36-yard touchdown. 

It was important to see Foles throw the ball downfield. He struggled with that part of his game last season. He has improved quite a bit this year. Foles doesn't have a great arm, but he has good mechanics and is now using more of his lower body to generate power. The deep ball to Cooper was a bit underthrown, but was thrown well enough that Cooper could make the grab. The pass to Jackson was good. If a quarterback can't stretch the field it allows defensive backs to play tighter on the underneath stuff. Defenders have now seen long touchdowns in a couple of games from Foles. They know they need to guard the whole field. 

Foles used pump-fakes on a couple of plays very effectively. He had an 8-yard scoring pass to Jackson. Foles pump-faked and that made the safety bite up, which then left Jackson wide open as he crossed the field. Easy touchdown after that. The Eagles faced a third-and-15 at one point. Foles pump-faked to an underneath target and the safety moved up. Cooper was left wide open over the deep middle for a gain of 17 and an impressive first down. That is good quarterback play. 

Beyond passing the ball, I thought Foles was impressive. He made smart decisions. He threw the ball quickly at times. He held the ball when he had good protection and tried to go down the field. Foles didn't force throws. He was willing to use his checkdown receivers when that is all that was available. These plays resulted in short yardage. That's better than taking a sack, throwing an incompletion or forcing the ball into coverage. Give your guys a chance to make a play. Cooper's 44-yard reception was a short throw. Cooper made one guy miss and it instantly became a long gain. 

The red zone is no longer a scary place with Foles at quarterback. The Eagles went two-for-three and the only time they settled for a field goal was a drive late in the game when the team was more concerned with eating up the clock than scoring a touchdown. Had the Eagles settled for field goals, the game would have been very different. Making the red zone performance even more impressive was the fact that the Bucs have one of the best red zone defenses in the league. Foles threw a red zone touchdown pass last week as well. He's been good in that part of the field this year. 

From a game management standpoint, Foles did a good job. There weren't any wasted timeouts. There wasn't confusion at the line of scrimmage about who was supposed to be where. Foles used a hard count late in the game that helped the Eagles get a first down and eat up some clock. Foles looked like a veteran quarterback, not a player making his first start of the season. 

A lot of people want to question whether Foles should be the starting quarterback. I think Chip Kelly is wise not to address that subject right now. I don't think you make that decision based on six-plus quarters of play. Could Foles win the job for this year? I'll go with Kelly's answer and say let's not talk about hypotheticals. Let's just wait and see how he does. 

There were a lot of national pundits who thought the Eagles would struggle to run the ball without Vick. The Giants clamped down on the run game last week and were especially good with Foles in the game. Few of those pundits actually watched the game and saw what happened. They also didn't study the Eagles-Bucs matchup. LeSean McCoy isn't going to get shut down on a regular basis. He's just too good of a running back. The Eagles offensive line got caught off-guard by some wild stunts last week. They were better prepared this time out and they controlled the line of scrimmage. The Bucs had a top 10 run defense, but the Eagles ran for 138 yards, including Foles' 4-yard touchdown run. The Bucs are now 13th in run defense. 

Brent Celek deserves some recognition for his blocking. He faced former Eagle Daniel Te'o-Nesheim a few times and just ate him like he was a burger at Prime Stache. Celek was able to seal him regularly. Celek moved him off the ball a few times. Late in the game, Celek was at his best. He had an excellent block of Adrian Clayborn that allowed McCoy to run free to the outside for a nice gain. Celek got movement on that play and sustained the block for several yards. The Bucs put in a backup on the next play and Celek did the same thing to him. That was fun to watch. 

Last year, the Bucs played dominant run defense. Bryce Brown finished that game with 6 yards on 12 carries. The Eagles spread the Bucs out this time and attacked up the middle. McCoy was aggressive going north-south and finished the game with 116 yards. Brown had five carries for 20 yards. Tampa is built to stop a traditional run game. Kelly's spread attack is tougher on them. 

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.

You hear coaches all the time talk about the four-minute offense. This is when the team has a lead late in the game and the goal is to move the ball and eat up the clock. First downs are the priority, not points. The Eagles took over possession with 8:03 left in the game while holding an 8-point lead. The Bucs desperately needed a stop. The Eagles ran their four-minute offense. The Eagles ran the ball 11 straight times and moved the ball from midfield down inside the 10-yard line. They kicked a field goal to seal the win. They also ate up almost six minutes of game time. Kelly will be thrilled with that. Great job by Celek and the offensive line on the drive. It was also good to see McCoy and Brown run hard and aggressive. There was no dancing. 

The Eagles offense has now gained 425 yards or more in all six games this year. They only did that three times last season. The offense has scored 30 or more points in four games this year. They only did that once in 2012. The offense is playing lights out right now. 

The defense is still a work in progress. The Eagles gave up the fewest yards and points of the season, but they were facing a rookie quarterback who was making the second start of his career. I think it would be fair to say the Eagles were up and down on defense. 

I was highly frustrated at halftime. The Eagles had given up 17 points. You just shouldn't do that against a rookie quarterback. However, those numbers are a bit deceiving. I pointed out in my game preview that field position would be critical. The Bucs struggled to sustain long drives. The first 10 points they scored on the Eagles came on short fields. There was a fumble by McCoy that set up a field goal. There was a long punt return that set up a touchdown. The Bucs had one long drive late in the half. That was aided by three long plays. The worst was a 16-yard scramble by Mike Glennon on third-and-long. That play was pure torture. 

The Eagles gave up yards in both the first and second half, but only three points after halftime. There was also a takeaway early in the second half. On the final couple of drives, the Bucs totaled 11 plays for just 4 yards. The Eagles put the clamps on them when it mattered. That was good to see. The Eagles defense has been somewhat the opposite in recent years, playing well early on and then struggling late in games. A good defense plays well all game, but you at least need one that will make clutch plays. 

Kelly said he thought Fletcher Cox played his best game of the year. I completely agree. The stat sheet isn't impressive, but Cox was disruptive all game long. He drew a couple of penalties and was held even more than that. Cedric Thornton also impressed me. These guys can be quite a tandem if they continue to improve. Thornton is the more powerful of the two. Cox is the better athlete. Rookie Bennie Logan notched his second sack of the season. 

DeMeco Ryans was credited with 12 solo (14 total) tackles. He had a few big hits on running back Doug Martin on inside runs. Ryans lacks the speed to fly all over the field, but he can still hit with the best of them on inside run plays. Mychal Kendricks was credited with five solo stops, but had somewhat of a quiet game. He was more solid than flashy. 

Trent Cole and Brandon Graham were somewhat quiet. Connor Barwin did get a sack late in the game. Glennon threw a lot of short passes, which made it tough to pressure him. Graham would have had a sack, but he got held by the left tackle. Graham drew a flag om the play. 

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher played well. He broke up a pair of passes and had the team's lone interception. Brandon Boykin almost picked off a pass late in the game. He was in zone coverage and went to the right spot. That was textbook defensive play right until the moment he dropped the ball. 

The defense is still flawed, but they are making progress. A play here or there would have made a big difference. Vinny Curry just missed tackling Glennon on his scramble. Boykin just missed his interception. Earl Wolff missed breaking up a third-down pass by inches. If the defense can start making these plays and get off the field, they'll do themselves a world of good. The Eagles offense has shown they can move the ball. Help yourself and then let the offense help you. 

Special teams play was up and down. The low point was allowing a long punt return. I also didn't like Damaris Johnson returning two kickoffs from deep in the end zone. Field position was going to be critical. Johnson needed to play smart. Colt Anderson did down a punt at the 1-yard line. 

I get where some critics focus on the fact that the Eagles' back-to-back wins came against winless teams. No one is trying to put the Eagles into the Super Bowl. But the flip side is also true. Two of the losses came to the undefeated Chiefs and Broncos, two of the best teams in the league right now. They can get better, with improved defense and good red zone play.

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