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Fan-Demonium: Get Back To Winning

Posted Dec 17, 2013

The Eagles played their worst game in a while when they lost to the Vikings on Sunday. Much of the focus is on why that happened. Some think the team didn't take the three-win Vikings seriously. Some blame the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. There are a variety of theories to try and explain why the team played so poorly. We'll never know why. You can guess and rationalize want, but no one will know for sure.

A better question is what went wrong. Rather than dismiss the game to a letdown or a jinx, try and figure out what specific errors the team made. You can fix those. Kelly and the staff have studied the tape thoroughly. They've identified issues. Starting Tuesday, they'll go over them with the players and try to get things cleared up.

The Eagles played poorly in Minnesota, but that doesn't now mean the season is over or the team is hopeless. Use that game as a lesson. Get back to winning. Don't make more of the loss to the Vikings than it is. That was just one game.

There is no question that the focus should be on the defense after allowing 48 points to the Vikings. That was a terrible performance. I do agree with something Chip Kelly said. You need to start by giving a lot of credit to Matt Cassel. He was great. I remember watching him in a game last November against the Steelers. Cassel threw an interception in overtime that was just dreadful. He literally threw the ball right to a defender. Rookies don't make plays that bad. I remember thinking to myself that he just might be done as an NFL quarterback. While Cassel hasn't been great this year, he has had his moments. He's getting much better coaching and is delivering solid results.

On Sunday, Cassel was lights out. He made quick, smart decisions. He threw the ball well. His passes were right on the money. Early in the third quarter, Cassel hit Jarius Wright down the right sideline for a long gain. Bradley Fletcher had great coverage on the play and missed the ball by inches. That was a great throw and a great catch.

The Eagles defense didn't always have great coverage. Anyone who watched the game saw wide open receivers way too often. Even worse, defenders didn't consistently tackle well in space. That gave the Vikings a lot of yards after the catch and helped them get some big plays. There isn't one player or even one position to blame. Linebackers, safeties and corners all took turns missing tackles.

Third downs were nightmares. Minnesota converted on eight of 13 opportunities. They were able to sustain drives and keep the Eagles offense on the sideline. Each conversion was different. There were throws to the outside and the middle. There were scrambles and inside runs. Cordarelle Patterson converted them as a runner and receiver. The Eagles also helped out with penalties. The Eagles have struggled on third downs this season on a semi-regular basis, but Sunday was pure torture. The Vikings only punted twice all game.

Even worse, the Vikings were five for six in the red zone. They weren't settling for field goals. They scored touchdowns. The situational defense was awful on Sunday. The Eagles couldn't get the Vikings off the field, nor could they keep them out of the end zone. Double-whammy.

The shocking part about all of this is that Minnesota did it without Adrian Peterson. They didn't even have his backup, Toby Gerhart. On the surface, that seemed like a good thing for the Eagles. In retrospect, it wasn't. The Eagles didn't know exactly what to expect since the Vikings hadn't played without their top rushers this year. Give credit to the Minnesota coaches for coming up with a creative game plan. They threw the ball aggressively and the players executed the plan to near perfection.

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.

The Eagles had trouble up front and in the back. Coverage wasn't what it needed to be. The front seven failed to generate consistent pressure on Cassel. They got some big shots on him, but not often enough. Cassel was able to drop back and throw from a comfortable pocket far too often. The Eagles might not have a ton of sacks this year, but they generally are able to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. That didn't happen on Sunday and Cassel picked the secondary apart.

You might glance at the box score and see the Eagles put up 30 points and gained 475 yards, but that side of the ball had a hand in the loss as well. The Vikings offense wasn't stopped in the first half. They put up 17 points. The Eagles offense stopped itself on a couple of drives and could only counter with nine points. The Eagles spent the entire second half playing catch-up.

Minnesota held a 10-3 lead in the second quarter. Nick Foles dropped back to throw the ball. He had a clean pocket. He had Riley Cooper streaking down the left sideline. Foles connected with Cooper, but the pass was too far wide and the receiver couldn't get both feet inbounds. What should have been a touchdown turned into a noisy incompletion. Cooper ran a good route. He was halfway between the numbers and the sideline. That left him room to adjust to the throw, inside or out. Foles just put the ball too close to the sideline. If he brings that pass 1 yard more to the inside, you have 41-yard touchdown and a tie game.

Later on that same drive, DeSean Jackson got into the end zone when the Eagles ran a double reverse. Jackson scampered 18 yards for the score. That eased the frustration of the earlier incompletion by Foles. But wait, there was a flag. Foles was called for an illegal block. Instead of a tie game, the Eagles settled for a field goal and trailed 10-6. That was as close as the Eagles got for the rest of the game.

The deficit grew to 27-9 by the third quarter. The Eagles then came alive. They scored a touchdown. They came up with an interception and turned that into another touchdown. The score was 27-22 and momentum was definitely on the side of the Eagles. That's when Cassel went right back to work and led the Vikings to another touchdown to grow the lead to 34-22.

Ugh.

Foles put up points and yards, but he made too many big mistakes to call it a good game. If there is an upside to Sunday's debacle, it is that Foles didn't have his A-game and still threw for 428 yards and led the Eagles to 30 points. That's pretty encouraging.

There is a lot of criticism toward Chip Kelly for not using LeSean McCoy enough. McCoy finished the game with just eight carries. Kelly explained that he was trying to take what the defense gave him. The fact that the Eagles trailed by double digits so much also factored into his decision. I understand Kelly's logic, but if McCoy is your best offensive player, and I sure think he is, you must feed him the ball. That isn't to say he should have had 29 carries on Sunday. Get him an extra four or five touches. See if he can deliver you a big play. If the Vikings stop him, you're still keeping their defense honest by making them play the run.

DeSean Jackson had a huge game. He caught 10 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. Sadly, most of the focus has been on a sideline spat that Jackson had with someone. Football is an emotional game. Players are going to be fired up when talking to coaches and teammates. Sometimes this gets out of hand, but it is quickly forgotten.

Special teams play was another issue on Sunday. The Eagles did not want to kick the ball deep to Patterson, the NFL's leading kickoff returner. Instead, they came up with the strategy to mix in squib kicks and mortar kicks. The Vikings’ average starting field position was their 39-yard line. I don't fault Kelly and special teams coach Dave Fipp for trying the strategy. I do think they should have adjusted during the game and taken their chances with Patterson. At the same time, the Eagles were without Najee Goode, a key cover guy. They also suffered injuries during the game to some guys who are key special teamers. That made the decision a lot tougher.

Sunday was tough. The Eagles had played so well in recent weeks that I just didn't see the team struggling like that against a mediocre Vikings team. You might call that a generous description of Minnesota, but based on recent weeks (2-1-1), they're not nearly as bad as the overall record makes them look.

Something good can come from this game. The Eagles got a huge piece of humble pie. They were the flavor of the month last week. I don't know if that went to their head, but I know they'll be a humble, focused team this week for sure. If the Eagles use the loss as a lesson, they might actually benefit from it in the final couple of weeks.

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