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Fan-Demonium: It's All About Execution

Posted Oct 29, 2013

Chip Kelly declared at his press conference on Monday that his offense has not been figured out. The team simply isn't executing well right now. I'm sure a few of you rolled your eyes and said, "Whatever, Chip." 

I agree with him completely on this subject. 

I re-watched part of the game with my 5-year old nephew, Jason. He was curious about why I watch a game and then re-watch it over and over. I showed him a third-down play from the second half. Matt Barkley hit DeSean Jackson with a pass over the middle. It produced 7 yards on third-and-8. I paused the game and went frame-by-frame to show my nephew what went wrong. Barkley dropped back and made a perfect throw. Jackson caught the ball away from his body and on the run. Textbook stuff. Jackson headed upfield and was going toward the line the team needed to move the chains. Suddenly Jackson stopped going forward and went sideways. 

"He didn't want that guy to hit him." 

Those words came from my nephew. They were exactly right. Jackson saw a defender coming downhill. Rather than running toward him, Jackson tried to run around him. That killed his chance to get the first down. Jackson needed to sell out to move the chains. He didn't. 

I have no problem with a player doing something like that on first or second down. I have no problem with a player doing something like that early in a game. Situational awareness is critical. Jackson was in the second half of a division game with his team losing. He needed to play with a sense of desperation. He needed to sell out to get that first down. 

The design of the play worked perfectly. The execution was outstanding right up to that point where Jackson leveled off and went parallel to the line instead of going forward. If you just look at the box score, you see a failed third-down conversion. It is easy to think that must be Kelly's fault for not having called a better play. If you saw the game, you know that was all about execution. 

Jackson was one of many culprits. There were problems all around. Kelly has some fault for sure. But most of his plays had a chance to work. Go re-watch the game and you'll see where 10 guys did the right thing on a given play. It is just that one guy who makes a mistake and it ruins the play. 

I re-watched part of the Broncos and Washington games after the Eagles loss. The Broncos execute really well on offense. There was a screen pass in the second half that went for a 35-yard touchdown. The right play was called, but it was the execution that really impressed me. There was good initial blocking. Then you saw linemen down the field making sure to get a piece of a defender. They didn't need great blocks, but just enough to keep the running back clean. Peyton Manning executed his part of the play perfectly. The runner caught the ball cleanly and then turned upfield quickly. He had room to run, but also followed his blocks well and then maneuvered through traffic. Everything was done well and they got a touchdown. 

I couldn't help but think of all the Eagles plays where I'm left saying, "If only the runner/receiver had gone there. If only the lineman had blocked that guy. If only ..." The Broncos don't have some magical playbook that the rest of the world can't understand. They run plays that we've seen for years. If you know the Colts offense from the Tony Dungy era well, you'll recognize a lot of what the Broncos do. The key is that they execute it so well that you can't stop it. How often did Joe Montana hit Jerry Rice on a slant pass? How many times did John Stockton and Karl Malone run the pick and roll? Greatness comes from execution, not tricking people with the perfect play. 

Kelly is right on another point. The Eagles need some stability at quarterback. Last week, it was Nick Foles and Barkley playing. This past week, it was Michael Vick and Barkley playing. That's not good. Your offense isn't going to be crisp when you have all three quarterbacks playing in a two-game span. A good offense has the same quarterback on the field. He's able to get lots of practice reps and build up good timing and chemistry with his teammates. That has been anything but the case in recent weeks. 

You could see right away that Vick wasn't himself. He just didn't look right. Kelly left him on the field to see if Vick could shake off the rust and get into some kind of groove, but that didn't happen. 

Barkley came into the game in the first half. He led the team right down the field and I got fired up. Maybe Barkley was the spark that the offense needed. I went from high to low very quickly when Barkley was strip-sacked and the Giants recovered the fumble deep in their territory. The Eagles were down 12-0 at that point. Even a field goal would have felt good. Such a promising drive ended so poorly. 

Barkley showed some good things on that drive, but on the disastrous play he looked every bit the rookie. Kelly explained that it was a simple play the team practices all the time. Jackson is the receiver to look for and Zach Ertz is the backside tight end to look for. Neither was clearly open. All Barkley had to do was throw the ball away and go to the next down. Instead, Barkley was hungry to make something happen. He let emotion cloud his judgment and held the ball too long. That ended in disaster. It felt like the old Peanuts gag where Lucy moves the ball when Charlie Brown goes to kick it. Ugh. 

I do think there were positives to take away from Barkley's performance. On his first play, there was a bad snap. He didn't panic. He reached down, got the ball and looked up quickly. Barkley saw Brent Celek wide open and hit him on a crossing route. Barkley showed good pocket presence. He kept his eyes downfield. Barkley generally made good reads and sound decisions. He wasn't forcing the ball into coverage. 

One issue that I noticed is that Barkley's footwork can get sloppy when he's pressured. That led to some off-target throws. Quarterbacks must be able to throw from a variety of platforms. They can't count on a clean pocket. You want the quarterback to use proper mechanics most of the time, but there will be occasions when he needs to be able to make good throws while off-balance or leaning in one direction or twisting to avoid rushers. This is something for Barkley to work on. 

Aside from the fumble, there was only one play from Barkley that upset me. He dropped back on a third-and-5 play. Riley Cooper ran a shallow cross and was wide open. Barkley should have hit him for an easy first down. For some reason, Barkley didn't see him in time and the offense wasn't able to move the chains. There were some other plays where Barkley held the ball too long, but that will happen with all young quarterbacks. 

We can't really make an accurate judgment of Barkley until we see him start and play a full game. Barkley needs practice reps during the week so that he can be completely ready to go. He'll have better chemistry with his receivers. Barkley should play better with the right preparation. In his limited action so far, Barkley has shown promise, but has yet to lead the offense to any points. He also must quit turning the ball over so much. In his defense, he entered games down 12-0 and 17-3. That's not exactly favorable circumstances. 

There weren't a whole lot of offensive highlights in a game where the offense failed to score. Jason Avant did make some nice grabs. He finished with three catches for 54 yards. James Casey played early in the game and caught a pass for 11 yards. 

Offensive sloppiness was all over the place. LeSean McCoy was bottled up. His long gain on the ground was 9 yards and his longest reception was just 7 yards. Give the Giants credit for doing a good job on him. McCoy got frustrated and tried to turn short plays into big ones. That led to some poor choices and lost yards. The most frustrating moment for me came in the third quarter with the Eagles backed up. McCoy got loose on a second-down run and could have moved the chains. Instead, he got greedy and tried to cut back to create a long run. Unfortunately, he went right to a defender he hadn't seen. The Eagles were then stuffed on third down and forced to punt from deep in their own territory. 

Cooper ran backward after catching a pass in the third quarter. He almost had the first down initially, but gave away a couple of yards. Jason Kelce had some bad snaps. Jason Peters pulled to the inside on an early run, but got stuffed by lineback Jon Beason. Peters has 100 or so pounds on Beason, but lost that battle. Beason then tackled McCoy. A decent block leads to at least 5 more yards, maybe more. Lane Johnson got beat by Justin Tuck using an inside move on a third-and-short run play. Tuck stuffed the runner. Just about everyone on offense had a bad play or two. 


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

While the offense was a mess, the defense had a good day. They limited the Giants to 325 yards and five field goals. You should win a game when the defense holds the opponent to 15 points. This wasn't a case of one player having a great day. The Eagles played good team defense. 

The guys up front set the tone for the game. Fletcher Cox had the lone sack. While Eli Manning wasn't getting knocked around as much as I wanted, he did have some pressure. There was another intentional grounding penalty. Connor Barwin and Trent Cole combined for four pass deflections. If you can't get to the quarterback, get your hands up and knock the ball away. That shows good awareness. 

The line was stout against the run. Giants runners combined to have 29 carries for 89 yards. That is just 3 yards per carry. The long run of the day was just 9 yards. Cedric Thornton and Cox were tough up front. Big Clifton Geathers had some good moments. He fired into the backfield late in the game and nailed a runner for a loss. It would be great to see Geathers start making plays. 

Linebackers Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans were very active. Kendricks had 11 solo tackles. Kelly thought this was his best game of the year, especially as a run defender. Whether he makes the tackle or not, Ryans is always in the middle of the action. He will take on blockers and help to clog the running lanes. 

I thought Nate Allen and Earl Wolff were solid. Allen had a couple of nice hits in the game. He's playing with more confidence and is now more aggressive on the field. That's good to see. Wolff still has his rookie moments, but has shown us a lot. Both guys were effective blitzers when they got the chance to go after Manning. 

Cornerbacks Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin each had a solid game. They had a trio of tough targets to deal with. In the first game against the Giants, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle combined for 286 receiving yards. Those same three receivers had 137 yards on Sunday, less than half of the first game. There were no touchdowns or gains of more than 26 yards. The Eagles did a better job against the underneath stuff. Boykin had a very impressive blitz and should have gotten a sack, but he wasn't able to get Manning to the ground. Eli goes about 240 or so pounds and he's tough to tackle. 

Special teams played well enough to win. Damaris Johnson had a 16-yard punt return and a couple of 28-yard kickoff returns. The Giants made one critical error late in the game. The snapper fired the ball back to the punter, but well above his head. That is one of the worst snaps I've seen in a long time. Boykin flew into the backfield, but couldn't get the ball. Najee Goode scooped it up and got the touchdown. That kept the Eagles alive in the game. 

Sunday was a very frustrating loss. You hate to see the offense struggle so badly, especially against a rival and in a home game. The Eagles need to solve the quarterback situation and get the offense ready to go. Two straight bad weeks is enough. This has to stop. The defense is now playing well enough to win games. The offense needs to get back on track. The Eagles are 3-5, which is disappointing, but they are only a game out of the division lead. What a strange season.

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