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Fan-Demonium: Keep This Train Rolling

Posted Nov 19, 2013

The Eagles won a big game on Sunday, beating Washington 24-16. It was a great game for more than three quarters, but got a bit ugly down the stretch. Just like the season opener, the Eagles built a commanding lead only to see it disappear in the fourth quarter. In the opener, recovering an onside kick sealed the game. On Sunday, an interception did the trick.

The Eagles are now 6-5, in sole possession of first place in the NFC East, and  riding a one-game "winning streak" at home. I know that last item isn't impressive, but it sure beats the heck out of a 10-game losing streak. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I had a hard time getting a feel for the Eagles heading into Sunday. They were clearly better than the Skins, but strange things often happen when the two teams play. Chip Kelly isn't a big believer in rivalries, but when you play a team twice a year every year, the games do take on a life of their own at times. Thankfully, the Eagles kept anything too crazy from happening.

Nick Foles and the offense were great for much of the game. The Eagles had 24 points and 356 yards of offense by the early part of the third quarter. The team had a 24-0 lead on the Skins and the only question was how happy everyone would be on Sunday night. Would the Eagles score 31, 34 or 38 points? Would the team get a shutout, something that hasn't happened since December of 1996? If only it was that easy.

The offense stalled after building the 24-0 lead. The Eagles gained just 55 yards the rest of the way. Last week the Eagles put together a brilliant drive that ate up the final 9:32 of the Packers game. This week the Eagles couldn't come close to that. Of the final five drives, only one exceeded four plays. Many fans complained that the offense got too conservative. Not really. The offense just got sloppy. The Eagles failed to convert on third-and-one, fourth-and-one and third-and-four. Each time the team was a yard or less away from keeping the drive alive. Close, but no cigar. The offense had negative situations to deal with, whether a sack, penalty, or lost yards on a run play. Give the Skins some credit. They played with a sense of desperation that the Packers didn't last week.

One reason that so many felt the offense got conservative is that they made things look so easy up to that point. Foles was terrific. The offensive line gave him excellent protection and Foles just picked apart the Skins defense for almost three quarters. He wasn't able to connect on any deep balls, but the screen game worked brilliantly. Brent Celek set up a touchdown with a 42-yard gain on a screen. I have never seen Celek run like that in my life. When did he become Usain Bolt? Celek got into the end zone, but replay correctly showed that his knee was down at the one-yard line. Bryce Brown set up a field goal with a 24-yard gain on a screen pass of his own.

LeSean McCoy had a big catch and run, but it wasn't on a screen pass. The Eagles designed a play that would hopefully match him up on a linebacker and it worked to perfection. Normally the play is a wheel route, where the back goes to the flat before quickly breaking upfield. This time McCoy headed upfield at an angle and then just went down the sideline. Foles hit him on the move and McCoy turned the play into a gain of 49. He got down inside the five-yard line.

Foles made a good touch pass on that play. You want to put some air under the ball so the back can find it in the air and adjust to it. You don't want to put too much air since that would give a defender a chance to hustle over and play the ball. It wasn't a perfect pass, but Foles came pretty close. The Eagles tried this play against Dallas, but Foles was off target that day and wasted an opportunity for a big play. It was good to see the same play dialed up and work this time.

You could tell from Foles’ mechanics and his body language that this wasn't going to be a repeat of the Dallas game. That was Foles’ last appearance at Lincoln Financial Field, and I'll admit that I was a bit nervous about him possibly having some kind of flashback to that awful showing. Didn't happen. Foles stood tall in the pocket. He was confident and poised. He just missed Riley Cooper for about a 90-yard touchdown on the second play of the game. Incompletions rarely make me feel good, but that was a good throw down the field.

Foles once again showed off his wheels. Last week he ran for 38 yards. This week he ran for 47, including a touchdown. The Skins defense didn't know what to make of him. The first play of the game was a read-option run. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan didn't even look at Foles for a second. He went right after McCoy and helped stuff him. The Eagles had second-and-goal from the four-yard line on the next series. Kerrigan crashed down after McCoy again, but Foles kept the ball and fought his way into the end zone. The next time the Eagles got inside the 5-yard line they dialed up another read-option play. Inside linebacker Perry Riley watched Foles the whole time, which was dumb since McCoy had the ball and scored easily. Did you ever think that Nick Foles running the ball would have major impact on a defense?

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 Skins focused on stopping McCoy. The Eagles made them pay by throwing the ball. DeSean Jackson had four catches for 82 yards. Riley Cooper caught three passes, including one for 23 yards. Zach Ertz had catches of 15 and 16 yards. The passing game was more efficient than explosive, but the chains kept moving and points kept going on the board. The line did a great job of neutralizing Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Foles had great protection for most of the game.

McCoy ran 20 times for 77 yards. There were some negative runs in the second half that hurt his overall numbers. He did have 150 total yards and scored two touchdowns on the ground. That was good to see. McCoy hadn't run for a score since the first Giants game. He's too good a running back to go that long without a rushing touchdown. There was a scary moment in the second quarter where he went down with a hamstring injury. You never want to see a player like McCoy on the ground grabbing his leg while in pain. Thankfully he only missed some plays late in the first half.

The Eagles defense played brilliantly for three quarters, allowing just 193 yards and no points. They flew around the field and played with great energy. They gave up some rushing yards, but kept the Skins under control. The fourth quarter was a very different story. The Eagles gave up 234 yards and 16 points. Ugh.

Robert Griffin III is a tough player to keep down for an entire game. The Skins were near the top of the league in yards per game heading into Sunday's contest. Griffin is a guy that can just come alive at any time due to his athleticism and explosive arm. The Eagles know this from having seen Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick up close for years. Griffin scrambled to his left and found his fullback down the field. Boom. That turned into a 62-yard catch and run. Later on Griffin ran a bootleg play and rolled to the right. He hit Aldrick Robinson for a 41-yard touchdown. A pair of two-point conversions turned the blowout into a one-possession game. I don't think I've ever felt so shaky about a 24-16 lead in my life.

The Skins got the ball back late in the game and buried at their own four-yard line. Surely the Eagles could seal the game. Not so fast, my friend. They marched all the way down to the Eagles 17-yard line before the Eagles could finally make a play and secure the victory. Fletcher Cox came free up the middle and got heavy pressure on Griffin. This happened on third-and-one with 40 seconds left. Griffin panicked and heaved the ball down the field. Brandon Boykin picked it off in the end zone. Griffin said he was trying to throw the ball through the back of the end zone. Dumb. Can't take that risk. He should have thrown the ball away more directly, even if that meant a grounding penalty. You just can't throw a ball deep and hope. But I'm sure glad he did.

Fletcher Cox was darn near invisible in the first meeting between these teams. That wasn't the case on Sunday. He was all over the field. He chased Griffin play after play. Cox recovered a fumble and almost had an interception. He made the tackle on a screen pass that he read perfectly on third-and-long. Good game. Cedric Thornton did his usual thing. He drove blockers backward and made life miserable for them. He had five solo stops, including a pair of tackles-for-loss. Trent Cole had a pair of sacks. He's gotten pressure all year, but it feels good to see him seal the deal and put the quarterback on the ground.

Boykin is something else. The Skins didn't use many three-receiver sets so that limited his playing time. He still managed to have three solo tackles, a pair of pass deflection, a forced fumble and the game-saving interception. Boykin also came up huge on special teams. He downed a punt at the two-yard line early in the game. He's become quite the playmaker this year.

You have to mention punter Donnie Jones as well. He had a terrific game, averaging 50.7 yards per punt. Four of the six punts were downed inside the 20-yard line. One of them was a 70-yard boomer. That is what pushed the Skins back to their own four-yard line on the final drive. That was the clutch punt of the year so far. Also, the Skins didn't have one single punt return yard. Great day for the punting unit.

It sounds funny to get excited by the punting game, but this is the stretch run in the NFL. Games aren't always about superstars. Special teams are going to be critical. This is the time of the year when little moments in a game can mean big things. The Eagles did the little things well on Sunday and got the win. They now head into the bye week for some much needed rest. This has been a long season and the Eagles are a little beat up. A week off should help them get ready for the final five weeks and a playoff chase.

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