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Fan-Demonium: Walking The Fine Line

Posted Nov 13, 2012

Fan-Demonium

The Eagles lost to Dallas on Sunday by a score of 38-23. That score tells you the game was a blowout, but there were a handful of plays that really made the difference. We see that each week. The Eagles don't make the key plays. When they do make a play, they fail to capitalize on it or to build on it. Dallas took advantage of every Eagles mistake and won going away.

In the third quarter, the Eagles led 14-10. They drove down into the Dallas red zone. On third down, quarterback Nick Foles got some pressure and moved to his right. He hit Damaris Johnson with a pass and the team was down at the 1-yard line, first-and-goal. Score a touchdown there and the lead is suddenly 21-10. Not only that, the Eagles would have big time momentum.

Unfortunately, King Dunlap was called for hands to the face and the Eagles had to settle for a field goal. They led 17-10 when Dallas started the next drive. On third down, the Eagles got into the backfield and Fletcher Cox was there to sack Tony Romo and get the ball back for Foles and the offense. Romo managed to escape Cox and then ducked under a second sack attempt, this by Jason Babin. Romo eventually hit wide receiver Miles Austin for a big gain to convert the third down. A couple of plays later, Romo hit Dez Bryant for a highly questionable touchdown. That also came on third down and Romo was under some pressure on that pass.

The Eagles were so close to making key plays and seizing control of the game. But they didn't. That really has been the story of the season. Good teams make plays, especially in crucial situations. The 2012 Eagles are talented, but they have not been a good team. That, as much as anything, has to drive Andy Reid crazy. You can forgive a player who loses because he isn't big, fast, strong or skilled enough. All you ask from that guy is to do his best.

Poor technique, missed assignments, mental mistakes, blown coverages, dropped passes and missed tackles are not something a coach can accept. Reid and his assistants are working on those issues each and every week. They solve one problem and another pops up. They fix that and the first problem comes back.

The most frustrating part is that most of the Eagles are high character guys who work hard and are coachable. This isn't a bunch of misfits who won't listen. I'm sure that's what is so difficult on Reid. The problems don't make sense. The team can have a sharp week of practice, but that all goes out the window on gameday and the mistakes come back. I wonder if Reid has considered an exorcism. Maybe Captain Howdy is to blame for this.

Normally, a loss to Dallas would be crushing, but that's not the case this week. We got to see Foles in action and that was fun. Let's start with one thing up front. Foles playing in less than a full game doesn't tell us anything definitively. You need to see a guy in a handful of games before truly getting a feel for what he can do. Foles could turn out to be the next Tom Brady or the next Greg Brady (you know, Marcia's brother).

I was happy with what I saw, especially when taken in context. Foles has not practiced with the starters in months. His last time in game action was the preseason finale and he didn't play a ton in that game. I'm not sure the average fan appreciates the importance of practice in getting a quarterback ready to play. It helps you to work on the little parts of your game. It helps you to master the scheme. It also helps you build timing with the skill players.

Back in November of 2006, Donovan McNabb tore his ACL and Jeff Garcia had to come in for him. Garcia hadn't thrown a pass all year and was very rusty. He went 26-of-48 for 189 yards. He had one touchdown and no picks. Garcia led the offense to 10 points in three quarters of action.

Foles took over for Vick in the second quarter and had some really good moments. He was 22-of-32 for 219 yards. He threw one touchdown and had one pick. He led the team to 16 points (should have been 17 but there was a missed extra point). Just looking at the numbers, Foles was very impressive for a rookie who had to shake off rust and play in his first game.

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.

Let's set the numbers aside and talk about the details of what we saw. Foles has plenty to work on, but he looked like an NFL quarterback on Sunday. He was good enough physically. He was up and down with the mental side of the game, but his problems there were due to inexperience and not the fact the game is beyond him. Emotionally, Foles was outstanding. He wasn't jumpy. He stayed relatively calm, whether getting hit or making a touchdown pass. I remember watching Koy Detmer play as a second-year guy in 1998. He celebrated touchdowns as if he'd won the Super Bowl. It was funny to watch, but not good. You need the quarterback to not get too high or too low.

Decision-making is arguably the biggest key to being a good quarterback. The problem is judging this in young players. You expect there to be a certain amount of mistakes as the guy learns. You don't want to see mistakes that are just horrible decisions (like Matt Cassell's interception in overtime of the Monday night game). You also don't want the quarterback to be repeating his mistakes.

Foles was up and down with decision-making from what I could tell. He threw a pass to the right side that was almost picked off. Stanley Havili should have kept running on the play and that would have helped, but the defender would have blown him up if not going for the ball. Foles led Maclin into a safety on the left side. Receivers need to know a quarterback won't lead them into trouble. Foles threw one pass into the middle of the field and heavy traffic. Maclin caught it, but that was a very risky decision.

There were other plays when Foles looked like a veteran. The touchdown to Maclin was excellent. Foles felt pressure, but didn't panic. He slid to his right and kept his eyes downfield. He then hit Maclin for the score. Foles re-set his feet before throwing. He stayed calm on the play and found the guy to go to. The pass to Johnson that got called back on Dunlap's penalty was a smart play. Foles moved away from pressure, but was able to see Johnson come open and he got him the ball. Foles threw two passes that were smart reads, but ended incomplete. One went to Maclin, the other to Avant. Both times Foles anticipated them coming out of their route and he put the ball right where it needed to be. Avant got hurt making a cut, while Maclin was battling a defender. The passes looked bad initially before you realized why they were off target. Foles threw them as the receivers were making the cuts. That is a great sign from a young quarterback. You want him anticipating plays and trying to hit receivers like that.

I was very impressed with the pocket presence that Foles showed. He was mobile enough to move from pressure, but never let the pressure overwhelm him. Foles slid away on some plays. On others, he actually had to run to escape the heat. Foles can deal with having players around him. He doesn't need a perfect pocket.

Foles has a solid arm. He isn't going to be mistake for John Elway anytime soon, but also won't draw comparisons to Detmer. Foles was solid mechanically. He did throw off his back foot at times and that is something he'll need to work on. He was generally accurate with his throws. There were a few notable exceptions. The worst came when he tried to hit DeSean Jackson with a slant pass on the right side. Foles threw the ball about a foot behind Jackson, who tried to get control of it. Jackson wasn't able to and the ball went right to cornerback Brandon Carr who made the grab and ran it back for a score. I think of that pass as more of a timing issue than an accuracy issue. There were a few other off-target throws, but mostly Foles put the ball right on his receivers.

Vick has what Reid termed a "pretty significant" concussion. You would think that means Foles will start on Sunday in Washington. We won't find out anything official until later in the week, but that could be a great chance for Foles to show what he can do. Foles will practice this week. He'll knock off the rust and his timing should be much better. If he plays, Sunday sure will be more interesting.

The defense had an odd day against Dallas. They were terrible on the opening drive, but then settled down. Dallas ran for 101 yards in the game, but in the second half had just 11 carries for 21 yards. The run defense got much better and so did the tackling. Felix Jones caught a short pass on the opening drive and broke several tackles on his way into the end zone. That was embarrassing. It was good to see the players turn that around.

The pass rush got to Romo three times on just 26 passing attempts. He was under regular pressure starting in the second quarter. That was encouraging. The group isn't close to the 2011 level, but this was the first game in a while when the opposing quarterback was uncomfortable in the pocket.

Special teams made one huge mistake. Dwayne Harris was able to return a punt 78 yards for a touchdown. That broke the 17-all tie and Dallas never looked back. The missed extra point by Alex Henery was just a fluke. He hit the upright and the ball bounced off. Colt Anderson did force a fumble while covering a kickoff, but Dallas was able to fall on it. Again, so close but so far away. Recover that fumble and it might change the flow of the game.

The Eagles now sit at 3-6. A long season still has quite a ways to go.

Quick Hits

* Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans started slow, but picked up his game and played well. He is really good on third downs at tackling checkdown receivers before they can get to the sticks.

* Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox had a good game. He had one sack. He pushed the pocket on other plays. My favorite moment came on a pass play when Romo was flushed and took off running. Cox chased him down and got a legal hit on Romo. I don't think Romo expected a defensive tackle to show that kind of speed.

* Riley Cooper only caught two passes for 24 yards, but one was a touchdown on a fade pass. That was good to see. I hope he's more involved from here on out. Cooper is the one big guy in the receiving corps. Use that size.

* Linebacker Mychal Kendricks did some very good things in coverage. He was on backs, wide receivers and Jason Witten. Kendricks did give up some completions, but stayed right with his guy most of the time. He made one critical error. He lost track of his receiver on the play where Romo avoided the sack. Kendricks then came up for Romo, only to have the pass go right over him. He's got to learn to cover and let the quarterback run. Kendricks did get his first NFL sack. His best tackle came out in space when he got Witten down for a loss after a short pass.

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