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Fan-Demonium: Who Passed The Test?

Posted Dec 5, 2012

Fan-Demonium

It killed me to sit through another loss to Dallas on Sunday night, but there was reason for optimism. The Eagles played well for much of the game, especially the young players. There is a lot of reason for optimism, even in this miserable season. You never want to lose games, but you at least want to have some benefit from them. Seeing the rookies and young players in action is important. We need to know who can be part of the bounce-back in 2013.

Last week, I wrote about how good Bryce Brown was. This week was more of the same. He ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns. That is amazing production in back-to-back games. Back in 1994, I remember seeing Charlie Garner have consecutive 100-yard games in his first two starts. He ran for 111 and 122 yards. He finished his rookie season with 399 yards and three touchdowns. Brown has 347 yards and four touchdowns in his two starts. Garner was good. Brown is on a whole other level.

Once again it was Brown's combination of size and speed that was so impressive. Cowboys safety Danny McCray came up quickly on a run play and expected to tackle Brown for a short gain. Oops. He didn't take the correct angle and Brown got by him for a gain of 39 yards. Brown impressed in other ways. He once again showed good vision, finding holes and cutback lanes. He ran through initial contact, which is exactly what you want from a bigger back. Those guys need to play big. The one huge (and I do mean huge) negative was another fumble. Brown fumbled late and Dallas ran it back for a score. That put the game out of reach. He must work on this problem. Brown is extremely talented. He needs the ball, but the coaches must be able to trust him.

Brown got some good blocking. His first touchdown featured an impressive seal block from Evan Mathis, who quietly has had a terrific season. 2011 was no fluke for him. Mathis is the real deal. Brown's second score came on a run up the middle. It was designed to go left, but there was a hole straight ahead so Brown just went there. Dallas Reynolds and Dennis Kelly had the key blocks at the line of scrimmage. Jason Avant got upfield and took out McCray with a good block. Mathis helped by taking out an inside linebacker. Brown was basically untouched on that score.

The offensive line has really improved in recent weeks. Free agent Jake Scott has done a good job at right guard. Just as important, that allowed Kelly to slide out to right tackle. Kelly was very up and down at right guard. He's not a natural on the inside and that showed. He had some good blocks, but too many sloppy blocks and missed assignments. Kelly is an effective pass blocker. He doesn't have great feet. He gets off balance at times. Kelly does play the angles well and uses his hands to keep rushers from getting by him. I'm really impressed with his run blocking. He can seal on runs to his side. He does a very good job on plays away from him, "washing" defensive linemen to the inside and creating potential cutback lanes for Brown. Kelly is very active. He's big and has a physical style. He wants to pound on defenders. You see hints of Jon Runyan in him. With improved strength and experience, Kelly will become more confident and aggressive.

Reynolds has come a long way this season. He struggled mightily early on. The Arizona game was brutal. He's a much better player now. Reynolds might have played his way into a job next year. You don't project him ideally as a starter, but he could be a good backup and role player. Reynolds had a real good block on a run late in the half. He snapped the ball at the 17-yard line. He went and blocked a linebacker at the 25-yard line and sustained the block beyond the 30-yard line. That's good mobility and excellent effort. Brown gained 20 yards on the run and jump-started a field goal drive.

This far in and no Nick Foles? I wanted to make sure and give some credit to the improved blocking. The offensive line has taken a lot of heat so it feels good to give them some positive attention. Now, we do turn to the rookie quarterback. Foles had his best start yet, going 22-of-34 for 251 yards. He threw a touchdown pass and didn't turn the ball over.

The Eagles scored 27 offensive points. The offense was three-for-three in the red zone. Third downs had been a problem in recent weeks, but the Eagles were 6-of-10 on Sunday night. Foles also led a scoring drive late in the half. Good quarterbacks usually come up with points late in the half and/or late in the game.

Stats aside, Foles passed the eye test. He just flat out looked better. He played with more confidence. His footwork was much better, as NBC highlighted. Why can't networks do more of that stuff, which really can enhance a game? Foles made good decisions for the most part. The coaches mixed in some good play-action passes and Foles executed them well. Those were quick throws to Brent Celek. There were also some wide receiver screen passes that Foles did a good job on. The key on those plays is getting the ball to the receiver quickly and accurately so he can gain yards after the catch.

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.

There were two highlight throws. The first was a pass to Avant that set up the field goal late in the half. That pass required downfield accuracy and touch. Foles had to put the ball over the intermediate defenders and in front of the deep cover guys. The pass needed loft, but not too much or the deep defenders would be able to break on the ball. Foles also had to get the ball out on time so Avant could catch it before getting to the sideline. Foles’ other standout pass was a touchdown to Riley Cooper. Foles was aggressive on the play and gave Cooper a chance to make a play. You must be wisely aggressive in the red zone. You can't rely on wide open receivers. Foles threw the ball into coverage, but did so in a way that Cooper could make a play while the pass wasn't likely to be picked off. Cooper did make the play and Foles had his touchdown.

It was good to see the wide receivers making plays. They had 161 yards and a touchdown. Last week, the wide receivers only totaled 84 yards. Getting Avant back helped, but the real key was Foles playing better. Cooper caught a slant pass early in the game on a third down and turned that into a gain of 16 yards. Damaris Johnson was good on a screen pass. Jeremy Maclin caught a ball on a crossing pattern that set up a touchdown. Good quarterbacks must get the ball to their wide receivers. Foles did that.

I guess I've put off talking about the defense long enough. They played reasonably well in the first half, but were nearly invisible in the second half. That was very discouraging. Foles and the offense built a 14-3 lead. Dallas would cut into it and the offense would then respond. That showed great character. Unfortunately, the defense could not come up with a second-half stop until late in the game when Dallas went conservative to work on the clock. You cannot win like that.

I was encouraged by the play of Brandon Graham. He got his first start as the man at left defensive end and had 1.5 sacks. This had to mean a lot to him, since Graham injured his knee in Dallas two years ago. It was like returning to the scene of the crime. Graham got the best of right tackle Doug Free and was disruptive on a regular basis. Phillip Hunt didn't play as much as I expected, but did have a nice sequence. He tackled the running back on a first down and then drew a holding call on Free on the following down, a passing play.

The big problem with the defense was blown coverages. Dallas lined Jason Witten up on the right a few times and then had him run a deep crossing pattern. This confused the defensive backs. They weren't sure who was supposed to cover him because of the deep crossing action. This led to a couple of big gains. Tony Romo was solid in the first half, but lights out after that. He was 10-for-10 in the second half, with three touchdowns. It is driving me nuts to see quarterbacks shred the secondary, week after week. I know Andy Reid and Todd Bowles have to be incredibly frustrated by all the mental mistakes.

Alex Henery had another good game. He was two-of-two on field goals and had four touchbacks. His onside kick late in the game was pretty good, but just needed an extra foot or so of distance. The kick did have good height. Henery deserves some Pro Bowl consideration, but I don't know if he'll get it.

Johnson delivered a huge special teams play late in the game. He ran a punt back 98 yards for a touchdown. This is good and bad. You almost never want the returner fielding the ball that deep. It was okay in this situation since the Eagles were trailing by 11 points with less than a minute to go. That's the time to take a risk and see if you can make a play. Johnson got some good blocks and did an excellent job of getting upfield and into the open.

Losing to Dallas is always painful, but it does help to know so many young players made plays and did their part to try and win the game. If the offense can quit turning the ball over and the defense can come up with a takeaway, the team might actually win a game and stop this miserable losing streak. The young guys do have this team headed in the right direction. Hopefully, they'll get a win soon.

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