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Fan-Demonium: You Won't Believe This

Posted Dec 3, 2013

The Eagles are now riding a four-game winning streak. The team is 7-5 and tied for first place in the NFC East. This is all very cool stuff. The Eagles weren't a relevant team in December of 2011 or 2012. The last time the team factored into the playoff picture was back in 2010.

The 2010 season was a lot of fun. Michael Vick came from nowhere to have a magical year. He was 8-3 as the starter. He threw 21 touchdowns, but only six interceptions. Vick finished with a passer rating of 100.2. That doesn't seem like a huge deal now, but it was back then. Vick played better than anyone had ever seen. Life seemed pretty good.

But there was some luck involved. Vick had a lot of potential interceptions dropped by defenders. He also caught the NFL off-guard and made big play after big play. Everyone talks about his amazing game against Washington on Monday Night Football. Vick played out of his mind that night. He was incredible in his first start, a game at Detroit. They blitzed him relentlessly and Vick made guys miss time after time as he made plays as a runner and passer. He was sensational in the Miracle at the New Meadowlands comeback. There were plays about every single week that left your jaw hitting the floor as you sat there in disbelief. How could anyone do those things? Vick was magical.

That magic was good and bad. When it worked, it was great fun. When the magic went away, Vick wasn't able to play consistently at a high level. He became more of a boom or bust guy.

The great news in regard to this season is that the Eagles aren't making once-in-a-lifetime highlight plays. The Eagles are playing good football. In the win over Washington two weeks ago, the best throw that Nick Foles made was on a downfield route to LeSean McCoy. This past week, the Eagles lined up DeSean Jackson in the backfield and ran virtually the same play. Foles made another great touch pass that led to a big gain.

That wasn't luck. That wasn't some amazing "lightning in a bottle" kind of stuff. That was simply good football. No magic. Just a method. Chip Kelly has designed a creative, effective offense. Foles is proving that he's the right guy to run it. This is more about brains and specific skills than raw athletic talent. Kelly has figured out what his players do well and he's running plays that allow them to take advantage of their particular abilities.

If you think back to Sunday, there weren't a lot of "wow" moments. McCoy always has a move or two that that impresses you, but he didn't have any scintillating runs. Riley Cooper made one spectacular catch, but that was only 5 yards upfield. He gained another 15 yards after the catch, but those yards came mainly on effort, not speed or fancy moves. Zach Ertz made some impressive catches, but put on his Stanford tape and you see those on a regular basis. The Eagles scored 24 points in less than two and a half quarters against one of the best defenses in the league without doing anything truly special. That is kinda crazy.

It is also very encouraging. This offense is executing at a high level right now. They've played well against 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. They've moved the ball against the blitz. They've beaten man and zone coverage. The Eagles offense is showing you that they can sustain success from week to week and they don't need anyone to do extraordinary things.

That last point is tricky since Foles’ numbers do seem extraordinary, but focus on how he got them and not just the results. Foles is making smart decisions. He's finding the open receiver. He's making accurate throws. Foles makes this look easy, but it really isn't. There is a lot happening on every play and it is a tribute to how well Foles is playing that the offense looks so smooth. The beauty of this is that Foles is doing something that he can keep doing. Being smart and making accurate passes will work every year, against any defense and in any conditions.

I'm not saying the offense can't be stopped. The Eagles aren't putting up 35 points a game. There are still things that need to be improved. It just really feels encouraging to see an offense functioning so well in such a simple way. This is something you can rely on. You can build on this.

The big issue the last two weeks has been the offense stalling in the second half. In each game, the offense scored a touchdown early in the third quarter to get them up to 24 points. They led 24-0 against Washington and then 24-7 over the Cardinals. That's when the offense got stuck.

There are several problems happening. Chip Kelly has remained aggressive with his playcalling. The downfield passes just aren't working. You have to give the defenses some credit here. They've played with a sense of desperation and that has made them more effective in the second half. The Eagles have also been sloppy. Whether a run for a loss, a sack or a penalty, it seems like something puts the team behind the chains and gives the defense a favorable situation.

Once the fourth quarter arrives, the Eagles are getting more conservative and trying to work the clock. This is where there is a bit of a schematic problem. Kelly believes in spreading defenses out and then running. He is daring the defense to single cover his receivers on the outside. Teams don't like to do that so they mostly play six defenders in the box early in the game. Once the fourth quarter comes, teams are playing seven and eight men in the box. At that point, defenses are daring Kelly to throw the ball to single-covered receivers. The problem there is that an incomplete pass stops the clock. Kelly tries to stick with the run game and aside from the Green Bay game, it just isn't working very well.

On Sunday, the Eagles ran the ball 12 times for 32 yards in the fourth quarter, aside from kneeldowns. That is basically 2.5 yards per carry. You aren't going to move the chains like that. Also consider that one of the runs went for 9 yards. Take that away and you're down to 2 yards per run. I think Kelly needs to make some changes with fourth quarter running. He could abandon the spread and go to a more conventional look. Put two tight ends in the game and line up James Casey as a fullback. That would bring more defenders into the box, but it would give you more blockers to handle them. Sometimes the defense will lose the runner in the traffic and that's when you can get a big play.

Kelly could continue what he's doing and just adjust the run plays. He could focus on quick hitters to the inside and really preach to McCoy to run north-south. McCoy loves to make lateral cuts and run to daylight. This doesn't work against a stacked box. There are enough defenders that they can pursue laterally and keep him boxed in.

Kelly's other option is to roll the dice and throw the ball. If Foles gets the ball to Cooper or DeSean Jackson in space with only a single defender, those guys can turn a short throw into a long gain. There is risk. If the pass is dropped or deflected, the clock stops and that helps the losing team out. This is a risk/reward issue. It will be interesting to see what adjustments Kelly makes. I don't think he'll stick with the same plan, but you never know exactly what to expect with Kelly.

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 player who really stood out on Sunday was Ertz. He had the best game of his young career and finally looked like the guy that the Eagles were so excited about from the draft. Ertz caught five passes for 68 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. He lined up out wide on several plays. The Eagles wanted to get him against a linebacker in space. Ertz got the best of Daryl Washington, who is one of the best cover linebackers in the league. That was tough, but Ertz burned him a few times. Ertz isn't a matchup nightmare like Jimmy Graham, but Ertz can beat guys in space and he's comfortable catching the ball downfield. I hope the Eagles use him like this down the stretch.

Foles best throw was the touch pass to Jackson down the right side. That was perfect. Foles was a bit erratic with some other throws. I'm not sure if that was due to the Cardinals defense or what. The best example was the pass where Cooper had to lead and make the one-hand catch. That's an easy throw. Foles just put it too high. Foles still played well. He did get very lucky late in the game. He got some pressure on him and carelessly threw the ball over the middle and into traffic. Patrick Peterson picked it off. The Cardinals were flagged on the play and that wiped out the penalty. Foles knows he made a stupid mistake and got lucky. Consider that a lesson learned.

The defense had a good day. For the eighth straight game, they kept the opponent to 21 points or less. It was great to see Trent Cole and Brandon Graham each have two sacks. The Eagles rushed the passer well and kept regular pressure on Carson Palmer. Vinny Curry couldn't get there for a sack, but he did everything he could to get pressure. He was relentless in going after Palmer.

Kelly lauded the play of Cary Williams. He and Bradley Fletcher helped keep Larry Fitzgerald under control. Fitzgerald lit up the Eagles in the previous two meetings. He was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after each of those games. Not this time. He did have a 43-yard touchdown catch, but aside from that was limited to four catches for 29 yards. The Eagles dared the Cardinals to beat them with the other receivers. Michael Floyd had a big game, but also failed to haul in passes on a couple of passes. That's why you make him beat you and not Fitzgerald.

Williams and Nate Allen each picked off a pass. Cole had a strip sack, which Bennie Logan recovered. Those three takeaways only netted the Eagles seven points, but it is good to see the defense making plays on a regular basis. They came up with a critical stop late in the game. Two passes went to Andre Roberts and two to Floyd. The Cardinals netted 5 yards and turned the ball over to the Eagles. There was a bit of luck involved in that stop. But the Eagles made that luck. They kept the ball from going to Fitzgerald. That put pressure on Palmer to make precise throws and on the receivers to make clutch catches. The Cardinals failed to do either of those things. There was an open receiver on third down, but Palmer's throw was behind him and the pass was incomplete.

This was another week where special teams were important. Seven of Donnie Jones eight punts were downed inside the 20-yard line. There were no touchbacks. This kept the Cardinals backed up and gave their offense a long field to drive. Peterson is an explosive punt returner, but he was limited to 3 return yards. That is an excellent combination of punting and punt coverage. DeSean Jackson had a punt return for a touchdown that was called back due to penalty. That would have pretty much sealed the game.

The Eagles are winning. They are playing good football. You wish they would quit letting teams back into the games, but this is a good problem to have. Building big leads is a good thing. I'm sure Kelly would rather have to figure out how to best sustain leads than some of the alternatives. While the Eagles are letting teams get closer, they aren't giving up the lead and they're finding a way to win. It might not always be pretty, but a win is a win.

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