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Lawlor: Here's A Healthy Dose Of Optimism Getting Ready For The Playoffs

Posted Dec 27, 2017

The Eagles beat the Raiders 19-10 on Christmas night to secure home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs. The headlines focused on the fact that the offense struggled. That's understandable, but it overshadows the outstanding performance by the Eagles' defense. The Raiders were limited to 274 yards and 10 points. The defense had five takeaways, all in the second half, and scored a touchdown as time expired to seal the win.

Just over a week ago, Eli Manning and the Giants piled up 504 yards and scored 29 points. There were breakdowns, penalties, and missed tackles. How were the Eagles supposed to win in the postseason with the defense playing like that?

This was the kind of bounce-back performance you wanted to get from the defense. It showed how good it can be when they stop making mistakes and start making plays. It was critical for the defense to play better because you aren't going to win in January without good play from that side of the ball.

Beyond just playing well, the defense made some critical plays with the game on the line. Ronald Darby picked off a pass with less than a minute left. That kept the Raiders from getting into scoring position and gave the Eagles the chance to win the game. That was the play of the game.

The Raiders had really good field position for most of the second half. The Eagles managed to come up with takeaways or big stops on each of those drives. One mistake or big play and the Raiders would have been in scoring position. That didn't happen.

There was one drive that surpassed the Eagles' 35-yard line. Normally, that would be solid field goal range, but on a cold, windy night the kick was off-target.

The Eagles received good performances from multiple players. Malcolm Jenkins had five solo tackles, including one tackle for loss. He came up with a huge takeaway in the red zone. Jenkins stripped the ball from running back Jalen Richard and recovered it at the 16-yard line. That play almost certainly took points off the board from Oakland.

Chris Long had his best game of the year. The stat sheet shows three tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble, but he was even better than that. Long got pressure on a regular basis. He was a disruptive force off the edge.

Vinny Curry was disruptive from the right edge. He didn't get a sack, but got pressure multiple times and did a good job against the run. Curry was in on four tackles and forced a key fumble that helped them tie the game at 10-10.

Nigel Bradham led the team in tackles. Patrick Robinson had an interception. Rodney McLeod recovered a fumble and made some key tackles. This really was a group effort.

Jim Schwartz wasn't thrilled with the defense's performance against the Giants, but he will be a happy man with what he saw in the Raiders game.

The defense had to come through in a big way because the offense had its worst game of the year, only gaining 216 yards and producing one touchdown drive.

Nick Foles struggled. He was off-target with too many throws. He had a chance for a couple of touchdown passes and was high to Zach Ertz on both plays. When your star tight end is open in the end zone, you must get him the ball.

Foles got into a good rhythm for a couple of short sequences but mostly seemed out of sync. He just couldn't get comfortable.

Not all of that was on Foles. Jason Kelce had some errant snaps that threw off the timing on plays. The offensive line had some breakdowns in protection. Nelson Agholor dropped a downfield pass. Ertz had a high pass go off his hands that was picked off. Alshon Jeffery wasn't able to make a catch near the goal line that would have kept a drive alive.

You don't convert one of 14 third-down attempts due to one player. That was a group effort, with the offense struggling as a whole.

Still, the offense did enough to win. Darby's interception gave Foles and the offense a chance. The Eagles took advantage of it by moving into field goal range. It wasn't a long drive, but those were critical plays. Foles and the offense got the job done at crunch time.

Jake Elliott missed an easy kick late in the first half, but he was money with the game on the line. He nailed the 48-yard kick to put the Eagles ahead for good. He has been a revelation this year.

The Eagles needed to come from behind to beat the Rams on the road. They needed to come from behind to beat the Giants a week ago and again Monday night against the Raiders. Late field goals were key in all three games.

Foles was on the field for the fourth quarter in Los Angeles. He started each of the past two games and won both. The Eagles now have a three-game winning streak. None of those wins has been smooth or pretty, but those three games tie them for the longest winning streak in the league along with Carolina and Kansas City.

Two of the three wins came on the road. Two came with the backup quarterback starting. All three featured a backup playing most or all of the snaps at left guard. This team just finds a way to win. Style points would be nice, but don't lose sight of the fact this team gets the job done. They win games.

The Eagles won't play another true road game this season (the Super Bowl is a neutral site game). That's the reward they get for having a great regular season. At worst, this team will be 13-3, which is nothing short of amazing when you think about everything they've had to deal with.

They lost key players on offense, defense, and special teams. They added key pieces in the offseason, the preseason, and even the regular season. Somehow Pederson gets them all on the same page and maximizes his players' talent.

The Eagles have been tough and resilient all year long. They'll need to keep that up to carry over the success to the postseason.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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