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A Short Week; A Lot To Talk About

Posted Dec 10, 2012

There is no time for emotion in the NFL. Hours after he was hugged and lifted off the ground by offensive line coach Howard Mudd following the 23-21 win over Tampa Bay, Andy Reid was all about the Bengals and Thursday night's game ...

The drumbeat of the NFL works that way, as you know. You wanna talk about the Nick Foles-engineered comeback win over the Buccaneers? Don't try to corner Reid or any of his coaches or, for that matter, Foles. Cincinnati comes to town for Thursday night's NFL Network game, and a new set of challenges wait.

There is quite a bit to talk about with these 4-9 Eagles, a team that snapped an eight-game losing streak on a glorious Sunday afternoon in Tampa, Fla. It was a needed win by a team that had gone 70 days without one. You saw the celebrations, and releasing of two months of frustration, and it was inspiring to see how much the win meant to the Eagles.

Now they move on, as happens in this league. The big-topic items on the table to discuss ...

  • The question of whether Nick Foles is, drum roll please, The Real Deal is, of course, the huge one looming over this franchise. Foles continued to make progress in his fourth start and his performance in the fourth quarter -- when he led two touchdown drives and showed so much poise in the final two minutes to score the winning points. Foles was under a lot of duress the entire day -- Tampa Bay recorded 6 sacks -- but it didn't faze the rookie. He threw well on the run, moved the chains, trusted what he saw from the Bucs defense and showed tremendous maturity and creativity on the last drive. Is he the real deal? We don't yet know that. But Foles has made nice strides in each of his outings and took a huge step forward in Tampa. Coming back on a short week, and with so many lofty expectations, how will Foles react?
  • The defensive line showed good discipline and some strong play for much of the game on Sunday against Tampa Bay's running game. The defense, in fact, "fit" so much better than it had in previous outings. There were no receivers running free and clear. The move to put Mychal Kendricks at WILL linebacker freed him up to go get the football. I loved the way Vinny Curry crashed down the line to stop running back Doug Martin on a third-and-1 run in the early stages of the third quarter. Curry looks like he going to be quite a player. Fletcher Cox had his third sack in five games. There is still a lot of work to do -- the Eagles need takeaways, and they need to get more stops in the red zone -- but the defense has some building blocks here.
  • Look for the Eagles to make a roster move this week with Brent Celek potentially sidelined with that concussion. A couple of tight ends are on the practice squad -- Mark Carrier and Emil Igwenagu, who has been with the team since the spring -- so the Eagles have players who understand the scheme. Igwenagu impressed in the preseason with his versatility and blocking. I'd like to see him get a chance to play in a regular-season game.
  • If I'm looking ahead, the offensive line is an area to fortify for 2013. What are the starting prospects for next season? Jason Peters at left tackle, Evan Mathis at left guard, Jason Kelce at center and Todd Herremans at right tackle. Does Danny Watkins fit into the equation? Do the Eagles try to bring back Jake Scott, who has played pretty well at right guard? Is Dennis Kelly a starter? Everything depends upon who is coaching the offensive line, of course, but it makes sense to consider moving Herremans to guard and adding a big-time talent at right tackle. Foles is playing well even with a lot of pressure in his face. He's going to be a lot better when he has a stable pocket around him.
  • Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant were terrific in Tampa Bay and they stepped up when needed. Unsung was the job Riley Cooper did both in the receiving game and as a blocker. Cooper needs to be part of the big picture here. He competes, he is tough and he has good size, hands and can separate.
  • This is pretty telling fact: The Eagles have had 15 players make their NFL debuts in 2012. Remarkable. No. 16 comes when the Eagles add a tight end to replace the injured Celek. My glass-is-half-full opinion is that a lot of valuable experience is being gained and depth is created when all of these young players have a chance to get on the field in the regular season.
  • Todd Bowles did an excellent job with the defensive approach against Tampa Bay, mixing in some blitz, changing the coverages and challenging the line of scrimmage. The Eagles were much more physical than they had been in recent weeks. The task on Thursday night is to deal with a superstar wide receiver in A.J. Green (79 catches, 1,151 yards, 10 TDs) and rugged running back in Benjarvus Green-Ellis (974 rushing yards, 5 TDs). Quarterback Andy Dalton is a tough guy, a resourceful player and one who understands that a loss likely KO's the 7-6 Bengals from the playoff race.
  • Would you put Nnamdi Asomugha on Green and let him shadow the second-year standout? Isn't that the role we all thought Asomugha would play when the Eagles signed him?
  • Don't underestimate the Bengals and the Mike Zimmer-led defense. Cincinnati has the seventh-ranked defense in the league and Zimmer will give Foles plenty to think about. As much of a physical challenge it is for Foles on a short week, the mental test will be even greater.
  • Bryce Brown had no success running anywhere on Sunday as the Bucs attacked the line of scrimmage with great success. The Eagles are in love with handing off to Brown out of the shotgun formation with three wide receivers on the field, but Tampa Bay would have none of it. The Bucs beat the Eagles with their quickness and Brown had only one nice run, an 11-yarder in the red zone on a drive that ended with an Alex Henery field goal.
  • Speaking of Henery, my guess is that he doesn't miss a field goal the rest of the season. The 58-yarder he missed wide left on Sunday, that's understandable. He nailed the 53-yarder but that was nullified due to a false-start penalty. Bad mistake by the guys up front. The 31-yarder he missed? Jon Dorenbos said after the game that it was on him that his snap had one-quarter less rotation than desired, and that's why Mat McBriar's hold had the laces pointed in at Henery, rather than out at the target.
  • The Eagles are averaging, between McBriar and Chas Henry, 48 yards per punt, gross average, this season. That is a huge number. The collective net is 37.8 yards. The gross average ranks fifth in the NFL and the net is 25th in the league. A couple of big returns skew the numbers, don't they?
  • One area that has to improve moving forward: Yards per passing attempt. The Eagles rank 26th in the league in that category with an average of 6.68 yards. Foles is averaging 6.38 yards per pass play. Michael Vick is averaging 6.85 yards. One area of improvement for Foles to work on is his deep touch and accuracy. That will come in time and, certainly, when his protection improves.

 

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