Good morning, Eagles fans! This is not the way we wanted to start the holiday week, but hopefully the Eagles will bring everyone a gift on Saturday night when the Washington Redskins come to Lincoln Financial Field. What exactly will that game mean? I'll break it down in a moment.
Head coach Chip Kelly hosts his day-after press conference later this afternoon at 1 PM to recap the Sunday night loss to Arizona. At 5 PM, Dave Spadaro and Eagles Hall of Fame running back Brian Westbrook analyze the game and preview the short turnaround before the NFC East showdown with Washington. Until then, here are the 5 Things to Know Today for Monday, December 21 ...
1. Saturday Is A Must-Win Game
Let's kick things off on a positive note. The NFC East is still up for grabs even after the loss to the Cardinals. We all knew that going into the game. The defeat just reduces the margin of error for the Eagles.
For the Eagles to have any chance at the division title, they must defeat Washington. The Redskins have a one-game lead at 7-7 after beating Buffalo on Sunday. A Washington win would also give the Redskins a sweep of the two-game series for 2015.
OK, the team can't afford to look past Saturday, but we will for a second. If the Eagles get past Washington, then they clinch the division title with a win in the regular season finale at the New York Giants.
Here's a doozy. There is a scenario where the Eagles could beat Washington, lose to the Giants and still win the NFC East. That will only happen if Vikings beat New York this upcoming week and the Cowboys beat the Redskins in Week 17.
But no matter what, the Eagles have to get a win over the Redskins or everything else is moot.
2. Bradford Must Carry The Eagles
In his rookie season, quarterback Sam Bradford played in a win-or-go-home game in Week 17. Back in 2010, the Rams ended up losing that game 16-6 to the Seattle Seahawks, who won the NFC West with a 7-9 record.
Bradford has not played in a playoff-type game since. For the Eagles to not end up like the Rams, Bradford has to take this team by the horns.
On Sunday, Bradford threw for 361 yards, which almost topped his career high. He stood tall in the pocket despite seven quarterback hits, one of which sidelined him for a play. The Eagles' rushing attack has struggled. Philadelphia gained 74 yards on 3.7 yards per carry.
Dave Spadaro argues that it's time for Bradford to be the franchise quarterback the Eagles thought he could be when he was acquired in a trade back in March.
"We all believe in Sam," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "He was under a lot of pressure and he threw the ball extremely well."
The Sunday Night Football showdown against the Cardinals kicked off with the Eagles sporting their #BackInBlack uniforms. View the full gallery here...
3. Biggers, Watkins Step Up In Secondary
The Eagles were already tasked Sunday night with having to stop the Arizona Cardinals, who boast the most explosive offense in the NFL. Could the Eagles limit the X-plays (20 yards or more) generated by the talented trio of receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd?
Well, things got tougher for the Eagles, who lost both starting cornerbacks during the game. Byron Maxwell went in and out of the game due to a shoulder injury in the first half before leaving for good in the second quarter. Rookie Eric Rowe, who has been impressive in his first two NFL starts, suffered a concussion in the second quarter.
E.J. Biggers and Jaylen Watkins were put on center stage. The Cardinals tested them deep, as they do to every team. By and large, the backups acquitted themselves well. As Alex Smith notes, the "Big Three" was held to 151 total yards and one touchdown.
"It was right there in my face and I was looking forward to it," Watkins said. "I obviously don't want to see our players get hurt, but I wanted this opportunity to show people that I can play in this league."
4. The Run Defense Is A Different Story
Max Rappaport recalls the moment that Eagles players, and fans, must put in the rear-view mirror very quickly.
"The enduring image of the game, one that will likely remain etched in the minds of the 69,596 in attendance and the millions watching at home for the next six days, will be that of rookie running back David Johnson breaking seven tackles to turn what should have been a 2-yard gain into a 47-yard touchdown in the second quarter," Rappaport wrote. "That scoring play broke a 10-10 tie and was the first blow in what snowballed into a 27-point run by the Cardinals."
Tackling was a major issue as Johnson gained 187 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns. The Cardinals totaled 230 rushing yards. With all the emphasis placed on limiting the Cardinals' big-play wideouts, the run defense's struggles resurfaced at an inopportune time. After Sunday night, the Eagles rank 30th in run defense.
"I don't know where it came from, but we have to stop it before Washington," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Tackling will be an emphasis this week. You are not going to win many games when you're tackling like that ... We have to see who, how and why?"
5. Matthews Breaks Out On Offense
He opened his second NFL season with a career-high 10 catches for 102 yards against Atlanta. In Week 9, he gained 133 yards receiving and scored a walk-off touchdown in an overtime win over Dallas.
Jordan Matthews has been the focal point of the Eagles' passing attack all season, but in the last five games he has not had more than four catches or 60 yards in a single game.
That changed on Sunday night. He was involved from the very first offensive drive with two third-down conversions. On a down night for the Eagles, Matthews was a bright spot with eight catches for a career-high 159 yards including a career-long 78-yard touchdown reception.
Matthews punctuated his touchdown with a Rocky celebration. The receiver still sees plenty of fight in this team despite Sunday night's setback.
"We still have life," Matthews said. "Everything is right in front of us, and like I said, in a game like this, it's not as demoralizing because we really beat ourselves … I'm really optimistic and I know that all the guys are too."