There's no question that Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals was one of missed opportunities. What's important for the Eagles is to fix what needs fixing, improve and get ready for a young, aggressive Houston Texans squad coming off a huge division win.
Nick Foles and the offense got the ball back with 1:21 to play and two timeouts. The offense did a great job of working its way down the field to get in position to go ahead in the final seconds. Let's take a look at the plays that made up that drive.
After a first-down incompletion, the Eagles came back on second-and-10 with a very similar play design, this time to the opposite side of the field. This is a "dagger" concept from the Eagles. The dagger can be run a few different ways (the Cardinals often utilized a few similar concepts on Sunday, in fact), but typically what you get is an inside receiver running a vertical route down the field, with the outside receiver running a dig behind it. How does this design get Riley Cooper open for a first down? Let's take a look ...
First, the vertical route from Jordan Matthews helps carry safety Tyrann Mathieu upfield, stretching the defense vertically. Next, the shallow crossing route from Jeremy Maclin takes out linebacker Larry Foote from the underneath coverage, stretching him horizontally. This creates a clean throwing lane for Nick Foles to hit Cooper for a 22-yard gain and a first down. The offensive line does a nice job against a twist game the Cardinals are working up front and the offense moves the chains.
Foles threw an incompletion on first down, but again the Eagles go back to a very similar concept, pairing plays together consecutively on the drive.
Here, there are curl routes on the outside, which allows for Foles to pick the matchup he likes most and get the ball out quickly close to the sticks for another first down.
Foles does a nice job in rhythm, delivering the ball to Maclin's outside shoulder to prevent an undercut from the corner. The 8-yard completion leads to third-and-short. But there's another facet to this play that deserves notice.
This is the triple A-Gap blitz I broke down in the Cardinals' preview last week. Look at the job LeSean McCoy does in blitz pickup, stepping up to take on rookie Deone Bucannon and help delay safety Tony Jefferson as well. McCoy did a great job when he was asked to protect throughout the afternoon on Sunday, something we'll touch on again later.
On third-and-2, the Eagles go to the "snag" concept, a triangle passing scheme that again stretches the defense both vertically (corner route from Zach Ertz) and horizontally (curl route from Maclin). The concept allows McCoy to leak into the flats, where Foles does a nice job making a quick decision and getting the ball to him in space, where he can run for a first down and, most importantly, out of bounds.
Two plays later, Foles hit McCoy again on a scramble to the right, which would eventually lead to a 4th-and-2 situation with the game on the line at the 38-yard line.
At the snap, this looks like it will be one of the Eagles' "split zone" runs, with Matthews coming across the formation to block the backside defender.
But Matthews won't block that backside player. Foles reads the defender who decides to chase McCoy inside, so Foles keeps it. The quarterback may have the option to throw it, but decides to take matters into his own hands and gain 3 yards, even making Mathieu miss in the open field along the way, to pick up the first down.
On first-and-10, the Eagles call for a combination that instructs Maclin and McCoy to break toward the sideline to help get out of bounds and stop the clock. This was a great throw by Foles.
Foles releases this ball well before Maclin is out of his break and the ball is right on the money for a 19-yard gain and a first down. This brings the Eagles to the 16-yard line.
So here it is, first-and-10 with 13 seconds left on the clock. The Eagles go back to a concept that has worked for them in the past, a double post-route combination.
The Cardinals defend the concept well. Foles breaks the pocket due to pressure, rolls to his left and throws it to Matthews on the wheel route. The pass falls incomplete to bring up second down.
I loved this play design and call in this situation. This is a play we've seen in the past from the likes of the Chicago Bears. It's a concept called by some as "all go switch." Four receivers run vertically down the field with a pair of "switch" releases at the line of scrimmage, where the two receivers cross over one another. This creates a one-on-one matchup in the end zone for a jump ball situation with Ertz and Bucannon, and the rookie safety plays it beautifully, attacking the ball at the highest point and knocking it out of Ertz's grasp. Credit the Washington State product for making a great play on the ball in a clutch situation to bring up third down with one second remaining.
Having just ran the double post concept a couple of times in the game, this "scissors" concept is a good call. If the safety overplays the slant from Matthews, he should have plenty of space toward the corner. Regardless, the safety will have to run through some traffic as well, with the post route from Cooper as well as the corner covering him.
The concept works. Matthews has space to the corner, but the Cardinals bring a ton of pressure with an all-out blitz and Foles' throw is off the mark. Game over. This was a great game, with a ton of great plays on both sides. But considering all of the key mistakes on both sides of the ball, the game was still there to be had. Those mistakes will get fixed early on in the week, and will get put into action against Houston on Sunday. Before I jump to the defensive side, there were a few more points I wanted to touch on offensively. First, I brought up McCoy's blocking in pass protection earlier and felt this deserved to be shown.
It's third-and-3 in the third quarter. The Cardinals again bring triple A-gap pressure. Look at how violent McCoy is in his protection assignment. McCoy again takes 2-for-1 in pass pro, and though the pass falls incomplete this was just a great shot of how underrated he is in this area.
Sticking with McCoy, I was really impressed with how the Eagles were able to move the ball against the Cardinals' top-ranked run defense. The Arizona front line is incredibly stout, especially with the return of Calais Campbell to the lineup. I thought the line did a good job getting yards in bunches, and they did it in a lot of the ways we've seen from the past.
On this inside zone run, the Eagles get great movement at the point of attack from their two double teams. Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson to the right, and Matt Tobin and David Molk to the left get some push and open up a nice hole for a 9-yard pickup on second down.
We also saw this same zone run with the counter element against the Giants a couple of weeks ago. The defense flows to the left, only for McCoy to cut back to the right, where rookies Josh Huff and Matthews get great blocks to help spring McCoy for a 9-yard gain.
The sweep play was very effective again as well, as the Eagles were able to get Tobin, Molk and Herremans out on the perimeter multiple times to help spring McCoy for solid gains. This is a very fast Cardinals defense and the Eagles were able to outflank them a few times for good pickups on the ground in this game, which was great to see with Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis getting closer to being healthy and back in the lineup.
As we have seen in the past and will continue to see from Chip Kelly, he will pair run plays with pass plays to create ways to get the ball down the field. That was no different on Sunday, as run action helped spring Maclin for his first touchdown in what would be a career day.
It's second-and-10 in the first quarter and the Eagles look to be running a sweep play out of the shotgun to the left.
Foles fakes the handoff to McCoy. Safety Rashad Johnson (and a host of other Cardinals defenders) bites on the play-action, and Foles gets the ball to Maclin on the perimeter. Maclin follows Johnson's block on Patrick Peterson and sprints into the end zone for his first of two touchdowns on the day.
The screen game was a factor in Maclin's second touchdown as well, except instead of being on the receiving end of the screen pass he was the deep option after a pump fake to the bubble screen on the left.
Foles pumps left, holding the eyes of the quarters safety to the opposite side, and Maclin runs over top for a 54-yard touchdown to put the Eagles ahead. Maclin was phenomenal all game long and had one of the best individual games of his career, showing how great of a fit he is in this offense.
Defensively, there were a couple of plays Bill Davis' unit would like to have back. Kelly mentioned that at his day-after press conference on Monday, but if you take away those two long touchdowns (to Brown and Fitzgerald) the Eagles only allowed 245 total yards on the day. Now, those plays did happen and they do count in the final stat sheet, but overall it was another strong outing from the defense that, aside from a couple of outliers, played well against a Cardinals offense chock full of weapons.
There were two things in particular that stood out after watching the defense. First, I was once again very impressed with how well they were able to shut down the zone stretch run play. The Eagles have done a really good job defending this play and with other teams on the schedule that use this concept as one of their foundation run plays (Dallas, Seattle and Washington come to mind).
Check out how quickly DeMeco Ryans diagnoses this play and knifes into the backfield to make the stop behind the line of scrimmage.
Ryans did it time and time again, reading the flow of the offensive line and pressing the line of scrimmage to bring Andre Ellington to the ground for little or no gain. Ryans has been steady all year long, but Sunday may have been one of his best games.
Another player who really stood out to me was cornerback Nolan Carroll II. The Eagles played a good amount of dime against the Cardinals due to their spread formations and Carroll did a really good job in all phases.
Here, you see Carroll bring down Ellington in the run game.
And here, you see him run with Brown across the field and undercut a route for a near interception on the final defensive drive. Carroll is fitting in very nicely in his role as the dime linebacker on this defense and his play will continue to improve as the season progresses.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on 6abc Saturdays at 7:30 PM. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast each week online and on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.