Dealing with a loss like the one that the Eagles sustained on Sunday afternoon is difficult to accept as a fan, and that's easily understandable. You want answers to a lot of questions that come up after a game like that. Why did the offense only score 17 points? Why was the run defense so bad? How did a rookie quarterback throw for five touchdowns? Can this team turn things around for the final six games?
To me, that last question is the most important one.
The Eagles - as bad as it sounds - are one game out of first place in the division. Winning the NFC East will require this team to fix things immediately in all phases, because we've seen all three phases of the game have their share of really bad plays over the last two weeks. That's why Thursday's game, in my eyes, is not going to rely as much on coaching and X's and O's, it's going to come down to leadership. Just look at the post-game quotes from the locker room on Sunday.
Many of the players talked about how everyone has to "look in the mirror." There is a self-evaluation aspect that goes into a game like this. As many of them said, the film doesn't lie. You are what you put on tape. Once they all go through the tape, the leaders on both sides of the ball will hold each other accountable. It's at that point that this team will rise or fall, and I'm anxious to see how they come out against the Lions on Thanksgiving. That being said, let's look back at Sunday's loss and see what went awry for the Eagles against the Bucs.
To me, this was a game of missed opportunities for the Eagles, both offensively and defensively. Were there a good number of plays where their guys just beat ours? Absolutely. There were also plenty of plays that happened leading up to those moments that could've gone either way. If the Eagles had capitalized on some of them, things may have gone a little bit differently.
The score is tied at 7-7 late in the first quarter. The Eagles come out on second-and-6 with a nice concept that does a good job attacking Cover 2. You've got a "Switch" release from two vertical receivers (Riley Cooper and Brent Celek), and a running back flaring out of the backfield to control the flat. The running back's presence holds the eyes of the cloud corner in the flat, keeping him tighter to the line of scrimmage. The Eagles are threatening the deep part of the field with the two vertical routes. One of those routes is right at the split-field safety, which makes the "Turkey Hole" in Cover 2 wide open. Celek has an easy first down for the taking there, but the throw from Mark Sanchez is just out of reach, and the Eagles face third down and later punt.
Late in the first half, the Eagles were driving with less than a minute to go and two timeouts. A touchdown here would help bring them within striking distance before the half, and potentially breathe some life back into the team.
The Eagles had success with the screen game earlier. This play came after Darren Sproles' touchdown in almost the same area of the field. Just like on that play, which Greg Cosell broke down very well on our All-22 Review, Sproles had three blocks out in front and a lot of room to run. Unfortunately, pressure impacts the throw from Sanchez, the timing of the play is thrown off and the ball falls incomplete. It was a huge missed opportunity for the offense.
The missed chances didn't just happen on offense, because there were opportunities for big plays to be made defensively as well.
The Bucs are in the red zone. It's second-and-4, and the Eagles' defense is sending a Cover 0 blitz at quarterback Jameis Winston. That means the five eligible receivers are all locked up man-to-man, with no safety help anywhere on the field. Malcolm Jenkins is matched up against Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson. He trails him across the field, and when he cuts in front of the throw he ensures that he at least gets one hand on the ball to break it up. If he goes with two hands to try and secure the interception, he potentially runs the risk of missing it entirely, but regardless the potential for a play was there. Tampa Bay would score on the next play to go ahead 21-7.
Here's a play from the next series. Tampa Bay is up 21-14. It's second-and-10, and the Bucs are calling a slip screen to the right. With the right tackle releasing to the flats, Connor Barwin is left unblocked. He fires off the ball, gets his hands up and gets both mitts on Winston's pass to the outside. However, he's unable to secure the interception. Tampa Bay scores on the next play to take a 28-14 lead. Instead of a big red zone turnover, the Bucs end up with a two-touchdown lead before halftime.
Sunday's game wasn't just about missed opportunities, but also a good amount of mistakes that helped set the team back. Penalties on both sides of the ball were a theme once again. Missed tackles and bad angles were a big issue throughout the game. There were also some busts in coverage that came at inopportune moments.
With a few minutes left in the second quarter (just a few plays before the last play I showed you), Tampa Bay faces a third-and-4 from its 39-yard line. With the Bucs in empty and all five eligible receivers spread across the formation, running back Charles Sims is lined up outside with a wide receiver in the slot. The Eagles line up with Byron Maxwell and Mychal Kendricks over top of them, with Maxwell outside over the back and Kendricks inside over the wide receiver. They make an "in and out" call before the snap. The receiver who goes inside will be the responsibility of Kendricks. The outside receiver belongs to Maxwell. The problem is they are not on the same page, as both follow the receiver running outside. Sims nets an 8-yard gain and a first down off of a quick slant.
There were some plays where you just have to give credit to the Bucs for sound play-design. One of them was the first big run for Doug Martin, a 58-yard gain on the second series for Tampa Bay.
It's third-and-1, and the Bucs run a version of the "Belly Flip" concept (one that former NFL quarterback Brock Huard breaks down well here). Look at how the Eagles' defense reacts to the fullback-action, as it influences defenders just enough for the offensive line to out-leverage the entire unit. A couple of bad angles later, Martin is off to the races to set up the Bucs' first touchdown.
A few series later, Martin hits this run downhill. Jenkins just misses a tackle at the line of scrimmage. Kiko Alonso is eaten up by the fullback. No one is ready to make the stop at the third level of the defense, allowing Martin to make a near-touchdown at the 1-yard line. What about Winston? How did he get five touchdowns?
On the first one, you couldn't ask for a better throw and catch from Winston and Mike Evans. Nolan Carroll is responsible for Evans, and in this situation he has to be wary of three routes down in the red zone. He has to defend the quick slant, the fade and the back-shoulder throw. Here, he does it exactly how it's coached up, but the ball is placed right where it needs to be. Evans uses his unique size and length to go up and win at the catch point.
It seemed like Winston and the Tampa Bay passing game had all the answers on Sunday, and crossing routes were a big part of their success. Tampa Bay was able to get a number of conversions on three-level stretch plays against Cover 3 against the Eagles' defense. On a few of them, the throws were tightly covered by the secondary. Sometimes, you have to tip your cap to the quarterback. As you can see on this one on the third series of the game, DeMeco Ryans does a very good job taking away this crossing route, even after the play-action fake. Malcolm Jenkins even overlaps and lays a hit on Evans, but it's still not enough as the second-year receiver is able to finish the catch for the big gain.
Another play that was just a really well-designed concept of the Bucs was their third score of the game. It came midway through the second quarter, down in the red zone. Remember last week against Miami, where Malcolm Jenkins nearly intercepted two passes because the Dolphins ran a pick concept down on the goal line? It was another "in and out" concept, where the slot defender was responsible for the in-breaking route and the cornerback on the outside was responsible for the out-breaking route.
The Eagles don't use that tactic every time down on the goal line, but like a lot of teams do, it's an efficient way to defend against those concepts. Well, Tampa Bay counted on that, so it ran a deceptive play where they counted on the slot defender (in this case, E.J. Biggers) taking the in-breaking route, only to take the receiver who appeared to be breaking outside and sending him back in toward the post. This was an impossible throw for Nolan Carroll to defend, and it's a touchdown for Tampa Bay.
This was tough tape to watch, and the Eagles' players in all three phases will certainly do some soul searching during a short week of preparation for the Detroit Lions. As I said earlier, I'm anxious to see how this team responds on Thanksgiving.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast 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.