Chip Kelly said it best on Monday when he said the last three games have been "gut-wrenching" for him and the team. It has been a very tough end to the 2014 season, especially considering the 7-2 (and subsequent 9-3) start. There's been adversity all season long in the form of injuries at pretty much every unit. With the amount of penalties, turnovers, mental mistakes and opportunities left on the field on both sides of the ball in the month of December, there are a lot of reasons why this team is on the outside looking in for the playoffs this winter. We will have eight months to ponder the answers to questions surrounding this team, and there will be many. For now, let's just focus on Saturday's loss and some of key storylines coming out of the game.
On the offensive side of the ball, turnovers again were a sore spot, as the game ended (for that unit anyway) for all intents and purposes on an interception coming on a play they ran more than a handful of times in the game. This time, though, the pressure got to quarterback Mark Sanchez and he was unable to fully step into the throw, resulting in a pass with less mustard on it landing off the mark. Overall, however, Sanchez was very efficient with the football against Washington. He has always been at his best operating in the short-to-intermediate range between the numbers, and that's what Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's unit was happy to give him on Saturday afternoon.
Sanchez set an Eagles record with 37 completions and a new career high of 374 yards on the day. The Eagles consistently were able to move the ball on Washington as LeSean McCoy had another big day on the ground. McCoy rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown to put him over 1,200 yards on the year. There were a number of big runs, including some good gains in the power run game, but it was this inside zone run that netted the biggest rush of the day.
On this run in the second quarter from McCoy, tackle Jason Peters and Andrew Gardner did a great job in getting to the second level, squaring up on their blocks and putting their men on the ground as McCoy scampered for a 22-yard pickup and a first down.
In the passing game, Jordan Matthews has successfully taken shallow crossing routes for big gains through the air, and most of the time, they've come on versions of the "Drive" concept. That worked out again against Washington.
There were two vertical routes on the outside, McCoy ran to the flat (to the opposite side of the drag route) and a route over the ball from tight end Zach Ertz. The slot corner had trouble maintaining leverage on Matthews, and he recorded a catch for a 22-yard catch and a first down.
The concept didn't just work to get Matthews open in this game, though, as Ertz joined the party as well. Washington was in man coverage on this play. With the underneath defender running with Matthews across the field, it opened up a window for Ertz, who settled in beyond the sticks and made the catch for a first down on the same exact play design that worked before for Matthews.
Ertz, as you know, had a career day against Washington, setting a franchise record with 15 receptions while posting his first 100-yard game in the process. Ertz did a ton of his work in the middle of the field, with 12 of his 15 catches coming in the middle of the field (on or between the numbers). He made plays from the slot, with his hand in the dirt and out wide of the formation.
Sanchez got him the ball in a number of ways, whether it was the drive concept or the "Stick" route that in this shot. This was an option route for Ertz, who did a good job getting separation at the top of his route and securing the catch for a first down. When I saw that both Keenan Robinson (who went up against Ertz one-on-one many times in the team's first matchup back in Week 3) and Brandon Meriweather would be out for the game, I had an inkling that this would be a big day for Ertz and the rest of the tight ends, and it certainly ended up being the case.
On defense, the penalties were obviously killer, particularly the five that gave Washington first downs. There were a number of missed opportunities for big turnovers. In a three-point game, every one of those plays is equally important, and could have changed the outcome. The issues in the secondary are well-documented. The group, as a whole, did not play with enough consistency to win the game.
In the front seven, however, it was more of the same dominant play from a number of key members. The defensive line rotation was strong once again. Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton were impactful at the line of scrimmage against the run and the pass. On the outside, Brandon Graham played well at linebacker in his first start at that position, while Connor Barwin continued his high level of play. Again though, it was Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks who stole the show in my opinion.
This is from the first drive of the game. Washington was in the red zone and challenging to score on second down. The fact that Fletcher Cox, at his size, is able to match Robert Griffin III outside the numbers step for step is absolutely absurd, as he kept him contained on this mush rush and limited Griffin to a 1-yard gain.
On this fourth quarter play, Cox mauled Washington's right guard off the snap, bulled him into the backfield and nearly removed Griffin's arm from its socket on this 5-yard sack. Notice the reduced front here from the Eagles, with Cox, Logan and Graham covering up the two guards and center (meaning they were lined up over top of them). Keep an eye on how Kendricks was lined up on the outside over the left tackle; we'll come back to that in a second.
Cox's impact wasn't just felt in the passing game, as he was dominant against the run as well. Before the snap, the Eagles shifted their front over toward the strength of the formation (the tight end side), leaving Cox lined up over the center (again in a reduced front). Griffin checked the run play to the opposite side, away from the Eagles' strength up front. Logan recognized this, as he pointed out just before the snap where the play was going. Washington snapped the ball and Cox manhandled the center before he brought Alfred Morris down for a short gain. The Eagles' defensive line was the strongest unit on the team in 2014, and will be considered one of the foundations of the roster entering the offseason.
In the second quarter, the Eagles got a sack from Kendricks when he lined up against Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, who is considered one of the best in the game, even with a bum shoulder. Kendricks has been used this way all season long in certain subpackages. His ability to rush the passer makes him one of the most dynamic linebackers in the entire NFL. Both Cox and Kendricks are clearly players on the rise, and are one of the best at their respective positions in the entire NFL.
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.