All week long, the Eagles said all of the right things. Both coaches and players quickly denounced any questions about whether or not the Eagles were overlooking the Minnesota Vikings and looking ahead to their last two regular season games. Earlier this week, Chip Kelly spoke about how the Vikings were much better than their record indicated.
As it turns out, Kelly was right, as the Vikings dominated the Eagles in a 48-30 victory.
"I thought we had a great week of practice, but we don't make excuses," Kelly said after the game. "We didn't play well enough to win today."
In a game where the Vikings were without Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, their top two running backs, they still managed to score 48 points on Bill Davis' defense, the most points given up by the unit all season (14 of Denver's 52 points came on special teams). Without his two backs, Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel stepped up his game, throwing for 382 passing yards and two touchdowns.
"We knew going in that it was going to be an issue, in terms of (Minnesota) being very talented at the receiver position, and right from the get-go I thought that Cassel was on fire and throwing the ball a little bit," said Kelly. "I know that Billy (Davis) tried to mix things up a little bit with changing coverages. We needed to generate a little more pressure on him and make sure that he can't set his feet when he throws, but we needed to be a little bit closer in coverage too."
It is certainly true that the Eagles secondary had one of their worst performances of the season, but they weren't helped out by the Eagles special teams. The Eagles coaching staff elected to not kick the ball deep at all in an effort to stay away from the Vikings dangerous returner Cordarrelle Paterson. As a result of squib kicks all afternoon, the Vikings started with great field position for most of the game. Kelly explained that the plan going in was to keep it away from Patterson, but he expected better coverage from his players.
"If you look at what he's done this season, even when you do kick it deep, he takes it out," Kelly said. "He's got a 109-yard kickoff return. We knew how dangerous he was. We were just trying to keep the ball away from him. It's got to go out the back (of the end zone) if (Henery) does it … (Patterson) is going to take it out no matter how deep he is. We hit the ball a lot better during the week and we covered it a lot better during the week."
Defense was one story, but the Eagles offense didn't fare much better. Though the final stats show that the Eagles racked up 475 total yards of offense and Nick Foles threw for a career-high 428 passing yards, the offense appeared out of sync for most of the afternoon. Foles was uncharacteristically off, overthrowing receivers and holding the ball too long on certain occasions, but Kelly believes that the offensive problems reached far beyond the quarterback position.
"Nick and everybody offensively -- we didn't play well on the offensive side of the ball," said Kelly. "We were not on track and did not do what we normally do. We were 3-5 and kind of dug ourselves out of a hole there and we were playing well on the offensive side of the ball and had a rhythm to what we were doing, and today we didn't."
Another big question mark for the Eagles was the complete lack of a running game. Entering the game as the league's leading rusher, LeSean McCoy had just eight carries for 38 yards. According to Kelly, the heavy reliance on passing plays was a result of both being down and trying to exploit matchups in the secondary.
"We got down a little bit there, and we really weren't moving them very well up front, but I think that we were trying to take advantage of some of the matchups in the passing game," said Kelly. "We were trying to free up DeSean (Jackson) and those guys. I thought LeSean was a very good weapon in the passing game itself, in terms of screen passes and the underneath routes. We didn't convert in the red zone and then we're down, and it felt like we were down two scores all of the time. We were just trying to get back into it."
Now at 8-6, the Eagles outlook on the playoffs is much hazier than it was heading into the game. By no means is the division title out of reach, but that doesn't make Sunday's loss any easier to swallow. Kelly's task is now keep this team focused on hungry, but he's seen his team bare down when the goings got tough earlier this season.
"I'll tell them the same message that I told them when we were 3-5," said Kelly. "We didn't play well enough to win today, but we need to stick together. That's what we did when we were 3-5 and that's what we'll continue to do if we want to finish this thing off the right way."
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