Before Tuesday's practice session, Eagles coordinators Bill Davis and Pat Shurmur spoke to reporters about what went right in Sunday's huge 33-27 overtime win over the Cowboys and what they expect in the team's upcoming meeting with the Miami Dolphins. Here are a few takeaways…
From Davis ...
A Shakeup At The Linebacker Position
With the news coming down on Monday that rookie standout Jordan Hicks will miss the rest of this season with a torn pectoral, the Eagles will rely heavily upon Kiko Alonso, who returned from a knee injury on Sunday, and DeMeco Ryans, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, alongside Mychal Kendricks. Hicks had played just about every down since his breakout performance in Week 2 against the Cowboys and was seen as a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
"It's a shame that it happened, but as soon as I saw the nature of the injury, you've seen enough and been around enough… that you kind of had an idea that that's what happened," Davis said. "Jordan did a great job of bringing himself into the conversation of [being] a main rotation guy through just the circumstance of injury… Jordan will get everything fixed, and then we'll move on, and we're back to the guys we originally started with."
Ryans remains day-to-day and could potentially suit up on Sunday, and the team re-signed Emmanuel Acho on Monday.
Facing A Familiar Opponent
Although Sunday will mark the first time the Eagles have faced the Dolphins under head coach Chip Kelly, he and his staff are quite familiar with the offense run by Miami. Under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Philadelphia's quarterbacks coach in 2013, the Dolphins have been running an uptempo offense at times, not that dissimilar from that run by the Eagles.
"We see a lot of familiar plays that we've seen over time that we practice [against] all offseason," Davis said. "He's got a great scheme, he's got a running quarterback… They have designed quarterback runs a lot like we had [against] Carolina, there's a big bubble screen element to it, after the zone read is read out, they can still hit a bubble at the end, so it's a really dynamic offense."
Brandon Graham Stepping Up As The Season Progresses
Last season was undoubtedly Brandon Graham's best as a pro. The former first-round pick notched 5.5 sacks as a reserve in 2014 and as a result was given the starting nod at outside linebacker heading into this season. Through eight games, he has four sacks, three of which have come in the last three weeks, and two of which came on Sunday against the Cowboys. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis is pleased with what he's seen from Graham, who also forced two fumbles against Dallas.
"He changed up his pass rush from bull, bull, bull, to the illusion of a bull rush and took the edge," Davis said of the outside linebacker's approach throughout Sunday's game. "He just made a little tweak, and you can see him growing as a veteran player, with his note-taking and the way he thinks through his pass rushes… That's the growth that you love seeing players take."
From Shurmur ...
The Offensive Line Stepped Up In Absence Of Jason Peters
Missing their anchor at left tackle, Jason Peters, because of a back injury, the Eagles' offensive line was forced to make some adjustments against the Cowboys. Lane Johnson, who had started every game in his two-and-a-half year NFL career at right tackle, slid over to the other end of the line, and reserve Dennis Kelly got the starting nod on the right side.
Shurmur was pleased with the play of his line, which allowed just one sack and freed up DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, and Darren Sproles to rush for 173 combined yards on 34 combined carries (5.1 yards/attempt).
"I think we trained well… and I think our guys get a lot of reps," Shurmur said. "They've been trained to play multiple positions, and I thought the guys up front executed very well.
"I thought Dennis played extremely well. Dennis is a big guy, and if he gets his hands on you, it's really hard for the defender to separate… Where he really showed too was on our quick throws, where he short set guys and then in the running game too."
The Offense Established The Running Game
Under Chip Kelly and Pat Shurmur, the running game has always been the engine that's driven Philadelphia's offense. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Eagles average 83.5 rushing yards per game in their four losses and a whopping 159.8 per game in their four wins. Against the Cowboys, Philadelphia had its third-best rushing performance of the season, going for 173 total yards on the ground.
"We always feel like running the ball early is what we need to start with, and I thought our guys did a good job," Shurmur said. "Our guy ran hard, they ran downhill, they broke tackles. Even though we had the right number of [defenders blocked], sometimes it takes a good, physical run to take a four-yard run and turn it into an eight-yard run. And I thought our guys did a good job of that."
Not only did the Eagles' impressive rushing attack help move the chains and get them into the Dallas red zone, it also opened up the passing game and maximized the effectiveness of the team's play-action looks. Sam Bradford completed 69.4% of his passes for 295 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys, his best passing performance in a month.
Jordan Matthews Turned Preparation Into Execution
After leading the Eagles in drops through seven games, Jordan Matthews came out of the bye week looking to get back on track and finish the year strong. He did exactly that against Dallas, hauling in nine of the dozen balls thrown his way for 133 yards and a touchdown, the game-winner in overtime.
Pat Shurmur spoke about how impressed he was not only with the sophomore wideout's performance but also with his ability to shut out the noise and overcome a rough stretch of games.
"I was impressed with Jordan's comments [after the game], he said, 'I was just doing my job', and that's really his mentality," he said. "Jordan's a guy who works at things. If he drops a ball or two, he's going to come out here and train to get better… He's got that process built in. That's why it's no mystery that he came out and had success."