It was the perfect matchup on the opening offensive snap of the game: Wide receiver Riley Cooper in one-on-one coverage against cornerback Leodis McKelvin, and the Eagles took a shot.
Quarterback Sam Bradford threw a perfect pass down the left sideline and Cooper created a touch of separation from McKelvin and lunged to make the catch at the Buffalo 19-yard line. A replay review overruled the initial call of a reception, and the Eagles lost a chance. But they made a statement on that throw: They would challenge Buffalo's secondary on Sunday.
The offense rebounded from the missed opportunity to go 61 yards on nine plays and score on a Darren Sproles touchdown to take a 7-0 lead en route to a 23-20 win over Buffalo in a game in which the Eagles picked up 20 first downs, gained 348 total net yards, rotated four running backs, scored another touchdown on a 53-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor on a second-and-26 play and used three Caleb Sturgis field goals to move to 6-7 and stay tied for first place in the NFC East with three weeks to go.
We want more from the offense, for sure. The Eagles had six three-and-out series among the 14 offensive possessions. The running game averaged 3.4 yards per carry, gaining 116 yards on 34 carries. There were some good things -- the opening drive, the "chunk" touchdown pass to Agholor, the drive at the end of the first half that led to three key points, a 14-play, 57-yard field goal drive to open the second half and the huge Bradford throw to tight end Zach Ertz that gained 41 yards to set up Sturgis' final field goal to provide the winning points.
However, there is also a search for more explosiveness in the passing game and more consistency on the ground and more points. Always, more points.
"I still think there are some things that we can do better," Bradford said after the Buffalo game. "I think that we can perform at a higher level. Obviously, we are still not great out there. But I think this is what I envisioned as far as us winning as a team, you know, what we have been able to do the past two weeks, to put two wins together. I think that is kind of what everyone was looking to see."
How can the Eagles improve on offense? They've got some tricky personnel pieces at running back, if Sunday is any indication. All four backs were active and all four played. Ryan Mathews, DeMarco Murray and Sproles combined for 31 carries and 113 yards, not great numbers but enough of a commitment to the ground game to keep defenses honest. If the Eagles can establish the running game -- and that's tough with stout fronts from Arizona and Washington coming to town in the next two weeks -- then they can do more of what they did on Sunday, and that is take shots down the field.
A quick recap at some of the key players who powered the Eagles to their 23-20 win over the Bills. View the full gallery here...
An offense that led the NFL in 2013 in X plays, gains of 20 yards or more, and consistently gashed defenses with huge plays in the passing game has struggled to get the ball down the field this season. Part of that is dictated by a defense's coverage -- Buffalo rarely had a deep safety in the middle of the field on Sunday and Bradford hit Agholor for the touchdown and just missed connecting with Seyi Ajirotutu on another deep throw down the middle -- and part of it is execution. Teams aren't giving away the deep ball. They're going to make the Eagles earn it underneath and with the running game.
How can the Eagles take a few shots down the field every week? What impact does that have on loosening up a defense and creating more respect for the threat of the deep ball? Is there enough speed here within the receiving ranks to make some plays down the field?
Arizona's defense has every piece -- excellent front, linebackers who can run and strong cover corners and safeties. There is a reason the Cardinals are 11-2, and much of it is the defense. This is a tremendous strategic challenge for the coaching staff. Every defense has vulnerability. Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur are in the midst of putting the offensive game plan together, knowing that last year in a loss at Arizona quarterback Nick Foles threw for 411 yards and the running game produced 110 yards and only some red-zone problems and giveaways kept the Eagles from winning on the road.
The Eagles need to keep the deep ball and the "gash" gains a significant part of the offense in the final three games of this regular season. They can't allow defenses to creep into the box and crowd the line of scrimmage and jam up the running game. The passing game came up big against Buffalo, particularly on the Bradford-to-Agholor touchdown play that came on a second-and-26 snap after consecutive holding calls threatened to blow up a drive started on a fumble recovery from a muffed punt return.
Bradford has the arm and the accuracy. The receivers are good enough to get down the field, as is Ertz and even the running backs on the wheel routes that worked so well early in the season.
Keep taking shots. Keep being aggressive. The Eagles scored 23 points to beat Buffalo, but they also know they left some points on the field.
They're going to need those points against Arizona. The Cardinals are a big-play offense coming to Lincoln Financial Field rested, healthy and extremely confident.
"I think we've made some progress each week but by no means are we where we want to be," Ertz said. "We have to clean up some things. We have to be more consistent, and the points will come."