Here’s a position-by-position review of the Eagles’ offensive performance against the Broncos.
* This will probably surprise some, but I thought Michael Vick was the least of the Eagles’ problems on Sunday. Coming off of a horrendous performance vs. the Chiefs, he made several “tight window” throws, and the first half was probably as accurate as he’s been all season. Vick finished 14-for-27 for 248 yards, but two of those balls were throw-aways, and I counted four drops (two by LeSean McCoy, one by Brent Celek and one by DeSean Jackson). In other words, of Vick’s 25 aimed throws, 18 were catchable.
* Specific plays that stood out: Vick showed good patience and made a nice throw to Celek for 24 yards in the first. Good ball placement to James Casey, allowing him to pick up yards after the catch. Great throw into a tight window to Jackson for 14 yards on 3rd-and-5 in the first. Terrific throw to Riley Cooper near the sideline as he was getting pressured for 15 yards in the second. Nice job reading the blitz and dumping the ball off to McCoy for 21 yards in the second.
* How did the Broncos attack Vick? On 36 pass plays, they only blitzed him eight times, or 22.2 percent of the time. On those plays, he was 4-for-5 for 77 yards. He was also sacked twice and ran once. On non-blitz throws, he was 10-for-22 for 171 yards.
* The storyline to watch with Vick going forward is: Will he pull the trigger even when his receivers aren’t open? Vick took off to run seven times on called pass plays in this game, and he was sacked three times. There are clearly times when no one is open. I thought FOX’s cameras did a good job of showing that. There was one play where the three receivers were Damaris Johnson, Jason Avant and Jeff Maehl. Vick ended up taking a sack.
But given the Eagles’ current group of receivers, Vick may have to take more shots going forward even if guys don’t appear to be clearly open. For example, on one throw to Jackson in the end zone, it looked like Vick held on to the ball too long. By the time he let it fly, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was able to recover and break up the pass. It’s a fine balance between avoiding turnovers and taking shots. Vick will have to navigate the two in the coming weeks.
* Vick had seven total rushes for 41 yards. None was by design. All were called pass plays where he took off.
* Sidenote: I often get e-mails to the effect of, “Did you see what Peyton Manning did? Vick never does that.” Who is arguing that Vick is Manning? Or Aaron Rodgers? Or Drew Brees? Or Tom Brady? No one who is sane. He’s not in that same category. But overall on Sunday, I thought he did a lot of good things even when he wasn’t getting much help.
* Nick Foles came into the game in the fourth quarter. Troy Aikman needs to read up on the read-option. “They’re not gonna run the read-option with Nick Foles,” Aikman said. Of course, that was right after the Eagles had just run the read-option with Foles on the previous play. In fact, the Eagles ran the read-option three times out of seven plays with Foles on the field.
* The Broncos came in with a stout run defense, but the Eagles still totaled 166 yards on the ground; 125 of those were courtesy of the running backs. LeSean McCoy battled the mile-high air, only playing 59 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. He had 16 carries for 73 yards (4.6 YPC) and also added a 21-yard catch. McCoy was often dealing with defenders at or near the line of scrimmage. He had a pair of drops, although one was on a screen that wasn’t going anywhere.
* Bryce Brown had eight carries for 19 yards. He put together runs of 9 and 7 in the first quarter. Brown also had a 35-yard catch on a screen. He bounced too many runs to the outside. TV cameras even caught Chip Kelly telling him as much during the broadcast.
* Chris Polk saw snaps on offense for the first time in his career. He scored a touchdown from 4 yards out in the second. Great effort to fight through defenders on a 13-yard catch in the second. He also had a nice 28-yard run with Foles in the game. On one sack in the fourth, it looked like Polk missed his blocking assignment.
* Overall, the Eagles ran the read-option 17 times for 92 yards (5.4 YPC). The quarterbacks didn’t keep the ball on any of those plays. On other called run plays, the Eagles had 33 yards on 10 attempts.
* It was the same old story with this group. A lot of man coverage and not a lot of guys getting open. I’d have to check the numbers, but it seemed like the Eagles tried to use Jackson more in the slot. That didn’t work all that well, especially considering it often meant Avant on the outside. Jackson finished with two catches for 34 yards on six targets. I mentioned above that Vick missed him for a potential TD. Jackson also had a nice 19-yard catch and run in the second that was called back because of an Evan Mathis penalty. Will have to watch the All-22 to see how much safety help the Broncos used on him.
* Cooper was a non-factor once again. He had two catches for 25 yards. One was a meaningless 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-14 in the red zone. He did a nice job of keeping his feet in-bounds for 15 yards on the other. At one point in the first half, it looked like Cooper might have been confused about where to line up, and the Eagles used a timeout.
* Avant had one catch for 7 yards on four targets. By my count, the Eagles were in ’11′ personnel with one RB, one TE and three WRs on 49 of 67 plays, or 73.1 percent of the time. With Vick in the game, it was even higher (81.7 percent).
* Maehl had a 37-yard grab and a 6-yard TD late in the game.
* Not a good game for Brent Celek. I know we’ve mentioned it multiple times, but his drop on third down in the red zone was enormous. A catch would have either scored or given the Eagles a first-and-goal inside the 5. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal. Celek had three catches for 57 yards, including a 24-yarder in the first. He had a linebacker trailing on a crossing route in the third, but couldn’t create any space, and Vick’s pass was broken up. Without Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles could benefit from some more athleticism from the tight end or slot receiver spots.
* Zach Ertz had a nice 38-yard grab in the fourth. He had a chance to make a play earlier, but couldn’t reel in a Vick pass. Nice effort to lay out though by Ertz as the ball hit him on the fingertips. Ups and downs as a blocker. Poor job on a zone-read handoff to Polk that gained 1 in the fourth. But nice job late on the TD to Maehl. Ertz played a season-high 31 snaps.
* James Casey ran a drag route for a 12-yard catch and run in the first. He played a season-high 10 snaps.
* Overall, the Eagles were in ’12′ personnel (1-RB, 2-TE, 2-WR) for 18 snaps. But that number’s a bit deceiving. They went 2-TE on the final seven plays with Foles. On the first 60 plays with Vick, the Eagles used multiple TEs just 11 times, or 18.3 percent of the time.
* This group is tough to evaluate. Kelly always points out how different areas on the team are connected. Sometimes, wide receivers weren’t getting open. Sometimes, protection was breaking down. And sometimes, Vick failed to pull the trigger. The offensive line wasn’t horrible, but this group still made plenty of mistakes.
* Jason Peters played better than he did against Kansas City, but still had some issues. At times he looks dominant, like when he chucked a defender to the side on McCoy’s 10-yard run in the first. Peters lined up outside Lane Johnson for an unbalanced line on multiple occasions. They double-teamed an edge defender as McCoy picked up 9 on one play.
But Peters had mishaps too. He was beaten by Shaun Phillips, who brought McCoy down after a 1-yard gain in the third. In pass pro, Peters failed to sustain his block on one first-half play, and ended up on the ground as Vick took off and scrambled. He failed to switch off his man on a stunt on third down in the third and got beaten around the edge in the fourth, forcing Vick to slip and throw incomplete.
* Uneven performance for Evan Mathis too. He had trouble in pass pro on the first series, giving up a hit on Vick. Mathis was beaten in the second and called for holding, negating a 19-yard completion to Jackson. He and Jason Kelce let a defender split them and pressure Vick on the very next play. But there were plenty of good moments too. Excellent block on the 35-yard screen to Brown. And Mathis got tremendous push up front on Polk’s 4-yard TD. Good seal block also on McCoy’s 15-yard run in the third.
* Jason Kelce was probably the toughest from this group to assess. He did a great job pulling on a 7-yard McCoy run and got downfield on Brown’s 7-yard scamper. He showed great hustle on Brown’s 35-yard screen and did a nice job on Polk’s 4-yard TD. Great job by Kelce of getting to the linebacker on McCoy’s 15-yard run in the third.
But there were some issues too. There were at least two high snaps. And on play-action in the first, he got beaten by Kevin Vickerson, forcing Vick to take off. Kelce was later beaten badly on a run play. I had to rewind the DVR to make sure the Eagles weren’t leaving the defender unblocked on purpose. But that wasn’t the case. Kelce just got beaten, and McCoy was dropped for no gain. He also failed to get to the linebacker on a McCoy run that lost 2 yards in the first. Ups and downs throughout the course of the game.
* Todd Herremans was OK. Mitch Unrein knocked him off-balance in the first, and Vick had to scramble. Herremans missed his block on a screen to Brown that went for 6 in the first. He and Johnson let Derek Wolfe through in the third, and Vick had to scramble. He also got pushed back into Vick’s face in pass pro in the third. The good? Herremans did a nice job pulling and blocking the linebacker on Brown’s 9-yard run in the first. And he did a good job on McCoy’s 15-yard run in the third.
* Lane Johnson had a lot of issues in pass protection with upfield rushes off the edge. Kelly has talked multiple times about Vick not being able to get to the top of his drop without pressure. Many of those instances were on Johnson. On at least three of those occasions, Vick had to take off and run. Another time, Vick was sacked. Johnson was also called for holding in the red zone in the first. He and Herremans appeared to have a communications issue in the fourth and let a rusher go free to pressure Vick. It’s clear Johnson’s still in the learning stages, specifically in pass pro.