It was after midnight by the time Jason Kelce had fired up his iPad and loaded the coaches tape to see what had gone wrong.
Hours earlier, he had been on the field at MetLife Stadium during one of the more frustrating games of his young NFL career. The Giants came up with a gameplan to stop the Eagles’ most popular run play: the inside zone read. The biggest factor in their success? Stunts by the defensive tackles that kept Kelce off-balance all game long.
“I was kind of checking, hitting refresh every single minute to see when it would come up,” Kelce said. “Very frustrating game for me. I knew I played bad even during the game. I knew the stuff wasn’t going well for me and that we tried some things to fix it, but I felt like they had a good take on when to do it and when not to do it. So we didn’t really handle it well throughout the game, me in particular.”
A 2-yard loss for Michael Vick on one play. A Chris Polk carry stopped at the line of scrimmage. LeSean McCoy dropped for -3.
Kelce twice went through the film of the offensive snaps using the end zone angle. He didn’t take notes. He just watched and analyzed, trying to figure out how an Eagles team that had been gashing opponents on the ground only managed to get 60 yards on 27 carries (2.2 YPC) from its running backs.
“You’re really trying to pick up on why is he slanting across in this situation, why is he not in these, whether I’m giving away anything, why is he beating me so clean on it, stuff like that,” Kelce said.
The review process took about an hour. On play after play, Kelce watched himself chasing the likes of Mike Patterson, Shaun Rogers and Johnathan Hankins into the backfield after another failed attempt to gain yards on the ground.
The third-year center has become a favorite of Chip Kelly. He spent the entire offseason at the team facility. And he’s responsible for getting the blocking set up on every play. So after the 35-21 victory, the head coach made sure to find his starting center after the clock hit zeroes.
“Right after the game he came up and told me… I’m trying to remember word for word what it was and I can’t, but it was basically the same thing as: mistakes in victory are often forgotten, but no less important,” Kelce said. “He knew that I struggled. On the field he knew that I was having a rough game. It’s a good thing that we came away with the win, but we still have to improve on this. And that was just the way it always is. …He knows that I take it pretty hard so he’s just trying to make sure that I’m on top of it.”
Said Kelly: “I think Jason Kelce takes everything to heart. That’s what’s awesome about Jason Kelce. He demands perfection from himself, and I think he knows I don’t think anybody’s going to get perfection, but that is a standard he sets for himself. I think if Jason Kelce graded out at 99 percent, he’d be pissed off. That is just the type of guy he is. That’s why he’s awesome to have on this team. I don’t think Jason played as poorly as he thought he played in the Giants game. He’s a competitor. He thinks you should make every block. He thinks you should make every correct call. And he’s really been the anchor for us in the middle there.”
As for Sunday, the offense thinks it has answers, but it will be going up against a stout defense that limited Adrian Peterson to 28 yards on 13 carries last week.
After starting the season on fire, McCoy has been contained in two of the Eagles’ last three games. But he’s confident the run game will rebound and emphasized Kelce’s role in keeping everything rolling.
“He’s kind of the captain of the offense,” McCoy said. “You go from Michael Vick and then you go down to Kelce. He lets us know where to go. He’s the quarterback. And that’s what makes the offense go. I think it starts up front with the offensive linemen. …Just to have him, I think I see the difference from when I have him and when I didn’t have him.
“He’ll be fine in this game. Every player’s gonna go through that where they don’t play as good as they want to play.”
Kelce will fire up his iPad once again this Sunday evening and hopes the images won’t be so difficult to stomach this time around.
“They’re a good run-stopping team,” he said. “That’s what they are. And they’ve been that way the whole season. Their interior guys are big run-stopping guys, not really pass-rushing specialists. We feel like we have a much better hold on what they’re gonna do to us this game, so I especially am looking forward to this game.”
THE BIG PICTURE
The Eagles are coming off their worst offensive output of the season, managing just three points in a loss to the Cowboys last week. Nick Foles was horrible, and the ground game never got going. At 3-4, they’ll look to break a nine-game home losing streak and get back on track before a trip to Oakland in Week 9.
The Giants got their first win of the season last week against the Vikings. They bottled up Peterson and took advantage of Josh Freeman (3.6 YPA).
In the first meeting between the two teams, Michael Vick injured his hamstring in the second quarter, but he’s expected to return and get the start. Vick was up-and-down as a passer in the first meeting, but piled up 79 yards on the ground. Eli Manning threw three fourth-quarter interceptions, and Foles took advantage, leading the Birds to a 35-21 victory.
Here’s how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Giants’ defense:
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
|Eagles Offense||6.2 (3rd)||24.1 (13th)||14.2% (8th)|
|Giants Defense||5.1 (11th)||30.9 (31st)||5.2% (23rd)|
And the Eagles’ defense against the Giants’ offense:
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
|Giants Offense||5.3 (17th)||18.0 (27th)||-18.2% (29th)|
|Eagles Defense||5.7 (23rd)||28.0 (26th)||12.1% (29th)|
EAGLES RUSHING OFFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Eagles Rushing Offense||5.2 (1st)||21.9% (1st)|
|Giants Rushing Defense||3.7 (T-7th)||-14.0% (10th)|
McCoy had just 46 yards on 20 carries in the first meeting. And the Eagles’ RB said he “didn’t show up” last week against the Cowboys, carrying 18 times for 55 yards.
But overall, the Eagles have done an excellent job running the ball. McCoy leads the NFL with 685 yards rushing. No other player has more than 578 (Marshawn Lynch). McCoy has been kept in check in two of the past three games, but is averaging 4.9 YPC overall, second to only Alfred Morris among the 26 backs who have at least 75 carries.
The Eagles’ offensive line has been very good in run blocking for the most part, although last week was a bit of a struggle. They’ll go up against a defensive line that has been stout against the run. The Giants will rotate several guys up front throughout the course of the game: Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph, Mathias Kiwanuka, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Johnathan Hankins and Shaun Rogers.
Since the Eagles last faced the Giants, they’ve acquired middle linebacker Jon Beason from the Panthers. Beason has 21 tackles the past two weeks. Spencer Paysinger plays the WILL. Jacquian Williams or Keith Rivers will man the other outside spot. Paysinger blitzes the most out of the group – about 6.7 times per game, according to Pro Football Focus.
EAGLES PASSING OFFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Michael Vick||53.8% (31st)||8.98 (1st)||*36 (1st)||*17.5% (13th)|
|Giants Passing Defense||59.4% (10th)||6.4 (T-3rd)||23 (T-15th)||19.4% (26th)|
* Eagles as a team, not just Vick.
The numbers tell the story with Vick. He’s only completing 53.8 percent of his passes, but leads the league at 8.98 yards per attempt. For all the talk about the Eagles going to a get-the-ball-out-quick passing attack, they’ve been more of a big-play team. Kelly’s offense leads the NFL with 36 pass plays of 20+ yards.
DeSean Jackson was open a decent amount last week, but Foles failed to get him the ball. He’s averaging 87.1 yards per game (T-11th) and is second to only Torrey Smith with 12 catches of 20+ yards. In the first meeting between the teams, Jackson had seven grabs for 132 yards and a score.
Riley Cooper has quietly put together a couple good weeks with 10 grabs for 208 yards on 13 targets the past two weeks.
The Giants have three cornerbacks on the injury report: Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas and Jayron Hosley. Thomas and Hosley were limited participants Thursday. Webster did not participate.
Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride started the last game against the Eagles. And they started last week’s game against the Vikings as well. The safeties are Antrel Rolle and Ryan Mundy.
The Giants are 23rd in the NFL against tight ends, per Football Outsiders. Brent Celek and Zach Ertz combined for 85 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting.
The Giants only have six sacks on the season. That’s dead-last in the league. No player on their roster has more than 1.5 sacks. Todd Herremans has been up and down in pass protection. But as a unit, the Eagles held up well in that aspect last week after a couple early hiccups.
EAGLES RUSHING DEFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Giants Rushing Offense||3.2 (29th)||-34.4% (32nd)|
|Eagles Rushing Defense||3.8 (T-12th)||-8.8% (17th)|
The Eagles’ run defense has been solid. Cedric Thornton is playing at a high level. Connor Barwin and Trent Cole are consistently winning their one-on-one matchups against tight ends. And DeMeco Ryans leads the team with 82 tackles, 25 more than any other player on the defense (per coaches stats).
The Giants are the worst-rushing team in the NFL. Brandon Jacobs has a hamstring injury and did not participate in practice Thursday. David Wilson is out with a neck injury. Peyton Hillis had 18 carries for 36 yards last week. Michael Cox had 11 for 23. Neither had a carry go more than 8 yards.
Like last week, the Eagles will be facing a one-dimensional offense that can’t run the ball.
EAGLES PASSING DEFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Eli Manning||54.5% (30th)||7.17 (19th)||27 (T-5th)||-5.7% (24th)|
|Eagles Passing Defense||63.2% (21st)||7.4 (20th)||25 (25th)||25.1% (29th)|
Eli Manning has failed to complete at least 60 percent of his passes in each of the past six games. And his 15 interceptions lead the NFL.
He can still chuck it downfield on occasion and will give his receivers opportunities even if it doesn’t look like they’re open. Manning’s 27 completions of 20+ yards are tied for fourth in the NFL.
Victor Cruz is Manning’s favorite target. He’s averaging 84.4 yards per contest (13th) and is tied for the team lead with four touchdowns. Brandon Boykin did a nice job on Cruz during the first meeting, limiting him to five catches for 48 yards on 12 targets. Hakeem Nicks had nine grabs for 142 yards in that game. But he’s caught just six balls for 98 in the last two.
Rueben Randle had six grabs for 96 yards and a pair of scores against the Eagles a few weeks ago. He has four touchdowns in his last three games.
Bradley Fletcher is on the injury report for a knee issue, but was a full participant Thursday and is expected to play.
Up front, the Giants are without center David Baas, who will be replaced by Jim Cordle. Fletcher Cox has a team-high 13 hurries, and Kelly named Thornton the team’s top pass-rusher this week. From left to right, the Giants go with William Beatty, Kevin Boothe, Cordle, David Diehl and rookie Justin Pugh.
Barwin leads the Eagles with 4.5 sacks and has been good against the run. And Cole has played better than his numbers indicate. The Eagles rank 16th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. The Giants’ offense is 21st in adjusted sack rate.
FIVE LOCKER ROOM LEFTOVERS
1. Earl Wolff’s first career interception came on a play that nearly resulted in disaster. The Cowboys set up for a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, and Wolff found himself on one side of the field with Cary Williams and Dez Bryant.
“As I saw him [Tony Romo] scramble over, I knew he would throw it over that way so I just prepared myself,” Wolff said.
After Romo let the ball go, Williams slipped, essentially setting up a one-on-one jump-ball situation between Wolff and Bryant.
“As the ball went up in the air, I kind of adjusted,” Wolff said. “But those are the hardest interceptions to catch. People don’t understand. As I backed up and adjusted to the ball… when the ball gets close, Cary falls. Dez Bryant, he’s in front of me, and I jumped. I was thinking about knocking it down, but then as the ball kind of touched us, I saw that Bryant had it in his hands, so I just ended up catching it.”
I asked Wolff what he was thinking during that split second where it looked like Bryant might come down the ball.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t let him catch it,” he said with a laugh. “That’s gonna be terrible. Fans are gonna hate me.”
2. The days of Brandon Boykin, pass-rusher might be over. We wrote earlier this week about how Billy Davis is more comfortable calling games now that he knows his players’ strengths and weaknesses. It looks like that applies directly to Boykin’s role. Through the first five weeks of the season, he was rushing the passer 5.8 times per game, according to Pro Football Focus. In the last two weeks combined, he’s only blitzed once.
“It’s just what he sees,” Boykin said. “He calls the plays. I just play. I think it’s scheme. I think teams that throw the ball a lot, you don’t want me blitzing all the time and leaving the slot open.”
Makes sense to me.
3. Williams has a tough time playing cornerback if he can’t be physical with receivers. But part of that is out of control. It depends on what the official during any given game is going to deem a penalty. I asked Williams if he acquires information about who the refs are going to be prior to the game.
“I don’t know know how to get that information,” he said. “It’s just one of those things, I go into every game playing as hard as I can, figure out what the refs are calling and if they call certain things, then I have to back off. If they don’t, then I try to play within those limits.
“I’ve seen the majority of the refs out there. I know who’s gonna call certain things once I get out there. I don’t have that information before the game, prior to it. I just go out there and try to play my game. And when I see a guy that I know is gonna call certain things, I try to play within his rules.”
Having played in 62 games since 2008, Williams has a good grasp of how different officials are going to call each game. He also pointed out that the refs are more likely to let the corners be physical in the postseason.
4. Kelly gets asked about playing time every Monday afternoon. Snap counts are now readily available to the media, so it’s easy for reporters to question how much action specific players received during the previous day’s game.
But the reality is the assistant coaches are the ones in charge of rotating players in and out.
“We talk about it as a staff way before the game, so we kind of know as a group what it is,” Kelly said. “But it’s the individual position coaches that are doing the rotating on gameday. I’m not turning around and saying, ‘Hey, put this guy in, put that guy in.’ But I think we as a group have discussed it every week: what are we doing here and how are we distributing the snaps and the reps. But [defensive line coach/assistant head coach Jerry Azzinaro] Azz is going to handle the d‑line, [wide receivers coach] Bobby Bicknell is going to handle the wide receivers. That stuff is all done beforehand. It’s not a seat of the pants, hey, let’s get this guy in. It’s pretty thought out in terms of how we’re going to rotate those guys.
“And a lot of it is still a feel, too. You may think, hey, we’re going to get six straight snaps out of them, but if it’s a receiver and we call three or four long passes in a row, then Bobby knows he’s got to get him out for a snap or two to give him a breather. But each individual is different. Some guys can run a little bit better or a little bit longer, I think, than some other guys, so you just try to monitor from that standpoint.”
5. I surveyed multiple players on the defense about what Davis’ demeanor is like when he’s instructing players.
“I think he’s consistent, which is what you want from a coach,” said Barwin. “You don’t want a coordinator to be up and down and all over the place. And I think he’s consistent in the way he teaches, the way he calls his defense, the way he treats his players. And I think guys respect that and it makes it easier to work with somebody day in and day out when you know what you’re gonna get from him.”
Boykin was asked how critical Davis is in the meeting room and the film room.
“He’s very critical,” Boykin said. “He’s very big on technique, as you should be as a professional because those are little things that are interceptions or pass-breakups as opposed to a completion. So he always tells you the things that you did good, but moreso always helping to make us improve, teach us more about the fundamentals and the actual whole defense instead of your individual job. Because when you know everybody’s position, it helps everybody play better.
“You can go and meet with him whenever you want, and I meet with him a good amount, so it helps me. Coming from him, he’s the guy that’s gonna call the actual plays on Sunday, so kind of picking his brain and see what he sees, it helps me when I’m on the field.”
E-MAIL OF THE WEEK
Don’t you just love it. A college coach running a college offense against NFL defensive coordinators. If watching a great pro offense in Denver did not pull Kelly’s tail into reality, then you have another [Steve] Spurrier on our hands. – HP
Phil Simms, is that you? Why are you sending me e-mails with the initials HP?
This was my favorite poorly thought-out argument from observers of last week’s game: that Monte Kiffin figured out Kelly’s college-boy offense and was the key factor in limiting the Eagles to three points.
Luckily, we here at Birds 24/7 actually watch the games. And while the head coach always has to accept responsibility when the team loses, the truth is that Nick Foles had guys open all day long. Watching the tape of this game probably made Kelly want to pull his hair out.
The head coach has had his share of missteps through the first seven weeks, but I would argue that offensive game-planning has been perhaps his No. 1 strength so far. Kelly needs to continue to get his players to execute better, but the concepts he’s employing and the plays he has called have not been the issue.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Sunday at the Linc. Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston will have the call on FOX with Tony Siragusa on the sidelines.
Per Sports Insights, the Eagles are 6.5-point favorites, and 60 percent of the action right now is on the Giants.