Zone Read, Eagles-Giants, the Day After
Editor’s note: The Zone Read is a weekly feature that will publish the day after every game some time before noon. It will feature dispatches from the locker room, thoughts on what went down, play breakdowns and more. If you have feedback or suggestions, e-mail Sheil at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Eagles’ offense had something to hang its hat on: the run game.
LeSean McCoy was gashing opponents – 468 yards on 78 rushes (6.0 YPC). The scheme was sound. The blocking was great. And the marriage between McCoy and Chip Kelly’s offense looked like one that would carry the Eagles all season long.
Many coaches break the season up into four-game segments. And the second quarter for the Eagles has produced a ground game that looks pedestrian. In the last four, McCoy has carried 78 times for 265 yards (3.4 YPC). Yesterday against the Giants, he carried 15 times for 48 yards (3.2 YPC). In the first half, he managed just 7 yards on six carries.
“I just gotta try to be more consistent, making plays when plays are granted, taking them,” said a frustrated McCoy, standing at his locker in front of a group of reporters. “Today was a little better, but not good enough. I had so much success against the Giants for so long, so it bothers me. I’ve gotta get it going. It starts with me. I need to make better decisions, which I’m not.”
Asked if he’s trying to do too much, McCoy said: “I think it’s a little bit of that, doing my own thing sometimes and just not making the plays. The plays, they’re there, they’re available. Just not getting it done.”
In the first matchup against the Giants, McCoy managed just 46 yards on 20 carries. At the time, it looked like one bad game where the opponent deserved credit. But weeks later, it’s looking like it might have been the start of a trend. In the last two games, McCoy has carried 33 times and has failed to notch a run longer than 10 yards. His last big-play run of 20+ yards came in Week 3 (a span of 94 carries).
McCoy clearly needs help, from his coach and his blockers. But Kelly indicated after the game that his running back is leaving yards on the field.
“The box was the same count,” Kelly said. “So there was still a hat for a hat. Sometimes we’ve got to hit it up in there and kind of take what they give us. There were a couple times we got it moving there in the beginning of the second half, but it’s not consistent enough for us to win football games.”
There will be plenty of chatter about the quarterback situation this week, but the truth is that problem is unlikely to be solved until the offseason.
Kelly brought a run-first spread offense from Eugene to Philadelphia, and that’s what defenses game-plan for every week. But for the Eagles to be successful, they need to get McCoy and the ground game back on track.
“It’s certainly frustrating,” McCoy said. “I think the loss is the biggest reason. The second reason is not being a factor and helping our team out. We have to find the answer and put this together. These losses are piling up and this is not fun. It’s hard to really get together as a team when we keep losing like this. We work so hard, week in and week out, and the results are just not good. We just have to find an answer and get it done.”
CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN…
1. Why Kelly tried an onside kick with 4:11 left in the fourth quarter?
We went over some of Kelly’s decisions on Sunday. But the one that really had me scratching my head was the onside kick. The Eagles trailed 15-7 and had one timeout remaining. Regardless of the decision, you need a stop from the defense, preferably a three-and-out. But with the onside kick, you risk the Giants adding a field goal and making it a two-possession game.
You also pretty much guarantee yourself poor field position on the ensuing offensive possession, even if the defense does come up with a stop.
If Kelly was committed to the onside kick, why not at least disguise it? The Giants have been a disaster on special teams. Why not line up like you’re kicking it off and then try to catch them off-guard? Maybe they’d be ready for it, but at least you give yourself more of a shot. According to Advanced NFL Stats, onside kicks are successful 26 percent of the time. When teams are expecting them, that number is 20 percent. When they’re not, it’s 60 percent.
Just didn’t like the overall sequence here when the team had an outside shot of tying the game.
2. What Korbee’s connection to Philadelphia is?
That’s the folksy songwriting duo who sang the National Anthem. I admit to being way behind on the latest happenings in the world of music, but I could have used some more detail when these two were introduced.
Luckily, I was able to do a little online research and found that Korbee will be singing the National Anthem once again in a couple weeks when the Eagles play the Packers at Lambeau. If the Eagles fail to score a touchdown in that game, I’m trademarking the Kurse of Korbee.
We don’t get the coaches tape until Tuesday, but let’s take a look at one of the game’s critical plays: Matt Barkley’s red-zone fumble in the second.
The Eagles set up with two stacked receivers to the left, but they’re going to use jet sweep action with Riley Cooper.
This sets up a one-on-one with DeSean Jackson against the cornerback.
You can see 10 of the 11 Giants defenders are focused on the run-action. But cornerback Terrell Thomas is unblocked (by design). Barkley executes the fake and runs a bootleg to his left. But Prince Amukamara does a good job on Jackson, and Thomas stays at home.
It’s only a two-man route. Barkley looks for Jackson, who is covered. So is the tight end. But instead of throwing the ball away, he tries to buy time. Barkley actually avoided Thomas the first time, but then was caught from behind, stripped and fumbled.
Linebacker Jacquian Williams did an amazing job of jumping over Barkley and staying in bounds to recover the ball.
The Eagles were 2 yards away from going into halftime trailing 12-7. Instead, they turned it over and would never get that close to a touchdown in the second half. Barkley should have gotten rid of the ball sooner. But once he felt the pressure from Thomas, he should have protected it and taken the sack.
THE NUMBER THAT MATTERS
1 – The number of pass plays of 20+ yards the Eagles had against the Giants. Michael Vick and Barkley averaged a combined 4.3 YPA. The only big pass play was a 25-yard completion to Jason Avant.
Entering Sunday’s game, the Eagles had 36 pass plays of 20+ yards. That was the highest number in the league. Success in the passing game through the first half of the season has come on big plays. As a team, the Eagles are only completing 56.7 percent of their passes (28th). Given the quarterback situation, the offense has been unable to efficiently move the ball downfield through the air.
GAME BALL OFFENSE: NOBODY
I said last week that on weeks where the offense fails to reach double-digits on the scoreboard, no offensive player is getting a game ball. We’ll try again next time.
GAME BALL DEFENSE: CARY WILLIAMS
The Eagles’ cornerback had probably his best game of the season. By my count, Williams was targeted six times and gave up three completions for a total of 12 yards. He was tested twice in the end zone and once more on a deep ball, but had excellent coverage on all three occasions.
On the throws in front of him, Williams did a good job of limiting YAC, once stopping a screen for no gain.
And one more thing: After Vick was pulled, he sat on the bench by himself. All the offensive players were standing on the sideline, ready in case they needed to go into the game. The defensive players were gathered on a separate bench, going over instructions with their position coaches. But Williams made a point to walk over to the quarterback, who sat with a towel over his head and offer some words of encouragement.
“I just asked him what was going on, just to see if he was alright,” Williams said. “I was trying to be a good teammate. He’s a leader. He’s a guy that we lean heavily on each and every week, make sure that he’s alright. He told me some bad news. I told him to keep his head up and continue to work hard, which he’s been doing and he’s gonna continue to do. And that was the extent of our conversation.”
On a day when many Eagles struggled, Williams had a nice afternoon.
THAT’S WHAT HE SAID…
“I’ve been a part of enough now that it’s to the point where you get tired of losing at home. Not only have we lost the game, we’ve lost some of our fans too. They’re not getting up on third downs as much. We would love to have that defensively, especially when we’re playing the way we’re playing. It’d be great. But I don’t know that we’ve given ‘em anything to cheer about, anything like that. But at the end of the day, you want to come out, you want to win your home games. You want to play your best football at home. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to do that as a collective unit.” – CARY WILLIAMS
A reporter began to ask Williams about the 10-game home losing streak and prefaced his question by acknowledging that Williams wasn’t here last year, but the new cornerback has now been a part of four defeats at the Linc.
FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS
1. I think Kelly needs to re-think his process for determining Alex Henery’s range on gamedays. The way I understand it, Henery practices kicks during warm-ups, and special teams coach Dave Fipp tracks his range. During the game, when Kelly has a decision to make, he checks in with Fipp, and they go from there.
Yesterday, with 9:20 left in the third, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-10 from the Giants’ 32. Instead of attempting a 49-yard field goal, Kelly decided to go for it. To be clear, I don’t really have an issue with the decision, but Kelly’s explanation focused on the wind. The only problem? Giants kicker Josh Brown hit a 44-yarder (with room to spare) going in the same direction earlier in the game.
It’s tough to figure out what kind of confidence Kelly has in Henery. Last week, he sent him out for a 60-yarder. But this week, he didn’t think Henery had much of a shot at hitting a 49-yarder. The issue might be as simple as: The Eagles need to upgrade at kicker in the offseason.
2. I feel the need to take full responsibility for the Eagles’ struggles at home. The last time the Eagles won at the Linc, I was in a hospital room at the University of Pennsylvania the night before we welcomed our daughter into the world. Not much was going on with the wife that night (I know, easy for me to say). Medical personnel would come in every so often, but there wasn’t a lot for me to do. The next day was when the chaos really began. So I went ahead and turned on the Eagles-Giants game (actually, if I’m being honest, I just changed the channel. We had the earlier games on too.). According to my wife, at one point a nurse actually asked me turn the volume down.
Since that game, the Eagles have lost 10 in a row at the Linc. The little one now has four teeth, can crawl all over the place and even pulls herself up. She turned 1 earlier this month, yet has never been alive for an Eagles home win.
It’s the Curse of Baby Kapadia. Apologies from the whole family.
3. Kelly did not sugarcoat his answer when asked what the problem was with the Eagles’ offense.
“When you’re not settled at that position in this league, you better have a quarterback,” he said. “And right now we’re unstable at the quarterback spot and we are not playing well at the quarterback spot. And we lost our two games because of it.”
Having a sub-par group of receivers outside of Jackson doesn’t seem to bother Kelly. And his expectations for the defense seem to generally be pretty low. He just needs that side of the ball to be adequate.
But I get the sense that not having a QB he can depend on to run his offense is killing him. And that makes me wonder if the Eagles might do something drastic during the draft to acquire their QB of the future. Depending on how the rest of the season goes and who decides to come out, the Eagles might not be in position to select the guy(s) they want if they stay put. If Kelly identifies someone like Marcus Mariota, it would not surprise me in the least to see the team move aggressively to land him. Maybe even an RGIII-ish type offer, depending on how the next couple months go.
Of course, given the need for QBs around the league, it might not matter what they offer. But Kelly doesn’t strike me as a patient man, especially when his offense is stalling. That could lead to some offseason fireworks for this franchise.
4. It’s a very strange season for the NFC East. The Cowboys and Redskins lost yesterday. No team in the division is above .500. The Cowboys are at 4-4, and the Eagles at 3-5 are in second place, one game back. While some fans are content with the team losing games and improving draft position, those feelings don’t exist in the locker room.
The sense I get from players is that they’re disappointed and frustrated, but not panicked. The truth is, given the state of the other teams in the division, unless the Eagles really tank (which is possible), the playoff window is going to stay cracked open at least slightly late into the year.
5. The defense has allowed 18.3 points per game in the last four. We’ll get a better sense of how far Billy Davis’ crew has come when/if the offense puts up points and opponents feel more of an urgency to score. But defensive players seem to be gaining confidence in the new scheme.
“Overall Billy is calling really good games,” said DeMeco Ryans. “He’s doing a good job, our assistant coaches are doing a good job preparing us throughout the week, and it is all coming together as a defense.”
Percentage Of Snaps
Nothing too noteworthy. Bryce Brown continues to see a diminished role. He ran three times for -1 yards. Zach Ertz played a decent amount (27 snaps), but had just one catch for 5 yards on four targets. James Casey played seven snaps, his second-highest total of the season. He had one 11-yard grab.
All five offensive linemen played 100 percent of the snaps.
Percentage Of Snaps
The Giants did not spread the Eagles out a lot, and as a result, Brandon Boykin was only on the field for 27 snaps.
Isaac Sopoaga played a season-high 47 snaps. Vinny Curry was only on the field for 12.
Seven defensive starters played 100 percent of the snaps: Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin, Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Nate Allen and Earl Wolff.
GUESSING THE LINE: RAIDERS (-4.5)
The guess here is that the Eagles are underdogs as they travel to Oakland. The line could be even bigger if Barkley is named the starter, which seems like a real possibility.
The Raiders are 3-4 and coming off of a 21-18 win over the Steelers. They are 3-1 at home and beat the Chargers by 10 in Oakland a couple weeks ago.