Zone Read: Eagles-Raiders, the Day After

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Oakland RaidersWhen addressing the media after his team just dropped 49 points against the Oakland Raiders, Chip Kelly wanted to make one thing clear: The offensive explosion was not the result of some magical play-calling elixir he had concocted in the wee hours of the morning at the NovaCare Complex.

Rather, it was something a lot more simple.

“We called a lot of plays that we’ve called the last two weeks,” Kelly said. “We just executed ’em. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

The masses are searching for answers on the day after the Eagles earned their fourth victory of the season.

How can an offense that scored three points in two weeks all-of-a-sudden look unstoppable?

How can a quarterback who was a complete disaster two weeks ago come back and play the best game of his life?

Kelly’s answers to such questions might not satisfy everyone, but they are honest. Against Dallas, the three-point output had nothing to do with his play-calling or the offensive line or the wide receivers’ inability to get open against man coverage. Nick Foles had opportunities to make plays all day long. Sometimes, he failed to see the field and recognize the best option. And when he did identify open receivers, he was off-target with his throws.

The solution for coach and quarterback was not to enact wholesale changes, but instead to fix the mistakes, get back on the practice field and work towards better results.

“Everything that we called today we’ve had in before,” Kelly said. “We didn’t add anything.”

And what about Foles? What about the tempo that had been missing in previous weeks?

“He put the ball on people,” Kelly said. “I thought he was really, really good early on third down. We converted a lot on third-and-longs with some big plays to keep some drives going. And then the thing we talk about is trying to get that first first down, and then we get rolling. You gotta stay away from the threes-and-outs, and we did that. And once you get that first first down, then we can go.”

Added Foles: “I slowed everything down. I understood what we were trying to do. I wasn’t trying to make too big of plays.

“I missed a couple that I’ll watch and I’ll work on it and get that better. But just being accurate, really following through on throws. That’s the big thing. Accuracy was key. The Cowboys game, I was not very accurate and I did not play well.”

Against Oakland, Foles did not miss often. He threw more touchdowns (7) than incompletions (6). He did not turn the ball over. And he led the offense to the end zone on seven of the Eagles’ first nine possessions. The final numbers: 22-for-28 for 406 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

Foles said he wasn’t aware that he had tied the TD record until after Kelly took him out of the game in the fourth quarter. And he added that there was no “I’m in the zone” moment early on.

“There’s been so many times when I’ve gone right down and scored a touchdown, and we won’t score a touchdown [after that] for a little while and then you’ve just gotta keep going,” Foles said. “It’s one of those things you really never know. What happens when you do well is they’re gonna adjust, so you’ve just gotta keep firing and be smart with it.”

The coach-quarterback duo knows how the conversation changes in the NFL on a weekly basis. You can go from being labeled the league’s biggest disappointment one week to an offensive juggernaut the next. There will be no lengthy philosophical search for answers about what exactly has happened the past couple of weeks. In Kelly’s mind, it’s all pretty simple.

“We weren’t very good on offense,” he said. “Coaches weren’t good on offense. Players weren’t good on offense for the last two weeks. And today, we were good. But we can’t pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘Hey we were good last week so it’s gonna be a piece of cake this week.’ We gotta do the same exact thing preparing against a really good Green Bay team.”

***

CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN…

1. What Damaris Johnson’s role is on this team going forward?

Johnson was active Sunday, but didn’t return punts or kicks because of an ankle injury.

DeSean Jackson took his place on punts and had a nice 32-yard return (although he was whistled for a facemask penalty). That’s longer than any punt return Johnson’s had this year.

Brandon Boykin handled kickoffs. He had a 41-yard return that could have gone the distance had he not tripped. Johnson’s longest kickoff return this season has been 33 yards.

Johnson has two catches on the season and has not made the most of his opportunities as a returner. I understand not wanting Jackson to get injured, but it sure seems like switching things up on returns for the second half of the season could help this team win the field position battle more often.

2. Why FOX went with Pearl Jam’s ‘Better Man’ as it got ready to open the second half?

The song was played as they showed first-half highlights before the third quarter. What an awkward viewing experience to hear “She lies and says she’s in love with him…” as Jeff Maehl makes a 20-yard grab over the middle.

While we’re at it, Curt Menefee’s disclaimer before FOX showed a ‘Sleepy Hollow’ sneak peek killed me. “Parents, heads-up, this clip may be a bit spooky for some young viewers.”

In other words, “All you 9-year-olds who are watching football with Mom and Dad, cover your eyes or you WILL have nightmares tonight!”

One last thing: Please, please, please stop showing viewers’ Tweets on the screen during sporting events. I understand you want to find some way to incorporate social media, but try something else. @EaglesNation99 Tweeting “Ohhhh yeah! What a throw! #Foles4Life smh” doesn’t really do much to add to the broadcast. Pretty sure I speak for everyone here.

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THE NO-22

The Eagles didn’t need LeSean McCoy to do a lot on the ground, but he chipped in with a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

The play was the result of a complete blown coverage by the Raiders. Pre-snap, you can see Oakland is in man-free. That’s man coverage across the board with one deep safety who is out of the picture.

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McCoy is going to motion out wide to the right. The problem? No defender picks him up. Instead, Oakland blitzes with a six-man rush. They’re one-on-one against four Eagles receivers with a deep safety, but nobody accounts for the fifth receiver – McCoy.

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Foles knows he’s going to have an unblocked defender so he has to get rid of the ball quick. He makes a good throw that allows McCoy to make the catch in stride and run down the sideline.

By the way, Raiders safety Brandian Ross might hear about this one in the film room. He has a chance to knock McCoy out of bounds at around the 4-yard-line, but just swipes at him and lets him scamper into the end zone.

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McCoy faked like he was going to jump into the crowd before just dancing in the end zone. One Raiders fan didn’t appreciate the gesture.

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I am never an advocate of flipping the bird, but even I can see that this is bad form. Gotta get that pinky down, big fella.

***

THE NUMBER THAT MATTERS

14.5 – Foles’ yards-per-attempt against the Raiders. According to Pro Football Reference, in the last 10 years, among quarterbacks who attempted at least 25 passes in a game, only two have had a higher number.

In 2009, Philip Rivers averaged 14.92 YPA in a 373-yard performance against the Cleveland Browns.

And you might have guessed the other one: Donovan McNabb averaged 14.65 YPA in the Eagles’ 56-21 win over the Lions back in 2007. McNabb completed 21 of 26 passes for four touchdowns and no INTs in that game.

Raiders defenders had trouble staying on their feet, and Foles showed no hesitation in launching the ball downfield. The Eagles have 44 pass plays of 20+ yards on the season. That’s tops in the NFL.

***

GAME BALL OFFENSE: NICK FOLES

As much as I would like to go against the obvious choice and pick someone else, I just can’t do it.

This is the third edition of the Zone Read. During the first two weeks, I enacted a rule that when the offense fails to score in double digits, nobody gets a game ball. This week, I’m enacting a different rule: When you tie the all-time record for touchdown passes in a game, you automatically win the award.

GAME BALL DEFENSE: TRENT COLE

The Eagles’ veteran got his first sack of the season and did a good job of pressuring Terrelle Pryor throughout the first half. Cole finished with five tackles (four solo, one for loss), a sack and a QB hit.

It’s been a tough season for No. 58. He’s tried his best to adapt to the new scheme, played with great effort and never complained publicly. But he entered the game with no sacks and five hurries in eight games. I’m sure his teammates and coaches were happy to see him have success as a pass-rusher vs. Oakland.

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THAT’S WHAT HE SAID

“Only in a video game.” – NICK FOLES

That was the QB’s response when asked if he had ever thrown seven touchdowns at any level before Sunday.

Kelly said he was aware that Foles had tied the all-time record, but decided that the QB’s health was more important than getting No. 8. Foles said he wasn’t aware of the record until after he was pulled out of the game.

“I had no clue how many touchdowns I had thrown or anything,” he said. “Every time I got the ball, just trying to execute that play, seeing what they were doing. In the NFL, no matter how many points are on the board, the other team is very, very talented and they can always come back. So once that buzzer goes off, that’s when I knew we had a great game.”

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FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS

1. I think I probably made a mistake getting this far without acknowledging the Eagles’ offensive line. The stat sheet shows Foles was sacked twice, but neither had anything to do with the protection. The first sack came on a packaged play. Either Foles failed to pull the trigger on a quick hitch to Cooper or Cooper was supposed to be setting up for a screen. Either way, Foles held the ball, tried to scramble and was sacked behind the line of scrimmage. The O-Linemen block run all the way on those plays. They’re not in pass protection mode. The second sack came on a botched handoff between Foles and McCoy. Again, it had nothing to do with protection.

The offensive line has had ups and downs through nine games, but held up well against a Raiders team that had gotten 21 sacks from 14 different players. Jason Peters suffered a pec injury, but it is not believed to be serious. None of the Eagles’ five offensive linemen has missed a start. If this unit can come together and find consistency in the second half of the season, it’ll be huge for the passing game and the offense as a whole.

2. McCoy should be a happy man this morning. I know he only had 44 yards on 12 carries, but opponents may tweak how they defend the Eagles’ offense going forward. For weeks, it’s been the same thing: Defend the run, bottle up McCoy and make the quarterback move the ball through the air. Teams might still opt to go that route, but at least they’ll have to think twice after what Foles put on tape against Oakland. That could present more opportunities for McCoy.

3. I think we’re going to find out how far this defense has come Sunday afternoon against the Packers. There’s no doubt that Billy Davis’ unit has shown great improvement. The Eagles have allowed 18.6 points per game in their last five. No team since the Broncos (Week 4) has scored more than 21 points against the Birds.

Against Oakland, the Eagles weren’t perfect, but with one minute left in the fourth quarter and the game in hand, they had allowed the Raiders to get into the end zone just once. The opponents during this stretch – the Giants twice, the Bucs, the Cowboys and the Raiders – have not been great. But you can only play who’s on the schedule. Next week, the Eagles face a potent, balanced offense when they square off against Aaron Rodgers and company. No one’s expecting a shutout. There’s still a talent deficit on that side of the ball. But will the Eagles’ performance resemble more of what we saw against Denver earlier in the season, or more of what we’ve seen in the past five weeks?

4. There’s a bad habit that many analysts fall into that I can’t stand. I call it: arguing against no one.

Here’s how it works: You make a really passionate defense on one side of an argument and act like there are people who actually believe the other side. For example, you may hear something like this: “Please tell me again, when’s the last time a running quarterback who couldn’t pass won the Super Bowl?!”

The problem? NO ONE is arguing that passing is unimportant at the quarterback position. When guys like Colin Kaepernick have had success, it’s been because they can pass and run.

This is a tough concept for some to grasp. Sorry, just had to get that off my chest.

5. This camera shot in the fourth quarter with the Eagles up 49-13 cracked me up.

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What could the Eagles’ QBs possibly have been talking about here? What’s really on those sheets that QBs coach Bill Lazor is showing Foles and company?

“See, if you get the meal, you get fries and a drink. Otherwise, it’s just the burger.”

***

SNAP COUNTS

The offense:

 
Total Snaps
Percentage Of Snaps
QUARTERBACKS
Nick Foles5186%
Matt Barkley814%
RUNNING BACKS
LeSean McCoy4576%
Bryce Brown1424%
WIDE RECEIVERS
DeSean Jackson4373%
Riley Cooper3661%
Jason Avant2949%
Jeff Maehl2136%
Damaris Johnson1525%
TIGHT ENDS
Brent Celek3966%
Zach Ertz3559%
James Casey1627%

The Eagles used a lot of ’12’ personnel with Zach Ertz playing 59 percent of the snaps and James Casey playing 27 percent. Kelly explained post-game that the Eagles thought they could get a matchup advantage there against the Raiders’ dime personnel (six defensive backs).

Bryce Brown only played 14 snaps, but he touched the ball on eight of them and looked better than he has all year. Brown had seven carries for 54 yards and one grab for 6 yards.

Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson played every snap. Peters left with a pec injury and was replaced by Allen Barbre for 17 snaps. Julian Vandervelde filled in for Jason Kelce on eight plays down the stretch.

The defense:

 
Total Snaps
Percentage Of Snaps
DEFENSIVE LINE
Fletcher Cox5558%
Bennie Logan3941%
Cedric Thornton3840%
Clifton Geathers3436%
Vinny Curry3436%
Damion Square3133%
OUTSIDE LBs
Connor Barwin7983%
Trent Cole6771%
Brandon Graham2829%
Casey Matthews1617%
INSIDE LBs
DeMeco Ryans7579%
Mychal Kendricks7276%
Emmanuel Acho2324%
Najee Goode2021%
CORNERBACKS
Cary Williams7579%
Bradley Fletcher7579%
Brandon Boykin5457%
Roc Carmichael2021%
SAFETIES
Nate Allen6164%
Earl Wolff6063%
Patrick Chung5154%
Kurt Coleman2021%
Colt Anderson1819%

Bennie Logan got the start at nose tackle for Isaac Sopoaga, who was traded to the Patriots. Vinny Curry was active throughout and played a season-high 34 snaps.

At linebacker, it’s worth noting that Emmanuel Acho was called on after Mychal Kendricks suffered an injury.

Patrick Chung returned to the lineup for the first time in three weeks and played 54 percent of the snaps, rotating in with Earl Wolff and Nate Allen.

The Eagles were able to get their backups in the game down the stretch.

***

GUESSING THE LINE: PACKERS (-8.5)

Green Bay is an 11-point favorite tonight at home going up against a Bears team that doesn’t have Jay Cutler.

The guess here is that the Eagles get a little more respect than that, considering they’re coming off a 49-20 victory. I’ll make the Packers 8.5-point favorites for Sunday’s tilt at Lambeau.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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