It’s Wednesday morning at the NovaCare Complex, and Jeff Stoutland is fired up.
Practice has just started, and the pads are on. Eagles players line up row-by-row in one end zone. When the whistle sounds, the first group gets started with their warm-up routine.
First it’s knees up to their chests, followed by a light jog to the other end of the field. Then they slide like basketball players working on their defensive stances. On and on, just as they’ve done during the start of every practice since the spring.
“Pick it up today!” Stoutland shouts, watching his players’ every move as if they’re competing in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
The 51-year-old chews his gum with authority. He claps and spits and then claps some more. Behind his dark glasses are eyes that have seen a lot since he first started coaching 29 years ago.
“When we practice in full pads like today, he’s wired up and you can’t really calm him down,” said rookie Lane Johnson. “So he’s in your face, but he’s very passionate about his guys. And I know he’s a coach that really cares about his players. So that’s what’s really special about him.”
Added center Jason Kelce: “He’s been around coaching a long time, and he’s got a lot of tools and techniques that he allows us to use.”
Stoutland believes – no, demands – energy and intensity. He’s in charge of an offensive line that pass-protected better than it has all season in last week’s win over the Raiders. During his seven-TD performance, Nick Foles was sacked twice, and both came on botched plays. All afternoon, he was given time to move around in the pocket, find receivers downfield and deliver the football on time.
“A lot of those plays, no man is an island,” Stoutland said. “You must draw your strength from others. If we don’t protect, we don’t make those plays. Those plays don’t happen because he’s gotta run and scramble and this and that. He had the time, he had his eyes. Nick had the comfort level of being able to go through his progressions and then make the plays. That’s what we’re trying to do as an offense.”
The run game was prolific early in the season, but has since come back down to earth. There’s a sense among Stoutland and the offensive linemen, though, that this unit is putting it all together. The same five guys have started all nine games together. There have been bumps in the road, but the players now have a sense of what it feels like to have everything clicking, when the tempo and execution create confusion for opposing defenses.
“I think that this last game really showed everybody – offense, defense, special teams – how if we just execute… I use an expression with the players: execution fuels emotion,” Stoutland said. “And sometimes that’s all you need. You just execute the play… It’s not easy to execute a play… plays are hard to execute on offense, believe me. And when everybody’s getting positive grades on each play, you’re gonna have a good play, a play’s gonna work. And so I think we did a lot of that stuff in this last game and the goal is to continue to do that.”
Below is an update on where things stand with all five Eagles starting offensive linemen.
Lane Johnson – He’s the key to how good the line can be in the final seven games. By all accounts, Johnson had his best game of the season vs. Oakland. The rookie has been solid in the run game all season long, but he’s been inconsistent in pass protection. He’s been working on changing his technique to help that aspect.
“I think with my pass sets, I went and attacked ‘em, didn’t really give ‘em room to get going,” Johnson said. “I was aggressive, I used my hands probably the best I have.
“I watch Jason [Peters] do it and it makes it a lot easier on you. When you set vertical, it gives them a lot of room to run, pick up speed. And when you jump in their face and throw off their rhythm, it makes it challenging for them to get a good pass-rush going.”
The key, Johnson said, is mixing it up so that opposing pass-rushers don’t know what to expect.
“You can’t be over-committed to one. As soon as you jump ‘em or over-set sometimes, they’ll beat you. So if you jump ‘em and you get beat, it’s tough to recover from.”
Added Stoutland: “I think Lane’s doing fabulous right now. He graded out really high [vs. Oakland]. He did a lot of good things. He’s getting confidence. And that’s what you have to have if you’re gonna play on the edge and block these guys that you have to block, is you have to have confidence.
“He’s a very good learner. If I ask him something an hour after I’ve taught it to him, he knows the answer. He doesn’t sit there and go into a daze. If you hold people for so long in a certain meeting, their attention span, they start… Lane’s good with that. He can tell you right back what we’re looking at, what the gameplan is, what his opponent’s trying to do to him. He knows all those things.”
Evan Mathis – The veteran left guard is playing at a high level and has been the Eagles’ most consistent lineman all season.
“He’s really strong,” Stoutland said. “And when you’re playing against people that we’re playing against, such as this week, those big, giant inside players, there’s no mismatch there because he’s so strong and he’s valuable because of that.
“When he gets on you, it’s hard to get off of him. That’s a great quality because a lot of people won’t be able to anchor, they’ll get knocked back, but he does a great job of that. He’s open to some new ideas and concepts, and we’re working on some different things with him too. Because when people know a player’s like that, they try to do other things to counter that. And he’s aware of that so we’re working on some new techniques for him too.”
Jason Kelce – Kelce has had a solid year, minus a couple hiccups against the Giants. In the first game in particular against New York, he had one of his toughest days as a pro. But Stoutland was impressed with the way Kelce bounced back.
“Kelce’s an incredible competitor,” Stoutland said. “And he always wants to get better. If something happens where he’s not able to have success, he’s gonna fight and he wants answers to be able to get it done the next time. And that’s what I love about him. He’s always looking for new ideas, new ways to do things. He thinks things out very well. He’s almost like a coach on the field.”
Todd Herremans – The veteran has struggled in pass protection, but his run-blocking has been very good.
“He’s cleaned a lot of his game up,” Stoutland said. “The best thing about Todd is he’s played so much football. If something happens, he knows right away what it is. He knows what it is. He already knows. So when I say something, he looks at me and goes, ‘I know coach. I’ll get it fixed.'”
Jason Peters – Chip Kelly said earlier this week that Peters has been the Eagles’ best run-blocker all season. He completely controlled defensive end Lamarr Houston last week and has held up well in pass protection, aside from an early struggle against Tamba Hali and the Chiefs. One thing Stoutland stressed is how Peters works with the team’s younger offensive linemen.
“He shares his knowledge,” Stoutland said. “He’s played a lot of football. And he’s got a lot of tools in his box. And he’s willing to share them. He spends a lot of time with Lane. But Matt Tobin is a guy he’s really taken a liking to and really has helped him immensely in his technique.”
Tobin, an undrafted free agent, backed Stoutland up and provided an example: “Right when I got here, my feet were really close together. And he [Peters] told me, ‘You have to have a base. Otherwise they’re gonna throw you every time.’ And it took like two weeks for my body to just start doing it the right way, but that was one of the main things – run blocking I would always get thrown and then he’d say, ‘You always have to have a base.’ So I worked on that and it’s helped.”
There are a lot of moving parts and players who are at different points in their careers. But Stoutland sees the arrow pointing up for the final seven games.
“I think the sky’s the limit,” he said. “I really do.”
1. Brent Celek’s numbers (17 catches, 241 yards) will not wow anyone, but there’s a reason Kelly has constantly tabbed the veteran tight end as one of the Eagles’ more under-appreciated players: his blocking. Celek credits the coaching staff for working with him on his technique.
“Blocking is something, it takes a lot of effort,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to finish. When you’re going up against guys that are just as big, if not bigger, than you, you’ve gotta use technique. And that’s something that my coaches have done a good job with me is really honing my technique and making sure that it’s right. Being on the same page with the offensive line. And then like I said, finishing. That’s what changes a good blocker, in my opinion, into a great blocker, is how they finish.”
The Eagles have two tight end coaches: Ted Williams and assistant Justin Peelle.
“To have a lot of people to bounce ideas off of how to do certain things and then me having the confidence in myself in doing it, I feel like I’m one of the best,” Celek said.
2. You’ll often hear coaches talk about how well their teams have practiced. For the Eagles, though, there are actual measurements attached to that statement. Players wear devices that track their movements and activity when they’re on the field. Leading up to the Raiders game, it was clear they had stepped things up a notch.
“I think everybody – on offense, on defense, on special teams – understood two games down, 3-5, this is… the whole work week was an intense work week,” Kelce said. “They monitor how we move and everything. They said that was the best practice we’ve ever had since the season started. The work week and preparation, everything we did leading up to it and then everybody understanding that this is almost a must-win game, guys were definitely flying around. If we can keep playing like that, we’re gonna be tough to beat.”
3. Kelly was asked once again this week about packaged plays where the QB has to read the defense and decide what to do with the football. Once again, he did not want to be labeled an innovator or a revolutionary.
“I think it works at every level,” Kelly said. “Just all you’re doing is, again, we’re not doing anything new. Everybody else, the Detroit Lions, if there is an extra guy in the box, Matt Stafford is going to throw the smoke out to number one. Eli Manning did it twice to us on blitzes to try to run the power play. We were throwing out to the right side, and he throws the ball to the receiver out there.
“So it’s not anything new. It’s just you’re trying to make a bad play not be as bad. Can we get something out of it? You’re obviously not going to throw a touchdown or a home run, but you’re going to put yourself in an advantageous situation where you can gain positive yards. It’s something that’s gone on in this league for a long time. So it’s not us having quick throws out of things that we’re doing isn’t a new concept. …Aaron Rodgers is as good as it is. Brett Favre used to do it all the time. If there’s a ball here, and he throws the ball over there, there are only two guys on the same page, the quarterback and receiver. But it’s usually built into the call, so it’s going on for a long time.”
4. According to Football Outsiders, the Cowboys have an 80.2 percent chance to win the division. The Eagles are second at 14.6 percent. Overall, they give the Eagles an 18 percent chance to make the postseason. Per Bovada, the Cowboys are 25 to 1 to win the Super Bowl. The Eagles are 66 to 1. That number jumped up from 100 to 1 before the Oakland game. As for this week, the Eagles are 1-point underdogs, but 61 percent of the action is on them to cover, per Sports Insights.
5. The Eagles need to add a prolific pass-rusher in the offseason. Until then, Billy Davis has to scheme up ways to generate pressure without giving up too much on the back end.
Take a look at this setup from last week’s game.
That’s Vinny Curry lined up over the center. Poor guy. First, they won’t put him on the field. Then when they do play him, they make him line up as the only down lineman.
Fletcher Cox, meanwhile, stands up next to Trent Cole.
Cox gets a running start and beats the right guard cleanly.
And Pryor is flushed out of the pocket. He ran around before eventually picking up 3 yards.
The Eagles only rushed four on this play, but Davis found a way to put heat on the QB.
THE BIG PICTURE
The Nick Foles Show lit up the scoreboard in Oakland last week, dropping 49 points on the Raiders for the Eagles’ fourth victory of the season. As of Sunday night at about 8:30 p.m., it looked extremely likely that the Birds would head into Week 11 with a 4-6 record. But with Aaron Rodgers sidelined, the Eagles have an opportunity to steal a win at Lambeau and improve to 5-5 before returning home to face the Redskins. The Cowboys (5-4) have a date with the Saints, meaning the Eagles have a legitimate chance to land in a first-place tie this week.
The Packers are in a three-way tie with the Bears and Lions at 5-3 in the NFC North. Rodgers (collarbone) is week-to-week, and Seneca Wallace is scheduled to start Sunday. The big thing Green Bay has going for it is its running game. Eddie Lacy and James Starks ran all over the Bears, piling up 190 yards on 28 carries (6.8 YPC) last week. Defensively, the Packers expect to get four-time Pro Bowler Clay Matthews (broken hand) back.
Here is how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Packers’ defense:
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
|Eagles Offense||6.2 (3rd)||25.0 (13th)||14.8% (6th)|
|Packers Defense||5.5 (9th)||23.1 (14th)||7.1% (26th)|
And the Eagles’ defense against the Packers’ offense:
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
|Packers Offense||6.4 (2nd)||29.0 (3rd)||23.5% (2nd)|
|Eagles Defense||5.6 (21st)||25.7 (21st)||13.4% (30th)|
EAGLES RUSHING OFFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Eagles Rushing Offense||5.0 (2nd)||19.7% (1st)|
|Packers Rushing Defense||4.0 (11th)||-10.8% (11th)|
LeSean McCoy is averaging 86.3 yards per game (third in the league), but in the last five games he’s managed just 3.4 yards per carry. Bryce Brown got going last week for the first time all season with 54 yards on seven carries. Overall, the ground game looked better vs. Oakland than it had the previous two weeks.
The Packers feature big bodies in their 3-4 front and have been good against the run. The Eagles’ offensive linemen will have to deal with B.J. Raji (6-2, 337), Ryan Pickett (6-2, 340) and Johnny Jolly (6-3, 325). Inside linebacker A.J. Hawk is the team’s leading tackler.
EAGLES PASSING OFFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Nick Foles||62.7% (13th)||8.71 (3rd)||*44 (1st)||*20.4% (10th)|
|Packers Passing Defense||60.0% (12th)||7.5 (19th)||26 (10th)||20.3% (26th)|
* Statistic is team-based, not just Foles.
Foles has thrown 13 touchdowns and no interceptions on the season. He’s been really good in 2.5 games (Giants, Bucs, Raiders) and had a clunker in one (Dallas). According to Pro Football Focus, 16.1 percent of Foles’ attempts have gone 20+ yards downfield. That’s the third-highest percentage in the league. On those throws, Foles is 10-for-19 (52.6 percent). That’s fourth-highest.
DeSean Jackson is having a career year and is on pace for 89 catches and 1,463 yards. He has 15 grabs of 20+ yards, tied for most in the league. Jackson has been targeted 81 times, 29 times more than any other Eagles receiver.
The Eagles went with more 12 personnel (1-RB, 2-TE) last week. That could continue. The Packers are 27th in the league at covering opposing tight ends, per Football Outsiders.
As noted in the lead, the Eagles pass-protected better than they have all season against Oakland. The Packers are 12th in the NFL with 24 sacks and fifth in adjusted sack rate (takes into account opportunities and other factors).
If Matthews plays, he’ll have a club on his hand. Outside linebacker Nick Perry (broken foot) could also return. Both outside linebackers have three sacks apiece. The Packers’ leader in that category is Mike Daniels. The second-year defensive lineman has four.
In the secondary, Green Bay starts Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. The Packers play a lot of nickel with second-year corner Casey Hayward. The Packers’ safeties are Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings. Green Bay has three interceptions on the season, tied for last in the NFL.
EAGLES RUSHING DEFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Packers Rushing Offense||5.0 (2nd)||15.7% (2nd)|
|Eagles Rushing Defense||4.1 (16th)||-0.4% (24th)|
The Eagles’ run defense has been better than the numbers indicate. Cedric Thornton and Cox have played well. Bennie Logan did a good job in his first start at nose tackle last week.
DeMeco Ryans leads the team with 109 tackles (per coaches stats). Mychal Kendricks is second with 86.
The Eagles will have their hands full with Lacy, who is averaging 85.1 yards per game (fourth). He’s a workhorse back, averaging 19.1 attempts per game (third-most). The defense has done a good job of swarming to the football. Even when a player misses a tackle, there’s usually someone else to clean up. That will be huge against Green Bay.
Starks only has 47 carries on the season, but is averaging 6.0 yards per carry and has four runs of 20+ yards.
This will be the toughest ground game the Eagles have faced all season.
EAGLES PASSING DEFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Seneca Wallace||57.9% (27th)||6.0 (31st)||*30 (T-9th)||*35.2% (5th)|
|Eagles Passing Defense||61.7% (19th)||7.2 (16th)||33 (5th)||22.5% (28th)|
* Statistic is team-based, not just Wallace.
The Eagles have not been able to generate a consistent pass-rush and instead have relied on blitzing and scheme to get to the quarterback. Last week, they benefited from facing Terrelle Pryor, who missed open receivers and left the pocket at the first sign of pressure.
The Eagles get a break this week against Wallace, who went 11-for-19 for 114 yards and an interception against Chicago. He averaged just 6.0 yards per attempt and did not throw a single pass that traveled 20+ yards from the line of scrimmage, per PFF.
Green Bay’s offensive line has allowed 22 sacks and is third in adjusted sack rate. Rookie David Bakhtiari starts at left tackle. Marshall Newhouse struggled last week, but is expected to start at right tackle because T.J. Lang suffered a concussion. Left guard Josh Sitton has been good in the run game.
Jordy Nelson has 43 catches for 716 yards and will be a handful for the Eagles’ secondary. He has 12 catches of 20+ yards, tied for third-most in the league. James Jones (32/366) returned in a limited capacity from a knee injury last week. The Packers are without Randall Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finley.
Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher have performed better than expected. Fletcher has a pectoral injury. If he can’t go, Brandon Boykin will start on the outside. Nate Allen has to be the team’s most improved player from Week 1 to Week 9. Earl Wolff had some good moments as a blitzer vs. Oakland, batting one ball down and forcing an intentional grounding. Patrick Chung is expected to rotate in once again as well.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. EST on FOX. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will have the call, with Pam Oliver roaming the sidelines.