Zone Read: Eagles-Packers, the Day After

ryans_400_111113On their first drive of the game, the Packers set up with a 1st-and-10 from the Eagles’ 31-yard-line.

They were in ’12’ personnel with two tight ends and Eddie Lacy in the backfield. The rookie running back had picked up 21 yards on his first four carries as Green Bay entered field goal range.

DeMeco Ryans lined up at his usual spot at middle linebacker about 4 yards behind nose tackle Damion Square. Seneca Wallace took the snap from under center, turned to his left and handed the ball off. As Lacy looked for a hole, Ryans flowed to his right.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari tried to get to him, but was unsuccessful. Ryans diagnosed the play, got downhill and planted his helmet into Lacy’s mid-section, knocking the 231-pound rookie backwards and onto the ground at Lambeau Field.

Lacy would manage just 54 yards on 19 carries (2.8 YPC) the rest of the day. And Ryans, with a game-high 13 tackles, was a big reason why.

“When you get a challenge like that as a linebacker, that’s the biggest challenge you’re gonna get,” Ryans said afterwards. “Somebody that’s gonna try to pound you and run you over. So as a linebacker, I love that.”

Of Ryans’ 13 tackles, nine came within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage. Eleven were solo and two for loss. He also broke up a pass and came up with a diving interception off a deflection in the second half.

It’s been an eventful couple years for the 29-year-old. Ryans suffered an Achilles’ injury while with the Texans in 2010. He tried to get acclimated to a new scheme in a lockout-shortened offseason, while simultaneously rehabbing. After one year in Wade Phillips’ 3-4, he was traded to the Eagles to play behind the Wide-9.

Ryans was one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise dysfunctional defense in 2012. But another offseason brought more change and a switch back to the 3-4. Ryans has had his share of issues in coverage this season, but with the defensive linemen keeping blockers off of him, Ryans has been punishing opposing running backs on a weekly basis.

“I cannot say enough about DeMeco Ryans and what he means to the defense as a quarterback, as a leader, as a playmaker,” said defensive coordinator Billy Davis. “That interception he made today was a wild play. He’s having a Pro Bowl year, and I hope he continues to have that Pro Bowl year and gets recognized for it. He’s really consistent and he’s our leader.”

Survey players around the Eagles’ locker room, and the word leader comes up constantly when describing Ryans.

“He has a hard job,” said Trent Cole. “He has so much going on because he’s looking at the sideline, plus he’s got guys asking questions. Guys ask him what the play is, and he’s in a situation, it takes a lot of focus. And he’s good at it. He’s good at what he does.”

Added rookie nose tackle Bennie Logan: “Man, DeMeco Ryans brings so much energy, leadership. Just playing with that guy, you just feed off him. He’s a great guy. He knows the defense. He’s always picking everybody up on the sideline, in the huddle, he just brings so much energy to the game and on the field. You just really want to go out and play for those guys and also play for him.”

Four of the starters in the Eagles’ front seven are first- or second-year players. They rely on Ryans to get them in the right spots. That’s one of the reasons he never comes off the field. Going into Sunday’s games, Ryans had played 695 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That was more than any other defensive player in the NFL.

Told that Davis mentioned him as a potential Pro Bowler, Ryans said: “That’s great to hear coming from the d-coordinator. It’s of course the level that I’ve been working to get back to after I came off a big injury in 2010. It’s definitely a level that I’ve been trying to get back to is a Pro Bowl level. And of course that’s where I want to be – known as a top linebacker in this league.”

The defense clearly got a huge break with the Packers playing their third-string quarterback. But the Eagles contained one of the league’s better rushing attacks, limiting the Packers to 99 yards (3.3 YPC) on the ground.

“It’s a good feeling to see everything come together collectively as a defensive group,” Ryans said. “And then overall as a team to see everything just come together here in Lambeau, to get a team win was really big for us.”

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CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN…

1. Why the Eagles didn’t challenge the 36-yard completion to Jarrett Boykin in the first half?

Boykin made the reception near the right sideline against Cary Williams. But replays showed pretty clearly that he only got one foot down before his hand landed out of bounds. That was a third-down play (3rd-and-9), and even though the Packers would have gotten to replay the down because of an offsides penalty, the Eagles had plenty to gain from a challenge.

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is in charge of advising Kelly on when to throw the red flag. He sees the same replays the public sees on TV. And it seemed like Shurmur had plenty of time to tell Kelly to throw the flag. But he didn’t do so.

In the end, it didn’t turn out to be a big deal, but with a head coach constantly seeking out new ways to give his team a competitive advantage, Kelly may want to revisit his process for deciding when to challenge calls.

2. Why anyone ever doubted that Colt Anderson knew what he was doing?

Anderson is Mr. Special Teams. But his actions in the third quarter created some confusion. The Packers punted the ball, and it hit one of their players at the Eagles’ 16 before rolling toward the end zone.

Anderson tried to pick the ball up, but then lost possession. Did Mr. Special Teams just make a massive error?

The answer, of course, was no. Once the punting team touches the ball, the receiving team can basically do whatever it wants (barring committing a penalty) without risk. Once Anderson saw that the ball was touched at the 16, he figured he might as well try to pick it up and advance it. Best-case scenario: He runs it past the 16, and the Eagles get better field position.

Worst-case scenario: The Eagles get the ball at the 16. Even if Anderson ran 30 yards and then fumbled, it wouldn’t have mattered. The Eagles would have still gotten the ball at the 16. That’s why he picked it up.

The officials called it “illegal touching” on Green Bay. That doesn’t mean it’s a penalty. It just means a player from the punting team touched the ball before a player from the receiving team.

Got it? Any questions, contact Dave Fipp.

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THE NO-22

The Packers put together one of their better drives of the day at the end of the first quarter. They drove from their own 4 to the Eagles’ 5 and faced a 3rd-and-3.

But a mistake by third-string QB Scott Tolzien left them with no points to show for their efforts. Tolzien was looking for Jordy Nelson, who was matched up against Brandon Boykin in the slot.

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“Jordy did a 7-route, and I knew that with this new quarterback coming in that the timing would probably be quick,” Boykin said. “Everything would have to be quick.”

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Boykin was in man coverage, and Nelson had some space between him and the sideline. You can see that Patrick Chung, who was blitzing, did a good job of timing his jump and nearly batted the ball at the line of scrimmage.

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The pass had to be towards the sideline where Nelson could go get it.

“As he turned for the 7-route, I turned my head trying to undercut it,” Boykin said. “I was able to get my hands on it.”

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Nice play by Boykin, but the throw was behind Nelson. You can see here he’s turning back for it. Ideally (from a Packers perspective), he’d catch it in stride going towards the sideline, and Boykin would have no shot.

As it turned out, Boykin made the pick and returned it 76 yards before being forced out of bounds.

“I’m a little bit disappointed I wasn’t able to score, but big stop in the red zone, so it was good,” he said.

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THE NUMBER THAT MATTERS

4 – The number of sacks Vinny Curry has on the season. Granted, it’s not a huge number, but it leads the team.

The kicker, though, is this: Curry had only played 19 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps going into yesterday’s game. I understand why he hasn’t played more. The Eagles want to be a team that consistently stops the run, and that starts with defensive linemen two-gapping up front.

But this defense also lacks a prolific pass-rush. Given that we’re 10 games in and the personnel isn’t going to change, Curry needs to see the field more. If he looks like a major liability against the run, fine. Remove him at that point. But give him more opportunities to get after the quarterback. The benefits could very well be worth it.

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GAME BALL OFFENSE: LESEAN MCCOY

I thought about giving it to Riley Cooper, but he got some nice B247 ink on Sunday.

McCoy piled up 155 yards on 25 carries (6.2 YPC). In the previous five games, he had 309 yards on 90 carries (3.4 YPC).

“Today, I think the offensive line actually controlled the line of scrimmage,” McCoy said. “…I think it’s one thing for a back to be confident to run the ball. But it’s another when the guys up front want to run the ball even more than you do. So it says a lot about them up front, the way they played today.

“I think today I had more lanes and a lot more one-on-one opportunities. I was to the second level so fast today, and I was just hitting it.”

McCoy was particularly impressive in the second half, carrying 16 times for 114 yards (7.1 YPC). With six games to go, he leads the league in yards (932) and carries (193).

GAME BALL DEFENSE: DEMECO RYANS

I know we already recognized him up top, but Ryans deserves it. He led the team with 13 tackles (11 solo) and also came up with an interception. Plus, the sense I get is this team would be a mess in terms of pre-snap alignment without Ryans’ guidance.

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THAT’S WHAT HE SAID

“I know a bunch of times, I felt like I was tackling my own guy just because there were so many people around there.” – CONNOR BARWIN

The stat community often makes a big deal about missed tackles, and certainly those numbers have value. But against a back like Lacy, the first guy to the ball is not always going to be able to bring him down. He’s a powerful runner who takes on defenders with a violent style.

That’s really what was most impressive about the defense’s effort against the run. Davis’ guys swarmed to the ball and made sure that even if one guy missed, there would be someone else to clean up. In fact, that’s something they’ve been doing well pretty much all season long.

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FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS

1. With 9:32 left in the game, the offense took over at its own 8-yard-line. The Eagles ran the ball on 11 of 12 plays and were able to chew the clock down to zeroes, finishing with three kneel-downs.

“You would think a long drive like that you’d get tired, and you don’t because you’re used to going so fast that when you slow down, it’s like a huddle,” McCoy said. “And we haven’t huddled since probably last year. So to get a chance to really huddle up and run the ball and call the plays is a totally different feeling.”

Added Jason Kelce: “We didn’t really do much different. Like I’ve said in the past few weeks, I feel like the line and the running backs have kind of been on a different page, and it almost feels like at times, they’re not where we think they’re gonna be or we think they’re gonna go one way and it just doesn’t happen. Or we just flat-out don’t block well. They did a lot of similar things that the New York Giants were doing – really trying to run the ‘backers down, create a wall right there and make Shady bounce it outside. And we did a good job of getting movement.

Chip [Kelly] did a really good job of when he saw they were running downhill, instead of continually trying to bash our heads against that all the time, that we could get to some outside stuff and then they’re out of position to scrape over the top.”

2. This was my first trip to Lambeau Field. As you’ve probably heard, there are residential streets surrounding the stadium, and people try to make a dollar or two offering up their properties for parking.

The pricing structure is fascinating. We saw some homes asking for $10 or $15. But others upped the ante. They asked for $20 or $25. The reason? That price included use of the bathroom.

I know we’re in tough economic times, but is the mark-up really worth it? Do you really want strangers to step inside your home and use your bathroom for an extra $5 or $10? I say no. More importantly, I’m 100 percent sure my wife would say no.

3. The Eagles shook up their secondary a bit on Sunday. Bradley Fletcher was sidelined with a pectoral injury. But instead of going with Boykin on the outside, Davis decided to give the start to Roc Carmichael.

“It came down to not knowing what personnel groupings,” Davis said. “And again, I need Brandon to be a great nickel for us. I had to put him on Jordy Nelson. So in order for him to step up and play a great game, I felt like putting him at nickel was the way to start. …So Roc was doing a nice job out there, Boykin was doing a nice job inside. Kind of had a roll going. So we kept with it.”

It seems pretty clear that Davis doesn’t like the idea of moving Boykin back-and-forth between the inside and the outside.

The Eagles also showcased their dime package for the first time all season, playing with one inside linebacker and six defensive backs (three safeties).

“I think I should have been in this package a little bit earlier [in the season] to give DeMeco and Mychal [Kendricks] a little bit of a break because we are playing a lot of snaps every game,” Davis said. “And that’s one way to help the inside backers get a blow because they’re the only group that really hadn’t. So we dropped in a little bit more of the dime package.”

When the Eagles have opponents in obvious third-and-long passing situations, going dime makes sense. It’s not like they have an embarrassment of riches in the secondary, but a third safety might be a better fit than either Ryans or Kendricks.

lombardi_4004. If you recall the stories about how Kelly met with Bill Belichick in the past, one of the themes was one-word play-calls. It’s a way of simplifying things so that the offense can move fast.

Kelly often talks about how everything he does is stolen from coaches who came before him. Would you believe that the one-word play-calls go back to Vince Lombardi?

The image to the right can be found in the Packers Hall of Fame, which is a spectacular museum at Lambeau Field. If you’re a football nerd, this should be on your bucket list. Lombardi’s calls were pretty simple. Sweep to the right was 49. Sweep to the left was 28. It’s easy to go quickly with calls like that.

5. All season, I’ve maintained that Eagles fans want to have meaningful games in December. And it looks like that’s going to happen. The Cowboys got smoked by the Saints Sunday night and are now in a first-place tie with the Birds at 5-5.

The Giants and Redskins are 3-6, respectively. The Eagles play Washington at the Linc Sunday afternoon before the Week 12 bye.

The Cowboys have a bye and then take on the Giants at MetLife Stadium in Week 12. It’s true that no one gives out trophies in November, but it’s at least worth mentioning that the Eagles have a chance to be in sole possession of first place in the NFC East at around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Extra point: You’ll notice I didn’t write a lot about Nick Foles in this space. That’s because I need to re-watch to get a better feel for how he played. My initial impression was that he was dealt some good fortune and also took advantage of some opportunities. Rather than offer up a concrete opinion that I’m going to change in 24 hours, I’m going to hold off. McManus took a look at No. 9 after the game.

Editor’s note: The snap counts have not yet been released. They will be posted later in this space or a separate post.

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GUESSING THE LINE: EAGLES (-3.5)

OK, I’ll be honest. I already mistakenly saw the line for this week’s game on Twitter (yeah, I’m looking at you Kempksi! Thanks for ruining it!).

The guess is that you might hear about that whole home losing streak once or twice in the coming days.

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