The offense had managed just three points in two weeks. Outsiders were taking jabs at Johnny College Coach left and right. And the quarterback situation appeared to be a complete mess.
But Kelly wasn’t about to make any drastic changes. The focus would be on better execution, not the scheme.
“I think we stuck to what we like to do,” said wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
“One thing I can say about Chip is he’s not really into switching up too many things. He feels very confident and comfortable with the system and what we’re able to do out there. At times, teams do a good job of challenging us, but just sticking with it and getting the same opportunities and just knowing maybe one time they might guard us or they might be on our play, but as long as we’re able to keep grinding on it and stick with what we know to do, eventually it’s gonna open up.”
And it did. The Eagles put up 76 points in their next two games. They now find themselves in a first-place tie with the Cowboys, and the offense appears to be on a roll.
“We all have faith in Chip and this offense without a doubt,” said guard Evan Mathis. “And going through that lull, everybody just had to look within, look at the individual reasons on the plays why they were breaking down and not think that it’s just a concept problem because it wasn’t.”
Added rookie Lane Johnson: “After the Dallas game, we didn’t really have a good offensive game. We stuck to the plan. You don’t change what you do. You just have to start executing better and throw a few wrinkles in there.”
The wrinkles will be tested this weekend as the Eagles face the Redskins for the second time. In Week 1, there were offensive fireworks during a 26-point first half. Since that game, Kelly has been tweaking and adjusting on a weekly basis, but the core scheme on offense has stayed the same in many respects.
The Eagles still want to be a run-first team. When opponents try to take that away and play man coverage with a single high safety, the goal is to make them pay with big plays over the top. When teams play zone, the offense runs a series of packaged plays to put key defenders in situations of conflict.
There are other pieces too: tempo, unbalanced lines, 2-TE sets, moving players around to create favorable matchups and so on.
Asked how different the scheme is now compared to what the Redskins saw in Week 1, Kelly said: “Not much from a scheme conceptual standpoint. We’re going to add a formation here or tweak here. But usually during the week we’re tweaking things. We’re not putting in brand new packages and saying, ‘Hey, we gotta do this against this team.’ You just don’t have enough time during the week to rep all that stuff.”
Redskins linebacker London Fletcher says he sees a lot of similarities between what the Eagles did in Week 1 and what he’s seen on film in recent weeks.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a whole lot different,” he said. “Obviously they’re still running their zone read stuff with [LeSean] McCoy and their offensive line and doing all the different things that they do in the run game. I think some of the vertical passing game they’ve been able to get going, whether it’s Jackson or whether it’s Riley Cooper. That’s something that they’ve been able to get going now as opposed to in the first game. They’ve been able to get some more of the down-the-field throws. But as far as the concepts and the offense, a lot of it’s still the same, especially in the run game.”
That jives with Kelly’s overall philosophy. A practice obsessive, he believes in doing the same things over and over again during the week so that they’re second nature on Sundays. There may come a point where the offense needs significant changes instead of minor tweaks. And Kelly will likely decide on bigger adjustments when he has an offseason to reflect. But in the meantime, he’ll continue to harp on execution as the Eagles look to make a playoff push in the final six games.
“There’s two different approaches,” said center Jason Kelce. “You can have the one approach where you just throw a bunch of stuff at the guys and try and get in perfect situations with plays and whatnot against particular defenses, whereas I think Chip has a bunch of plays that work well off of each other and they all work against pretty much every team you’re gonna see defensively.
“The only thing that changes from week to week with us is a lot of the formation-stuff. We try to give defenses a different look. We really try to major in what we major in and force defenses to adjust accordingly.”
1. All around the league, middle linebackers make the calls on defense. What does that mean? They wear the headsets, get the plays from the coordinators and relay them to the rest of the team.
But the process is a little different with the Eagles, especially now that Billy Davis has given DeMeco Ryans more freedom to make adjustments based on what he sees from the offense.
“He quarterbacks the defense ‑ we give him a lot of leeway,” Davis said. “He can get us in and out of defenses. Gets us in the best defense possible. And as the season has gone on, we as a staff have gotten more and more comfortable in his ability to put us in good situations, and he has.”
Asked specifically what he means, Davis said: “I’ll give him options within a call at times. Sometimes I’ll hard-call a play, and this is what we’re playing, and he’ll set it for us off the formation. And there’s other times I’ll give him two defenses. He can call either of the two, depending on things that are coming at us, and he’s got the ability if things get crazy to get us into a base call that everybody is out of harm’s way.”
Connor Barwin agreed that Ryans has more on his plate than the typical outside linebacker. On certain plays, he takes cues from Ryans to know whether he’s rushing the quarterback or dropping back into coverage.
“He’s really like a quarterback on our defense where especially this week where the Redskins, they motion and move and try to disguise everything, but they’re just running the same three or four plays,” Barwin said. “And it’s DeMeco’s job to get us in the right call because we change our defense as they move their motions around. So it’s really important. It’s a lot on his plate from a mental standpoint to be able to think about all that, call it, be right and then play football at a high level. So he does a great job.
“Our defense has evolved just from going against Chip where it’s what do we call it now… a no-huddle defense or something? But yeah, we play through hand signals, we change our defense a lot more than other defenses do.”
Ryans has drawn plenty of praise from the coaching staff in recent weeks. He’s been outstanding in the run game especially. But a big reason for the compliments is what he does before the ball’s even snapped.
“I just have the discretion to make different checks and get us in the right defense,” he said. “Like a quarterback gets the offense in a right play, a play that’s favorable to them, I have the leeway to put our defense in a favorable position.”
2. It’s time to start showing Nate Allen a little love. The Eagles’ fourth-year safety is playing the best football of his career. And the biggest difference has been his tackling. According to Pro Football Focus, Allen has missed just two tackles all season. Among the 82 safeties who have played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps, that is tied for sixth-fewest. And it’s not as if Allen is never around the ball. Per PFF, he has 48 tackles, tied for eighth-most among safeties.
Davis said that when the coaches reviewed last year’s tape, they noticed a fundamental issue with Allen and some of the team’s other defensive players.
“I think the one thing in tackling that we saw from a year ago is everything was an arm tackle because the head placement was wrong,” Davis said. “I think we work hard on the head placement, which turns an arm tackle into a body tackle. And I think Nate has benefited along with the rest of them from that.”
“Just our head across their body,” he said. “So getting your head across and fitting and wrapping.
“It’s something we talk about all the time. And I think it’s something we’ve been getting better at every week and it’s starting to show.”
Added Brandon Boykin: “It’s really improved from last year. We’ve been able to wrap guys up one-on-one open field. And it’s been huge for us this year.”
3. Fletcher had a rough time with the Eagles’ packaged plays in Week 1. He was often the “read” defender, and the Eagles kept him guessing all game long.
I asked Fletcher this week why the packaged plays can be so effective.
“It does present a problem for you as a defense,” Fletcher said. “That’s why they do it. It’s to create conflict for the defense as far as do you come up and try to stop the run or do you hold off and try to play the pass? There is a conflict of who’s gonna stop the run, who’s gonna stop the pass. With the quarterback being a part of the run game as well, there’s another guy that you have to worry about and be concerned about as far as keeping the ball. It’s 11-on-11 football. So it’s difficult and it does present different challenges. That’s why they’ve been able to have success with it and that’s why they do it.”
4. McCoy doesn’t want to make it sound like he’s obsessed with winning the rushing title, but clearly it’d be a nice feather in his cap.
“The good thing is the linemen really keep track of all them things,” he said.
Mathis backed up that claim.
“Offensive linemen, what kind of stats do you have?” he said. “The rushing yards, you like to think you had a hand in that. You do have a great back who’s making some great plays, but you do like to think you have a hand in that and that you were part of that. …You do take pride in it, absolutely.”
Going into last week’s game against the Packers, McCoy was third. But he piled up 155 yards and regained the lead. McCoy how has 932 yards on the season, 61 more than Marshawn Lynch.
“During the game, they put the rushing… I think they put the top-10 rushing leaders on the scoreboard in Green Bay,” Mathis said. “You could see LeSean at No. 3. And then you see how far away he is, and then after the game… ‘Hey Shady, how many yards did you get? 155. OK, we’re good.’ ”
5. The one full-time staffer Kelly brought with him from Oregon was defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro. We’ve already written in this space about the work Azzinaro’s done with the guys up front, but he also holds the title of assistant head coach.
What does that mean exactly?
“Coaches me a lot,” Kelly said. “I mean, he’s a really special guy to be around. I think, again, he’s extremely intelligent. He’s got a great view and great mindset in terms of how he looks at not only the game but looks at life. We all seek Professor Azzinaro’s counsel a lot of times to be honest with you.”
THE BIG PICTURE
The Eagles got a break not having to face Aaron Rodgers last week, but they took care of business and came away with a decisive 14-point victory. The run game was on-point, Nick Foles continued his hot streak, and the defense continued to make strides. The Eagles now find themselves in a first-place tie with the Cowboys at 5-5 in the NFC East. The last time they were above .500 was Week 2 after defeating the Redskins in the opener. They’ll look for a repeat performance going into the bye week.
After starting the season 0-3, the Redskins have gone win-loss-win-loss-win-loss in the last six weeks. They blew a 13-point third-quarter lead against the Vikings on Thursday Night Football, but will look to improve to 4-6 and stay in the hunt for the NFC East title.
Here is how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Redskins’ defense:
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
|Eagles Offense||6.3 (4th)||25.2 (11th)||16.7% (5th)|
|Redskins Defense||6.1 (29th)||31.9 (31st)||8.1% (24th)|
And the Eagles’ defense against the Redskins’ offense:
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
|Redskins Offense||5.8 (5th)||25.6 (9th)||0.9% (15th)|
|Eagles Defense||5.6 (22nd)||24.4 (20th)||10.3% (28th)|
Note: Click here for an explanation of DVOA.
EAGLES RUSHING OFFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Eagles Rushing Offense||5.0 (2nd)||20.3% (1st)|
|Redskins Rushing Defense||4.3 (22nd)||2.0% (25th)|
McCoy is the only back in the league with two games this year of 150+ yards and 6.0 yards per carry. Last week was vintage McCoy as he controlled the game in the second half and totaled 155 yards on 25 attempts.
The run blocking has been good for the most part all season long. The Eagles could be without Jason Peters (quadriceps). If that is the case, Allen Barbre is expected to play left tackle. He performed well last week against Green Bay.
The Redskins have Barry Cofield (NT), Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins up front in their 3-4. The inside linebackers are Fletcher and Perry Riley. Last week, Washington limited Adrian Peterson to 75 yards on 20 carries.
EAGLES PASSING OFFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Nick Foles||63.2% (11th)||9.2 (1st)||*50 (1st)||*23.4% (7th)|
|Redskins Passing Defense||66.5% (29th)||8.3 (30th)||37 (28th)||12.7% (22nd)|
* Team stat, not individual stat.
Foles is completing 63.2 percent of his passes and averaging a league-high 9.24 yards per attempt. He’s thrown 16 touchdowns without an interception. Foles’ fumble last week was not due to carelessness. He just got crushed by multiple Packers defenders after a breakdown up front.
Asked to describe the difference between Foles as a rookie and Foles now, Fletcher said: “He probably stared down stuff a lot more last year. …He probably didn’t go through his progressions as well as he’s going through now. He’s doing a good job of really going through his progressions, knowing what his reads are based on the defense.”
Jackson is third in the NFL with 903 receiving yards, behind only A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson. He leads the league with 17 grabs of 20+ yards and needs three touchdowns in the final six games to set a new career high.
Cooper has been on fire with 462 yards and six touchdowns in his last five games. He’s second in the NFL, averaging 19.8 yards per catch.
The Redskins are shaky in the secondary with DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson at corner. The safeties are Reed Doughty and Brandon Meriweather. Washington is 28th in the league at covering opposing running backs (per Football Outsiders), meaning this could be a game to get McCoy involved in the passing game.
The Eagles were OK, but not great, in pass protection last week. Kelce had some issues. And Todd Herremans has been inconsistent in that aspect all season long. Johnson didn’t take a step forward after playing his best game of the season against Oakland.
The Redskins are 12th in adjusted sack rate. The two edge rushers are the guys to watch. Ryan Kerrigan leads the Redskins with 6.5 sacks, and Brian Orakpo has four. Cofield (2.5 sacks) can present problems along the interior. The Eagles’ offensive line will be tested in pass pro.
EAGLES RUSHING DEFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Redskins Rushing Offense||5.1 (1st)||12.2% (3rd)|
|Eagles Rushing Defense||4.0 (13th)||-5.4% (18th)|
Strength meets strength here. Alfred Morris is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, which is tops in the league among running backs. He had just 45 yards on 12 carries in the first meeting, but has been productive since that game.
The Redskins have a creative rushing attack that takes advantage of Griffin’s mobility on the read option. The Eagles have been good against the run and shut down Eddie Lacy last week. According to team stats, Ryans has a team-high 125 tackles, 27 more than any other Eagle. According to NFL stats, he has 89, tied for fourth-most in the league. No Eagles player has finished in the top-five in tackles since the stat was tracked officially in 2001.
The Eagles could be without Mychal Kendricks. If that’s the case, Najee Goode will start alongside Ryans.
Up front, Bennie Logan has been an upgrade at nose tackle over Isaac Sopoaga. Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox are playing well also.
EAGLES PASSING DEFENSE
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
|Robert Griffin III||60.8% (17th)||7.27 (12th)||*24 (26th)||*-1.4% (24th)|
|Eagles Passing Defense||62.1% (20th)||7.1 (15th)||38 (29th)||20.7% (28th)|
* Team stat, not individual stat.
This is the area where the defensive is most vulnerable. The Redskins like to use play-action to set up their passing game. And the Eagles have not been able to generate a consistent pass-rush.
The same five offensive linemen have played every snap for the Redskins this year. Pass protection has been OK. According to ESPN.com’s John Keim, Griffin took 18 hits against the Vikings. Part of that was on the line, part was on the receivers, and part was on Griffin.
Per Keim, the Redskins could be vulnerable on the interior with center Will Montgomery and right guard Chris Chester. Davis likes to bring A-Gap pressure, and Thornton and Cox will have to create havoc.
Pierre Garcon is Griffin’s favorite target. He has 14 catches for 291 yards in the past two games. On the season, Garcon has 61 catches for 803 yards.
Cary Williams did not play well last week. Bradley Fletcher is still nursing a pectoral injury. If he can’t go, it’ll be Roc Carmichael. Carmichael played well vs. Green Bay. Patrick Chung was shaky in Week 10. He’ll start in place of an injured Earl Wolff.
The other player to watch is rookie tight end Jordan Reed. He’s been targeted 28 times in the last three games and can line up in a variety of places, presenting matchup problems. The Eagles are 21st in the league at covering opposing tight ends, per Football Outsiders.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. EST on FOX. Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch will have the call with Erin Andrews on the sideline. The Eagles are 3-point favorites, according to Sports Insights. As of this writing, 52 percent of the money is on the Redskins.