Zone Read: Eagles-Redskins, the Day After

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Oakland RaidersWhen asked to describe Connor Barwin, second-year player Vinny Curry pointed to the impact his teammate has made during the week.

“He’s definitely brought a lot of different things to this team,” Curry said. “He’s a leader in so many different ways. He’s all about team camaraderie. We all get together and do dinner every week. The front, the D-Line, the inside linebackers and the outside linebackers. And that’s something he brought to the team. And just look at us now, guys out there making plays. Everybody’s happy, everybody’s jumping around, compared to last year. See what I’m saying? It’s just fun to be a part of.”

If having weekly dinners together led directly to defensive success, every unit in the league would be lining up for unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks. But there’s no denying that the Eagles had a toxic mix of personalities in the locker room last year, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.

Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn were fired in-season. Jason Babin was sent packing. And the defensive backs spent most weeks pointing fingers at one another.

“I think what we honestly lacked a lot on defense last year was leadership,” said center Jason Kelce, who played with Barwin at Cincinnati. “And I think that wasn’t DeMeco [Ryans’] fault. A lot of that was the defensive line and the DBs that we had in there were kind of very selfish groups, and that rubbed off on the ‘backers and everything else.

“I think the GMs and everybody did a good job of getting out the hazardous pieces, and they brought in better ones like Connor. He’s the complete opposite of that. He’s a team player, very much a guy that brings leadership to the board. He’s gonna call you out if you need to get called out and do it the right way. So now that we have him, DeMeco, and the secondary has been great so far in terms of the defense is just playing really together. And I think part of that is just there’s better guys out there.”

Nate Allen’s comments weren’t quite as strong, but he seemed to agree with the general tone.

“We’ve got a good group of guys over on the defensive side of the ball,” Allen said. “We play well together and we like each other. That’s a big thing. We enjoy playing together. We feed off each other. That’s big for us.”

Added Trent Cole: “Everybody has bought in. And I can tell everybody’s bought in from the beginning. And that’s what it takes.”

With the clock ticking down to zero in the first quarter and the Eagles’ offense driving, Barwin made his way onto the field and delivered a series of high-fives, fist-pounds and helmet-smacks. He brings constant energy and gets his teammates fired up – whether it’s on the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex or at the Linc on Sundays.

“That’s just who I am on gamedays,” Barwin said. “I just enjoy playing, and the offense was playing awesome so I was happy for those guys. I think somebody being positive always helps everybody else, so I just try to be as positive as I can.”

Barwin’s signing in the offseason made sense for the Eagles on several different levels. The team was transitioning to a 3-4 and needed an outside linebacker who could rush the passer, drop back into coverage and effectively play the run. Barwin notched his fourth sack of the season on Sunday, avoiding Roy Helu’s block before leveling an unsuspecting Robert Griffin III in the red zone in the first half. The ball popped loose, Barwin knocked Griffin’s helmet off, and the Eagles had their first takeaway of the day.

“I think he’s a very underrated football player,” said Chip Kelly afterwards. “He’s extremely intelligent. He does a great job. He’s obviously played in a 3‑4 scheme before. He’s got a really good understanding. I think he’s helped everybody in the transition. I know Billy Davis really leans on him a lot. I think between Connor on the outside and DeMeco on the inside, I think you have two outstanding leaders. He comes to work every day. One of the hardest working guys out on the practice field in terms of training and his approach to it. He’s been a really big addition to us. I’m real excited we got him.”

Barwin has been one of the Eagles’ most consistent defenders this season. He manhandles opposing tight ends against the run on a weekly basis, is tied for the team lead in sacks and has knocked down nine passes.

He enjoyed his first four seasons in Houston, but Barwin is excited with how things have come together on his new squad.

“Just from seeing what’s going on there to what’s happening here, it just shows how important team is,” Barwin said. “I mean, that’s one hell of a talented team down there. We’ve got a lot of talent here, but I think we’re really playing together on both sides of the ball and special teams. And that’s why you see the results we’re having.”

***

CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN…

1. Why the Eagles called timeout and then ran the ball at the end of the first half?

Nick Foles had just been sacked. There were 17 seconds left, and the offense had a 3rd-and-15 from its own 38.

In that situation, either you call timeout and try to throw it downfield to pick up a first down, or you don’t call timeout and just run the ball.

But Kelly called timeout, and then the Eagles handed it off to Bryce Brown for a 2-yard gain. It didn’t end up mattering, but not sure what the strategy was in that spot.

2. Why LeSean McCoy didn’t get either of the short-yardage chances in the second half?

Twice the offense had chances to extend drives, but the Eagles failed to convert in short yardage. On 3rd-and-1 in the third, Brown was stopped for a 1-yard loss. On 4th-and-1 in the fourth, he was stuffed for no gain.

McCoy is known as a home run hitter, but he’s been great in short-yardage situations. Going into Sunday, he had converted 14 of 17 opportunities on third or fourth down with 2 yards or less to go.

Maybe Kelly’s decision had something to do with McCoy being a little banged-up. Or maybe Duce Staley was in charge of putting Brown out there. But McCoy probably should have gotten the ball in one of those two spots.

***

THE NO-22

The Redskins’ plan on defense was clear in the first quarter: stack the box against the run, and challenge Foles to win the game. It’s been the plan of opposing defenses all season long.

On this first-quarter play, you can see the Redskins have 10 of 11 defenders within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage.

mccoy1a

It’s man coverage across the board with a single high safety. That means Foles’ job is to find a favorable matchup and exploit it. In this case, it’s outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan against McCoy.

McCoy starts out in the backfield and runs the wheel route down the right sideline. Foles recognizes the mismatch right away and knows where he’s going with the football.

mccoy1b_no22

He lofts a beautiful ball to McCoy and allows the running back to pick up yards after the catch.

mccoy1c_no22

The result was a 49-yard completion that set up the team’s first score.

“They tried to stop the run,” McCoy said. “We gave them a run look and the defensive end played with me which I guess they thought was a good idea. And Nick found me and threw it. It was a great read.”

McCoy has been making huge plays in the passing game all season long. Before this year, he had never averaged better than 7.7 yards per reception. Through 11 games in 2013, he’s averaged 11.7.

***

THE NUMBER THAT MATTERS

7 – The number of consecutive games in which the Eagles’ defense has limited the opponent to 21 points or fewer.

On the season, only two teams – the Eagles and Chiefs – have had streaks that long.

Since giving up 52 points to the Broncos in Week 4, the Eagles have limited opponents to 17.4 points per game. The performance against the Redskins might have been the most impressive of the year. Washington’s offense had been on a roll, averaging 30.8 points per game in its previous four. The Eagles were without Bradley Fletcher, Earl Wolff and Mychal Kendricks.

There were obviously issues in the fourth quarter, and Griffin missed some open receivers, but the defense got a stop at the end when it mattered.

***

GAME BALL OFFENSE: NICK FOLES

Those who read B247 regularly know I like numbers. But it’s important to put them in the proper context.

And the reality is Foles played better Sunday against Washington than he did the previous week against Green Bay when he posted a 149.3 passer rating. He had three completions against the Redskins that easily could have been touchdowns, but all three were stopped inside the 5-yard-line.

The pass shown above to McCoy was stopped at the 4. Foles had a screen to Brent Celek that was stopped at the 1. And he completed a pass to Riley Cooper that was also stopped at the 1. Had those three gone for touchdowns, Foles would have had a 143.8 passer rating.

The second-year QB was decisive, looked comfortable in the pocket, made plays with his legs and continued to take care of the football (no turnovers).

There have been six times this season that a QB has completed at least 65 percent of his passes and averaged at least 11.5 yards per attempt in a game. Two of the six have been Foles (Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Tony Romo each have done it once).

GAME BALL DEFENSE: FLETCHER COX

Brandon Boykin will get plenty of love – and rightfully so – for his game-ending interception. But Griffin doesn’t make that throw unless he’s being pressured. Cox lined up at left defensive end, was double-teamed, got around the edge and shoved Griffin to the ground as he released the ball.

“I had it in my head that something had to happen,” Cox said. “I knew a big play was coming, so I stayed calm and I got pressure on [RGIII] and he threw the ball and Boykin picked it off.”

Griffin didn’t actually see the interception. He was face down on the grass when the ball was picked off.

Earlier in the game, Cox snatched the ball out of mid-air after Barwin sacked Griffin. He finished with five tackles and a batted pass. Cox is playing at a high level on a weekly basis.

“I know he has not got the sacks, but I’m happy everybody is recognizing how well he’s playing because I know inside the locker room, we see it every week the amount of pressure he gets, what he does in that two-gap scheme,” Barwin said. “He didn’t come into the league as a two-gapper, what he does in the run game, I think he’s playing as good as anybody at that position in the entire league.”

***

THAT’S WHAT HE SAID

griffinmag“I feel like just personally I’ve been improving every game as an outside linebacker… or D-Tackle, D-End or cornerback… whatever you want to call it [laughter].” – TRENT COLE

The veteran has been used in a variety of roles in what has been an up-and-down season. But he had a pair of sacks against the Redskins.

Last Thursday, when Cole strolled into the locker room after practice, this magazine was hanging at his stall, courtesy of one of his teammates or coaches.

Who says those little motivational tactics don’t work? The Eagles have the Cardinals in two weeks. Has Carson Palmer been on the cover of any magazines recently?

***

FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS

1. We have to give a little love to special teams in this space. Before the Redskins’ final drive, Donnie Jones booted a 70-yard bomb that went out of bounds at the Washington 4-yard-line. Special teams are all about putting the offense and defense in advantageous situations. And that’s exactly what Jones did.

“It was huge, to make them go that far, to get us out of that situation that we were in,” Kelly said. “That’s what I kind of think contributed. We were moving in the first half, got a chance to jump out to a really good lead. I thought our defense played really good all game. For our special teams to contribute like that, that’s what it takes. To win in a division, you have to play well in all three phases. I thought that punt was huge for us.”

2. Boykin has been great as a gunner on the punt coverage team all year. In the first half, he helped down a punt at the Redskins’ 2. I asked him when he found out he was going to fill that gunner role for special-teams coach Dave Fipp.

“Coach Fipp told me probably in camp,” Boykin explained. “It was after we practiced against New England. And I went down there and I smashed [Julian] Edelman or somebody, and he’s like ‘Alright, you better be ready for the season.’

“I did it at Georgia my freshman year, and I loved it. That was all I could do as a freshman. I couldn’t really play. So it’s a huge part of the game. Like I said, it’s field position. People notice it. It’s a good thing for us.”

3. Another week, another question about the Eagles’ process for challenging calls. In the first quarter, Alfred Morris was pushed out of bounds on what should have been a 1-yard gain. But the official to that side of the field was trying to avoid getting crushed by Bennie Logan on the play.

Morris spun upfield and ended up gaining 9 yards.

FOX did a great job of showing the replay instantly, and it was clear: Morris stepped out of bounds.

morrisfoot_940

The Redskins rushed up to the line of scrimmage, but about 12 seconds passed from the time the replay was shown to when they snapped the ball.

Maybe Kelly felt the 8-yard difference wouldn’t have been worth the challenge, but we seem to be inching closer and closer to a challenge mishap costing this team a victory.

4. You can view the following comment from Griffin as either a sign of a sinking ship in Washington or a compliment to the Eagles’ coaching staff.

“They did a good job of scheming us up,” Griffin said. “They kind of knew what was coming before it was coming and that was disheartening. But like I told the guys, regardless of what’s going on out there, we’re the players and we have to make the plays work, and we just weren’t doing that in the first half.”

Griffin’s words connect with what Cox said afterwards.

“I think I got into a rhythm going into the game,” Cox said. “Actually a few of the plays I called them out before they happened. It all came from studying film and knowing when things were going to happen before they happened.”

5. You may have noticed Foles shaking his arm out quite a bit after taking a hit in the first half.

“I just got it banged-up,” he said. “I sort of landed on it a little bit, but I was trying to keep it warm because I really didn’t know what was going on. I had a shoulder injury in high school, and I knew the key that when you get banged up is to keep it warm. So I was making sure, especially on that drive I was throwing a lot, I didn’t want it to get tight because then you don’t want to drop back and all of a sudden you don’t really know what is going on and you can’t throw it. So I made sure that I could continue to keep it warm and it feels great and no problem, I threw the rest of the game.”

Foles didn’t miss a snap. He was 4-for-9 for 125 yards before the hit and 13-for-17 for 173 yards after the hit.

Extra Point: Anyone else notice that Kelly took his nickname usage to another level yesterday? ‘Boyk’ made a play and ‘Ertzy’ had a nice run in there. Are these hockey nicknames? Baseball nicknames? A combination of the two? I’m not sure, but it’s something to give a lot of thought to during the bye week.

***

SNAP COUNTS

Offense:

 
Total Snaps
Percentage Of Snaps
QUARTERBACKS
Nick Foles66100%
RUNNING BACKS
LeSean McCoy5076%
Bryce Brown1523%
Chris Polk12%
WIDE RECEIVERS
DeSean Jackson6497%
Riley Cooper6192%
Jason Avant5279%
Jeff Maehl58%
Brad Smith12%
TIGHT ENDS
Brent Celek4467%
Zach Ertz3045%
James Casey711%

Offensively, the most noteworthy item was probably that Damaris Johnson was inactive, and Brad Smith dressed. Smith played one offensive snap, and I believe that was when DeSean Jackson needed a breather.

Chris Polk only played one offensive snap.

At tight end, Zach Ertz played 30+ snaps for the third consecutive game. James Casey continues to have a limited role with 11 snaps.

Defense:

 
Total Snaps
Percentage Of Snaps
DEFENSIVE LINE
Fletcher Cox6174%
Cedric Thornton5263%
Bennie Logan4555%
Vinny Curry3037%
Clifton Geathers1620%
Damion Square1620%
OUTSIDE LBs
Connor Barwin7895%
Trent Cole5466%
Brandon Graham2834%
Casey Matthews45%
INSIDE LBs
DeMeco Ryans82100%
Najee Goode7996%
CORNERBACKS
Cary Williams82100%
Roc Carmichael82100%
Brandon Boykin2632%
SAFETIES
Nate Allen82100%
Patrick Chung7187%
Kurt Coleman1417%

Vinny Curry has seen his role increase during the past five games. Remember, he wasn’t even active the first time the Eagles played the Redskins.

Brandon Graham tied a season-high with 28 snaps. Part of that was because of Cole’s injury.

Najee Goode filled in for Mychal Kendricks and played all but three snaps.

Kurt Coleman played in dime and also when Patrick Chung left with an injury.

***

GUESSING THE LINE: EAGLES (-6.5)

We have two weeks until the Birds host Arizona. The Cardinals have quietly won three in a row and host the Colts next week. If they pick up a decisive win against Indy, this line could come down. But I’ll make the Eagles 6.5-point favorites for now.

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