Three-And-Out: Predictions For the Stretch Run

mccoy_400Welcome to a special bye-week edition of Three-And-Out. Tim and Sheil make their predictions for the final five games.

Key player

Offense

McManus: LeSean McCoy

As we wrote about this week and discussed on our show Thursday night, McCoy has needed every ounce of his elite talent to keep the ground game up and running over the last several games. The open space that he enjoyed early on when Michael Vick was healthy has been filled with swarming defenders that are selling out to shut McCoy down. No longer concerned about the quarterback keeping the ball on the read option, the defense is able to flow towards McCoy without hesitation.

Recently, the 25-year-old has relied largely on his video-game like shiftiness to get his yards. With a lesser back, this offense might be in a little trouble.

McCoy put a scare into this organization when he grabbed for the back of his leg against Washington. The Eagles need him to stay healthy and fresh. He is on pace for 309 carries this season. His previous high was 273, set back in 2011.

Kapadia: Nick Foles

What’s made me a bit hesitant to jump all-in on the Foles bandwagon is that I rarely see him do anything that makes me think: Wow. There aren’t many QBs in the league who are capable of doing THAT.

But over the last couple weeks, I’ve had a bit of a revelation. What’s made Foles so successful this season are the subtle aspects to playing the position. For example, he’s a master at pump-faking one way and setting up a screen to the other side. On those same plays, he does a great job of waiting until the last possible second to deliver the ball over the top of the defender.

On deep balls, he knows how to look the safeties off with his eyes before delivering. And it’s tough to not be impressed with the way he’s taken care of the football. Foles has played 359 snaps and turned it over once – on a fumble where the line blew the protection and he got crushed. He’s gone 162 pass attempts without throwing an interception.

Foles looked as comfortable last week as he’s looked all year. He knew where to go with the football, put his passes in places where the receivers could pick up YAC and connected on throws downfield. The last five games will be about seeing if he can sustain this run and lead the Eagles to an NFC East title.

Defense

McManus: DeMeco Ryans

From management to coaches to players, everyone in the organization is quick to sing the praises of Ryans.

“DeMeco is the leader of our defense and he’s having an outstanding Pro Bowl year and we couldn’t be happier with everything DeMeco is doing for us,” said Billy Davis. “He quarterbacks the defense ‑‑ we give him a lot of leeway.  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, and from there he’s done a great job playing the middle linebacker position, between tackle to tackle, he is a force….We couldn’t be happier with DeMeco.”

Ryans has become sort of the central nervous system of this defense. He is critical to the operation, and has played every snap for this unit in nine of 11 games. The mileage is piling up. As Paul Domowitch first pointed out, the 28-year old is on pace to play more than 1,200 snaps this year. The most he’s ever played is 1,074. The Eagles better hope this whole sports science thing works.

Kapadia: Fletcher Cox

Chip Kelly described him as a “disruptive force” recently, and I think that label fits the second-year player pretty well.

The sense I got early in the season was that Cox was frustrated with the scheme change. He had a great rookie season playing for Jim Washburn and all of a sudden was being asked to two-gap and do some more of the dirty work. But the coaching staff deserves credit for keeping him on track, and Cox’s effort is paying off.

He’s showing off his athleticism, constantly making plays all over the field in the run game. And he leads the team with 19 QB hurries. No other Eagle has more than eight (per coaches’ stats). Cox’s continued progress will be critical down the stretch. If he keeps up his current pace, he may have a shot at a Pro Bowl berth.

Prop bet of the week: Over/under on Eagles wins the rest of the way — 3. Whaddya got?

McManus: I think three is the number. Here’s the rest of the schedule:

Dec. 1: vs. Cardinals, 1 p.m.
Dec. 8: vs. Lions, 1 p.m.
Dec. 15: at Vikings, 1 p.m.
Dec. 22: vs. Bears, 1 p.m.
Dec. 29: at Cowboys, 1 p.m.

I can see the Eagles splitting the first two games out of the break. Minnesota looks like a win, and they should be able to pull one out against either Chicago or Dallas. That puts them at 9-7. Not a cakewalk, but all are winnable games. That finale in Dallas could be awfully meaningful.

Kapadia: Three makes a lot of sense, but for the sake of this exercise, I’ll go under. In other words, I think it’s more likely they go 2-3 than 4-1.

According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles’ have had the seventh easiest schedule through the first 11 weeks. Things get a little bit tougher down the stretch. They have the 11th-toughest.

All five games are winnable, but there are some tricky matchups. Arizona’s defense has played well. Containing Calvin Johnson is a challenge for every opponent. And Chicago has played tough despite the Jay Cutler injury. These should be competitive games down the stretch.

Prediction: Do the Eagles make the playoffs?

McManus: I say yes. For one, the rest of the teams in the division have done little to distinguish themselves. But this is also about the Eagles, who seem to be trending in the right direction. I like the attitude I’m seeing, the defense is playing sound, disciplined ball and Foles is doing a very nice job operating Kelly’s offense. Put it all together, and I think it adds up to a postseason appearance. What about you, Sheil?

Kapadia: I’m saying yes also. And I think it comes down to that final game in Dallas. I picture Howie Roseman e-mailing Kelly articles that suggested Monte Kiffin shut down his offense in the first meeting and steam coming out of Kelly’s ears.

It will be a big moment for Foles. After laying an egg against Dallas the first time, he’ll get a chance to redeem himself with the stakes even higher. The Cowboys are still dangerous through the air offensively, but they lack balance.

The Eagles leave Dallas with a win, a 9-7 record and an NFC East title.

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