Zone Read: Eagles-Cardinals, the Day After

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia EaglesChip Kelly stood at the podium late Sunday afternoon and prepared to answer questions about his team’s performance against the Arizona Cardinals.

“It looked like the offense had a lot of trouble after that touchdown drive to start the second half-” a reporter started before Kelly interrupted.

“Can we go positive with the first question on a win?” he joked.

About 10 minutes later, the Eagles’ locker room opened up to reporters, and while it was clear that players were happy to have gotten a win, they knew there were plenty of mistakes that needed to be corrected.

After putting together an impressive 13-play, 82-yard drive to start the third quarter, the offense stalled in a big way. The Eagles totaled 22 yards (not counting penalties or kneel-downs) on six drives. They managed just five first downs during that stretch and did not move more than 16 yards on any single possession.

“We try to stay out of this situation,” said LeSean McCoy. “We just have to do a better job of closing out the game. We have gone through this a couple of times and we just have to do a better job.”

Added center Jason Kelce: “It was a couple things. I think first of all, people’s minds got a little bit lax. I think that there were a lot more mental miscues in the second half. One example, the right side thought we were going left and we were going right. And it ended up hurting us big. I think we had a 4- or 5-yard loss on a run play.

“And then obviously when we started trying to run the ball, they came down doing all-out blitzes, really doing some things that as an offensive line we just didn’t take care of very well. I think it comes down to really being locked in as the game goes down, can’t lose focus. No matter how much you’re up, you’ve always gotta stay focused on what your job is. And it’s just something that we’ve gotta do a much better job of.”

The accountability from the players will undoubtedly be welcome by the fan base. In previous years, there was constant talk about how the team had talent, but was just not producing results. As the losses piled up, those statements grew stale and infuriated the paying customers.

This time around, the players in the locker room seem to acknowledge that adjustments need to be made even though the team has won four in a row.

“We need to play better in the second half,” said Nick Foles, after completing 21 of 34 passes for 237 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. “That’s obvious. We didn’t play well. We need to help our defense out.

“We had our opportunities, but in that situation when the game is like that, you have to put a dagger in them. You have to execute. It’s really important to come away with points on the board to help our defense out.”

Defensively, the Eagles limited their opponent to 21 points or fewer for the eighth straight game. But they had their fair share of miscues and allowed four pass plays of 20+ yards.

“At the end of the day, we’ve gotta keep the pedal to the metal,” said cornerback Cary Williams. “We’ve gotta continue to put our foot on those guys’ throats. We can’t get give away anything. I think we had a bunch of giveaways today defensively as far as communication. There are some things we need to improve on.”

In the end, the defense came up with a stop that sealed the victory with under two minutes left. The Eagles kept pace with the Cowboys atop the NFC East at 7-5 and have not lost since Oct. 27.

On Tuesday, they’ll work on figuring out how they can better close games out and avoid miscommunication on the defensive end. But it’ll be a lot easier to correct those mistakes knowing they’re very much in the hunt for a playoff berth and a division title going down the stretch.




1. What was up with the Brad Smith play in the red zone in the second quarter?

The Eagles drove to the Cardinals’ 6-yard-line when Kelly put Smith in at quarterback and split Foles out wide. Smith fumbled the snap, the offense lost 4 yards, and Alex Henery came on to kick a 32-yard field goal three plays later.

Granted, this is one of those plays where if it works, we’re all talking about what a great job Kelly did of using all his resources. And if it fails, we all second-guess.

But Foles was in a nice groove at the time. He had completed three of four passes for 63 yards on the drive. Smith just signed with the team a few weeks ago and had not had an offensive touch previously.

This probably falls in the “got too cute” category. But one thing’s for sure: Kelly is still seeking solutions for the team’s red-zone woes. For as good as the Eagles’ offense has been, they rank 29th in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns just 46.15 percent of the time. The guess here is that Kelly focused on that during the bye, but he may want to throw the Smith play out the window going forward.

2. Why Kelly said the Smith play was not the wildcat?

OK, I’ll be the someone in this instance.

“It was not a wildcat play,” Kelly said. “It’s just Brad Smith plays quarterback. So let’s straighten that out right now. We don’t run the wildcat. It’s just a play. He played quarterback. Nick played receiver because Brad’s really good with the ball in his hands.”

Luckily, we have Chris Brown to explain these things to us. As Brown wrote back in 2009, wildcat plays require three things: a  mobile quarterback, the jet sweep/jet fake and an unbalanced line. The Smith play only fulfilled one of those requirements: the mobile quarterback.

The jet sweep/jet fake is when an offense motions a receiver running full speed in front of the quarterback as the ball is being snapped. The quarterback can hand the ball off to that player or fake it to him. That did not happen on the Smith play. Nobody was in motion.

And the line was not unbalanced either. The Eagles have gone with an unbalanced line on several occasions this year, but they didn’t do so on the Smith play. Therefore, Kelly wasn’t lying. This was not a wildcat play.

What was it then? It’s hard to tell for sure since Smith fumbled the snap, but it looked like just a plain old zone read. The wide receivers appeared to be blocking, so I don’t think there was a pass option. Smith was either going to hand the ball off to McCoy or keep it himself. In that respect, you can see what Kelly was going for. Why not use a more athletic option at QB if you’re going to run the zone read down there?

I still don’t agree with the call, but you can get a better idea of Kelly’s thought process.



Brandon Graham had a pair of sacks on Carson Palmer Sunday afternoon.

“He stands back there. He’s not a threat to run,” Graham said. “But we certainly made sure we collapsed the pocket. We wanted to disrupt him a little bit.”

Let’s look at Graham’s second sack. The Eagles blitzed Patrick Chung off the edge, but Graham initially gets double-teamed.



The Eagles ran a stunt, and the left tackle switched off of Graham to help on Fletcher Cox. With the running back accounting for Chung, that freed Graham up for a one-on-one matchup against the tight end.


Coverage was good, Palmer held the ball, and Graham finished.


“We called a stunt play,” Graham said. “Pretty much, they let me go free a couple times. I mean, both sacks. And it was the same call. I’m happy because the back end had to be doing their job, and my hat’s off to them because without them doing their job, I wouldn’t get the sack.”

Graham got credit for the sack. But without Chung blitzing, Cox occupying two defenders and the back end holding up in coverage, he wouldn’t have had a shot.



7 – The number of sacks by Eagles outside linebackers in the past two games. Graham and Trent Cole had two apiece vs. Arizona. In the win over the Redskins, Cole and Connor Barwin combined for three.

Through the first 10 games, the three outside linebackers had combined for just five sacks total. Now that number is up to 12. Cole suddenly leads the team with five, Barwin has four and Graham has three.

The 3-4 requires its outside linebackers to be prolific pass-rushers. This is still an area that needs to be addressed in the offseason, but the pressure the Eagles put on Palmer was critical to the defense’s success. Maybe they have just taken advantage of a couple of favorable matchups, but it’ll be a huge boost for Billy Davis’ defense if the outside linebackers can continue to progress in terms of rushing the passer down the stretch.



The rookie had his best game of the season, finishing with five catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns on six targets.

“We saw a lot of man-to-man coverage from the safety,” Ertz said. “And we’ve been working hard all year to have our number called in a big game like this, and fortunately we made some plays.”

Ertz’s most impressive catch was a 22-yarder in the first quarter. Foles had to throw the ball high to keep it away from linebacker Daryl Washington, who cut in front of the tight end. Ertz showed good concentration and good hands to reach up and snatch the ball out of the air for a big gain.

He now has seven catches of 20+ yards on the season.


The veteran failed to notch a single sack through the Eagles’ first eight games. He now has five in the last four, including a pair against the Cardinals.

Asked what the difference has been, Cole said: “Anybody should know, playing eight years as a D-End, in the ninth year you’re playing outside linebacker. That’s a big jump because now you’ve gotta be in coverage, you’ve gotta drop back. I feel like as a D-End, you’re born to run straight ahead.”

I asked Barwin if he ever sensed frustration from Cole earlier in the season.

“I’m sure he was when he went home or inside his own head,” Barwin said. “But one of the best parts about Trent is he never brought it into our meeting room. He never brought it in the locker room. He just kept his head down and kept going to work. And how he’s got five with a month left. And that’s good to see that happen – when a guy doesn’t go in the tank or start complaining about the system or start complaining about the calls. He just kept doing his job, and it’s paying off for him.”




“Those guys run about three or four plays in one play, and you just have to keep to your assignment and don’t let the play-fakes and motions confuse you.” – Tyrann Mathieu

The Cardinals’ rookie defensive back provided a pretty good description of Kelly’s offense. Give the quarterback plenty of options based on the look of the defense. Go back to the same concepts over and over, but dress them up differently. And try to put the defense in a bind.



1. I’m looking forward to re-watching the game and seeing how the offensive line protected. Foles was definitely hit a lot (five sacks, seven QB hits), but the sense I got in the locker room was that the Eagles were willing to give the Cardinals credit on many of those.

“They are very, very solid,” said guard Evan Mathis. “A lot of good players in a tremendous scheme. They were able to figure out what we were doing a lot, and we had to fight against that. It was an uphill battle.

“We had some breakdowns. I don’t think it was a ton. We wanted to be flawless. We want it to be he’s never on the ground, never sacked. …But there were a couple breakdowns. That’s a very good defense and hats off to them for playing a very good game.”

2. The Cardinals entered the game allowing 83.6 yards per game to opposing tight ends, second-most in the league according to Football Outsiders. So put this one down in the “should have seen it coming” category. Ertz and Brent Celek combined for nine catches, 97 yards and three touchdowns on 12 targets.

We know Kelly really likes tight ends because of their versatility. The funny thing after the game was that players gave different answers when asked about the specific matchup advantages.

“We saw a lot of man-to-man coverage from the safety,” Ertz said.

But Foles disagreed.

“I felt like we had good matchups with our tight ends against [Arizona’s] linebackers,” he said.

We’ll go back and look at the tape to see if the catches came against safeties or linebackers. But the varying responses are a good example of why Kelly likes tight ends in the first place. He’s said all along: size advantage vs. safeties and athleticism advantage vs. linebackers.

3. The senseless debate over what’s better – a pocket passer or a mobile QB – continues to rage on. I’ve said all along that it’s not an either/or proposition. If a QB can’t pass the ball, he’s not going to be successful regardless. But if he can pass the ball and has athleticism, that’s a plus.

Having said that, Eagles defenders clearly didn’t mind going up against a classic dropback QB after weeks of chasing down more athletic signal-callers.

“We understood that Carson was a pocket passer,” Williams said. “He was a guy that wasn’t gonna get outside of the pocket. He wanted to step in. We made the pocket a little tight for him.”

I asked Barwin if it was nice to not have to face a mobile QB this week.

“It’s real nice to know where a guy’s gonna be,” he said. “It’s real nice. He takes a step back and he steps up. It’s really nice to play against guys like that.”

4. Nate Allen came up with an interception in the first quarter for the Eagles’ second takeaway. The Eagles’ safety continues to play the best football of his career.

“He’s one of the hardest workers in the building,” Davis said. “It means a lot to him. I think he’s highly motivated because he hasn’t had the success, and everyone’s been on him for a couple years here. Everybody wanted him to be Brian Dawkins. And now I think everyone’s letting him be Nate Allen. He’s not Brian Dawkins. He’s Nate Allen. And he’s gonna make his plays his way and do it his way, and he’s a good solid safety for us.”

5. Introducing a new feature here titled: Why my job is weird.

The Eagles open up the locker room after practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Players stroll in and out, grabbing food, heading into the lounge, showering, etc. Sometimes you can interview a player before he heads in to shower. Other times, you have to wait until they come out.

Last week, I wanted to chat with Jason Peters. But the Eagles’ left tackle had just showered and was getting dressed. I figured I’d wait for him to put some clothes on before walking over. I BS’d with some other reporters for a few minutes, turned around to check on his status and found he had already left the locker room.

Waiting for a guy to put some pants on had limited my ability to do my job. How many of you can say you run into similar issues in your workplace?





Total Snaps
Percentage Of Snaps
Nick Foles78100%
LeSean McCoy6178%
Bryce Brown1519%
Chris Polk23%
Riley Cooper78100%
DeSean Jackson6685%
Jason Avant4659%
Brad Smith79%
Damaris Johnson11%
Brent Celek6482%
Zach Ertz3849%
James Casey1215%

You can see with the tight end ssnaps that the Eagles used a lot of ’12’ personnel.

At wide receiver, Jeff Maehl suffered a head injury and didn’t play any offensive snaps. Smith obviously had the one snap at QB. The other eight were at wide receiver.

Damaris Johnson only played one offensive snap. He was not used on punt or kickoff returns either.


Total Snaps
Percentage Of Snaps
Fletcher Cox5780%
Bennie Logan4259%
Cedric Thornton4158%
Vinny Curry2231%
Clifton Geathers1115%
Damion Square1014%
Connor Barwin71100%
Trent Cole5882%
Brandon Graham1318%
Mychal Kendricks71100%
DeMeco Ryans6997%
Cary Williams71100%
Bradley Fletcher71100%
Brandon Boykin3042%
Roc Carmichael23%
Nate Allen71100%
Patrick Chung71100%

Graham only played 13 snaps, but came away with a pair of sacks.

Barwin, Allen, Bradley Fletcher, Williams and Mychal Kendricks played every snap. The Eagles used a dime package with Roc Carmichael in the red zone, and Ryans came off the field.



The Eagles host the Lions at the Linc at 1 p.m. Sunday. Detroit is 7-5 atop the NFC North and coming off a win over the Packers on Thanksgiving Day.

This seems like a pretty even matchup to me, and the game means a lot to both teams. Because it’s at home, I’ll guess Eagles (-3) for the line.

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