Zone Read: Eagles-Bears, the Day After

NFL: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles

As the Eagles prepared for their final possession Sunday night, Nick Foles stood on the sideline next to tight end Zach Ertz and quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor.

The offense gathered briefly before running onto the field. Foles had a green and black baseball cap on instead of a helmet. He paused his conversation, joined his teammates briefly, put his arm around James Casey and returned to the sideline as Michael Vick took a couple kneel-downs to end the game.

There was a hug from Chris Polk and a handshake from Brent Celek. Foles then made his way past cameras towards midfield to greet the Bears’ quarterbacks as the clock showed triple zeroes. He removed his hat, knelt down for the prayer circle with members from both teams and joined LeSean McCoy for an interview with NBC.

Foles’ performance will not be the first or even second topic of conversation among Eagles fans today. And that’s saying something considering he went 21-for-25 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 131.7.

“Great decision-making,” said guard Todd Herremans. “He’s been making great decisions ever since he got in there. That’s the kind of guy he is. Real calm, cool and collected. He’s realizing when to get rid of the ball, when to throw it away and when to keep it and run.”

Of Foles’ four incompletions, three were essentially balls he threw away, and one was a dropped screen attempt to Celek. No quarterback in Eagles franchise history has completed a higher percentage of passes in a single game than Foles (84 percent) did Sunday night.

But because the Eagles have a showdown with the Cowboys in six days, the conversation will quickly shift this week, and it will include a look back to the first time the two teams met – the game where Foles completed 11 of 29 throws for 80 yards as the Eagles managed just three points against one of the league’s worst defenses.

Foles will be peppered with questions all week long about that game. He may not admit it publicly, but comments from his teammates suggest that Foles is thrilled to have a second shot at the Cowboys – this time with the NFC East and a playoff appearance on the line.

“He’s definitely gonna use it as motivation,” said Jason Peters. “If Dallas plans on Foles playing like he did the first game, they’re not gonna win the game. So they better prepare and prepare well.”

Added Jason Kelce: “I think he was really frustrated after that Dallas game. That was the first time you saw it. You didn’t really see it during the game, which is good because you don’t really want to see it during the game. But after that, not really that he played sub-par against Dallas, but he kind of lost that opportunity right there that he had to kind of get that [starting] spot. And then Mike [Vick] was pushed back in there.

“Obviously he’s a competitive guy. He wants to be out there. So he was disappointed. That’s the first time that I’ve really seen him show some emotion. That wasn’t during the game. It was more during the week.”

The sense among teammates is that Foles has nothing really more to prove. He showed he could bounce back from adversity by firing seven touchdowns in his next appearance against the Raiders. And that was after he had sustained a concussion at the end of the Dallas game.

Overall, he leads the NFL in passer rating (118.8) and yards per attempt (9.03).

Asked if Foles would use the first game as motivation, Evan Mathis said: “He can use it for whatever he wants. I think he obviously already bounced back from that game. He learned a lot from that game. That game might have been some of the reason that he has been playing so well. Some of us don’t always come out here and play great games, and for a guy like that to bounce back, not let it get to him, that just shows great character by Nick. He’s so even-keeled, never too high, and in a situation like that, never too low. He took it with a grain of salt, watched the film, picked it apart, learned from it and he bounced back.”

Foles said he’ll watch the film from the first meeting once again this week as he prepares for the second matchup.

“It definitely is going to be in our cut-ups and I am going to watch it and see what happened,” he said. “It worked for [Dallas’ defense] the first time so I don’t see why they would change anything.”

The Cowboys entered the weekend with the 31st-ranked defense (28th against the pass). Considering the way LeSean McCoy has been playing, stopping the Eagles’ prolific ground game will likely be Dallas’ top focus. That means once again Foles will have opportunities to do damage through the air. This time around, he and his teammates are expecting different results.

“He will be in front of you guys I’m sure very vanilla and won’t give you guys any good stuff to write about,” Kelce said. “But he’s definitely a very competitive guy deep down. It’s something that he kind of doesn’t show – his emotions to the media, doesn’t really show them in the game. But you know just through talking to him that he’s really excited. He’s a very competitive guy, and I’m sure that he’s going to want to go out there and have a really good day to kind of silence [everyone] ragging on him.”

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CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN…

1. Why a coach loses a timeout if he throws a challenge flag on a play that’s automatically reviewed?

We saw this with Kelly in the third quarter when officials ruled that McCoy had fumbled. Kelly threw the red challenge flag, but turnovers are automatically reviewed. As a result, the Eagles lost a timeout.

“Yeah, I screwed up,” Kelly said afterwards.

“I knew the rule. I’m not making any excuses. It’s my fault. I knew the rule. I was wrong.”

Kelly should have known the rule. No doubt about it. But why is this a rule in the first place? Because of the extra five seconds it takes for the coach to pick up his flag? This Tweet that came across my timeline summed it up best.

2. How a defense can look as bad as it did last week vs. the Vikings and then shut down an offense as good as Chicago’s?

Matt Cassel against the Eagles: 26-for-35 for 382 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Matt Cassel against the Bengals in Week 16: 13-for-27 for 114 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

The Bears, meanwhile, had scored 83 points in their previous two games. They were the second-highest scoring offense in the NFL entering Sunday night’s game, averaging 29.0 points per game. But the Eagles limited Chicago to a field goal and a touchdown on 11 drives. The Bears punted six times, were intercepted once, took a safety and turned it over on downs.

The fitting Tweet for this one:

I’ll admit: After the performance against the Vikings, I was more in the “they might get exposed in the final two games” camp than the “maybe they just had a bad outing” camp. But Billy Davis and the players deserve a ton of credit. Against a prolific offense and a team with a lot at stake, they came up huge.

Before the game, I probably could have envisioned some crazy scenario where the offense would go off for 40+. But even the biggest optimist would have struggled to come up with a scenario by which the defense only allowed 11 points.

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THE NO-22

James Casey has seen an increased role in the offense since the Eagles started using him as a run-blocker after the bye week. He got the job done on Polk’s 10-yard TD run in the fourth.

polk1a_no22

The Eagles often show the same look and have Foles read the unblocked edge defender. But since the bye week, they’ve been using the tight end more to come across the formation and account for that defender.

polk1b_no22

Casey does an excellent job, and so does Mathis. Also notice that Foles carries out his fake. That’s something that Lazor grades him on during their film review sessions. Here, the linebacker freezes and keeps an eye on Foles.

Polk gets a huge running lane and finds himself one-on-one against the safety.

polk1c_no22

He breaks the tackle and scampers into the end zone for the score.

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THE NUMBER THAT MATTERS

0 – That’s how many pass plays the Eagles called in the fourth quarter. Not counting Vick’s final kneel-downs, the offense was on the field for seven plays, and they were all runs.

In the final 15 minutes, the Eagles ran it seven times for 135 yards. That’s an average YPC of 19.3.

On one drive, the Eagles ran it six times for 70 yards. McCoy with back-to-back runs of 9 and 14; Bryce Brown with back-to-back runs of 4 and 18; McCoy once more for 15; and Polk with the 10-yard TD. In all, the drive took 3:41 off the clock, and the ball never traveled through the air.

Later in the quarter, Brown broke a 65-yard touchdown for a score.

The Bears’ run defense is horrible, but still, that’s impressive.

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GAME BALL OFFENSE: NICK FOLES

He completed 21 of 25 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Just as important: He didn’t turn it over once.

There have been three instances this year where a quarterback has completed at least 84 percent of his passes and averaged at least 9.2 yards per attempt. Peyton Manning did it in Week 3 against the Raiders. And Philip Rivers did it in Week 7 against Jacksonville.

Foles is the third QB to add to that list. And the amazing part about it is no one really blinked an eye like he was doing something special.

“It’s typical Nick Foles football,” said tight end Zach Ertz. “Everybody still kind of wants to remember that Dallas game. But we’ve thrown that in the rear-view mirror. He’s thrown 25 touchdowns I think to two interceptions. He’s playing at a record pace. So we’re very excited for him.”

Barring a four-INT performance in the finale, Foles will become the second quarterback in NFL history to post 25+ touchdowns and five or fewer interceptions in a season, joining Tom Brady who had 36/4 in 2010.

GAME BALL DEFENSE: TRENT COLE

A Kapadia Rule for this day-after piece: Any time you total three sacks or more in a game, you win a game ball.

“Trent was lights-out tonight,” said DeMeco Ryans. “That’s what Trent is capable of doing – taking over games, dominating offensive tackles and getting to the quarterback. That’s what he’s capable of doing. We just had to put him into situations where he is able to rush the passer and showcase his talents.”

The Bears tried to use Matt Forte to block Cole early on, and Cole beat him to sack Cutler. Later, Cutler was pressured by Cedric Thornton, but Cole finished him off. And in the third, Cole got to Cutler once again.

Cole had one sack in the Eagles’ first 10 games. He has seven in the last five.

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THAT’S WHAT HE SAID

“Usually he’s pretty calm. I know when we played Detroit, Coach [Bill] Lazor was going up to him telling him he was babying the ball, and they got into kind of an altercation because you couldn’t throw the ball too hard because it was so hard to see, so hard to catch and throw. So that’s probably one time.” – LANE JOHNSON

I asked several Eagles, including Johnson, what the most frustrated was that they had ever seen Foles. The rookie offered a pretty good anecdote from the Detroit game in the snow. In case you couldn’t tell from last week’s Matchup column, Lazor coaches Foles hard.

Other Eagles had trouble coming up with an answer.

“I got nothing,” said Mathis. “I can’t think of it. If it’s anything, you can see that if he ever feels like lets down his teammates, you might see that. But you don’t see him getting frustrated. You don’t see him getting real upset. He can learn from it. He can move on. He can bury a problem and go. And that’s a quality that a true pro has to have.”

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FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS

1. Cedric Thornton deserves some love. He came up with the big safety in the third quarter and was key in limiting Forte to 29 yards on nine carries. Thornton also pressured Cutler on a play where Cole ended up getting the sack.

“Cedric has been one of those guys who has been really consistent right from the jump,” Kelly said. “We talked a lot about him early. As Bennie [Logan] and Fletcher [Cox] started to emerge too, sometimes you forget about… it’s not because Cedric wasn’t productive. But we had some other guys that were starting to contribute. And he had a huge play for us at a point in time where we needed a little bit of a jump. Not only do we score and get the two there, but they kick it, and we get an opportunity to go down on that drive and score a touchdown, so it’s a nine-point swing.”

Thornton has been perhaps the Eagles’ most consistent defender this season. He’s young, plays with great effort and figures to be a great complement to Cox for years to come.

2. Credit where credit is due: Special teams came up big. The Eagles tried to pin Devin Hester in a corner on kickoffs and were very successful. Alex Henery kicked off nine times. On one of those, Bradley Fletcher forced a fumble. On the other eight, Chicago started on average at its own 22.6 yard line.

The Bears’ best starting field position on kickoffs was their own 33. And remember, the Eagles were playing without core special-teamers Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman, who were out with injuries.

Henery, meanwhile, connected on a 49-yard field goal in the second quarter. Overall, excellent performance from special teams.

3. Speaking of which, Brandon Boykin deserves some praise too. He has been an outstanding gunner on the punt coverage team all season. In the third, Boykin saved the ball from going into the end zone, and Roc Carmichael downed it at the 2. That coverage led directly to the safety by Thornton.

Boykin also picked off Cutler in the fourth and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown. The second-year player now has five interceptions, tied for fourth-most in the league.

Not bad at all, considering he had only played 52 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps going into Sunday.

4. While we’re praising the 2012 draft class, Mychal Kendricks came up with a pair of sacks. In the last two games, he has three sacks and an interception.

In the second quarter, he blitzed up the middle, beat Forte (one of the best blocking backs in the league) and brought Cutler down.

And in the third, he used his speed off the edge to turn the corner, hit Cutler and force a fumble.

The coaches still believe Kendricks can improve in coverage, but he’s been a versatile playmaker for this defense down the stretch.

5. I probably haven’t said enough in this space about how good McCoy was. He torched the league’s worst run defense for 133 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Since Kelly made adjustments to the run game during the Eagles’ bye week, McCoy has run 74 times for 467 yards and averaged 6.3 YPC.

He is the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,476 yards, leading Jamaal Charles by 189 yards. McCoy needs 37 yards against Dallas to break Wilbert Montgomery’s record for must rushing  yards in a season (1,512).

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SNAP COUNTS

The offense:

 
Total Snaps
Percentage Of Snaps
QUARTERBACKS
Nick Foles6195%
Michael Vick35%
RUNNING BACKS
LeSean McCoy4469%
Bryce Brown1219%
Chris Polk914%
WIDE RECEIVERS
DeSean Jackson5992%
Riley Cooper5586%
Jason Avant2742%
Jeff Maehl711%
Damaris Johnson35%
Brad Smith12%
TIGHT ENDS
Brent Celek5891%
James Casey3047%
Zach Ertz1523%

Casey has solidified his role as a blocker in the run game. He played 30 snaps, compared to 15 for Ertz.

Brown had easily his best game of the season with nine carries for 115 yards. Polk got into the mix too with the 10-yard TD run.

The defense:

 
Total Snaps
Percentage Of Snaps
DEFENSIVE LINE
Vinny Curry3858%
Fletcher Cox3757%
Bennie Logan2538%
Cedric Thornton2132%
Clifton Geathers2031%
Damion Square1929%
OUTSIDE LBs
Connor Barwin5178%
Trent Cole3858%
Brandon Graham2742%
Casey Matthews1422%
INSIDE LBs
Mychal Kendricks5382%
DeMeco Ryans5382%
Najee Goode1218%
Jake Knott1218%
CORNERBACKS
Bradley Fletcher65100%
Cary Williams5280%
Brandon Boykin3554%
Roc Carmichael1320%
SAFETIES
Patrick Chung6194%
Nate Allen5382%
Keelan Johnson1218%
Earl Wolff46%

Earl Wolff’s knee appeared to be acting up on him, so he only played four snaps at safety.

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GUESSING THE LINE

My guess to McManus in the press box during the game was Cowboys (-2), only because they are at home. I think the Eagles would be a field-goal favorite at the Linc.

Kickoff is set for 8:30 next Sunday night on NBC. Winner gets a home playoff game. Loser goes home.

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