First-and-10 from the Saints’ 15, late in the opening quarter. Drew Brees had just thrown his first interception of the day, the crowd was smelling blood and the Eagles were threatening. It was the first chance to establish superiority. Instead, a nightmare sequence developed.
Brent Celek was dropped for an eight-yard loss on a screen play. Then Nick Foles, with all day to throw, never pulled the trigger and took an 11-yard sack. A play later, Alex Henery knuckled a 48-yard field goal attempt wide left.
“Part of the turnover thing as I’ve talked about before is if our defense does create them we need to do something with them offensively, and we didn’t capitalize the way we need to when our defense creates turnovers like that,” said Chip Kelly.
What went wrong? Let’s take a look:
On the screen play to Celek, the key figure is former Eagle defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. The Eagles are trying to sell a traditional passing play. As you can see below, DeSean Jackson and Zach Ertz are carrying out their routes on the right side of the field while Celek begins to leak out into the flat on the left.
Foles is looking right to try and sell the downfield throw. But Bunkley (blue arrow) isn’t biting. The Eagles want him to be in the backfield at this point. But he has sniffed out the screen and begins moving towards Celek.
“The main problem was that the d-tackle read out of it and they were in man coverage, so Evan [Mathis] got eaten up on the defensive tackle and the linebacker who was playing the man, nobody got to him on time,” said Jason Kelce. “I think we could have done a better job up front of selling the action to the right. I think that’s why the d-tackle stopped.”
Here’s what Kelce is talking about:
Mathis is forced to block Bunkley. If Bunkley had taken the bait, Mathis would be able to focus on Curtis Lofton. Instead, Lofton comes in unblocked.
That set up a 2nd-and-18. The Saints only send three after Foles, who is scanning and scanning but unable to find a throw he likes. The ball was snapped with 12 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Nine seconds ticked off before Foles was eventually brought down.
“I was trying to make a play. They dropped into coverage, and every time I had a guy open, they swiped and they kept swiping,” said Foles. “At the last second when I was thinking about throwing the ball away, the guy grabbed my leg and sort of spun me, and at that time it was hard to really throw it away.”
“It was a bad decision by me. I definitely should have thrown it away in that situation.”
LeSean McCoy picked up four yards on third down, setting up the 48-yard attempt. Henery said he made it from as far as 55 yards during warm-ups, but 48 was the top distance they were comfortable with for an in-game situation.
“The max number was right at the 30-yard line,” said Henery. “I was hitting them fine…Science doesn’t allow the ball to fly as far on a cold day like that. It’s something you’ve got to work with and we worked with it and the field goal I just didn’t hit well.”
Had they done a better sell job on the screen pass; if the alarm clock had gone off in Foles’ head; if Henery hits it flush, we’re talking about a different outcome to that drive, and maybe the game.
Often times, it just comes down to execution.