Zone Read: Eagles-Saints, the Day After

Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) prepares to throw the ball as Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole (58) and Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox (91) chase in the first quarter during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo |  Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) prepares to throw the ball as Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole (58) and Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox (91) chase in the first quarter during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo | Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Going into Saturday night’s matchup with the Saints, the Eagles’ defensive gameplan focused on daring Sean Payton to take the football out of Drew Brees’ hands.

New Orleans has been a pass-first offense and was playing without its leading rusher in Pierre Thomas. Unlike most weeks, Davis figured he could pay less attention to the run game and instead scheme to limit big plays in the passing game. Payton responded by handing the ball off over and over again to the tune of 36 carries and 185 yards.


"That’s on me," Davis said. "I made the calls for the passing game to make sure we keep the big plays off us. It was a lot more split safety and a lot more pass-oriented calls, so some of the runs leaked out. I could have called more of a run-based defensive game, shut that down, but we were trying to keep the points down and the big plays off us. So that run game comes down to me, not the players."

Was Davis surprised that the Saints, a team that had the seventh-fewest rushing attempts during the regular season, decided to lean on the ground game so heavily?

"Yeah, I was," he said. "But that’s a credit to them for adjusting, and we adjusted back in that fourth quarter. We knew the running game was coming and we came back to some of the run calls, but the whole thing’s about keeping those points down and the big plays off of us. That was the goal."

In the first half, the Eagles limited the Saints to six points on six possessions, benefiting from a couple Brees interceptions.

But they were never able to slow the run game. Mark Ingram had a 17-yard run on the Saints' first play and finished with 97 yards on 18 attempts (5.4 YPC). Rookie Khiry Robinson had 45 yards on eight carries, and Darren Sproles ran four times for 29.

The 185 yards on the ground were the most the Eagles had allowed since Nov. 17 and the third-highest number they gave up all season. From Week 10 on, the Eagles had the fifth-best run defense in the league, and overall, they allowed 3.8 YPC in the regular season, fourth-best.

"When you try to stop something, you give ‘em something," said Connor Barwin. "It was a challenge for us at times - five, six in the box to stop the run, which we thought we could hold up and do it. But we let ‘em leak for too much. It’s ironic, it came down to the end where [we] weren’t able to get the ball off the field when they were running, everyone in the stadium knew they were running, which is why it’s frustrating. We have to be able to get off the field there in that situation."

The Saints took over at the Eagles' 48 with 4:54 left, and the worst-case scenario played out. Not only did they pick up three first downs and set up for the game-winning field goal, but they ran the clock down to zero and didn't give the Eagles' offense a chance to get back onto the field.

"The gameplan is always to stop the run, but yes, we shifted our attention to their passing game, and we went coverage a lot because we felt like we could hold up in the run with six guys, five guys in the box," said Barwin. "And we did at times, but we didn’t enough. We let them leak on first down. But I don’t know. We’ll look back on it. There were too many 2nd-and-4, 2nd-and-3, 3rd-and-2. We gave up little runs on first down that hurt us and made the calls a lot harder for Billy when they got in those short, 2nd-and-short, 3rd-and-short."

Added Trent Cole: "Coach gives us a play and then we’ve gotta go out there and stop it and that’s what it is. We’ve gotta buckle down no matter what it is, whatever the call’s been made. We’ve gotta go out there as a defense and play, do whatever we can. We’re players. We get a signal and get the call and all we can do is go out there and execute it."

The Saints ran the ball on eight of nine plays on their final drive. In the second half, the Eagles allowed points on four of five possessions.

"I think we made some big leaps, but in the end it wasn’t enough," Davis said. "We needed one more solid game. But I’m proud of these guys - the way they grew and the way they dove in. They really are selfless. It was a fun ride. It was a great group of men to work with. And hopefully we built a foundation we can build off of."

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  • GW.Fisher

    By far my favorite site. Can’t wait to see you guys cover an Eagles Superbowl season…

  • OldDocRoss

    I’m too gutted/hungover just now to offer anything insightful on the game, but just wanted to say a huge thanks to Sheil and Tim for all their work this season.

    The level of coverage and analysis you guys offer is genuinely phenomenal and you’ve made this place a “must visit” for Eagles fans over the last couple of years.

    Again, thanks.

  • addicted2mula

    Exactly what I said before the game. They need to do screens why abandon it. 3 the last two games that’s RIDICULOUS. And they gave up big plays all year why change the Defense plan now! Which bit them in the ass. Horse collar instead of six? I would’ve at least let my offense have a chance to win the game instead of the Defense

    • GEAGLE

      Defensive players aren’t wired to think like that in that situation…they expect to stop the offense, so you can’t expect Cary to let them score a TD on that return…it just doesn’t work that way

      • addicted2mula

        I understand but come on horse collar tackle over a dive tackle ATTEMPT

        • GEAGLE

          Miss a dive tackle and they score a TD…in a CB mind, he wants to shut that down, and he wants to be on the field to stop the offense to win the game…

          Now after they killed all our Time Outs..at some point, I would have allowed them to just score….but you can’t ask Cary to not bring down the ball carrier in that situation by any means neccessary! to stop him from scoring

          • addicted2mula

            There’s a lot of tackles where its miss and they score but they don’t force a penalty unless its early in the game.

    • Byter

      Screens weren’t working because teams were not blitzing as much. In the offseason, the team has to upgrade their passing game including scheme, routes, reads, and when to pull trigger or not. Foles has to become a better scrambler. Brees isn’t fast but he knew when to pull the ball down and make a positive play. Chip is excellent in the run game and needs to get better in the pass game.

      • addicted2mula

        Doesn’t matter if they are blitzing or not. Continue to do it and keep them on there toes. Fake one side go to the other or regular screens. Not WR or TE screens

        • Mr. Magee

          Good point. Chip stuck w TE screen long after opposing teams had it figured out.

          • addicted2mula

            Exactly! I understand it worked sometimes but why not let a fast McCoy run behind blocks. I felt McCoy needed to touch the ball 25 30+. And we didn’t see a lot of motions.

  • Birdbrain77

    This is the FIRST thing I read in the morning, followed by Tommy’s site then maybe I’ll head over to beat writers. Fantastic job gentlemen! I’m spoiled now, please keep this thing goin.

  • Tom w

    Maybe people will let up on the dline after reading that article. Defense didn’t lost his game. You take away saints passing plays for the first half, leave them w 6 points, and two turnovers. The coaches expect the offense to put up more than 7 in first half which would forced saints to throw into our nickel in second half instead of run. Offense took 3 quarters to get going and left at least 10 pts on the field in first. Should have been 17-6 at half w the ball. Not 7-6. Offense chip oline wrs let us down and put our defense in a tough spot in the second half — basically having to retreat from perfect gameplan bc your offense didn’t score enough at home! To force saints to throw into the nickel and stop kicking fgs.

    • GEAGLE

      We lost because of a Kicker and because the Oline and Running backs didn’t get it done…PERIOD!…defense played as well as it could have, considering we played the saints with No safety help…don’t like how little Polk and Bryce played..shady struggle, give them different stylistic backs to worry about…we already knew our safeties ain’t good enough

      • aub32

        You mean the kicker missed a kick that should have been 20 yards closer. The kicker is an easy scape goat, but the offense let us down. At no point this season did any of us say, “good thing our STs is so dominant.” The offense was expected to be the best unit, and they had the worse showing, based on what’s expected. They should have put that game away in the first half. However, despite the D playing fantastically in the first; they only scored once. Foles & Co. let us down.

      • Tom w

        Their kicker best us more so than our kicker IMO. Entire offense didn’t get it done for 3 quarters… Took too long to figure out Ryan’s defense… Believe avant said that too. Same thing happened at cowboys and Vikings … 3 outta 4 games we were too inconsistent too long on offense and didn’t get a great push up front. Also Casey barely played and way way too much avant and 3 wide last nite. Guess chip wanted to throw it more but that obviously didn’t work. Same as vikes game.

        • Mr. Magee

          I think chip wanted to run it, but saints did good job taking it away (O line not effective). Don’t think foles had a great game either (at least not till Q4, when it was too late).

      • Tom w

        You shouting at me or agreeing w me ?? Can’t tell.

    • Richard Colton

      Yeah. I doubt you’ll find someone willing to pin this loss solely on the DL. Eagles weren’t blitzing, so it would have been helpful if we could have gotten more of a push up front on passing downs. Not to mention being blown off the ball on some of the short-yardage sitiuations. Overall – I’ve been very impressed with their development this year.

      • JofreyRice

        Nah, team loss, but I think to completely exonerate the defense is misguided, as well. Kudos for limiting Graham, but Brees was off, to be honest; under/overthrowing balls most of the night. Regardless of the strategy, the D missed 10 tackles, compared with 2 missed tackles for the Saints, and as Barwin said above, couldn’t stop the Saints when everyone knew they were running.

        I’m impressed with the defensive development, for sure. This looks more like a couple of fixable problems than a complete disaster.

        • Richard Colton

          agreed. last off season we were looking at a gut-job. Now its a coat of paint and some appliances.

        • Token

          Yea Brees missed one or two TD passes.

          But in the end the D got timely turnovers. If the offense performed in the first half we would have won. Maybe handily. Saints would of had to abandon the run, playing right into Davis’s plan.

          Just didnt happen.

          I think overall Davis has done a way better job than I thought possible. With a group that severely lacks talent. They have holes that need filled for sure.

          The Eagles really could have used a ILB last night when they were getting run over in the middle.

          • JofreyRice

            yeah, can’t have your two ILBs missing that many tackles and losing guys in coverage.

      • Maggie

        Sunday evening: I’ll bet the Green Bay boards are filled with nearly identical comments! Sometimes things just don’t work. I agree about next year. Looks promising. Have to keep up with mock drafts and combine again. Got to fill the empty hours with something, lol.

    • morgan c

      Dude, it’s 24-23 with 4 and change left. Defense and ST have to finish the job, or at least give offense a final chance. One thing I found interesting was BD (via Les Bowen) saying that even on final drive, they still paid attention to Graham and Sproles in passing game. Just a terrible call there. Giving up a 40 yard completion at least gives us the ball back. Giving up 4 minutes of them running it down our throats is just inexcusable.

      Defense overachieved all year for sure. And yes, offense could have done more. But you just can’t get away that we HAD THE LEAD in the end. Offense, as bad as they were, got the job down in the 4th quarter. Defense has to hold. End of story.

      • Mr. Magee

        Morgan, your 1st par is absolutely spot on – quite surprising that chip and Davis did not alter the strategy in the last 5 mins. But I think overall the D played well enough to win – the offense let too many opportunities go by.

      • Tom w

        Your making no sense. The saints needed twenty yards to get in range at all. U still need to play pass there as the saints were still freaking throwing!! Rewatch the game. They hit Colston for 9 yds and sproles short. I agree after they got within the 25 yd line we shoulda stopped Ingram/Robinson but that doesn’t make the dline horrible or Logan or Thornton bums like you were saying yesterday. And special team hurt us w field position not the defense. And just stop w giving up a long td to get ball back. You don’t play that way that is just idiotic. By all your statements you are just purely second guessing and really have no idea what you are talking about on the offense or defense. You don’t know the routes on offense nor did you know they were playing nickel all game. Your just bitching and whining like some dope on Philly.com. It’s annoying.

    • Mr. Magee

      We’ll said

  • EaglefaninAZ

    Thanks so much for the greatest, most intelligent Eagles coverage on the planet. You guys rock is all.

  • Andy

    This is the ONLY Eagles site I read these days. Wish it weren’t here already, but I’m looking forward to top-notch offseason coverage from Birds 24/7.

  • TheGhostofNormVanBrocklin

    I’m going to chime in with everyone else and thank Tim and Sheil for their hard work and top-notch coverage. Now I’ve got to go back to being productive at work. Boo!

  • nicksaenz1

    A few things (or more than a few):

    1) Thank you Tim and Sheil. A great site that is my only stop for Eagles reading and continues to get better. Great work and please never leave.

    2) I went to the game last night. Despite the outcome, couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Didn’t sit once. Lost my voice. I’ve never had a better time at a game. Such an intense energy.

    3) No one player/play lost us this game. The offense couldn’t get going or figure out Rob Ryan’s D in the first half, which means the two turnovers couldn’t be fully capitalized on. The league’s 5th ranked run D couldn’t stop Mark F’n Ingram. Watching Mark Ingram thrash your D in person is even more frustrating that from your TV, trust me.

    4) Experience wins. Usually does. However, we got a taste of the playoffs and this team is going to be better for it. The program is in place at every level, from the FO to the smoothies. Players will have all offseason to go through their individual workouts and come back to camp as fine-tuned machines while the FO makes some moves to upgrade parts.

    5) I hate Roc Carmichael, the player. I don’t know the person. As soon as he came in for CW I looked at my buddy and said he’s about to get picked on. Sure enough, he did. He’s on the short list of names I hope I don’t see next on the roster come spring camp. Aside from measurables, I’ll never understand Chip’s love for him. He sucks.

    6) Speaking of the short list…. In order: Chung, Chung, Coleman, Carmichael, Chung, Anderson, Damaris Johnson. Allen has been moved to honorable mention. I don’t want to kick him as much as I used to and understand we actually need to put safeties on the field. Since I hate the other safeties not named Wolff far more, I’m alright with Allen. Damion Square is building a case to make my short list.

    7) We’re in a great spot as a franchise, a year before we thought we’d be there. We’re all upset we lost, but there’s so much to look forward to now. We’re set at some key positions, most importantly, QB.

    • Richard Colton

      I like your list. I’m going to add Chung, if that’s OK.

      • nicksaenz1

        I originally had him on the list three more times, so, by all means, add him as many more times as you see fit.

    • OldDocRoss

      I’d agree with pretty much all of this.

      The loss hurts like hell but we’re in a great spot as a franchise. At the start of the year the main things I wanted to see were:

      1. Proof Kelly’s O could work in the NFL.
      2. Decent enough play at QB that we wouldn’t be forced to draft for need at that position.
      3. Evidence that the D was improving as the season went on.

      They’ve more than delivered on all of those things, plus the last couple of drafts look good so that’ll hopefully help ease the pain over the next few days.

      On the downside, Damaris is definitely on The List and is probably one of the bigger disappointments for me. I thought he was a guy who “wasn’t being put in a position to succeed” but it now appears he may just be pants.

      And yes, your list needs more Chung.

      • nicksaenz1

        I’ve never liked Damaris, but I wanted to see if Chip could make something of him. He just isn’t good. All there is to it.

  • davev

    thanks for this article. It made me realize the biggest mistake was the eagles not going all out to stop the run in the last drive (put eight in the box). The one thing you can’t do is allow a team to run for first downs at the end of the game which eat up the clock. Billy Davis gets an F for his lack of strategy on the final drive. So they score through the air. At least the Eagles and their biggest strength, the offense, get a last chance to win. Not sure if he is a long term answer for def. coordinator. He lacks strategic thinking. Plus against playoff caliber teams you can’t play one dimensional (stop the pass) because I don’t care what their season stats are they are good at all aspects of the game.

    • morgan c

      Plus 1000.

    • Maggie

      The biggest mistakes were on the offensive side of the ball. Over and over. Questionable calls, bad execution, dropped pass or two, rookie quarterback. And really bad blocking half the time.

    • Marilyn Monbroe

      You cant put 8 in the box with drew brees and our secondary. This was the best we could expect. We all knew that the offense had to put up 30 to win.

  • phillyfanatic

    Three wishes for the off-season:
    Clinton Ha Ha Dix
    Jarius Byrd
    Brian Orakpo

    • Justin

      I want HaHa Clinton-Dix just because of his name.

      • SvelteGodzilla

        EVERYONE should want Ha Ha Clinton-Dix because of his name.

  • Philip Soloninka

    And Jason Peters: “Just stay together. It’s a start. He
    thanked us for the season we had this year for him, his first year. And
    we told him it ain’t over. It’s the beginning.”

    F yes.

  • morgan c

    I don’t get the Wolff thing at all. If he’s active, he’s playing. Period. Playing injured, he gives us more than Chung who is absolutely a terrible football player that shouldn’t even be a back-up. Either make him inactive, or throw him out there. He reinjures his knee – so be it. That’s the nature of the game. These guys get paid to put themselves on the line and he has the whole offseason off. Nothing to lose putting him out there.

    • Mr. Magee

      Yeah, very strange that he was active but did not take the field… What’s the point?

    • Token

      Yea wonder if we ever find out the truth about the Wolff thing. The team thinks he was healthy a couple weeks ago. Wanted him back in the Bears game. He refused.

      I cant count on him now. 2 months he was out. Obviously the injury itself couldnt have been that bad or they would have IRed him to open up the roster spot.

      Just a strange situation. I think at very least hes in the doghouse.

      We really dont even know how good he is yet. Chung makes anyone, except Allen, look good in comparison. He showed promise for a young safety. And maybe would be a good pairing with Byrd. But this injury thing was off putting. Guess we will see.

      • Maggie

        Maybe it had more to do with keeping Chung on the field for some internal reason. For all we know, it might have had little to do with Wolff.

  • Kev_H

    Maybe time of possession matters in the NFL where you don’t get a month to rest up for your bowl game. Eagles’ defense sure looked worn out from wire to wire especially on QB sneaks.

  • bret

    we’re missing the big picture…..with 2 minutes left and the saints in the red zone….with the eagles up one point…..JUST LET THEM FLIPPING SCORE SO YOU GET THE BALL BACK AND HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO DO SOMETHING!!!!! you know they at least have the field goal locked up….so give them the touch down, because a return TD and extra point WIN the game….versus grabbing your ankles and letting them run out the clock and win with a chip shot. I was screaming at the tv last night wondering what they were (or in this case, weren’t) thinking….. bad coaching decision. let them score, and then at least you know the ball is in YOUR hands to win or lose. not theirs.

  • Token

    We may have forgot theres a bunch of holes to fill.

    Also theres a TON of garbage on this roster. I expect Chip to dump a bunch of guys this offseason and replace. The Casey Matthews of the world. The Jeff Maehls. The other so called ST aces that cant play a NFL position, and frankly didnt make a impact on ST anyway.

    All the draft picks will make the roster and a bunch of UDFAs and probably a decent number of middle to lower level FAs as well. Chip will be forming the roster more.

    Its a big testament to the coaching staff they were able to get a playoff berth and a division title out of this group in one season.

    But honestly next year could be a bit of a let down. I expect us to improve for certain. But this years schedule was easy. We didnt do well against the few playoff teams we played. Next years schedule is brutal. Luckily the NFC East doesnt inspire much fear.

    • Maggie

      Unfortunately there are simply not enough quality safeties or ILB’s or even ST players to go around, not to forget WR’s. There are a number of other teams all looking to fill the same positions, don’t forget. it may only be possible to dump half at a time.

  • BullCityEagle

    Thanks guys for the coverage all year. Discovered the site in August and have been addicted ever since.

  • FMWarner

    Thanks for all the fantastic coverage this year, guys. Best Eagles site there is.

    I’m still gutted like everyone else, but generally I think the defense is off the hook. Sure, it’s a loss and everyone could have done better, but I think if we were told beforehand that the Saints would score 26, we’d all be feeling good. I think the offensive inefficiency in the first half is a bigger contributor to the loss because a better performance would have changed the dynamic that the defense was dealing with.

    I hate to say it because I like him, but Foles’ indecision is the biggest reason for this loss. He took some unconscionable sacks in the first half that cost us at least 3 points and also committed two intentional grounding penalties. I understand that judiciously taking some sacks is why his interception rate is so low, and that’s great. But he was not judicious yesterday. There are other reasons for this loss (Cooper’s drop comes to mind), but that’s the biggest.

    The Eagles appear to be in a good position relative to the rest of the NFC East for a couple of years, and I appreciate the fact that the team is on the rise as Jason Peters alluded to. But every trip to the playoffs is an opportunity that may not come again, and I believe the days of building a team to become a champion over two or three years is over. That’s why it hurts in a way that the playoff losses in 2001 and 2002 didn’t.

  • Johnny_P

    You can’t draft a kicker in the fourth round only to have him miss big time kicks and not be able to boot the ball into the back of the endzone. I never believe in wasting a draft pick on a kicker, more often than not you can snag reliable kicker in free agency (Ie Dan Bailey)

  • bill

    No one’s mentioning it, but the snap counts for WRs is screaming something about Chip Kelly’s preferences at the position. They have been for the last few weeks. And I think that information is important in determining the Eagles’ offseason moves. Pretty clear to me that Maclin and Jackson are NOT going to be #1 and #2 next year. Heck, there’s an argument to be made that Jackson was not the pure #1 WR this year. I’d actually like to see Mac back, and Jackson should still be an explosive player and see plenty of snaps, but there’s no way that the Eagles don’t have Cooper + another big WR, or multiple other big WRs brought in to replace Cooper if they let him walk. If Maclin is resigned, he’s got to be the slot guy, at least part of the time.

    More than anything else, though, it’s clear that they need to upgrade WR 4. Sure, STs is important for those guys, but you’d like to see at least some production there based on mismatches, etc. Not only did those guys not produce, they barely even saw the field this year. Depth at WR is something that I expect that they will focus on this offseason.

  • Tim

    Just want to say that this site has quickly become the definitive Eagles site out there. It’s been a pleasure following you guys!

  • Bird of Prey

    I can’t complain really. What was the Saints record w/out Payton and before Ryan last year? They are great coaches with seasoned vets that are perennial contenders, and we still almost won. Some of us received emails that Shiel and Tim were starting a new site with phillymag and they asked us to come over and just check them out. I did, and have been very happy ever since. The best part was all of the rest of you who made it fun to be an Eagle fan talking to Eagle fans who are really interested in what is going on with the team. There was an occasional troll who got kicked back to the other site where they belong, but thanks guys for the great conversations we had this year. I can’t wait until the draft and F/A, August can’t come too soon!