Ten Observations: An Eagles Slant To the Playoffs

Like many of you, I spent 12-plus hours in front of the TV this weekend, watching what turned out to be a great divisional round.

Here are 10 observations from the four games, many of which have an Eagles slant:

1. In one game, the Denver Broncos had more defense/special teams touchdowns than the Eagles had all season. Trindon Holiday took a punt 90 yards for a score for the first touchdown of the weekend. He later had a 104-yard kickoff return to start the second half. On the other side, Ravens cornerback Corey Graham intercepted Peyton Manning and took it 39 yards for a TD. In the next game, Sam Shields intercepted Colin Kaepernick for a 52-yard touchdown. In all, four non-offensive touchdowns in four games. During the 2012 season, the Eagles had ONE non-offensive touchdown – a Damaris Johnson punt return. Only two teams -  the Raiders and Lions – had fewer (0). We know about the issues with turnovers on offense, but the defense was tied for a league-worst 13 takeaways. And the Eagles almost never had a field-position advantage. Special teams has to be a focus for the next head coach.

2. It was 3:23 p.m. when Reuben Frank broke the news that the Eagles had interviewed Brian Billick for their head-coaching position. The timing was almost too much to handle. Billick was in the middle of calling the Falcons-Seahawks game for Fox. As I mentioned on Twitter, if there’s a drinking game associated with Billick-called games, I hope there’s a rule for every time he starts a sentence with “I’m not so sure that…”. And when I mentioned that Billick’s interview lasted nearly eight hours, I got a variety of responses like this one:

Now, broadcasting and coaching are two different things. But if Billick ends up being the guy, the one-liners among Eagles fans who were in front of their TVs yesterday will be plentiful.

3. Last week, we played the Russell Wilson what-if game. Andy Reid has admitted that he was high on Wilson. Adam Caplan mentioned over the weekend that the Eagles tried to move up for Wilson. Of course, Seattle ended up taking him 13 spots ahead of the Birds, who selected Nick Foles. But there’s another what-if scenario involving a quarterback that played over the weekend: Peyton Manning. Many will remember the Los Angeles Times report last March, indicating that Reid wanted to jump in on the Manning sweepstakes, but Manning didn’t want to be in the same division as his brother. ESPN’s Adam Schefter recently looked at Manning’s “failed suitors” and included the Birds among his six teams. So, what if the Eagles had landed Manning? Would they have made the playoffs? They certainly would have won more games, but then again, Manning can’t play cornerback. Would Reid be coming back for a 15th season? Just another factor to consider as the franchise heads in a new direction.

4. The Ravens ran 74 offensive plays on Saturday. Torrey Smith touched the ball just four times (three catches and a run). Yet he had a huge impact on the game, coming up with a 59-yard touchdown and a 32-yard touchdown. During the regular season, Smith’s catches, on average, came 13.1 yards downfield. That ranked third in the NFL. The Eagles have a vertical threat of their own, but they were unable to get him the ball downfield this season – partly because of defenses playing their safeties deep, partly because of a leaky offensive line and partly because of inconsistent quarterback play. DeSean Jackson’s average length of reception this year was 10.37, the lowest number of his career and 16th in the NFL. Last year, it was 12.66. The year before, 15.23. The Eagles need to find a way to get big plays out of Jackson in 2013 and beyond.

5. I don’t know who first mentioned it, but the Colin Kaepernick/Randall Cunningham comp works for me. Kaepernick measured in at 6-5, 233 at the combine. Cunningham was listed at 6-4, 215. In an electrifying performance, Kaepernick set an NFL playoff record (for a QB) with 181 rushing yards against the Packers Saturday night. He got it done with his arm too, fitting the ball into tight windows all game long. Between Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the future at quarterback in the NFL is bright. And watching Kaepernick, I couldn’t help but wonder how Cunningham would look in this era with a coach like Jim Harbaugh, a line like the 49ers’ and a system that fully utilized his athleticism.

6. Not sure where Marty Mornhinweg watched this weekend’s games, but I’m guessing that when the Falcons had the ball in the red zone, went with a split backfield and Jason Snelling scored on a shovel pass from 5 yards out, the former Eagles offensive coordinator stood up and started a slow-clap. Of course, that play should look familiar to the Eagles not only because they’ve run it so much, but because the Falcons scored the same way against them earlier this season.

7. Count me among the many who were confused by the Broncos taking a knee at the end of regulation. Manning and the offense had the ball at the Denver 20 with 31 seconds remaining. They also had two timeouts. Don’t you have to at least try to take a shot there? It was fitting that the next day, the Falcons had the ball at their own 28 with 31 seconds left and drove to the Seattle 31 on two plays. They kicked the game-winning field goal with eight seconds left. The situations were not exactly the same. Denver and Baltimore were tied. Atlanta was trailing. But you get the point. Have to take a shot there.

8. It’s 2013, and coaches still have to commonly race down the sideline to get referees’ to call timeout. We saw it from Pete Carroll in the Seahawks-Falcons game. Don’t we have the technology to come up with a better method than this? Same goes for spotting the ball. Can’t we put a chip or something in a football that automatically tells us where the line of scrimmage is, rather than having the official arbitrarily spot it? These are the things that keep me up at night.

9. So, what Super Bowl storylines are setting up? If the 49ers and Ravens win, we’ll have to deal with two straight weeks of Harbaugh family stories. Don’t get me wrong. It’s amazing that two brothers could potentially face each other for the title. But that might be a bit much. I don’t think anyone would complain about 49ers-Patriots in New Orleans. That Sunday night game was one of the most entertaining matchups of the year. Falcons-Ravens would take us back to the 2008 draft class when Matt Ryan was picked third and Joe Flacco 18th. And Falcons-Patriots wouldn’t be bad either. It’ll be tough to top this past weekend, but hopefully we still have a classic or two left.

10. Random notes to close it out: When they introduced the Punt, Pass and Kick winners yesterday, there was a kid from Hoover, Alabama who had the exact same haircut as the kids from the MTV show Two-A-Days. For those unfamiliar, the series followed the Hoover High football program. Highly recommended NetFlix viewing this offseason if you’ve never seen it. …There was so much skepticism last month about whether Chip Kelly would be successful in the NFL, but you see elements of his offense in the 49ers and Patriots, two of the last four teams alive. …And finally, I can’t believe it took me this long to discover @PhilSimmsQuotes. Pure genius.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Coaching Buzz: Mornhinweg To New York?

Maybe Marty Mornhinweg‘s next job will be right up the turnpike.

However, he’ll have some competition.

Some thought that Mornhinweg would follow Andy Reid to Kansas City, but it seems that a decision was made to part ways for the time being. Reid instead hired former QB coach Doug Pederson to be his offensive coordinator. Mornhinweg has been with Reid and the Eagles since 2003. I would imagine going from Reid to Rex Ryan would take  a little getting used to.

Interestingly, Reid just hired former Jets linebackers coach Bob Sutton to be his defensive coordinator, leading to speculation that the recently-fired Rob Ryan may join his brother in New York.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: ‘You Always Walk the Plank’

Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach Todd Bowles.Jerry Glanville taught us that NFL stands for “Not For Long,” and everyone who signs up for the lifestyle knows it.

If you’re a coach, you’re going to get fired. If you’re lucky you’ll get another gig in another city, and you’ll move your family there and hope the stay is long enough to grow some roots. But it probably won’t be.

Given the transient nature of the profession, it is understandable that a coach would insulate himself and zero in only on the Sunday in front of him until he is told that there will be no more Sundays with his current team.

“I have no idea. I have no idea. I hope it’s good,” said special teams coach Bobby April, when asked what the future holds for him in Philadelphia. “I like living in the neighborhood over here on 20th Street. It’s a good place, plus the city’s a great place and the organization’s great. But I don’t know. I have no idea. I couldn’t tell you.”

Of course, most who follow the situation could tell April that his chances of staying on the Eagles coaching staff beyond this season are remote. Same for Marty Mornhinweg and Todd Bowles and their leader Andy Reid. All of these men have to recognize the reality of the situation, but they seem programmed in such a way where the valve that allows that type of thinking is turned off.

“I haven’t gone there. Sometimes, the end is the beginning of something new. However, I don’t think any of us have gone there,” said Mornhinweg. “We are trying to get – my responsibility is these players and making sure that we’re getting better every day. That is our whole focus here. This is what we do for a living and one of the only things I have ever done except for working at the gas station there in South San Jose in high school. This is what we do. It’s not very hard, I think, to keep our focus on this next ballgame and the game plan, making sure that we get better every day. This is an important time for many of our players, some veterans and some young guys. Very, very important for them this week. I take that part very, very seriously there.”

While the rest of us have moved straight past the Giants and onto the bigger issues at hand, players and coaches find real value in every game they play, regardless of whether it has playoff implications or not. A chance to teach, a chance to play, a chance to put quality work on tape. A chance to absorb some knowledge to help you in your next stop.

“I’ve learned a ton of football from Reid. I’ve learned a ton about treating people, about management,” said Bowles. “I’ve learned a ton from my players. I’ve learned different personalities. I’ve learned different schemes. I’ve learned different parts of the game, as far as people and how to use them and different pieces.”

Nobody has faced more questions about the inevitable end than Reid, who has fought hard to keep those thoughts out.

“It looks to me like he is thinking about nothing else other than this next ballgame. I’m saying he’s a rock. He pretty much motors through anything,” said Mornhinweg.

Reid will have to motor through a good deal more in the coming weeks. Like many of his assistants, he in all likelihood will be forced to relocate and start over. But in a coach’s mind that’s never far from your reality, so why not focus your energy on the task at hand while you’re still here?

“You always walk the plank as a coach,” said April. “No one’s infallible.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Sheil takes a deeper look at Mike McCoy.

In the latest Twitter Mailbag, we throw some cold water on the idea that Michael Vick is dying to play for Chip Kelly.

Kapadia breaks out the All-22 tape to dissect Nick Foles‘ final performance of the 2012 season.

The Eagles were shut out in the Pro Bowl voting. Many believe that Evan Mathis deserved to make the team.

DeMeco Ryans explains why the label that he can’t play in a 3-4 is false advertising.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Don Banks of SI.com has a “Black Monday Primer” and gives  some names that the Eagles could target:

If Kelly doesn’t materialize in green, some within the league expect Lurie to take a page out of his past and try to identify the next Andy Reid: A young position coach or coordinator with obvious upside potential. Denver’s McCoy, Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter or Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell might make the radar screen in Philly. And don’t overlook one of the league’s better special teams coaches, like San Francisco’s Brad Seely, Dallas’ Joe DeCamillis, San Diego’s Rich Bisaccia or Atlanta’s Keith Armstrong. Remember, the Eagles had John Harbaugh on their staff for years, and the former Philly special teams coach has led the Ravens to five playoff berths in his first five years on the job.

Alex Marvez of FoxSports lists 12 potential head coaching candidates, one of which is Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer:

The man knows defense. Cincinnati ranks second in the NFL in sacks with 47 and has 92 over the past two seasons. That total is only eight less than what the Bengals produced in their previous four seasons combined. Zimmer has achieved defensive success largely through the development of draft picks — led by Geno Atkins, whose 12.5 sacks lead all NFL defensive tackles by a wide margin.

COMING UP

Barring something unforeseen, Reid’s last practice as head coach of the Eagles.

Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Offense Vs. Bucs’ Defense

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy MaclinHere are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Bucs’ defense.

1. The Eagles turned in one of their best offensive performances of the season last week against Dallas, coming up with points on six of 10 possessions. Overall, though, the Birds are 29th in scoring offense, averaging 18.1 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 25th – 26th in passing and 19th in rushing. The Bucs are 19th in scoring defense, allowing 23.8 points per game. Football Outsiders has Tampa ranked 16th defensively – 23rd against the pass and 2nd against the run.

2. Let’s talk about Nick Foles. The rookie turned in what was easily his best performance of the season last week, completing 22 of 34 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown (All-22 breakdown here). One key for Foles was putting the ball in places where receivers could pick up yards after the catch. Marty Mornhinweg indicated this week that he’s raising the expectation level for Foles.

“Nick and I have talked about that,” Mornhinweg said. “All of this progressing and all of that is over now. We are no longer rookies – that’s done. We expect to play at a high level consistently.”

3. Foles will have shots downfield against the Bucs’ secondary. Tampa has allowed 52 pass plays of 20+ yards, second-most in the league. Foles has only completed two passes that have traveled more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage all season. Tampa’s starting corners are E.J. Biggers and Leonard Johnson. Johnson is an undrafted free agent, and Biggers has 20 career starts. The Bucs go with veteran Ronde Barber and rookie first-round pick Mark Barron at safety.

4. The Eagles face a huge challenge in running the football. Bryce Brown has piled up 347 yards on 43 carries the past two weeks, averaging a ridiculous 8.1 yards per carry. But he’s fumbled three times. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown is averaging 4.2 yards after contact, the top mark in the league. He’s been decisive and hard to bring down. The Bucs are the only team in the NFL that has held opponents to under 3.5 yards per carry.

5. The Eagles’ offensive line has shown serious signs of improvement the past two weeks. Foles has only been sacked twice, and Brown has had all kinds of room to run. Rookie Dennis Kelly looks more comfortable at right tackle than he did at guard. Jake Scott has stepped in after having not played all season and provided an upgrade over former first-round pick Danny Watkins. Dallas Reynolds has been really good in the run game, despite playing with an ankle injury. Evan Mathis is playing some of the best football of his career, and King Dunlap held his own last week against DeMarcus Ware.

6. The Bucs have just 18 sacks on the season (30th). Left defensive end Michael Bennett has seven and will match up with Kelly. Scott will face a major test going up against 2010 No. 3 overall pick Gerald McCoy. Dunlap will square off with Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. You remember that name, right? Te’o-Nesheim was a third-round pick by the Eagles back in 2010. He only played in six games as a rookie and then was released before the 2011 season. Te’o-Nesheim has two sacks on the season.

7. Speaking of that 2010 draft, the Eagles selected 13 players. Six are still on the roster: Brandon Graham, Nate Allen, Riley Cooper, Clay HarborJamar Chaney and Kurt Coleman. While you can certainly debate the Graham pick, he’s had a good year and looks like he can be productive when healthy. Allen has been a disappointment. Cooper has shown some upside when given the opportunity. Harbor and Chaney are backups. And Coleman probably should be one too.

8. Foles should expect a heavy dose of blitzing. Tampa blitzed Peyton Manning 15 times last week and Matt Ryan 11 times the week before, according to Pro Football Focus. Foles will have to keep an eye on rookie WILL linebacker Lavonte David, who has blitzed a team-high 120 times. He also has a team-high 108 tackles. Barber’s blitzed 96 times and has a sack, forced fumble and four interceptions. Foles was solid last week against extra pressure, completing five of eight passes for 54 yards.

9. It will be interesting to find out what the team thinks of Jeremy Maclin this offseason. In three starts with Nick Foles, he’s got a total of eight catches for 93 yards. He hasn’t done much to warrant arguments that he could be a No. 1 receiver on another team. Maclin is a free agent after the 2013 season, but the Eagles could certainly make a decision on him before then.

10. The Eagles are 27th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 44.4 percent of the time. The Bucs are 10th in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 50 percent of the time. …The Eagles are 14th in third-down offense, converting on 39.3 percent of their opportunities. The Bucs are 27th in third-down defense allowing conversions 42.4 percent of the time.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Mornhinweg Adjusts Offense For Foles

Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.When asked if he’s consciously changed the play-calling to protect Nick Foles, Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did not hesitate with his response.

“Absolutely. There’s no question about that,” he said.

Against the Cowboys, the Eagles turned in one of their best offensive performances of the season, coming away with points on six of 10 possessions. Foles dropped back to pass 35 times and handed it off 26 times for a 57 percent/43 percent split.

Of course, many of the same adjustments were made earlier in the season when Michael Vick was at quarterback. After the disastrous performance against the Cardinals, Mornhinweg and Andy Reid seemed to realize that the high-flying, big-play offense from past years would be unsustainable with this offensive line.

“Well, we’ve been able to run the ball pretty well,” said guard Evan Mathis. “I think that’s what helps make that balance is being able to run the ball.”

He’s absolutely right.

The methodical approach hasn’t worked for much of the season for a variety of reasons. Turnovers are probably the biggest one. But the inability to effectively run the ball on a consistent basis is another. LeSean McCoy averaged 3.3 yards per carry in a loss to the Steelers; 1.6 yards per carry against the Lions; and 2.8 yards per carry against the Falcons. He often had nowhere to go and was dodging defenders at or behind the line of scrimmage.

McCoy found more success against New Orleans (6.3 YPC) and Dallas (5.1 YPC). And as we pointed out with the All-22 earlier this week, right now, the Eagles’ offensive line is really doing a good job creating room for Bryce Brown.

“The easiest way not to put pressure on the quarterback is to stay out of 3rd-and-long, stay out of 2nd-and-long,” said right guard Jake Scott. “If you run the ball on first down, you get to 2nd-and-5, 3rd-and-5, 3rd-and-shorts. Those are easier plays for a quarterback. That’s our job is to help get him to those easy third-down conversions. Situations where you pass because you want to, not because you have to.”

The Eagles’ running game faces a huge test Sunday against Tampa. The Bucs are ranked second against the run, per Football Outsiders, allowing opponents to gain just 3.4 yards per carry (first).

WHAT YOU MISSED

In his latest mailbag, T-Mac talks Howie RosemanGeno Smith and Michael Vick.

Could Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski be a sleeper coaching candidate for the Eagles?

Todd Bowles said Jim Washburn was never a problem for him.

An All-22 look at Foles’ performance vs. Dallas.

Greg Schiano inadvertently answered a question about Chip Kelly’s chances for success in the NFL.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Mathis broke down specific plays from the Dallas game with Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus:

As you can see from the image, Mathis got himself into perfect position, and then had the power to drive his man off the line of scrimmage and eventually right to the ground and out of the play. “It’s fun when the block is dominating enough to take a guy to the ground. It’s not as fun when the defender trips and falls while you’re blocking him. This first play above, I don’t take credit for him going to the ground because he tripped on my left tackle’s long, giraffe legs.” Though he may not get full credit for the pancake on the play, everything else about this block is exactly as it is drawn up, ensuring that a player who had a real chance of shutting down that run was neutralized.

SI.com’s Don Banks has the Eagles 29th in his power rankings:

Seems pretty obvious at this point that Andy Reid knows he fired the wrong defensive coach back in October. Juan Castillo wasn’t the problem. But perhaps the class-less Jim Washburn was. Good riddance to that guy’s weak act.

And finally, Emily Leaman over at Be Well Philly has a suggestion for the Eagles’ pre-game routine. You’re going to want to see what she has to say here.

COMING UP

We’ll hear from Andy Reid one last time before Sunday’s matchup.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Offense Vs. Cowboys’ Defense

Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Cowboys’ defense:

1. There was a time when a Sunday night game in early December against the Cowboys would have generated a playoff-type buzz around these parts. Instead, we’re left with this.

“I think one thing in coaching, and I’ve been in this thing a little while now, is that motivation aspect,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. “It’s key and it’s every day with the motivation aspect of it. Now, we certainly are in a spoiler type role here and that can be very rewarding. So, we have discussed that and it’s very rewarding that way.”

We’ll find out just how rewarding the Eagles find that spoiler role in the final five games.

2. The Eagles’ offense is averaging just 16.7 points per game, which ranks 30th, ahead of only the Cardinals and the Chiefs. Football Outsiders has the offense ranked 27th – 26th in passing and 25th in rushing. The Cowboys are 20th in scoring defense, allowing 23.8 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 19th – 22nd against the pass and 11th against the run. Dallas is coming off a Thanksgiving performance in which Robert Griffin III completed 19 of 27 passes for 304 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. The Cowboys didn’t get it done against the run either, allowing Alfred Morris to run 24 times for 113 yards (4.7 YPC). The Eagles scored 22 points against Carolina Monday night in their seventh straight loss.

3. In that game, the Birds relied on rookie running back Bryce Brown, who carried 19 times for 178 yards. As I detailed in the All-22 breakdown, Brown impressed with his ability to get around the edge and kick it into a special gear. Most of his success on the season has come out of spread formations. Brown’s run 27 times for 235 yards (8.7 YPC) out of 3-WR and 4-WR sets, according to STATS, Inc. He’s averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 10 attempts out of two-back sets and 6.9 yards per carry on 40 attempts out of single-back sets. The Cowboys will be without some of their key cogs on defense. Linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are out for the season. And nose tackle Jay Ratliff is doubtful with a groin injury. The Cowboys are allowing 4.1 yards per carry on the season (tied for 11th).

4. Nick Foles gets his third straight start in place of an injured Michael Vick. He went 16-for-21 for 119 yards last week against Carolina. Mornhinweg was asked this week about Foles’ progression.

“It certainly will be an evaluation,” Mornhinweg said. “Now, you have to take all different things into account… Young quarterbacks tend to play a little bit better when they are on an excellent team that is fully funded and everyone is on board playing and all of those things.”

Mornhinweg was pointing out that Foles hasn’t been operating with an ideal set of circumstances, considering the offensive line injuries (and the loss of DeSean Jackson). With young players, it’s not always about what they show, but how they project. No one’s expecting consistency at this point in his career, but Foles needs to show flashes of what he could be capable of in the future.

5. Up front, Dallas Reynolds participated in Friday’s practice and is listed as questionable. If he plays, the Eagles offensive line will likely be: King Dunlap (LT), Evan Mathis (LG), Reynolds (center), Jake Scott (RG), Dennis Kelly (RT). If Reynolds can’t go, Mathis is expected to move to center, and Danny Watkins would take his place at left guard. There’s been a lot of talk about whether Scott replacing Watkins has had more to do with the former first-round pick’s injury or his performance.

“Danny is there,” Mornhinweg said this week about Watkins’ ankle. “Danny is really close to being there.”

If Watkins is healthy, you’d think he’d return to the starting lineup one way or another (replacing Scott at RG if Reynolds plays). We’ll keep an eye on how things shake out tonight.

6. For the Cowboys, the player to watch is always DeMarcus Ware. Ware’s tied for fourth in the league with 10 sacks. Dunlap, who had a disastrous stretch in the last game where he failed to go out with the field-goal team and cost the Eagles a timeout, will see plenty of Ware. Anthony Spencer has 6.5 sacks. As a team, the Cowboys have 23 sacks (tied for 20th). The Eagles have allowed 34, tied for fourth-most.

7. When doing your draft research over the next several months, don’t rule out offensive tackle for the Eagles. Jason Peters and Todd Herremans both suffered season-ending injuries. Herremans turned 30 in October, and Peters turns 31 in January. The Eagles could always spend an early pick on a tackle and move Herremans inside. Or they could have the draft pick start inside before eventually moving to tackle. Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel (6-6, 310) and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan (6-8, 302) are names to be aware of. Oh, and one more: Jake Matthews. The cousin of Casey plays right tackle for Texas A&M and is expected to be a first-round pick.

8. The Eagles continue to turn the ball over at a disastrous rate. They are second in the NFL (behind only the Chiefs) with 24 turnovers. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have turned it over on 20 percent of their offensive drives, which is astounding. Last week, Brown fumbled twice. You can be sure that Cowboys defenders will go after the ball when trying to bring him down. Dallas, however, has just 12 takeaways on the season – second-fewest in the NFC (ahead of only the Eagles, who have 10).

9. At wide receiver, Jason Avant is expected to return from a hamstring injury. Riley Cooper and Damaris Johnson will see more action with Jackson out of the lineup. Eagles receivers will match up against cornerbacks Brandon Carr and first-round pick Morris Claiborne. Opponents are completing 62.5 percent of their passes against Dallas (tied for 18th) and averaging 7.7 yards per attempt (26th).

10. The Eagles are 30th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns just 39.4 percent of the time. The Cowboys are 12th in red-zone defense, allowing TDs 50 percent of the time. …The Eagles are 17th in third-down offense, converting 37.9 percent of the time. Dallas is ninth, allowing conversions 36 percent of the time. …The Eagles continue to boast one of the worst special-teams units in the league. Football Outsiders has Bobby April’s group ranked 25th. Dwayne Harris returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown in the first meeting between the teams. Per FO, the Eagles’ punt/punt coverage unit ranks second-to-last in the NFL.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Getting McCoy the Ball

Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy.Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan offered up high praise when asked about LeSean McCoy this week.

“To me that’s the best back in football,” Ryan said, per ESPNDallas.com. “I really believe that. I think he’s tremendous. He’s so talented. He’s got vision everywhere. He’s so quick. And I think (offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinwheg) is the only guy probably that can stop him because that guy is phenomenal. So if they don’t give it to him, that’s a good thing. But he’s super talented.”

Ryan made it clear to reporters that he wasn’t taking a shot at Mornhinweg, but many Eagles fans probably agree with his initial sentiment.

The truth is, the Eagles know how good McCoy is and have tried to get him the ball in a variety of ways. Consider the following:

  • McCoy has played more snaps (487) than any other running back in football, per Pro Football Focus.
  • McCoy is averaging 18.2 carries per game, tied for sixth-most in the NFL.
  • McCoy has 30 catches on the season.

Now, I know the argument that will come next: But they haven’t used him at the right times. There’s some merit to that. The first half of the Cardinals game comes to mind.

And given the state of the Eagles’ offense, some will argue that McCoy should be running the ball 25 or 30 times per game. But the truth is, in today’s NFL, no running back carries the football that much. Arian Foster leads the league, and he’s averaging 24 carries per game. The only other running back who’s averaging more than 20 carries per game is Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch.

There have been a few reasons why McCoy’s production is down a bit this year. Because of the offensive line’s struggles, he’s getting hit at or behind the line of scrimmage way too much. Sometimes, McCoy’s able to shake free anyway. And other times, he’s not. McCoy’s been stuffed (tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage) 22 times this season, second-most in the NFL, per STATS, Inc.

Then there’s the receiving game. While he’s caught 30 balls, McCoy’s averaging just 4.9 yards per reception, an extremely low number. How low? Of the 29 running backs who have caught at least 15 balls this year, McCoy has the lowest yards-per-catch number. Again, that’s not all on him. McCoy’s never been an elite receiving back, but he’s certainly been more productive in previous years. The (lack of) blocking and Michael Vick have both been major factors in a screen game that’s given the Eagles very little.

And finally, there’s the red zone. After the Eagles went 0-for-5 inside the Saints’ 20 last week, many argued that McCoy should have received more touches. And that may have some validity, but it’s missing an important fact: The Eagles are terrible at running the ball in the red zone. McCoy has 18 red-zone carries for 16 yards (0.9 YPC). Inside the 10, it’s been even worse: 12 carries for 0 yards. In all, McCoy’s produced two touchdowns on 18 red-zone carries.

I know he had 17 rushing touchdowns last year, but we simply cannot ignore the fact that those came with Jason Peters and Jason Kelce blocking for him. He had 14 red-zone touchdowns on 50 attempts. Inside the 10, McCoy had 11 touchdowns on 31 attempts.

So, while the Eagles certainly could have made better use of McCoy in certain situations, running the ball more is not as simple a solution to solving this team’s offensive woes as it may seem.

WHAT YOU MISSED

We posted both cheat sheets yesterday. Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Cowboys’ defense. And 10 more things to know about how the Birds’ D matches up with Tony Romo and company.

I rounded up the latest coaching buzz on Jon Gruden, Chip Kelly and Bruce Arians.

And Tim wrote about the Eagles’ Iron Man, Brent Celek.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Earlier in the week, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie talked about the Eagles’ reputation around the league. On Friday, Mike Missanelli of 97.5 The Fanatic asked Brian Dawkins what he thought about the comments. Courtesy of Bleeding Green Nation:

“If you even hint to me that you talking like I’m soft,” Dawkins warned “I would go ahead and tell my wife Connie ‘Listen, I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but more than likely this week there’s going to be a fine or something. I’m just letting you know.’ Because that’s how pissed off I would be”

“So don’t even hint towards that when it comes to playing defense with me or any of the guys I played with. Because we gonna to take that to the football field and there’s going to be some questions answered.”

SI.com’s Don Banks has the Eagles 20th in his power rankings:

Remember when Donovan McNabb occasionally would make some of the worst throws you’ve ever seen, killing some worms with a one-hopper to his outlet receiver, or just drilling the 20-yard line between the 2 and 0? I see Michael Vick doing some of the same stuff this season, and I think it’s because he has been drilled so much he’s getting antsy from the pass rush. Understandable, I suppose, but he’s missing some throws he has to be able to make in his sleep.

COMING UP

It’s gameday. And it’s still Eagles-Cowboys, even though both teams are 3-5. We’ll keep you posted before, during and after the game. And don’t forget to join us for the live chat at 4:25.

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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Offense Vs. Cowboys’ Defense

Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy.Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Cowboys’ defense. For the first cheat sheet, click here.

1. The Cowboys rank 18th in scoring defense, allowing 22.6 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 13th – ninth against the run, 16th against the pass. The Eagles, meanwhile, are playing like one of the worst offenses in the league. There’s no sugar-coating that fact anymore. They’re tied for 30th in scoring (16.6 points per game), and Football Outsiders has them ranked 26th. The Eagles have 19 giveaways (tied for second-most with the Cowboys) and are 30th in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns just 37 percent of the time. The Saints entered last week’s game allowing over 30 points per game. No opponent had scored fewer than 24. But the Eagles managed just 13.

2. The key cog in the Cowboys’ defense is pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, who enters the game with nine sacks, tied for second-most in the league. The Eagles will go with four backups on the offensive line, Evan Mathis being the lone remaining healthy starter. Demetress Bell, who was a disaster against the Saints, will see a lot of Ware. Some have made the argument that the reason Bell struggled so much last week was because the coaches put him at right tackle, where he had never played before. But don’t forget that he had plenty of issues at left tackle earlier in the season. It would be a mistake for Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid to even consider letting Bell try to block Ware without help. The plan has to be to park Brent Celek or Clay Harbor next to Bell for pretty much the entire game. Ware will line up on the other side too. In those cases, the tight end can line up next to King Dunlap, who will play right tackle and is coming off his worst outing of the year.

3. Other than Ware, a few other defenders the Eagles will have to keep an eye on are nose tackle Jay Ratliff (probable), defensive lineman Jason Hatcher and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. Spencer has three sacks on the season. Ratliff could give Dallas Reynolds and Dennis Kelly fits. Hatcher is second on the team in hurries and QB hits, according to Pro Football Focus. Michael Vick has been sacked 27 times, third-most in the league. He was sacked 23 times all of last season.

4. The Cowboys were dealt a blow when they lost Sean Lee, one of the league’s top inside linebackers, for the season to an injury. Dallas signed former Eagle Ernie Sims. Bruce Carter, a second-round pick in 2011, has been playing well. He’s second on the team with 46 tackles, including a team-high six for loss. Opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per carry against the Cowboys. LeSean McCoy is coming off one of his best games of the season, a 19-carry, 119-yard performance against New Orleans. He was limited in practice this week because of an illness, but is listed as probable. Michael Turner carried 20 times for 102 yards against the Cowboys last week.

5. Dallas is 24th in the league at covering opposing tight ends, per Football Outsiders. But like I mentioned above, the Eagles are going to need Celek and Harbor to block quite a bit in this one. Per PFF, on passing plays, Celek is being used as a blocker 28 percent of the time. Last year, that number was 25.3 percent.

6. Dallas’ offseason focus on defense was improving its secondary. The Cowboys signed cornerback Brandon Carr from the Chiefs and traded up in the first round to snag LSU’s Morris Claiborne. Dallas’ pass defense has produced mixed results. The Cowboys are 13th in opponents’ completion percentage (61.3) and 23rd in yards per attempt (7.6). They’ve allowed just seven passing touchdowns, tied for third-fewest, and have the fewest interceptions (three) in the league. Teams have targeted Carr (37 times) and Claiborne (34 times) pretty equally. The safeties are veteran Gerald Sensabaugh and Danny McCray, who had never started a game before this season.

7. As for Michael Vick, this season came with the promise that he’d show great improvement from 2011. But Vick’s numbers are down across the board, as he’s completed just 58.3 percent of his passes and is averaging just 6.8 yards per attempt. The offensive line has been terrible, but Vick has left too many plays on the field. Tbe Cowboys blitzed Ryan six times and Eli Manning the week before just once. The guess is Rob Ryan feels like he can get to Vick without having to send extra pressure.

8. As we showed with the All-22, Vick missed multiple opportunities to get Jeremy Maclin the football last week. The fourth-year receiver is averaging just 50.9 yards per game. DeSean Jackson, meanwhile, is quietly having a really good year. According to Pro Football Focus, among the 31 wide receivers who have totaled at least 500 yards, Jackson is the only one without a drop. He’s on pace to set career-highs with 74 catches and 1,248 yards.

9. Want to see the difference between a good offense and the Eagles right now? Check out this play from last week. The Cowboys bring a six-man pressure. The Falcons have no tight ends in to block – just one running back and the offensive line.


But check out the pocket Ryan has.


He doesn’t get sacked. He doesn’t get hit. No one even lays a finger on him. Ryan’s decisive, identifies Julio Jones against Claiborne down the left sideline, and the Falcons burn Ryan’s blitz with a 38-yard gain. The Eagles will have opportunities downfield, but it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to execute at this level.

10. Leftovers: The Cowboys are 10th in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 48.3 percent of the time. …The Eagles’ offense ranks 13th on third down, converting 41.4 percent of the time. The Cowboys rank 10th, allowing opponents to convert 36.3 percent of the time. …The Cowboys are 2-point favorites, according to Bovada. Per SportsInsights.com, 78 percent of the action is on Dallas to cover.

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Tape Breakdown: Eagles Allow Seven Sacks

We don’t have the All-22 images yet, but ESPN did a good job of providing clear shots of the seven sacks the Eagles allowed in Monday night’s game against the Saints. So here’s one man’s attempt to figure out what in the world was going on with the Birds’ protection schemes.

Sack 1: This one started with the pre-snap look, and specifically Dennis Kelly. The Eagles’ right guard expects linebacker Curtis Lofton to blitz, so he moves off of his man to pick him up.


Lofton instead picks up LeSean McCoy in coverage. Martez Wilson, meanwhile, runs right past Kelly and has a free path to the quarterback.


Kelly tries to recover, but is too late.


Keep in mind that this sack took place in 2.1 seconds (all times unofficial, of course). The Eagles were not outnumbered. They had six blockers to handle four pass-rushers, but they had a breakdown in protection, and Vick got crushed.

Sack 2: The Eagles run slow-developing play-action. By the time Vick turns around, Will Smith has already beaten King Dunlap badly and is in the quarterback’s face. He scrambles and is eventually sacked by Brodrick Bunkley. The Eagles had six in to block five.

Sack 3: The Saints blitzed Jonathan Vilma right through the A-Gap. New Orleans crowded the line of scrimmage, and Dallas Reynolds let Vilma go right by him, instead choosing to block Lofton.


This shot is right after the ball is snapped. Could Vilma have an easier path to the quarterback? Vick spun away, but Cameron Jordan beat Todd Herremans badly, and the two defenders sandwiched Vick, sacking him and forcing a fumble.


This is one of those where the Eagles had six blockers against seven defenders so someone was going to be free. But Vick was sacked in 1.9 seconds. If Herremans doesn’t get beat, perhaps he’s able to improvise. It also looks like a play where Reynolds and/or Vick didn’t get the job done pre-snap.

Sack 4: The Eagles are in the red zone, and the first thing you’ll notice is they’re going empty backfield with no in-line tight end. Keep in mind that this is in the third quarter after the offensive line already had several issues. Why not give them at least a little help here? The Saints crowd the line of scrimmage.


Protection slides to the right. The Saints rush five, and the Eagles have five to block, but Smith has a free path to Vick. Not only that, but the Eagles can’t even block the other four guys, even though they have a one-man advantage. Jordan breaks through between Kelly and Demetress Bell.


Vick is hit within 1.9 seconds of when the ball is snapped.

Sack 5: This is one where Vick held on to the ball for awhile. Without the All-22, we don’t know if he had a receiver open or not, but he did have 3.6 seconds to get rid of the ball. It should be noted that the Eagles had six blockers to take on four pass-rushers, yet Brent Celek was asked to handle Jordan one-on-one.

Sack 6: This one’s probably on Vick. He could have stepped up, but instead danced right into the sack, as Dunlap had trouble with Smith off the edge.


You see the rest of the line has provided a clean pocket. Vick has plenty of space to move forward or to his right. Then again, this was in the fourth quarter. Can we really blame Vick for being a bit antsy after all those hits? The sack took place at 3.0 seconds.

Sack 7: And finally, a culmination of all the Eagles’ errors. It was a basic four-man pressure, but Bell got abused by Jordan, who sacked Vick in 2.3 seconds. Of course, it didn’t help that the Eagles again went with an empty backfield. And as you can see, if Jordan didn’t get Vick, Kelly and Dunlap got beaten also.

Perhaps at some point today, you’ll have a conversation with friends about who’s to blame: the offensive line, Vick or the coaching staff. The truth is, they were all responsible in one way or another. When you’re a 3-5 team and you score 13 points against a team that is allowing over 30 a game, there is plenty of blame to go around. So feel free to not be too picky.

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Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Offense Vs. Saints’ Defense

Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Saints’ defense. If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here.

1. The Saints’ defense hasn’t just been bad. It’s been historically bad. According to NOLA.com, Steve Spagnuolo’s group has given up more yards in the first seven games of the season than any defense in NFL history. The Saints rank 30th in the league in scoring defense, allowing 30.9 points per game. They’ve allowed at least 24 points in every game so far this season. Football Outsiders has them ranked last in overall defense – 32nd against the pass and 27th against the run. If the Eagles’ offense is ever going to get on track, this would be the week. Then again, folks in New Orleans are probably saying the same thing about their defense. The Birds are averaging 17.1 points per game, 28th in the league. Football Outsiders has the Eagles’ offense 24th – 22nd in passing and 30th with the run. They have not scored more than 24 points in a single game all season and have turned it over 17 times, tied for third-most in the league.

2. The Saints have a pedestrian pass-rush (13 sacks, 22nd) and will likely rotate seven defensive linemen up front. Defensive end Junior Galette leads New Orleans with four sacks. Cameron Jordan, a 2011 first-round pick, has three. He’ll get matched up with Todd Herremans, who has been inconsistent for much of the year. Former Eagles first-round pick Brodrick Bunkley is in his first season with the Saints. He was inactive vs. the Broncos, even though he was not listed on the injury report during the week. The Eagles will go with the same offensive line that was on the field last week. Rookie Dennis Kelly once again fills in for Danny Watkins (ankle) at right guard. Kelly played pretty well last week, as did King Dunlap at left tackle. As a unit, the offensive line held up OK in pass protection vs. the Falcons, but a lot of that had to do with the game-plan that focused on Michael Vick getting rid of the ball quickly.

3. Opponents are completing 66.5 percent of their passes against New Orleans, the fifth-worst mark in the league. And the Saints are allowing 9.1 yards per attempt, which ranks last. New Orleans has given up 32 pass plays of 20+ yards (third-most) and is allowing 304.6 passing yards per game (30th). Meanwhile, Vick has completed 62.4 percent of his passes in the last four games, but is averaging just 6.5 yards per attempt in that stretch, as the Eagles have tried to shift to a more methodical approach to help the offensive line. Vick’s gone without an interception in four of the past five games, but part of that has been luck. Last week, linebacker Stephen Nicholas dropped an easy pick that was right in his hands.

4. Opponents are averaging 5.0 yards per carry against New Orleans (30th). And the Saints have allowed nine runs of 20+ yards, third-most. At linebacker, New Orleans goes with Curtis Lofton in the middle, along with Jonathan Vilma at the WILL and David Hawthorne at the SAM. Lofton spent his first four seasons with the Falcons. He leads the Saints with 68 tackles. For the Eagles, LeSean McCoy has had nowhere to run in the past three games, totaling just 120 yards on 46 carries (2.6 YPC). In the past two, 11 of McCoy’s 30 runs have been stopped for zero or negative yards.

5. In the secondary, the Saints start cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson. Greer, a nine-year veteran, is the team’s best defensive back. Robinson, a first-round pick in 2010, has been targeted 56 times, per Pro Football Focus. He’s tied for a team-high with five penalties, including a pair of pass interference calls. Nickel corner Corey White has allowed 30 catches on 37 targets, according to PFF’s numbers. Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins are the safeties. Harper made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010. Last season, he had 7.5 sacks, but he’s been shut out this season. On average, Harper has blitzed just under four times per game, per PFF. Jenkins has blitzed just 10 times all season and been called for five penalties – including three face-masks and and an unsportsmanlike conduct. Jenkins has missed 14 tackles, per PFF.

6. For the Eagles, DeSean Jackson is having a quietly productive year, averaging 74.9 yards per game and 15.4 yards per catch. He’s yet to drop a ball and could have even better numbers if Vick had done a better job of getting him the ball. Some predicted a breakout year for Jeremy Maclin, but that has not happened. He’s averaging 54.7 yards per game, which would be a three-year low if it held up. Brent Celek leads the team with eight catches of 20+ yards, but he’s had a team-high six drops on the season.

7. On film, you see missed tackles, confusion and poor execution with the Saints. For example, there was this 95-yard Bucs completion to Vincent Jackson a couple weeks ago. You’ll see that after the ball is snapped, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton has his back to the line of scrimmage and is still trying to communicate with the secondary.

Josh Freeman’s pass goes down the left sideline. Both Robinson and Harper try to undercut the receiver, but neither gets a hand on the ball.

They both end up on the ground, and Jackson takes off. Jenkins, meanwhile, did a terrific job of never giving up on the play, and tackled Jackson at the 1. The Bucs failed to get in the end zone and turned it over on downs.

8. Expect the Saints to play their safeties deep and challenge the Eagles to methodically move the ball downfield without making mistakes. But as we’ve seen in past weeks, even when defenses play their safeties deep, the Eagles have opportunities to hit on big plays downfield. Here’s one play from the Broncos-Saints game. Denver lines up with one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers. But the Saints still have their safeties deep.

Peyton Manning gets Harper to bite with a play-fake, allowing Demaryius Thomas to get free.

Harper tries to recover, but can’t, and the Broncos get a big play.

Vick and Marty Mornhinweg talked this week about how they were a bit too conservative vs. the Falcons. We’ll see if the line can hold up, but I expect the Eagles to open it up this week and take plenty of shots downfield.

9. The Eagles continue to get very little from their special teams. They rank 26th, averaging 22.1 yards per kickoff return. Among the 27 players who have returned at least 10 kickoffs, only four have failed to notch at least one return of 35 yards. Brandon Boykin is one of them, with a long of 31. Of course, blocking plays a role too. Punt returns have been just as bad. The Eagles are one of three teams without a punt return of at least 15 yards. Mardy Gilyard is out, meaning it’ll likely be Damaris Johnson again handling return duties. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles’ starting field position has been their own 23.85-yard-line. That ranks 30th in the NFL.

10. The Saints are 25th in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns 60.6 percent of the time. The Eagles are 25th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 45.5 percent of the time. …The Eagles are 11th in third-down offense, converting 42 percent of the time. The Saints’ defense is 13th, allowing conversions 37.8 percent of the time. … New Orleans is allowing opponents to gain 41.07 yards per drive (last).

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