Great Job, Birds. Now Get to Work: A Guide to the Eagles Postseason

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Photo | Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how disappointing Saturday’s 26-24 loss to New Orleans might have been, there is absolutely no denying the fact that the 2013 Eagles were successful, exciting and fun to watch. As much as it will pain fans to see the Saints travel to Seattle Saturday, they will look back on this season fondly — once the grief subsides.

The NFC East champions were a juggernaut in the second half of the season, winning seven of their last eight. They found a quarterback around whom they can build, received an historic performance from LeSean McCoy and learned that good health — particularly on the offensive line — can be pretty valuable as the season goes on.

Now comes the real work. Despite posting a 10-6 record, the Birds were a highly imperfect team and enter the off-season with considerable work to do if they want to have playoff success in 2014. Failure to improve could lead to the type of collapse that occurred in Houston, where the Texans went from division champs to the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Here, by position group, is an Eagles postseason breakdown of what’s needed to allow the team to become a true Super Bowl contender.

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Wake-Up Call: Foles’ Year In Perspective

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The Westlake boys met near midfield once the game was in the books. Drew Brees, the elder by 10 years, had just secured the sixth postseason win of his career and was moving on in search of his second Lombardi Trophy. Nick Foles was heading home. That was the reality of the situation.

But that wasn’t the whole story. Foles had just completed a season in which he finished with the third-highest quarterback rating (119.2) in NFL history. He established a record for best touchdown/interception ratio (0.63%) all while leading  the league in yards/pass attempt. He thrived in a system that wasn’t supposed to suit him and helped the Eagles capture a division title.

Foles had two interceptions on the entire season while tossing 29 touchdown passes. Brees had two picks in the first half alone Saturday night. Read more »

Inside the Drive Gone Wrong

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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: Read more »

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.” Read more »

‘Mental Busts’ Sink Eagles

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Eventually, the Eagles players may find solace in the fact that they overachieved in their first year under Chip Kelly. They might look at the foundation that was built and realize their time and effort was well-invested. But on Saturday night, following a gut-wrenching home playoff loss to the Saints, they were in no mood to feed into that narrative.

Instead, they were struggling with the reality that they had let a very winnable game slip out of their hands.

“We lost to a team that wasn’t necessarily better than us,” said Cary Williams. “They weren’t better than us, but they were better tonight. They got the job done. It was more mental than physical out there, and we had a lot of mental busts.” Read more »

Observations: Saints 26, Eagles 24

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

Here’s what we saw during tonight’s Eagles-Saints game.

OFFENSE

* The Eagles’ offense got going in the second half, but it wasn’t enough as their season ended in a 26-24 loss to the Saints.

* Nick Foles went 23-for-33 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. In the second, he found Riley Cooper for a 10-yard score. And in the fourth, Foles hit Zach Ertz for a 3-yard TD.

* DeSean Jackson was shut out in the first half and targeted just once. It looked like Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis was on him most of the time. But in the third quarter, Lewis went out with a head injury, and with the offense needing a spark, Jackson made a great play on a 50/50 ball for 40 yards. McCoy ended up scoring from 1 yard out on the drive. On the Eagles’ next possession, Jackson had a 29-yard punt return to help set up an Eagles field goal. And in the fourth, he drew a 40-yard pass interference penalty to set up a Foles TD pass.

* LeSean McCoy had trouble getting going with 77 yards on 21 carries.

* Riley Cooper had six catches for 68 yards, but had a costly drop in the third quarter. Cooper was wide open on a crossing route on third down, but couldn’t hang on to a perfectly-placed Foles pass. The Eagles ended up punting.

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Bold Eagles Predictions: The Birds Will Beat the Saints

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1. The Eagles are the hottest team in the NFL

The post-season belongs to the hottest team in the league, the one that goes into the playoffs with the best second-half record. This year, that team is the Eagles, who’ve gone 7 and 1 since the break. Over that span, the Eagles have scored 266 points and won their games by an average of nearly two touchdowns, 33-21.

The rest of Larry Mendte’s 8 reasons after the jump »

All-22: When Foles Holds On To the Ball

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Asked earlier this week why the Eagles’ passing game stalled in the second half against Dallas, Chip Kelly pointed to two factors – neither of which had anything to do with Nick Foles.

“They did a decent job generating the pass rush on a couple things, and there were a few times down the field where we just couldn’t get off of some jams,” Kelly said. “It was a combination of the two things.”

Kelly has not hesitated to criticize Foles in the past – when warranted. After the Vikings game, for example, he labeled the quarterback’s play inconsistent.

So was he protecting his quarterback here, or did he really feel like the breakdowns had more to do with protections and the receivers?

Based on the tape, it’s the latter. On most occasions when Foles held on to the ball, he didn’t have anywhere to go with it. For examples, let’s go to the All-22. Read more »

Inside Voices: Wolff Says He’s Ready

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Oakland Raiders
Earl Wolff
says he feels good enough to play on Saturday night. Now it’s just a matter of whether the training staff and coaches give him the green light.

The rookie safety sat out practice the past two days but tested the injured right knee on the side during the Eagles’ walkthrough on Thursday, and came away feeling confident that he is ready to re-enter the fray.

“I just know that it felt a lot better today than it did before. They kind of recorded me moving around a little bit, doing some functional stuff, and it didn’t bother me,” he said.

“It was football activitity, basically like what I would go through in a game, and it didn’t really bother me. Of course I felt it a little bit –I’m going to feel it a little bit — but it’s nothing that’s going to hold me back.” Read more »

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