Zone Read: Eagles-Vikings, the Day After

Going into Sunday’s game against the Vikings, the Eagles appeared to be peaking at the right time.

They had won five straight, were in the driver’s seat in the NFC East and looked like a team capable of making some noise in the postseason.

Less than 24 hours after kickoff, the outlook has changed a bit. The 48-30 loss to the Vikings was either just one bad letdown game or a true reality check of where this team is.

Keeping that in mind, let’s take a point-by-point look at some of the issues that surfaced in Minnesota, debuting The Kapadia Concern Scale. Each issue is given a ranking from 1 to 10.

1 = No big deal. It was just an isolated issue.
10 = If anything’s going to ruin the season, this might be it.

The leaky defense
Concern level: 9

Entering Sunday’s game, the Eagles had limited opponents to 21 points or fewer in nine straight. But Matt Cassel lit them up with a 382-yard performance. To put his numbers into perspective, consider this: Through the first 13 weeks of the season, there had only been three instances where a QB had completed at least 74 percent of his passes and averaged 10.9 YPA.

Philip Rivers did it against the Jaguars; Aaron Rodgers against the Redskins; and Nick Foles against the Raiders. Cassel became the fourth, completing 74.3 percent of his passes (26-for-35) while averaging 10.9 YPA (Alex Smith accomplished the feat yesterday as well).

The coaches have pointed out all year that the Eagles’ defense doesn’t give up big plays. But as we’ve clarified in this space, that depends how you define the term. The Birds have now allowed 55 pass plays of 20+ yards, tied for fifth-most in the league.

And remember, this was an offense that entered the game ranked 22nd (per Football Outsiders) and was playing with its third-string running back.

Coming up in the next two weeks are offenses in the Bears and Cowboys that have a lot more talent. I don’t think the Eagles are as bad as they showed vs. Minnesota, but the issues on defense are atop the list of concerns going forward.

Chip Kelly’s game management
Concern level: 6

A couple issues in this one. With 4:26 left, Foles found Jason Avant for a 16-yard touchdown. That put the Eagles down 13. Kicking the PAT would have put them down 12, meaning they’d still need two touchdowns to win. Going for two would have potentially put them down 11, allowing for the possibility of tying the game with a TD (plus two-point conversion) and a field goal.

After Avant scored, the Eagles sent out the kicking team first before wasting a timeout and going for two. Trying to stage a comeback at that point in the game required all the resources at their disposal. Using the timeout ended up not mattering, but it could have. The coaching staff has to know immediately in that situation that it’s going for two.

It’s also worth noting that on that very same drive, the Eagles had a delay of game penalty in the red zone.

The other issue was the turnover on downs inside their own 25. The Eagles trailed 24-9 with 6:27 left in the third. After failing to pick up a 3rd-and-1, Kelly went for it, and McCoy was stopped on fourth down. Kelly challenged the call, but the ruling on the field was upheld.

I know I’ll be in the minority here, but I don’t have an issue with him going for it. I thought Kelly’s explanation made sense. And this is part of the reason why the Eagles hired him. He doesn’t always go by the book and is a risk-taker.

But watching the replay, I think the Eagles might have been able to avoid the fourth-down call altogether. On third down, McCoy ran a toss to the right and appeared to have picked up the first down. I wonder if a challenge there would have benefited the Eagles.

Overall, there have been some lingering game management issues for much of the year. I don’t think the two examples above cost the Eagles the victory. But in a closer game in the next two weeks, similar issues could be devastating.

Chip Kelly’s game-plan/play-calling
Concern level: 3

There will be an uproar on this day-after about how LeSean McCoy only got eight carries. I completely get that and think it’s a worthy discussion point.

Clearly, Kelly felt like the offense could expose the Vikings’ secondary, and he indicated he wasn’t thrilled with how the line was faring against the Vikings’ front. But I’m not sure I buy that. McCoy was averaging 4.8 yards-per-carry and has shown in the past that he can get stronger as the game goes on. So yes, Kelly probably abandoned the run too early.

Having said that, Foles ended up throwing for 428 yards, and the team still scored 30 points. For that reason, I’m not willing to say this is a major issue. Kelly has put together good gameplans all season long. McCoy has more carries (269) than any other back in the league. Kelly is going to use him plenty in the next two games. Should McCoy have gotten more work against Minnesota? Sure. But this seems more like an isolated incident than a trend to me.

Nick Foles’ uneven performance
Concern level: 4

The final numbers were great: 30-for-48 for 428 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. But anyone watching could see that there were inconsistencies in Foles’ performance – whether that meant missing throws, holding on to the ball or making questionable decisions.

Given that he started the season on a 19 TD/0 INT tear, some regression was expected. And it’s not like Foles has fallen off a cliff. He made several plays as the Eagles tried to stage a comeback.

But the margin of error in the next two games figures to be slim, especially if the defense continues to falter. Foles is still showing a strong grasp of the offense. He just needs to work on the consistency aspect throughout the course of the game.

The Bears are mediocre defensively, and the Cowboys are horrendous. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to pick both teams apart in the final two games.