Inside Voices: How the Eagles Tipped Their Hand

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests the Niners’ defense was picking up on the Eagles’ tells Sunday, which helps explain why a normally potent attack was shut down and shut out.

Matt Tobin said after the game that there were times when the San Francisco defense seemed to know exactly what was coming. David Molk echoed that sentiment on Thursday.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say the Niners as a group, but certain players within that group. I don’t know how they knew but they just [did],” said Molk.

Safety Antoine Bethea was one such player. His secret? He decoded a Nick Foles signal. From

Bethea, who wore a microphone during the game ( video here), knew what was coming before the Eagles snapped the ball facing 1st-and-10 at the 49ers’ 20-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Nick Foles surveyed the defense and called an audible by motioning with his hands over his helmet. In response, Bethea began pointing to his right and yelling: “Hey! Hey! Run! Run! Run! Run!”

The result: Defensive tackle Demarcus Dobbs drilled running back LeSean McCoy for a four-yard loss on a sweep left.

Earlier in the game, Bethea had told his teammates on the sideline a run was coming when Foles made a back-and-forth motion over his helmet, a tip that earned him an approving slap on the shoulder pad from defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

“He saw it coming. He saw it coming. You saw it on film,” said Molk. “He’d be pointing out [where the play was going].”

According to Matt Barkley, the Eagles change their signals up just about every week so the Rams likely won’t benefit from the Niners’ discovery. But that wasn’t the only issue when it came to predictability last Sunday.

The Eagles’ third and fourth-down plays from the one-yard line against the 49ers were featured on the NBC Sports show Turning Point this week. As the piece explained, the fact that the Niners had the perfect coverage in those situations was no accident. They had seen both plays before on tape, including in the Eagles’ win over Oakland last year. Both plays against the Raiders resulted in touchdowns. This time around, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio seemed to be waiting for them.

“I don’t know if you ever plan for two plays from inside the two with the game on the line, but I will tell you this: the two calls that we made on third down and fourth down, we practiced during the week in those situations,” said Fangio.

Added cornerback Perrish Cox: “The two calls we had, I think they were actually the only two calls we went over at practice Friday. It worked out perfect.”

Bethea told reporters after the game that the Niners’ defense had a feel for what the Eagles were going to run based off the formations they were in. Asked about this, Chip Kelly suggested that he was limited in how much of the playbook he could use Sunday because of the situation up front.

“You self-scout yourself in terms of what you’re doing from a formation standpoint. But there are also sometimes when you are a little bit more limited in your game plan just because of who you have available to run what you want to run,” he said. “To say, ‘Hey, this would be great to run this because they won’t think it’s coming,’ well if your guy doesn’t think it’s coming either it’s going to be real difficult for you. You’ve got to know what you’ve got in the lineup and obviously you had some younger guys that were playing so we weren’t probably as wide open, as expansive as we could have been if we had guys out there with a little more experience.”

The Eagles get Lane Johnson back this week, but will be operating without Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis for the next four games. It will be interesting to see how much that ties Kelly’s hands in terms of what he is able to do schematically, because it seems pretty clear that some schematic tweaks are in order.

Cosell on Nick Foles

NFL Films Senior Producer Greg Cosell doesn’t see a different Nick Foles when he watches the tape, but rather a quarterback that is facing a new set of obstacles.

Really, it’s the defenses that are changing in Cosell’s view. Take, for instance, the Redskins and Niners. Both units largely remained in their base 3-4 against three-receiver sets when playing the Eagles, he said, which made it that much more difficult for the ground game to get going. With the run game stymied, Foles is frequently finding himself in third-and-longs .

“When Foles gets into more long-yardage situations — it’s tougher for any quarterback, that’s not just Nick Foles — but Foles is not the kind of quarterback that is going to stand in the pocket, sit on his back foot and drill the ball consistently between defenders,” he said.

Not only is Foles in a tougher spot when it comes to down and distance, but the windows he is being asked to throw into are often tighter than they were a year ago in Cosell’s opinion.

“Last year because all of this was new to defensive coordinators, we all agree that it looked last year like there were a ton of open receivers, which doesn’t happen that much in the NFL,” said Cosell.

“I think if you look at Foles the player, what you likely see is this: He’s got a good arm but not a gun; he’s not a power thrower, not a drive thrower. He’s a little more of a finesse thrower than a drive thrower. He does not have quick feet. There is no quick-twitch to his movement. There’s no explosive lower-body movement to him. When you look at Foles, I think what you see is a quarterback that needs the system to work for him and provide defined reads and good throws with the route concepts, just the whole system. He needs the system to work for him…

“I don’t think he’s really any different [from last year]. Because he’s not a quick-twitch guy, when he doesn’t feel comfortable making a throw he’ll start to look a little awkward because he’s not quick twitch, he moves around. There’s been more of that this year and I think that’s because defenses have done a really good job with the Eagles. Now it’s up to the Eagles to respond.”

HGH Testing Begins

It has flown a bit under the radar, but HGH testing is now a part of the NFL as of October 1.

DeMeco Ryans is the team’s player rep and he had all the pertinent info: Five players on eight teams will be randomly tested per week. Players can also be tested up to six times in the offseason for either HGH or other illegal substances. The HGH test is different in that blood needs to be drawn.

“It’s a real small amount of blood. It’s not as much blood as they take for like our physical exams,” said Ryans. “It’s like one of the little tubes they take for blood.”

Asked if he has spoken to his teammates about HGH testing, Ryans said that it will be discussed during a meeting next week.

A positive HGH test will result in a four-game suspension. It’s hard to say how much of an impact the new policy will have on the league because it’s unknown just how widespread HGH use is.

“I have no idea but I don’t think that many guys use HGH. I’ve never known anybody to use HGH so it will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple years,” said Connor Barwin. “I think it will be a really small amount [of positive tests], if any. Obviously there will be a couple but I think it will probably be less than what you see with the PEDs.”


“I don’t know. I mean I guess I never heard anybody talk about steroids but I’ve never heard anybody talk about HGH either outside of the media,” he said.

Added Ryans: “Im not certain because I don’t know if guys are using it so I don’t know how big of an effect it will [have]. I guess I’m just ignorant to it because I’ve never been around guys that use it that I know of. I’m just kind of oblivious to it.”