Zone Read: Eagles-Rams, the Day After

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA Today

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA Today

In the final 18 minutes of Sunday’s win over the Rams, the Eagles’ defense gave up touchdown drives of 79, 62 and 75 yards.

Billy Davis’ unit was a complete mess. The only thing saving this performance from total meltdown status was a stop late in the fourth quarter that ensured a 34-28 victory.

Yet, when Chip Kelly stepped up to the podium for his post-game press conference, he pointed the finger at the guys on the other side of the ball.

“I think obviously offensively, we have to do a better job of finishing people off,” Kelly said. “When we are up 34‑7, tried to talk to the guys on the sideline about not being complacent with that score, and let’s finish this thing off. And obviously there were a couple key plays that we should have made. The fumble hurt us obviously. We got a drive going, a first down and continued to stay on the field.

“I thought before those last couple of drives, I thought our defense had done a really good job, created a lot of pressure obviously. I think they had four or five sacks, caused a couple fumbles on the quarterback, really hit him, had a couple key change of yardage, the one [Cedric Thornton] picked up and ran, and obviously we scored on defense again. But we have got to do a better job offensively.”

This is how it’s been under Kelly since he arrived. And in all likelihood, that’s not going to change going forward. He expects near-perfection from the offense and needs the defense to do just enough. That’s because the offense is his baby. He has installed the scheme. He makes personnel decisions. He calls plays on gameday.

And right now, the offense is sputtering.

Consider this: In the past two games, the Eagles have had 22 possessions. During that span, they have produced two touchdowns and committed seven turnovers.

The unit is still without offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis. But the issues seem to run deeper. Nick Foles has now played just one really high-quality game out of five, and for the second week in a row, there were signs that the opposing defense was a step ahead of the Eagles’ offense.

Foles’ 2013 was all about taking care of the football, making good decisions and hitting on big plays downfield. Against St. Louis, he turned it over twice, missed throws and once again looked out of sorts.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Eagles up 34-14, Foles tried to scramble for a first down on 3rd-and-5. He dove head-first, lost control of the ball and wasted a potential scoring opportunity.

“Yeah, that’s critical, especially at that point in time,” said Kelly. “I thought we made a good decision in man coverage – backs turned, take off, I thought we had the first down. And then we’ve just got to control the ball. But we’re not helping ourselves by turning the football over.”

Foles (24-for-37 for 207 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) offered his perspective.

“I saw a lane so I took off and I was trying to get as many yards as I could,” he said. “I tried to get down. I felt a guy right behind me so I was trying to get down forward. In that situation, I just have to make sure that I hold onto the ball.

“At that point, I knew that when I crossed the line of scrimmage, there was a guy right behind me. I was just trying to keep it going and get a couple of extra yards. In that situation when you break [the line of scrimmage] and you start sliding, you’re down.”

Asked about the offensive issues, specifically in the second half, Jason Peters said: “Just the turnovers. If Foles don’t fumble that ball, we score 50. They didn’t have but 14 at the time, and we had 34. We had an automatic three points, but we fumbled and gave them another shot and they scored. A play here and there, we blow ‘em out.”

Added Malcolm Jenkins: “We get a punt block for a touchdown. We score on defense. So your chances at that point of winning are very high. But once you turn the ball over, it kind of evens it out. It gives them more opportunities. You put us back on the field. We’d already taken a lot of snaps. So that one was definitely untimely, but there’s other plays as well that I think put everybody in jeopardy. From a defensive standpoint, when we can’t get off the field on third down, we’re our own worst enemy. There are things that we’ve gotta get corrected on both ends.”

Meanwhile, once again, there was a sense that the defense was ready for what the Eagles were throwing its way.

The Rams played a lot of man free – man coverage with a single high safety. That’s the look the Eagles saw a lot of in 2013. It allows the defense to put the extra safety in the box, and it dares the receivers to win their one-on-one matchups.

“They stacked the box,” said Lane Johnson. “They knew what plays were coming. We had some success. But obviously there in the first half, we had two field goals I think we could have punched in, would have made this game not so close.

“I just think defenses have more knowledge of what’s coming. Last year everything was so new, and I think they’ve kind of seen a lot of what we do, so just moving forward, we’ll probably throw in a few more wrinkles.”

Added LeSean McCoy: “They played a totally different scheme than what we saw on tape. We didn’t really produce like we usually do.”

Talking about the Foles interception, Jeremy Maclin said: “They were just in a different coverage than we anticipated. And then he was playing soft all game. I think on that particular play, they said, ‘Watch the deep ball.’ He made a good play, credit to him. …He was off. He bailed immediately and he just made a good play on the ball.”

The big issues for the Eagles Sunday seemed to be that the passing game wasn’t doing enough against man coverage, and the run game couldn’t close the game out down the stretch.

The Rams stayed in their base defense quite a bit, according to center David Molk. Yet Foles averaged just 5.6 YPA.

“They did play some things differently,” Molk said. “There’s a couple things in third-down areas that we saw them do against other teams that they really didn’t do against us. Really, the way that they played our run game was different than we usually saw on film. So yeah, they did some things that we hadn’t seen before and we weren’t necessarily expecting. But we adapted.

“When you take what our team is and you see what those personnel groups get against other teams, [they were] totally different. Because those teams get in those personnel groups, they’re passing the ball. So you don’t see as many reps as you can, whereas you come into the game and they know that that’s what we’re gonna be in the entire game. They’ll just show us different things. They’ll show us mixed defenses that we weren’t expecting to run the ball against in certain formations.”

There were a couple bright spots. The Eagles had 145 yards on the ground and averaged 4.4 YPC. The offense put together an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter. Riley Cooper made a nice play on a touchdown. And Maclin (five catches, 76 yards) continues to be productive.

But overall, too many miscues and too many plays left on the field against a defense that has not played well.

And so it’s back to the drawing board for Kelly and company. They’ve got a showdown with the Giants Sunday night before a chance to self-scout during the bye week.

A 4-1 record after five is nice, but the sense after Sunday’s win was that there’s a lot of work to do – specifically on the offensive side of the ball.

“Tough 4‑1, soft 4‑1, doesn’t matter,” Kelly said. “You’re 4‑1, and it’s the same thing. You could be 1‑4, 4‑1, you have to go back to work on Tuesday, and that’s what our whole mantra is. You can enjoy it for a 24‑hour period or so, for these guys, 48 hours, then you have to go back on Tuesday. Or when you play like we did against San Francisco and lose the game, you’re going to feel crappy about yourself. But then you have to shake that all off when you come to work on Tuesday and have to be ready to go.”