Eagles-Washington, The Day After

Was Eagles defense gassed? Turning point, snap counts and more.

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

LANDOVER, MD — The league website came out with a nifty little #NextGen stat this week in respect to distance travelled on the football field. Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond ranked No. 1 and No. 2 among safeties in distance covered per game, the study found, while Nolan Carroll was third out of all the cornerbacks.

A reporter stumbled while searching for positives to be taken from this stat. (All three are playing well, after all.) Does it speak to  hustle? The ability to track and cover a lot of space?

“It could be a positive. It could also mean that we’re on the field a lot,” said Thurmond earlier this week with a laugh. “I mean, that’s what it comes down to, the most distance traveled, so you’re talking about time on the field from a defensive standpoint.”

Thurmond, Jenkins and crew likely added to their lead on Sunday in Washington. The Eagles’ defense faced 79 plays and was on the field for over 41 minutes — 5:39 of which was accrued in the final, defining moments of the game as Washington marched 15 plays and 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

This is nothing new for Billy Davis‘ unit, really. The Eagles have ranked dead last in time of possession in each of Chip Kelly‘s first two seasons, and remain firmly entrenched in that spot through four games this season. They are also  last in opponent plays per game (73.5) after ranking 31st in that category last year and 32nd in 2013.

There were questions about whether the unit was gassed down the stretch last season. The same questions surfaced Sunday as Washington imposed its will on that 90-play drive.

“That doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. It’s irrelevant. Irrelevant,” said Davis of the 79 plays faced.

“There’s no excuses here. There’s none. Our defense was not gassed. We were out there fighting and they made more plays than us.”

Davis noted that they train to be a “no-huddle defense” and cited lack of execution on third down (Washington went 9-of-17), not wind, as the reason for their downfall.

“Third down was bad tonight,” said Davis. “It was a combination of things. I have to call it better, we have to execute it better. That big draw to the hole on first drive was sickening. There’s no way that should have got out there. Could have had a better call for us, could have played it better, all the normal things when they hit those third-and-longs.”

The players followed his lead by and large. They pinned it on themselves and their inability to get off the field on third down. There were no Cary Williams-like grievances aired, at least not on this night.

Team-focused answers aside, a critical question remains as the odometer continues to roll over: is this whole unbalanced distribution of time spent in control sustainable? Is it really part of a winning formula?

“Absolutely,” Davis replied. “If we had made a play at the end and won that game we’d be in a whole different attitude in here right now and there wouldn’t have been a conversation. But because they made a bunch of plays then all of a sudden the conversation changes.”

More times than not, the postgame conversation has had a positive slant since Kelly came aboard. His general dismissal of the TOP stat and emphasis on tempo/plays run has not stopped him from snaring a pair of 10-win seasons. But that was back when their offense was more potent. An attack that regularly found a home near the top of the league early on in Kelly’s tenure has fluctuated between ineffective and erratic over the last season-plus. Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Eagles were averaging the fewest points per drive (1.28) and punting on the highest percentage of drives (52.5 pct) this season heading into Week 4.

Some signs of life in the second half Sunday as Sam Bradford discovered the long ball a bit. Even so, the offense averaged 4.1 plays per drive against Washington and held the ball for less than two minutes on six separate possessions (not counting the final series). That’s not exactly setting your defense up for grand success, which seems all the more important now considering the defense is currently the strength of this team.

“I wouldn’t say we were too tired,” said Thurmond of that final drive. “I mean the game, with fatigue, the guys are going to get tired naturally. We were on the field for forty-some minutes. Naturally you’re going to get a little tired, fatigued. But as far as being sloppy tired, we weren’t that at all.

“We do train for that situation. I think the offense can put some drives together once everything gets clicking on that side of the ball. Unfortunately we had our moments and we had to be on the field as much as we did. We don’t complain about that situation. It just is what it is. Can’t change that, and we have to be able to make the necessary plays.”

TURNING POINT

Down four and facing a 3rd-and-6 from the Eagles 30 with 1:18 remaining, Kirk Cousins turned to Pierre Garcon. The eight-year vet rewarded him with a big catch over the middle in traffic for a 14-yard gain.

Garcon 1

“I lost Cousins inside the pocket and didn’t get the best jump that I wanted to on that particular route,” said Thurmond. “I kind of felt that route was coming on that third-down situation and I was just a little too high in my drop and got there just a tad bit late.”

Cousins went back to the well twice more to finish the job. He hit Garcon for a 12-yard pick-up to put Washington on the doorstep, and then dialed up his number one more time for the eventual game-winner.

Garcon 2

“He made a hell of a play. Strong hands,” said Eric Rowe. “Walt had a hand in, I came in and tried to get an extra punch at it and he still held on. That’s a credit to him.”

“The Eagles brought an all-out blitz, a cover zero,” said Cousins. “You have to have a tight throw in a tight window and a precise route and the ball has to come out because somebody is unblocked who’s blitzing. It requires a great catch in traffic in a tight spot.”

SOCIAL SKILLS


Fun with time of possession stats.

Our friend Jesus reminding us that all of Murray’s 2016 salary ($7 million) and $2 million of his 2017 base is guaranteed.  

Reaction to my halftime observations Sunday afternoon. Those notes tend to go over better when the Eagles aren’t getting shut out on the road against a mediocre team.

It’s not just the fans who are feeling this one…But the fans are really, really feeling this one. (NSFW.)

And yet, a sliver of hope.

NOTABLE QUOTES

“He was fine in practice. I said that the other day, there’s a difference between a practice and a game. You can’t simulate anything in practice that’s going to give you this environment. That’s what I said the other day, that it’s going to be a big unknown because he hasn’t had the opportunity to kick for us in a game.”

– Chip Kelly on Caleb Sturgis, who missed a short field goal and an extra point. 

“I thought it was clean. Same technique I did last week – I looked at the ball and tried to lean on him. But the ref said…I think he thought I grabbed his arm and pulled it. I didn’t grab his arm.”

— Eric Rowe, on pass interference call in the end zone that led to a Kirk Cousins TD run.

“You guys act like we don’t want to throw the ball downfield. But I think we saw something we could take advantage [of] this week and we called a couple plays trying to get those posts this week.”

— Bradford on the long ball.

“We go to the next game with our heads up. Next game. First quarter is done, we have three quarters left of the season. It’s all in our control. We keep our heads up, keep working, dust ourselves off and go attack New Orleans.”

— Billy Davis, asked where the 1-3 Eagles go from here.

“This is a city of losers.”

— My father-in-law, allegedly, as he watched the game from my house while I was in D.C.

SNAP COUNTS

snap o washington

Nelson Agholor led all receivers in snaps. He posted three catches on four targets for 64 yards and had the key fumble…Josh Huff was used sparingly and has just four catches for 39 to this point…Zach Ertz jumped ahead of Brent Celek in snaps after seeing fewer plays than the veteran last week…After a big Week 3, Ryan Mathews played just 13 snaps and carried the ball five times for 20 yards.

snap D Washington

Jordan Hicks led the middle linebackers in snaps for the second straight week. He came in with the role of nickel linebacker but those plans changed when Mychal Kendricks got hurt…With Taylor Hart sidelined and Brandon Bair getting injured int he game, Bennie Logan had to be on the field more in nickel…Jerome Couplin played one snap last week and seven against Washington. It looked like he was deployed at safety in dime situations down the stretch…Eric Rowe ended up with a full workload after Byron Maxwell got hurt on the opening series.