Eagles-Cardinals, The Day After
Billy Davis counted five from his perch up in the coaches box.
He didn’t point them out one by one, but the replay shows it all. There was Walter Thurmond at the point of attack; Jaylen Watkins and Malcolm Jenkins simultaneously bouncing off the ball-carrier a few yards upfield; Ed Reynolds along the sideline; and the final line of defense, E.J. Biggers, getting hit with a stiff arm before falling off the rookie and out of bounds.
“It was awful,” said Davis of the mishaps along the way during David Johnson‘s 47-yard touchdown scamper.
And it wasn’t an isolated incident.
There were several other examples of tackling woes, none more glaring than when Byron Maxwell got taken for a nearly 20-yard ride after latching on to tight end Darren Fells up high in the first half.
“[It’s matter of] just getting him down,” said Maxwell.
That was an issue all night and it only intensified when both starting corners were knocked out of the game, adding to the already high level of stress that this defense was under going up against an Arizona attack that is simply stacked.
Bruce Arians said he forecasted a “breakout game” for his rookie running back against the Eagles, and he was right. Johnson, a third-round pick out of Northern Iowa, racked up 187 yards on 29 carries (6.4 avg.) with three touchdowns. It was his highest rush total by 88 yards, and his three TDs nearly doubled his total coming in (4).
This is not the first time that a back has run roughshod over this defense this season. If you’ll recall, Tampa’s Doug Martin (235 yards on 27 carries) was one tackle-for-a-loss away from breaking a record for rush yards against the Eagles established by Emmitt Smith and Jim Brown (237). A couple weeks before that, Carolina amassed over 200 yards on the ground against them.
A unit that was ranked second in opponent rush yards per attempt (3.5) through the first six weeks of the season has plummeted all the way down to 27th (4.5).
“It’s kind of hard to make sense of everything being that I know we have a better run defense than that,” said Mychal Kendricks. “I think it just comes down to missed tackles and wrapping up.”
“It came down to tackling and poor fits,” added Malcolm Jenkins. “Those are the same things that plagued us a few games back. At the point of attack, someone missed a tackle, doesn’t fit the gap right, or over runs it. For whatever reason, we couldn’t get it adjusted until it was too late.”
Creating turnovers is a big point of emphasis for this Eagles defense — perhaps too much so. Maxwell, for example, readily admits that he goes for the ball a lot, which is obvious to see (and looked to be on full display on that Fells run). You wonder how much the focus on takeaways is cutting into the fundamentals.
“We’re not trying to teach strip the ball first and tackle second. It’s always tackle first. But then the second and third men in, strip the ball,” said Davis. “And even you’ve seen Eric Rowe do it a couple times, you tackle and as you tackle punch the ball out. But it’s about tackling, That’s not an excuse. We tackled terrible today and we gotta get that fixed.”
While they’ve been trending downward in the run-stopping department, the Eagles have shown flashes — such as last week when they bottled up LeSean McCoy in the second half to pull out a win over Buffalo. But, like the team overall, they’ve been plagued by inconsistency and are prone to rapid descents into the abyss. Now comes the task of trying to climb out of if on a short week.
“It was a bad day. We have to turn around and throw all of our attention into Washington and get this thing going,” said Davis. “We have no choice. We can’t sit and dwell on this one. It was a bad, bad night starting with the tackling. From here, we just have to go attack Washington with whoever’s healthy.
“We have done better than that, we will do better than that. I don’t know where it came from but I have to stop it before we get to Washington.”
The Cardinals allowed the Eagles to get set up in their desired formation before calling timeout.
It was 4th-and-1 from the Arizona eight yard line with under a minute to play in the first half and the home team down just a touchdown. Chip Kelly opted for a two tight-end set with Sam Bradford under center and Ryan Mathews directly behind him.
After getting a glimpse, Bruce Arians called timeout. The Eagles returned to the line of scrimmage with the same look, while the Cardinals adjusted theirs.
“It changed,” said Lane Johnson. “It changed from the first look….They brought 57 (Alex Okafor) over and put him over [Brent] Celek.”
Here’s the Cardinals’ alignment before the timeout.
And this was after.
As you can see, the Cardinals created a wall along the line of scrimmage, pulled everyone in tight and brought the safety down.
Did they anticipate what was coming?
“I think so,” Johnson responded.
According to the right tackle, the Eagles were actually taking a page out of Cincinnati’s play-book. The Bengals had success with a similar play design in their Week 11 matchup against Arizona, including on a Jeremy Hill two-yard TD run.
“We were watching film, the Bengals had success on that play and that was something we tried to emulate from them. Maybe they caught onto it,” said Johnson.
This appears to be the play Johnson was referencing. One clear difference is that Cincinnati has a lead blocker in the I-formation in front of Hill but there are similarities, including the positioning of wide receiver Marvin Jones (No. 82) relative to where Riley Cooper ends up.
You can see a change in the approach out of cornerback Jerraud Powers in the play against the Eagles versus the one against the Bengals. Where on the touchdown he hung back, here he comes off Cooper and slices into the backfield for the stop.
“It was a good play by them, and we just didn’t execute,” said Johnson.
The other part of this play, of course, relates to the back Kelly opted to go with. As the television broadcast pointed out, DeMarco Murray was 12-for-12 in 3rd and 4th-and-1 situations coming in while Mathews dropped to 2-for-5.
“I don’t get it,” said Chris Collinsworth. “DeMarco Murray, the very one thing that he does is convert those situations. I don’t know if he’s hurt or…I don’t have an answer for that one.”
While you can make an argument that Murray might have been the better option in that spot, the back of choice was only a part of the story.
David Johnson up to 187 rushing yards. Most by a rookie vs. Eagles since Tony Dorsett had 206 in 1977.
— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) December 21, 2015
First we had Doug Martin up in the Brown/Smith stratosphere. Now Johnson in Dorsett’s? Unreal.
OH MARCUS SMITH JUST RECORDED HIS 1ST SACK OF HIS CAREER!!! IF I COULD FIND EMOJI’S I’D LIGHT THIS TWEET UP!!!! — Seth Joyner (@sethjoyner) December 21, 2015
Twitter was having fun with ol’ Marcus Sunday night.
— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) December 21, 2015
And with Maxwell, too.
Missed one hell of a game.
DeSean has 419 yards the last 5 games, all of the Eagles’ WRs combined have 414 yards in the last 4 games.
— Mele Kalikimaka (@DeitchCSN) December 20, 2015
Eagles up against Jackson’s squad once again in a Week 16 must-win situation.
QUOTES OF NOTE
“To come here against a first-place team and play as dominantly as we did in the second half was fun to watch.”
— Bruce Arians on a division-clinching win that was likely extra sweet because of who the opponent was.
“It’s not bad. It’s not bad…It’s feeling a lot better. I got a shot and it’s feeling a lot better. I can move it and everything but I can still feel it. It feels tight.”
— Byron Maxwell on his collarbone/shoulder injury. X-rays were negative and he described it afterwards as a bruise. If MRI comes back clean, seems like he has a chance to play against Washington.
“If I know this team, and I know myself, and I know the guys in here, the Redskins got something coming to them. For real. That’s real shit. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
— Mychal Kendricks, with some real s&*t.
“He’s been an unbelievable teammate this entire year. His demeanor hasn’t changed at all. His approach to the game hasn’t changed at all, and I think that speaks volumes to the person he is.”
— Zach Ertz when asked if Murray is visibly frustrated.
“No, we had Ryan in there who is a 230-pound back. We thought we were going to get it on fourth-and-one, the ball got bounced outside to the DBs and that’s kind of the game.”
— Kelly when asked about Murray vs. Mathews.
“I think everyone is a little bit frustrated after the way we played tonight. Obviously, we thought that we were taking steps in the right direction. And you know, really kept ourselves in the game up until midway through the third, fourth quarter and then just kind of collapsed. But like I said, the good news is we have to have a short memory. We have to learn from this one and get ready for Saturday because it’s coming quick and the next two games are really important.”
— Sam Bradford on the state of the team.
Nelson Agholor was not targeted despite playing the most snaps of any Eagles receiver…Murray saw his snap total dip all the way to eight and is averaging 15.7 plays per game over the last three.
A much bigger role than anticipated for Biggers and Watkins because of injury…Kiko Alonso was credited with just one tackle despite playing over 50 percent of the snaps…Marcus Smith turned in his best performance as a pro with three tackles, a half-sack and a QB hit in 11 snaps.