NFL Nation: NFC East

Titans vs. Eagles preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia TV: CBS

The Philadelphia Eagles are bouncing back from a 53-20 trouncing in Green Bay last week. They need to regain their sense of confidence as they enter the part of their schedule that will determine whether they are contenders or pretenders.

The Tennessee Titans are coming off a tough Monday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are a team still trying to find a new identity under coach Ken Whisenhunt.

The two teams meet Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. NFL Nation reporters Paul Kuharsky, who covers the Titans, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, discussed the matchup.

Phil Sheridan: The Eagles led the NFL in rushing last season but are now down in the middle of the pack. They've been trying to get their running game back to a high level all season. After the Titans allowed 206 rushing yards to the Steelers Monday night, is there anything they can do to stop LeSean McCoy after a short week?

Paul Kuharsky: Well, the first time they were that bad against the run, allowing Dallas 220 yards in Week 2, they rebounded and fared much better in Cincinnati (116). But several good backs have fared very well against them -- DeMarco Murray, Arian Foster and Le'Veon Bell chief among them. The combination of players and scheme isn't particularly good at this stage at holding ground games down.

I think if McCoy is McCoy and Darren Sproles is Darren Sproles, the Titans could easily yield plays to each. Bell clobbered them inside the tackles, and I see the Eagles have sent nearly 62 percent of their rushes that way. They'd be wise to make the Titans prove they've fixed the issue.

Have the Eagles been able to maintain the pace of their offense and the big edge in plays that Chip Kelly covets? How much have things changed with Mark Sanchez at the controls?

Sheridan: The Eagles have run 24 more plays than their opponents this season (748 to 724). But that number is a little misleading. The Eagles have had a few games with Kelly's ideal of a significant advantage in the number of offensive plays run: They ran 92 to Arizona's 70 and 83 to Houston's 60, for example. Meanwhile, Carolina ran 82 plays to the Eagles' 62 and San Francisco had an 83-60 advantage.

So it's hard to draw many conclusions. They lost in Arizona, where they ran more plays, and in San Francisco, where they ran fewer. They won against Houston and Carolina, despite the difference in plays in those games.

The Eagles' running game has not been as consistent this season, which has hurt their ability to control the ball and pound out first downs when needed. And they have turned the ball over 25 times, which means 25 possessions have ended prematurely. In general, the Eagles have been trying to work their way back to the kind of offense they had last season.

Sanchez hasn't changed things as much as you might think -- or the Eagles might have hoped. Like Nick Foles, he turns the ball over quite a bit. While he was very good against Carolina, he was just OK against Houston and Green Bay. The Eagles are hoping to see Sanchez get into a good rhythm against the Titans this week.

Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said that Zach Mettenberger seems remarkably aware and in command for a rookie quarterback. Considering he threw a pick-six on the first attempt of Monday night's game against the Steelers and then played pretty well, is maturity a notable trait of Mettenberger's? Do you see him developing into a winning quarterback?

Kuharsky: I think he has a chance. It's a real small body of work, and on such a bad team any sign of hope can get looked at disproportionately. But he's shown week-to-week improvement. A rookie having success against a Dick LeBeau defense is rare, and Mettenberger really rebounded from that first pass to have a solid night. Two weeks ago in Baltimore, he held the ball too long too often and was sacked five times. Against the Steelers he and the protection were better, and he didn't get sacked at all. He's completely willing to stand in against the rush and make throws as people close around him. Chaos doesn't fluster him much, and that's a good sign for an immobile guy drafted to stand tall in the pocket and deliver. Pair that with his big arm and it's certainly intriguing. He's got six games left in this nine-game audition.

McCoy's production is way off from what he did last season. How much of that's been him, how much of it's been defenses and how much is it hurting the Eagles?

Sheridan: It is definitely hurting the Eagles. It seems like a long time ago now that McCoy was talking in training camp about rushing for 2,000 yards this season. We didn't even laugh at the idea, although it seems ridiculous now.

The first problem was the rash of injuries along the offensive line. That group stayed healthy all of last season, which had a lot to do with McCoy's success. It has been slowly returning to health, but still hasn't gotten its mojo back yet. Starting to wonder whether it will, at least this season.

Also, it turns out that if you lead the league in something, the league notices. Yes, opposing defenses are doing things differently against the Eagles this year. One trend: The Eagles keep encountering defensive strategies that their opponent hasn't shown on film in any previous game. Some of that is simply defensive coordinators prepping for the Eagles' no-huddle offense, which doesn't allow for much substitution or adjustment. Some of it is to stop McCoy. Either way, the Eagles have had to constantly adjust their approach because they've game planned for an entirely different look.

When they do focus on the run, the target is the inside zone blocking schemes the Eagles had so much success with last season. Second-level defenders keep appearing in the holes just as McCoy starts toward them. Since the Eagles' most mobile linemen, Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis, have just returned from injuries and are still rounding into shape, those defenders are not getting blocked this season.

A year ago, the Eagles were the team switching to a 3-4 defense after years in a 4-3. So it's not surprising to see the Titans near the bottom of the NFL against the run. They are ninth against the pass, though, which is pretty respectable. Is there something they're doing especially well, or is it a case of teams running the ball so well they don't have to throw that much against Tennessee?

Kuharsky: Well, some of those big run games we discussed have made it so opponents haven't needed to throw so much, yes. That's a factor. They have blitzed more and more, and more effectively. And while they have question marks in the secondary, they've played OK there. Jason McCourty has tracked top receivers and fared pretty well. Even when a guy like Antonio Brown was making a lot of catches to convert third downs, McCourty was right there a lot of the time. I expect he will spend time on Jeremy Maclin.

The other starting corner, Blidi Wren-Wilson, is making progress but is beatable and probably will be targeted. The Titans have been bouncing between base and dime, without a lot of nickel, so it will be interesting to see what grouping the Eagles prefer to get on the field when they can control it.

The Titans fare pretty well at avoiding big plays -- and some of the big ones they've allowed this season have been short or mid-range catches they've allowed to turn into big plays with missed tackles or bad angles. Opponents have connected on just 15 passes in the air 20 yards or more. That seems like a pretty good number considering their people in defense.

What is Season 2 of the 3-4 looking like in Philadelphia? Connor Barwin has 10.5 sacks. A week after sorting through LeBeau's defense, what will the Titans see Davis dial up?

Sheridan: The defense has, for the most part, been much more sound and more versatile in Year 2 under Davis -- example, they have a dime package this season, which they did not have during the 2013 season. Let's pretend that farce in Green Bay never happened, for the sake of our discussion here. I mean, it did happen, but it seemed like a perfect storm of a deeply misbegotten game plan and some very poor play by the Eagles.

Before that, the Eagles' defenders had finally gotten the hang of two-gapping, making them fairly sound against the run all season. And they have had some games where they've been excellent at generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Throw in some turnovers and it's as disruptive and effective as the Eagles defense has looked in almost a decade.

The Eagles have faced Kirk Cousins and Austin Davis this season, so they have seen a couple of young quarterbacks. They try to disguise their coverages and bring pressure from unexpected places in order to take advantage of the inexperience. I'm sure they'll attempt to do that with Mettenberger. Then again, the Eagles had their most significant defensive success against Cam Newton and Eli Manning, so maybe Mettenberger has the edge
PHILADELPHIA -- LeSean McCoy has drawn the spotlight by proclaiming himself the best running back in the NFL, dissing Adrian Peterson and declaring a goal of 2,000 rushing yards this season.

 That spotlight doesn’t switch itself off when things aren’t going so well. McCoy has as many games below 25 yards rushing (two) as he has games above 100 yards. He is averaging 3.7 yards per carry, 1.4 yards below his 5.1-yard average last season. After leading the NFL in rushing yards in 2013, McCoy is sixth in 2014 -- respectable but no threat to the 2,000-yard barrier.

So it wasn’t a big surprise when McCoy lashed out at reporters this week. Indeed, McCoy lashed out partly because the reporters asking him questions know that he is prone to such outbursts. It’s not that they dangle bait and see if he’ll bite, exactly, but it’s close.

"I'm not even going to address 'am I the same player?'" McCoy said. "That's for you all to figure out. Are you crazy? I am the same player. I'm not going to sit here and play that game, like, 'Am I the same player?'"

One reason for McCoy’s quick trigger: His contract guarantees him just $1 million of his 2015 salary of $9.75 million. He will count $11.9 million against the salary cap. Considering the Eagles released Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson last winter, it may have crossed McCoy’s mind that no one is secure here. Coach Chip Kelly seems to have a genuine affection for McCoy -- which was not the case with Jackson -- but affection doesn’t overrule logic. Being the key to a league-leading running game provides better security than the coach’s affection.

Earlier in the season, McCoy chafed at the ongoing questions about what was wrong with the Eagles’ running game. Injuries along the offensive line were part of the picture. So was the way defenses were approaching the Eagles’ zone blocking schemes. Several teams came out in defensive looks that the Eagles had not seen them play on game film.

McCoy had two rough games against Washington (19 carries, 22 yards) and San Francisco (10 for 17). Then he had four consecutive games above 80 yards, including those two games above 100 yards. With the offensive line returning to good health, it seemed like the problems were over.

And then McCoy ran for just 19 yards on 12 carries in a win over Carolina. In Green Bay Sunday, he amassed 88 yards on 23 carries in a 53-20 loss.

So the questions began again. McCoy heard them. Clearly, he didn’t like them.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' quest for cohesion on their offensive line may not be possible this week.

Matt Tobin, who has replaced Todd Herremans at right guard, sustained a concussion late in Sunday’s loss in Green Bay, according to Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Tobin did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday as he goes through the NFL concussion protocol.

If Tobin is able to play, it would allow the Eagles to start the same five linemen at the same positions for the third week in a row. That would be only the second time they’ve been able to do that all season. If not, either Andrew Gardner or Dennis Kelly would start at right guard.

“Andrew is real versatile,” Chip Kelly said. “He’s a guard/tackle for us. He’s played both positions for us. When he’s been in there, he’s done a good job for us. He’s a veteran. He’s been in the league for a while. He has a good amount of experience that I think he can draw on. Dennis is a guard for us. He’s done a good job for us. He’s battling in there.”

David Molk and Julian Vandervelde, who are primarily centers, can also play guard in a pinch.

The Eagles were unhappy with their line’s play in Green Bay Sunday. They were hoping to get more solid play as the group remained intact and spent more time playing together. Last season, when all five linemen started all 16 games, they developed excellent chemistry together. This year, that has not been possible.

Left guard Evan Mathis injured his left knee in the season opener and missed seven games. Dennis Kelly started two of those games, while Tobin filled in and started the next five. Jason Kelce suffered a sports hernia tear in the third game of the season and missed four games.

Herremans tore his left biceps in Arizona four weeks ago. He played the next week at Houston but opted for surgery and has missed the last two games. Herremans started one game, at San Francisco, at right tackle. Dennis Kelly started at right guard in that game.

Left tackle Jason Peters is the only lineman who has started all 10 games. The Eagles have had four starters at right tackle. Lane Johnson, last year’s first-round pick, was suspended for the first four games for a PED violation but has started all six games since his return.
PHILADELPHIA -- Getting hurt dictated the first half of the season for the Eagles’ offensive line. Getting better turns out to be the theme for the second half.

That, it turns out, is a process. Simply getting center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis back did not solve everything. Each of them has to get back up to speed, and the group has to learn how to play together again. That takes a bit longer than anyone expected.

[+] EnlargeEagles offense
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsProtecting Mark Sanchez was an issue at times for the Eagles in Sunday's loss to the Packers.
The offense did not perform well in last week’s blowout win over Carolina. It surprised some people to hear that judgment from coach Chip Kelly. After Sunday’s 53-20 loss in Green Bay, it should surprise no one to hear that the offense wasn’t up to snuff.

“We didn't play near well enough,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Tuesday. “We didn't execute at a level that's consistent with our standards, and we got beat.”

The line wasn’t terrible. Tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson actually played pretty well. According to grades assigned by Pro Football Focus, which evaluates every play, Peters and Johnson both had positive grades.

The interior of the line didn’t do as well. Kelce, Mathis and right guard Matt Tobin gave up two sacks and three quarterback hurries, according to PFF. Kelce received a grade of minus-2.1. Peters and Johnson both received grades of plus-1.4, by comparison.

“You remember last year that was a model of consistency for our offense because they were the same guys playing all the time,” Shurmur said. “When that happens, you can play better together. The guys are coming back and they are battling. We did not play well Sunday. We need to train better this week and get it going against Tennessee. But they're battling and doing what we ask of them.”

Johnson missed the first four games of the season because he was suspended for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs. By the time he returned, Kelce and Mathis were out. Right guard Todd Herremans, the guy Johnson relied on as a rookie last year, went on injured reserve with a biceps injury. Johnson is now the senior partner with Tobin on his left.

“It’s tough,” Johnson said. “Guys are still coming back from injuries. Evan and Kelce are still trying to get in the swing of things. Matt’s playing a new side. We’ve got six games left, so we’re trying to get better each week.”

Kelce has been errant with snaps in the shotgun formation the past two games. Sunday, the ball sailed over Mark Sanchez’s head and was returned for a touchdown by Green Bay’s Casey Hayward.

“There’s no doubt I have to play better,” Kelce said. “The snaps are the concerning thing right now. I’ve got to make sure I get that better. And I will. Physically, I’m getting back. I think I’m better this week than I was against Carolina. But I’ve got to play better. We’ve all got to play better. The way we played Sunday afternoon and night was unacceptable. Quite frankly, the cohesion really isn’t there.

“We’ve been letting the mistakes and the stalled-out run game dictate how we feel and dictate our mindsets rather than imposing our will on the defense, which is what we did so well last year. As an offensive line, we’ve got to get back to that. We have to be the aggressor.”

They will get to try this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, whose 3-4 defense is ranked 31st in the NFL against the run. Of course, the Packers are ranked 29th, so that doesn’t solve every problem.

Cowboys proving to be road warriors

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
IRVING, Texas -- Four of the Dallas Cowboys’ final six games are away from AT&T Stadium, starting with Sunday’s game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. For some teams that might seem like a daunting task, even with a 7-3 record.

But the Cowboys are the only undefeated team away from home this season, going 4-0. Going back to last year, the Cowboys have won five straight away from home.

“I think this team has done a really good job of it doesn’t matter who, when or where,” tight end Jason Witten said. “That’s not just talk. I really believe this team has kind of bought into this is how we have to play and when we do this, we play well and when we don’t we get beat.”

Tony Romo has had one pass intercepted on the road this season. The Cowboys have rushed for at least 123 yards in every road game. They have won the turnover battle in three of the four road games, losing it only at the Seattle Seahawks.

“We’ve made big plays in big moments that allow you to win those games,” Witten said.

Against the Tennessee Titans, Romo converted a third-and-15 pass to Dez Bryant on a third-quarter scoring drive that stopped a Titans comeback. Bruce Carter had an interception return for a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams. The Cowboys dominated the Seahawks on the ground but needed a third-and-20 completion to Terrance Williams to win the game. C.J. Spillman recovered a fumbled punt that led to the Cowboys’ first touchdown in the win against the Jacksonville Jaguars at London’s Wembley Stadium.

“I think we approach the game the same every week regardless if it’s home or away,” defensive end George Selvie said. “With our offense, they have a great running game. We know they’re going to run the ball, get first downs, and that’s going to quiet the crowd.”

The Cowboys have not finished with a winning record away from home since 2009 (5-3), the last time the made the playoffs. They have not won their first five road games of a season since 2007 when they finished with an NFC-best 13-3 record.

The Cowboys final two home games are against the Philadelphia Eagles (Thanksgiving) and Indianapolis Colts (Dec. 21).

“I guess maybe there’s less distractions for us, I’m not sure,” defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said. “But I know that we’ve got to do better at home. We’ve still got two games at home, so we’ve got to do better there and take care of what we’ve got to do on the road and everything will work out.”
One of the bigger decisions facing the New York Giants this offseason is the one they must make about quarterback Eli Manning. He has one year left on his contract with a nonguaranteed base salary of $17 million and a salary-cap charge of $19.75 million for the 2015 season.

Their options at the start of the offseason will be as follows:

[+] EnlargeManning
AP Photo/Bill KostrounThe Giants will have to make a decision on Eli Manning's future during the offseason.
 1. Do nothing, and let him play out the final year of his deal as the third-highest paid quarterback in the league behind only his older brother and Drew Brees.

2. Extend his contract, potentially picking up cap room in 2015 but committing to the two-time Super Bowl MVP (who turns 34 in January) at a premium quarterback cost for another half-decade. (Manning's not likely to cut the Giants a deal, considering what the market would bear.)

3. Release Manning, saving $17.5 million against the cap in 2015 but starting over at the most important position on the roster with either untested Ryan Nassib or an undetermined player who's still in college at the moment.

The third option is the least likely by far. If the season ended today, the Giants would hold the No. 7 pick in the draft. They could move higher, of course, but their remaining schedule and the condition of the teams above them make it unlikely they could get into the top three or four. And even if they did, there's no guarantee they find their long-term answer in the draft. Nassib, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston would do well to even have half the career Manning has had, and if you had to bet on which of the four will be the best NFL quarterback in 2015 and the three or four years to follow, you'd still bet on Manning, because there are no sure things these days in a non-Andrew Luck quarterback draft.

The merits of Manning as a player aren't at issue just yet. He had a terrible game Sunday, obviously, with five interceptions, but it was his first truly bad game of the year, and in the nine games prior he'd shown smoothness and reliability in the new offense. Sunday's interception total nearly doubled his total for the season, and unless he continues to turn it over at an alarming rate over the final six games, it'll be easy to look at Sunday as a fluke and the rest of the season as representative of what the Giants can expect of Manning.

The question is whether the Giants need a $19 million quarterback in Ben McAdoo's system, and that's where it gets interesting. Manning's salary is as high as it is because of his Super Bowl heroics, and the Giants haven't blinked at committing 17-18 percent of their salary cap annually to Manning because he has been so reliable. He never misses a game, never causes drama inside or outside the building and he has, in the past, demonstrated an ability to elevate the players around him to a championship level. In this day and age, when 32 teams are looking for franchise quarterbacks and there aren't 20 walking the Earth, there's no such thing as overspending to get or keep one.

But under the new offensive system, the requirements for being the Giants' franchise quarterback may be changing. The Giants don't really throw the ball downfield anymore, and McAdoo's offense is designed to eliminate risk. It won't be asking Manning to make the heroic throws he made in the past in playoff games and Super Bowls. Part of Manning's magic has always been his fearlessness of tough throws and his ability to hit them in the clutch. In a timing-based offense that rarely asks the quarterback to throw the ball more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, those qualities may not be worth a premium price anymore.

Manning accounts for 17 percent of the Giants' salary cap this year. Assuming the cap rises to around $142 million next year, and they do nothing with his contract, he'd take up 14.4 percent of next year's cap. Only the Saints, Cowboys and Broncos are currently scheduled to spend a larger percentage of their cap on their starting quarterbacks in 2015. The Giants may still decide it's worth it for a player whose durability alone keeps them from the cringe-worthy quarterback juggling act you see half the teams in the league go through every year. But with so many other needs still to address, and as they think about what they're going to be on offense in the future, the question of cost looms larger than ever with regard to Eli Manning.

The Film Don't Lie: Eagles

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
A weekly look at what the Philadelphia Eagles must fix:

Aaron Rodgers is good on every down, and he was better than good on first and second downs against the Eagles on Sunday. But the Green Bay Packers' quarterback really killed the Eagles on third-and-long plays, and that's an area the Eagles have to fix immediately.

Rodgers converted third-and-6 or longer plays on three of the Packers' scoring drives Sunday. Getting stops on those plays would have reduced the Packers' scoring by 17 points.

Improvement on third downs will help next Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, but it will become really urgent after that. The Dallas Cowboys, whom the Eagles play twice in 17 days, have a 50 percent conversion rate on third downs. That is second best in the league, behind only the New Orleans Saints, while the Eagles are ranked 14th in the NFL at forcing opposing offenses to punt the ball by stopping them on third down.

So consider the Titans, who rank dead last in the NFL in third-down conversions, an opportunity for the Eagles to improve that part of their game. The Eagles will need to pressure rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger, creating some havoc on third downs and getting off the field. The next week, against Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, the Eagles will be glad they did.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Philadelphia Eagles cornerbacks are easy targets, and not in the way you’re thinking.

Sure, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams seemed like easy targets for Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers here Sunday. But that’s because they were being asked to cover talented receivers for too long when the pass rush couldn’t get through to Rodgers.

“We needed to get pressure on him and we didn’t do a very good job getting pressure on him,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “He was on fire early. He is an extremely accurate passer. We knew that was the deal coming in and we didn’t do a good enough job getting after him.”

It didn’t take Rodgers long to find Fletcher. On the Packers’ first possession, Rodgers found wide receiver Jordy Nelson running behind Fletcher for a 64-yard gain. Fletcher also had coverage on two of Rodgers’ touchdown throws, to Davante Adams in the first quarter and to Nelson in the second.

“He made a lot of plays,” Fletcher said of Rodgers. “He was on target on a lot of throws. He was able to scramble today. He did a lot of good things.”

The Eagles tried blitzing. They tried rushing just three or four men and having everyone else drop into coverage. No matter what they tried, Rodgers had the answer for it. And it was the cornerbacks who had to clean up the mess.

“It’s already difficult to be a corner as it is,” Williams said. “When you’re playing a guy of that caliber -- he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game -- those guys get paid, too. They were able to execute and get the job done. We just didn’t play our best ball.”

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has frequently been asked about his cornerbacks. Davis says that no one outside of the team knows what he’s asking the cornerbacks to do on a given play. Mistakes by linemen and linebackers are often hard to see for casual fans. But everyone sees the cornerback running behind a wide receiver when he gets beat.

“It was a combination of everything,” Davis said. “There was no pressure on him. I was happy to see Bradley Fletcher stay in there and compete and make the plays on the vertical ball. That’s how Fletch is wired. He’s not going to quit. He’s not going to give up. He had a rough start, but all of us had a rough start.”
GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- In the standings, the Philadelphia Eagles are keeping impressive company in the NFC. They are 7-3, up there with division leaders Detroit, Arizona, Green Bay and Dallas.

On the field, though, the Eagles haven't fared as well. They have played three games this season against teams that are in the NFC playoff picture. That's three games in stadiums the Eagles might have to return to in the postseason.

The Eagles lost in September in San Francisco.

The Eagles lost in October in Arizona.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsThe Eagles haven't fared well against NFC contenders, and Mark Sanchez didn't do much to reverse that trend against the Packers.
The Eagles lost Sunday afternoon in Green Bay. Worse, they endured the most lopsided loss of head coach Chip Kelly's tenure. The Green Bay Packers' 53-20 victory was one point more one-sided than that 52-20 loss in Denver last season.

"We're professionals," linebacker Trent Cole said. "We know how to put stuff behind us. A lot of us have been in these situations, and we know in this kind of situations, it's a wake-up call. We need to get this off our minds, put it behind us and move on and win these next games."

In two weeks, the Eagles play another road game against another NFC contender. They travel to Dallas for a Thanksgiving game that will go a long way to deciding the NFC East race. Winning the division would get the Eagles into the playoffs. There, they might have to return to one of these NFC outposts where they've been defeated.

"I consider every game a measuring stick," Kelly said. "I don't think you can look at one game and say we really played well this week. In this league, you'd better be ready to play every single week."

His message in the postgame locker room was simple: "I told them we have to stick together," he said. "Win or lose, rain or shine, we're a team. We have to stick together as a group and come back to work on Tuesday."

Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said last week that he relished the challenge of playing against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Lambeau Field and that it would be a good test to go against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

"We didn't do very well on that test," Davis said after the game. "We have to continue to work. If we've got to play this team again, so be it. We've got to get better. We need a better plan, and we have to execute it better. We had a bad day. Every now and then, you have days like this. They happen in the NFL. We have to learn from what happened today."

Davis said similar things after that blowout in Denver last season. Over the team's remaining 12 games, the defense held opponents to 22 or fewer points. This year's defense has a better foundation to work with. It has played very well in a handful of games this season.

Against the Packers, things did not go well. The Eagles were unable to get any pressure on Rodgers. That allowed him time to let his receivers get free. When they did, Rodgers didn't miss.

"I think he is playing as good as anybody in the league," Kelly said. "You look at some of the balls he throws -- extremely accurate, on target. If you blitzed him, he got it out quick. If you didn't, he held it until guys got open. It all starts with the trigger man, and he put on a show today. He is as good as they get."

Rodgers was especially deadly on third downs. He converted 7-of-13 into first downs before leaving in the fourth quarter.

"The third downs were probably the most disappointing," Davis said. "We had third-and-manageable for us, and he kept executing. I give them the credit. We just had a bad day."

The defense wasn't alone. As the score became more lopsided, the Eagles were forced to abandon their running game and throw more. That led to mistakes. Mark Sanchez threw a pass right into the waiting arms of Packers linebacker Julius Peppers, who returned it for a touchdown. Sanchez also fumbled a handoff to LeSean McCoy for another turnover.

Special teams, which have been a major plus for the Eagles this season, allowed a punt return for a touchdown. The Eagles also blocked another punt, but that was after the game was already in hand.

The Eagles were outgunned in all three phases by an opponent they might have to face in the postseason. They're still among the NFC leaders in the standings, but they are 0-3 against those teams.

"This was really the one game we lost away where it was a blowout," cornerback Nolan Carroll said. "The two we lost [earlier] on the road, it came down to the last play. We've just got to learn from our mistakes and move on."

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16

GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 53-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

What it means: The Eagles have played three games on the road against NFC contenders this season. They are 0-3 in those games against San Francisco, Arizona and now Green Bay. The Eagles are 7-0 in the rest of their games. That 7-3 record is pretty good, but the losses were all in playoff-type games. This Eagles' performance was the kind of all-around stinker the team seemed to be beyond. The defense could not pressure Aaron Rodgers and let Green Bay's quarterback stand in the pocket and choose from his array of weapons. The most recent time the Eagles' defense looked this vulnerable was last season in Denver, when Peyton Manning picked it apart in a 52-20 win. The Eagles recovered from that beating and improved steadily the rest of the season. That will be the challenge with games against Dallas and Seattle in the next month.

Stock watch: Mark Sanchez's stock took a plunge after he finished at a three-year high last week. Sanchez couldn't consistently hit open receivers. He threw a pass to Packers linebacker Julius Peppers, who returned it for a touchdown. Sanchez failed to hand the ball off securely to LeSean McCoy, which led to a fumble that derailed the Eagles' first possession of the second half. Sanchez, who had been 7-for-7 in the red zone in his first two games, went 0-for-2 in his first two opportunities at Lambeau Field.

Blowouts: The Packers beat the Chicago Bears 55-14 last week. They are the first team to score more than 50 points in consecutive games since the Denver Broncos did it last season. The Eagles were on the receiving end of one of those beatings, too. After the Broncos beat the Eagles 52-20 at home, they went to Dallas and beat the Cowboys 51-48. The Broncos scored two return touchdowns against the Eagles in their game. The Packers scored two return touchdowns -- one interception, one fumble -- against the Eagles, too.

Game ball: In a game with few bright spots for the Eagles, rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews stood out. Matthews continued to thrive with Sanchez. A week after he caught 12 passes for 155 yards, Matthews gained 107 and scored a touchdown on five catches.

What's next: The Eagles (7-3) have a chance to get well Sunday against the Tennessee Titans at Lincoln Financial Field. It will be the Eagles' last game against AFC South opponents. After that, things get very intense. Five days after the Titans' game, the Eagles play on Thanksgiving in Dallas. They then host Seattle before getting the Cowboys again at home. That three-game stretch is going to go a long way toward deciding how the Eagles' season turns out.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys layers are off until Tuesday. The coaches get out of the office today and will be back to work on Monday.

The bye week is here and much needed for a team that has played 10 straight regular-season games and has not had a lot of time off since flying to Oxnard, California for the start of training camp on July 22.

“It’s good to recharge your batteries at the right time, going into the bye 7-3 and in a good position,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “We just got to not lose ourselves during the bye and stay focused.”

Some players are going out of town, like Mincey, who will cut some music at his studio in his Jacksonville, Florida, home. Some will stay in the area, like tight end Jason Witten and Henry Melton. When he was with the Chicago Bears, Melton would come home. Now he is at home and “will definitely be low key,” he said.

At 7-3, the Cowboys are in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

“It will be good to get away for a couple of days,” Witten said. “But I’ll be here. You wait a long time for opportunities like this. I’ve got plenty of time in the offseason to enjoy vacation.”

Coach Jason Garrett said it is important for the coaches to get away. They will discuss the good and the bad of the first 10 games with a self-scouting report and then call it a weekend.

“Obviously, you’re always maybe be doing a little bit of work and having conversations about different things, but I do think it’s important to have shorter days for coaches this week and give them a chance to get away,” Garrett said. “Then, when we come back, we feel recharged a little bit and ready to go for the next challenge.”

So as much as they are away, they’re not completely away. Mincey said he plans to watch the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFC East leaders, and New York Giants, the Cowboys’ next opponents. If football players play football during football season, they also like watching football during football season, too.

It’s good to pull back a little bit,” Witten said. “I think, especially after last week -- just the schedule going over there [to London]. I think guys are excited to get away from it. We worked hard to get ourselves to get to the point where we’re at. We’ll get away, get rested and obviously it’s a big push.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Normally, when the Eagles’ running game isn’t productive, head coach Chip Kelly writes it off as a result of the opponent’s defensive approach. Kelly immediately points out the ways the Eagles took advantage of that approach by throwing the ball.

Not this time. The Eagles’ ground game struggled against Carolina Monday night because of the Eagles, not the Panthers.

“We didn’t execute,” Kelly said Thursday. “We didn’t stay on blocks as well as we can stay on blocks. We didn’t run the way we need to run. It wasn’t a schematic thing. It was just us executing on the offensive side of the ball. We did some good things, don’t get me wrong, but I think we can be better.”

That presents an interesting conundrum as the Eagles prepare for the Green Bay Packers this weekend. Last season, LeSean McCoy ran for 155 yards at Lambeau Field. On Monday night, McCoy ran for just 19 yards on 12 carries. His 1.6-yard-per-carry average was below 2.0 for the third game this season. In previous games, the opponent was stacking the box to stop the run. Or the Eagles’ offensive line was adjusting to changes caused by injuries.

In this game, center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis were back on the field. All signs pointed to a big game for McCoy. It didn’t turn out that way.

“We tried to be balanced last week,” Kelce said. “Obviously, it didn’t work out. We were very frustrated in the run game.”

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur put it down to the presence of linebacker Luke Kuechly.

“We're going to try to be patient and run the football,” Shurmur said. “Then there were times when we had some creases where all of a sudden Luke showed up. I just think, generally speaking, when you leave some meat on the bone in the running game, we can finish better. There are just little things each guy can do better. Then you can have a game where you're back effective again.”

In an effort to improve their run defense, the Packers moved linebacker Clay Matthews from outside to the inside of their 3-4 scheme. It’s hard to gauge how successful that was in their one game doing it. The Packers jumped out to such a big lead on the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Bears were forced to throw the ball in an effort to catch up.

“Chicago got down so quickly, maybe their mindset turned into, `We’ve got to throw the ball more to get back into this game,’ “ Kelly said. “They [the Packers] did play better inside. We only have a small sample of it. You could see improvement on the tape, though.”

If Matthews is appearing in running lanes the way Kuechly did Monday night, the Eagles are simply going to have to block him better. Controlling the ball and keeping Aaron Rodgers on the sideline is paramount in this game.

“Sometimes we had it blocked up right, and we didn’t hit it,” Kelly said. “Other times there was nowhere for the back to go. Either we don’t block it right or we don’t run it right.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Casey Matthews was as surprised as everyone else.

The Philadelphia Eagles linebacker flipped on his TV Sunday night to watch the Green Bay Packers play the Chicago Bears. There, as always, was his brother Clay, a linebacker for the Packers. There, as never before, was Clay Matthews lined up as an inside linebacker.

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Evan Habeeb/Getty ImagesEagles linebacker Casey Matthews had 30 of 82 snaps against the Panthers in Week 10.
"I had no idea," Casey Matthews said. "I turned it on and he was stacked at inside linebacker. I thought that was just the package they were in, but I saw him keep lining up there. It was funny at first, but he made some plays."

Casey Matthews is used to being in his older brother's shadow. The shadow was actually being cast long before that. Their father, Clay Matthews, played linebacker in the NFL for 19 years. Their uncle, Bruce Matthews, was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman.

"Son of Clay," Matthews said. "That was my nickname in college -- Son of Clay. I'm my own player. We're at different positions -- well, not the past two weeks. I try to make a name for myself. I don't want to be Clay's little brother or Clay's son. Obviously, it's a big honor, but I'm trying to make a name for myself.

His father, uncle and big brother all went to the University of Southern California. Matthews went to Oregon, for a pretty simple reason.

"USC didn't recruit me," Matthews said. "Well, they recruited me. They didn't offer me [a scholarship]. I can't complain how things turned out Oregon. We beat [USC] three times."

Matthews was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round in 2011. He started four games in his first three seasons with the team. He has started four games this season alone, filling in for Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans.

On Monday night, in his first start in place of Ryans, Matthews forced a fumble on the first defensive series. The Eagles recovered and kicked a field goal. The defense never looked back on the way to a 45-21 victory against Carolina.

As the Eagles prepare to play the Packers in Green Bay Sunday, much of the talk is about Clay Matthews' move to the inside. That's where Casey has been playing all along.

"It's a different position, honestly," Casey Matthews said. "He likes going after the passer. He doesn't like taking on the linemen. You have to focus on all your keys. They give him a lot of freedom. I think they blitz him a lot.

The Matthews' parents, Clay and Leslie, will be at Lambeau Field Sunday. They try to stay neutral, but Casey suspects they secretly root for their younger son. As for Clay, the brothers are close, but they don't talk that much about football or how they feel about each other. If Clay is proud of his kid brother, it hasn't come up.

"He won't ever tell me that to my face," Matthews said. "That's not like Clay. He's proud. I'm sure he is. I'm proud of him. Every time I get a chance to watch him, I do. I enjoy watching him. I look up to him and try to be like him, as a player and as a person."
PHILADELPHIA – Mark Sanchez’s performance in his first start for the Eagles raised questions about whether any quarterback can flourish in coach Chip Kelly’s offense.

Kelly didn’t particularly like those questions.

“If anybody thinks anybody can play in our system then they can't evaluate quarterbacks, because you have got to be a really good player to play in the National Football League,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I think it's a disservice to the guys that have played quarterback for us to say that just anybody can play that position. It's the most difficult position to play in sports, and it takes a real special guy.”

Kelly has had three starting quarterbacks in his 25 regular-season games as head coach of the Eagles. Michael Vick opened 2013 as the starter and, after injuring his hamstring, was replaced by Nick Foles. Foles held the job for the rest of last season and through the preseason. He started the first eight games this year before breaking his collarbone last week in Arizona. Sanchez started Monday’s victory over Carolina.

“We've just been fortunate,” Kelly said. “We had Mike Vick, who is an outstanding player. Then Mike got hurt and the fact that we had an opportunity to get Nick in there, who is really a starter in the National Football League and had a tremendous run there before he hurt his clavicle. Then the fact that we have Mark Sanchez is just a credit to what we have here from a depth standpoint.”

Foles started the final six games of the 2012 season under head coach Andy Reid. He won one game and lost five. Foles threw six touchdowns and five interceptions during that stretch.

Last year, under Kelly, Foles threw 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. This season, his numbers were a little less impressive. Foles threw 13 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, which is pretty close to his ratio from 2012.

In his four seasons with the New York Jets, Sanchez threw 68 touchdowns and 69 interceptions. Monday night, for the first time in his career, Sanchez threw for over 300 yards without throwing an interception. His first start for Kelly was, statistically, his best start ever.

So there’s probably something in the idea that Kelly’s offense brings out the best in his quarterbacks. But it’s also true that there has to be a best to be brought out.

“I don't think those guys get enough credit for how good of quarterbacks they are,” Kelly said.
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly deflects the subject. Nick Foles hasn't spoken to the media since fracturing his collarbone in Arizona last week.

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Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsMark Sanchez, appearing in only his second game for the Eagles, says he aims to start in more games.
That leaves Mark Sanchez as the solo voice on the subject of the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback situation after Foles is healthy. Kelly said, as he did when juggling injuries to Foles and Michael Vick last season, that there's no point wasting energy on the subject. By the time Foles is healthy, Sanchez could be hurt or could have thrown 25 interceptions in his previous three games.

What if Matt Barkley has a three-game winning streak as the Eagles' starter by then? You get the point. Kelly focuses on the abundance of things he must deal with as head coach of an NFL team. There's no time left for speculation.

As the No. 2 quarterback, Sanchez had plenty of time for speculation and reflection.

"I think when you take a step back [from being the starter], you appreciate it so much and you miss it so much," Sanchez said after Monday's 45-21 win against Carolina. "I just kept telling myself when I was out that I get a chance to get back out there, I don't ever want to be out again until I retire. I want to keep playing."

That's pretty clear. And really, it's very good news for the Eagles. The alternative would be a veteran backup quarterback who didn't really want to be on the field. Players like that (and they are out there) don't tend to deliver performances like Sanchez's 20-for-37, 332-yard outing against the Panthers. The backups who can win games and keep a team moving forward tend to believe they belong at the top of the depth chart.

This Sanchez situation is reminiscent of 2006, when Jeff Garcia started the final six games of the season in place of the injured Donovan McNabb. Garcia lost his first start. He won the next five, beginning with a game against the Carolina Panthers, to lead the Eagles to the playoffs. Garcia won a home playoff game against the New York Giants, then lost a divisional round game in New Orleans.

Like Sanchez, Garcia had been a successful starting quarterback elsewhere -- San Francisco, in his case. Unlike Sanchez, Garcia was 36 years old when he had his run with the Eagles. Sanchez turns 28 today, Nov. 11. He is only two-and-a-half years older than Foles. Sanchez has plenty of good football years left.

Will they be with the Eagles? That is up to Sanchez. If he plays at a high level, there is every indication Kelly will stick with him. He did it last season, staying with Foles after Vick got healthy. Kelly is all about who gives him the best chance to win right now, and it's up to Sanchez to convince the coach that's him.



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