NFL Nation: NFC East

PHILADELPHIA -- It’s a fascinating suggestion from’s Greg Garber: the Philadelphia Eagles trading running back LeSean McCoy to the Oakland Raiders for what may be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

The biggest problem with the idea is the timing. The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday. That means the Eagles would have to pull the trigger on such a deal with nine games left in the 2014 season. With Chris Polk, Darren Sproles and Matthew Tucker in-house at the running back position, that would look an awful lot like tanking. And 5-1 teams in the process of defending a division title aren’t typically inclined to tank.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsWidely considered one of the NFL's top running backs, would the Eagles consider dealing LeSean McCoy?
Of course, the Eagles and Raiders would be free to make a similar trade after the season. That may be a little more palatable to Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who really does focus all of his energies on the game that’s next on the schedule. Most of what Kelly has preached to his players over the past two seasons would sound pretty hollow if the coach jettisoned McCoy in the middle of the season.

Plus a deadline deal would give the Raiders nine games with McCoy carrying the ball, nine chances to improve their record and hurt their draft position.

But the idea is provocative for a couple of reasons -- and not just that illustration with McCoy in silver and black. Garber lays out the key elements: While Kelly has done quite well with Nick Foles as his quarterback, it’s ever more clear that the Eagles’ offense is radically limited by the absence of a true read-option threat at that position. When Foles was throwing 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, that was a compromise Kelly could accept. With Foles throwing seven interceptions in his first six games of 2014, his lack of mobility may be a little tougher to accept.

If Kelly really believes it will take a quarterback like Oregon's Marcus Mariota to maximize his offense, then there will be few chances to get such a player. Mariota, whom Kelly recruited and coached, will be among the first players taken in the 2015 draft. For the Eagles to get him, they will have to be bold. Trading McCoy would certainly qualify.

As for replacing McCoy, it helps to bear in mind that he was a second-round draft pick. Running backs are easier to find than franchise quarterbacks. It's also possible, with a solid offensive line and a good scheme, to get more out of any back. As Garber writes, “Like Bill Belichick, Kelly passionately believes in the system, which is to say, himself.”

There is good reason for that. McCoy has been exceptional in Kelly’s offense. But other backs -- Bryce Brown, Polk, Sproles -- have stepped in and put up big rushing numbers. If Kelly was willing to jettison DeSean Jackson for nothing, he’d probably be willing to part with McCoy for a chance to acquire a quarterback custom-built to run his offense.

Will it happen? It’s unlikely, as Garber says right upfront. But it certainly makes a lot of sense, for both the Eagles and the Raiders.

The Film Don't Lie: Eagles

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Philadelphia Eagles must fix:

The Eagles beat the Arizona Cardinals at Lincoln Financial Field last season by playing a mistake-free game. Nick Foles threw zero interceptions, and the Eagles did not lose a fumble in that 24-21 victory.

Coming off their bye week with a game in Arizona, the Eagles need to clean up that aspect of their game. Let’s be completely honest with one another: Foles must clean up that part of his game. Watching the game tape, it’s hard to believe that Foles throws the two passes that wound up in the hands of New York Giants this past weekend. They were the kind of passes he never threw last year -- careless, poorly considered, badly aimed. Foles has turned the ball over 10 times this season with seven picks and three lost fumbles.

Coach Chip Kelly has said that sooner or later, turnovers will catch up to his quarterback.

“We were a lot cleaner last year from a turnover standpoint,” Kelly said, “and he'll be the first to tell you that. Because you can't continue to do it at that rate and end up on the right side of the ledger. The turnover differential is really big in this league in terms of being an indicator of wins and losses.”

With Patrick Peterson lined up on the other side, there’s little that Kelly can do about this problem. The ball is literally and figuratively in Foles’ hands.
PHILADELPHIA -- With the Philadelphia Eagles' running game on the way to a full recovery, the No. 1 order of business when Chip Kelly’s training sessions resume Tuesday is getting Nick Foles back on track.

The timing is pretty good. Although the Eagles face some teams with big-name defensive players over the next month, they do not face a truly elite defense. J.J. Watt and Clay Matthews may turn up on the highlight shows, but their teams are not ranked in the top 15 defensively.

The Eagles’ next opponent, Arizona, has the 18th-ranked defense as measured by overall yardage allowed. Houston has Watt but is ranked 29th in the NFL defensively. After that, Carolina is 26th and Green Bay is 19th.

More to the point when talking about Foles, Arizona is 31st among 32 teams in passing yards allowed. Houston is 28th and Carolina 22nd. Only Green Bay, which is ranked sixth in the league in passing yards allowed per game, has a respectable pass defense.

Of course, the New York Giants have the 25th-ranked passing defense and Foles managed to throw two woeful interceptions against them before the bye week. Foles has thrown seven interceptions through six games, and it’s pretty hard to find a simple solution.

The first one against the Giants was especially mystifying. Foles had Darren Sproles as a check-down receiver to his right. Knowing that, Foles looked downfield, mostly to his left, for several seconds. When he decided to swing the ball over to Sproles, he neglected the highly recommended step of first looking to make sure a defender wasn’t standing right there.

One was. But the really disturbing aspect of the play was just how terrible Foles’ mechanics looked on the throw. Maybe he saw the defender at the last moment and that threw him off. But Foles turned, failed to shift his weight and sort of pushed the ball to his right. Antrel Rolle made the interception.

On the second pick, Foles simply took off as the pocket collapsed in front of him. It was the perfect time to throw the ball away, which Kelly suggested was Foles’ intent. But Foles appeared to be throwing to Jeremy Maclin, except cornerback Zack Bowman was standing in front of Maclin. On both interceptions, it seems as if Foles was incapable of seeing the defensive players in front of him.

As Kelly said after that game, turnovers are a major no-no for teams that have opportunities to win their division and advance in the playoffs. Foles did a remarkable job of avoiding them last season. The Eagles need him to become that quarterback again now that the bye week is behind them.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles liked where their bye week fell this season. It’s fair to wonder, though, if they weren’t better served by their late-November bye last year.
The Eagles’ 2013 bye came after they had won three games in a row to improve their record from 3-5 to 6-5. They didn’t lose any momentum, going 4-1 after the bye to finish with a 10-6 record and the NFC East title.

This time, the Eagles’ bye came immediately after their first truly excellent performance of the season. After finding ways to win despite deeply flawed performances, the Eagles were flat-out dominant against the New York Giants a week ago. Their running game finally looked as powerful as it was last year, and their defense managed its first shutout in 18 years.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Matt RourkeLeSean McCoy and the Eagles should have momentum heading into next Sunday's game against Arizona.
Not exactly when you want to call a halt to operations and force everyone to start over after a week off. But as coach Chip Kelly pointed out, this bye comes at the real midway point of the NFL season. The Eagles played four preseason games and six regular-season contests. They have 10 regular-season games remaining.

This is an opportunity to reboot, and the Eagles could use that. Start with their offensive line: The current group has begun to find some continuity after a few weeks together. If it can maintain that level of play, which enabled LeSean McCoy to gain 149 rushing yards and prevented Nick Foles from being sacked even once against the Giants, the Eagles will be in good shape. The return of Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis will still be welcome, but without that sense of desperation the Eagles were feeling a few weeks ago.

On the defensive side, the Eagles could get inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks back. Kendrick injured his calf muscle during the Week 2 game in Indianapolis. He hasn’t played since. The defense has improved in his absence, though, culminating with the eight-sack, no points allowed showing against the Giants. Adding Kendricks to that mix could really rev up the Eagles’ defense.

That’s important, because the Eagles face some tough offenses after the bye: Arizona next Sunday, Green Bay on Nov. 16, then the Dallas, Seattle, Dallas sandwich over the next three weeks.

It will help if the Eagles can get into the kind of groove they were in over the last few weeks. Starting in San Francisco, their defense and special teams ran off a streak of three impressive performances. Those games felt connected, with those units building upon the previous game’s momentum.

The Eagles have a chance to restart that process. It is better to be peaking as the playoffs approach, in the games that will decide the NFC East title. It was clear that after six games, that is what Kelly is expecting when the Eagles return to work this week.

“I've seen us get better,” Kelly said last week. “That's one positive where we are right now. We weren't in this situation last year, but I saw us get better. We were 7-1 down the stretch [and] we were a better football team at the end of the year than we were at the beginning of the year. I hope that holds true now, because I think we're moving in a positive direction right now.”


PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' bye week gives us a chance to catch our breath and contemplate some of the mysteries surrounding the team this season.

Here’s one: Chip Kelly is the 11th head coach of the Eagles during the Super Bowl era. Can he really become the first coach to win one here?

Can he? It certainly looks like he can. Will he? Ah, well, that’s where the rub has been for all of Kelly’s predecessors, from Joe Kuharich to Andy Reid.

Reid casts a large shadow, for obvious reasons. When you coach somewhere for 14 years -- nearly one-third of the Super Bowl era, incredibly -- and you flirt with ultimate success as regularly as Reid did, then you get to be the best and worst kind of measuring stick for your predecessors. That's just the way it is.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsIn his short time with the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Chip Kelly has shown he might have what it takes to win a Super Bowl.
Two years ago, during Reid’s 14th and final season as head coach of the Eagles, the offensive line was plagued by injuries. The Eagles went 4-12 as Reid wound up playing Nick Foles at quarterback. It was a disaster.

Today, with Foles as his quarterback and an offensive line nearly as beset by injuries (and one suspension), the Eagles’ record is 5-1. That’s a start better than all but one of Reid’s seasons, the one in which the Eagles actually went to a Super Bowl.

Does that prove Kelly is a better coach, or better-equipped to win a Super Bowl, than Reid? No. But it does illustrate one of the ways Kelly is different from Reid. And it is a difference that might translate into Kelly being able to close the deal and win an actual championship right here in Philadelphia.

In 2012, Reid’s line was being coached by Howard Mudd, who had a very particular style of play. Unfortunately, most of the linemen Reid had assembled and coached over the preceding seasons were poor fits for Mudd’s methodology. When the few who were capable of excelling under Mudd got hurt, the Eagles were left with a bunch of square pegs to fill the round holes.

Kelly always talks about tailoring his schemes to fit the players he has. He also practices at such a fast pace, there are many more plays run on the practice fields every day. That means all of his backups are getting regular work running his plays and learning to play together.

The line was obviously affected by the suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson and the injuries to left guard Evan Mathis, tackle Allen Barbre and center Jason Kelce. The Eagles’ running game, so potent in 2013, was not nearly as effective. But look at pass protection, the first thing to fall apart when a line is struggling.

Foles was sacked five times in the season opener against Jacksonville. Since then? He has been sacked exactly twice in five games. Foles was sacked 20 times during his six-game tenure in 2012. Or think of that 2007 game at the Meadowlands, when left tackle Tra Thomas was a late scratch against the Giants. Winston Justice had to start that game. Donovan McNabb was sacked 12 times, six of them by Osi Umenyiora.

Reid never adjusted, never addressed the problem. He just stood on the sideline and watched his quarterback take a beating.

Foles hasn’t been sacked that many times through six games. That’s just one manifestation of Kelly’s approach. He sees problems as challenges, not as obstacles. If things don’t go as planned -- Tra Thomas' back hurts, or injuries afflict your offensive line -- you make the necessary adjustments and try to win. You don’t stand on the sideline and wonder what hit you.

That trait might not guarantee that Kelly will win a Super Bowl as coach of the Eagles, but it is a trait found in most championship-winning coaches. It’s a start.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' bye week gives us a chance to catch our breath and contemplate some of the mysteries surrounding the team this season. Here's one:

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Matt RourkeWhile Nick Foles' interception rate is up this season, he has also missed key pieces of the Eagles' offensive line.
Everyone wondered if Nick Foles could duplicate his 27-touchdown, two-interception performance from 2013. Seven interceptions into 2014, we have our answer. Next question: Can the Eagles continue winning and have success in the playoffs if Foles continues turning the ball over at this rate?

No. That's the easy and obvious answer. Chip Kelly said as much after Foles threw two more picks in Sunday night's 27-0 domination of the New York Giants.

"We were a lot cleaner last year from a turnover standpoint, and he'll be the first to tell you that," Kelly said. "Because you can't continue to do it at that rate and end up on the right side of the ledger. The turnover differential is really big in this league in terms of being an indicator of wins and losses."

Maybe the better way to phrase the question: Which is the real Foles, the one who has thrown seven interceptions in six games or the one who threw two in 11 games last year?

For illumination, let's look back at 2012, when Foles started six games at the end of his rookie season. He threw six touchdown passes and five interceptions in those games, a ratio much closer to this year's (10 TDs, seven picks) than last year's 27 and two. That certainly doesn't bode well for Foles' chances of erasing turnovers from his game.

But there's another factor involved here. In 2012, Foles was playing behind an offensive line that practically redefined "patchwork." No Jason Peters, no Evan Mathis, no Jason Kelce. This year, Foles is playing behind a line that has been without Mathis, Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson for stretches. That may be the difference between the Foles who throws interceptions and the Foles who does not.

Let's take it one step further. By this point in the 2013 season, Foles had started one game, a win in Tampa. He was about to make his second start against Dallas, a game in which he would play poorly and then be knocked out with a concussion. So Foles was two weeks away from Week 9, when he started in Oakland and threw seven touchdown passes.

That matters for this reason: Foles' nature. He really lives by the axiom that you have to work hard to improve your game every single day. It's how he approaches the job. It is harder to refine details like your footwork and your arm slot when you're constantly aware of breakdowns in the protection. But as the current line improves (and it has each week) and then is reinforced by the return of Kelce and Mathis, Foles should be much more relaxed in the pocket.

Then, and only then, will we see the best of Foles and gauge whether it's more like last year's rising star or the journeyman who played in 2012.

The Film Don't Lie: Eagles

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
A weekly look at what the Philadelphia Eagles must fix:

The Eagles went into their bye week following a nearly flawless performance against the New York Giants. In their 27-0 win, the Eagles seemed to correct all of their flaws. The running game was effective and the secondary played flawlessly. But there are some things the Eagles must do better when they return to action against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 26.

One of the more mystifying aspects of their game: quarterback Nick Foles. After throwing just two interceptions all of last season, Foles has seven picks through six games. Among NFL quarterbacks, only Washington’s Kirk Cousins (eight) has more interceptions. Foles threw two balls to Giants defenders on Sunday night. Both were careless throws that were easy turnovers for the defense.

“We still have to do a better job from that standpoint,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “We were a lot cleaner last year from a turnover standpoint, and he'll be the first to tell you that. The one at the end of the first half, I think he was trying to throw it away, I just don't think it got out of bounds. He was scrambling on the second one, and we've got to do a better job protecting the football. ... Because you can't continue to do it at that rate and end up on the right side of the ledger. The turnover differential is really big in this league in terms of being an indicator of wins and losses.”

So far, the Eagles have won despite the turnovers. But the Cardinals game is the first in a series -- the Texans, Panthers and Packers follow, in order -- of games against teams that will exploit turnovers. The fix here is simple: Foles has to get back to his 2013 habits when it comes to taking care of the ball. The line can improve and Kelly can eliminate certain riskier throws from his play calling, but ultimately, Foles must eliminate careless play from his repertoire.
PHILADELPHIA –Eagles coach Chip Kelly runs an uptempo organization, whether you’re talking about his no-huddle offense, his well-conditioned defense or the taking of the annual team photographs.

“We set a record -- 4 minutes and 40 seconds,” Kelly said Monday. “We got everybody -- the entire team, every position group, the coaches and the training staff -- done in 4 minutes, 40 seconds. It was the most efficient photo I’ve ever seen. There were guys dressed in full uniform at 9:30 for our meeting. They knew what we wanted to get done.”

The Eagles sat on the concrete bleachers that extend from the back of the NovaCare Complex toward the practice fields.

“We started at 10,” Kelly said. “I looked at my watch. At 10:04:40, we were done everything. It was awesome. I would challenge anybody. We got our team photo done, we got individual position coaches and their players, we got our coaching staff photo and our training staff photo done in 4 minutes, 40 seconds.”

Kelly was laughing, but you could tell he thoroughly enjoyed the efficiency.

“We had to coach up the photographers a little bit,” Kelly said. “The one guy thought he was Ansel Adams. It was, `Let’s get this thing taken and let’s go.’ It’s not like it’s going to be hanging in the Philadelphia Museum of Art or anything. It’s going to be in someone’s office.”

PHILADELPHIA -- It took two teams to solve the mystery of LeSean McCoy's disappearance -- the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants.

McCoy, the NFL's rushing leader last season, had rushed for 120 yards in his previous three games combined. Opponents were stacking the box against the Eagles' makeshift offensive line, and McCoy wasn't finding any room to run. On Sunday night, the Giants took a different approach. They paid for it, as McCoy rushed 22 times for 149 yards in the Eagles' 27-0 victory.

"There were tons of running lanes," McCoy said, crediting his offensive line but also acknowledging that the Giants' strategy worked in the Eagles' favor. "I never lost confidence in myself and the guys up front. Surprisingly, they played a lot of two [safeties] high. They left a safety out of the box, which was different. When they moved a safety down, it was too late."

There's no denying that the Eagles are a run-oriented offensive operation. With McCoy breaking off 12- and 18-yard runs on the Eagles' first possession, the entire offense found its rhythm.

"When we get [McCoy] going," tight end Zach Ertz said, "everything else opens up. Everyone's playing more calmly. We're able to make plays in the passing game as well."

The Eagles won the opening coin toss. Earlier this season when they won the toss, coach Chip Kelly chose to defer until the second half. That meant the Eagles kicked off and their opponent got the ball first. This time, Kelly took the ball. He wanted to get his offense going right away.

"We want to start faster, and we did that today," quarterback Nick Foles said. "It helps our defense out when we can put some points on the board early. ... It's a momentum thing."

The Giants' approach helped Philadelphia establish McCoy and the running game, but the Eagles deserve credit for their execution, too.

"It wasn't a spurt here and a spurt there," Kelly said. "It was a consistent football game from start to finish. I thought LeSean did a really good job tonight. He really hit some things tonight. You saw the LeSean everybody knows he can be like."

Kelly pointed out that it was the second game together for the current five starting offensive linemen. Right tackle Lane Johnson, who was suspended for the season's first four games, played well. So did left tackle Jason Peters.

"Jason Peters did a great job," Kelly said. "He had a real big matchup against Jason Pierre-Paul. I also think [tight end] Brent Celek had a really big game blocking. The combination of our tackles and really Brent blocking today [was key]."

Foles threw two touchdown passes to tight ends. Both plays were set up by the running game. The Giants left cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie alone on Ertz, and Foles found Ertz for a first-quarter touchdown. On James Casey's second-quarter touchdown, which gave the Eagles a 17-0 lead, he was left alone because the defense was watching for the run.

McCoy said he wasn't frustrated by the lack of production in previous games, because the Eagles had a 4-1 record.

"We were 4-1 coming into the game," McCoy said. "Now we're 5-1. If we weren't that good a running team, then why was every team coming in here and stacking the box?"

Every team, that is, except the Giants.
Observed and heard in the locker room after the Eagles’ 27-0 victory over the Giants:

Pitching a shutout: The Eagles never shut a team out during Andy Reid’s 14-year tenure. Their last shutout was against the Giants in December, 1996. That was Ray Rhodes’ second season as head coach of the Eagles. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis was asked when he was last part of a shutout. “I don’t remember,” Davis said. “I’ll remember this one, though.”

Sproles hurt: There was no sign of running back Darren Sproles in the postgame locker room. Sproles injured his left knee in the third quarter. There was no word on the exact injury from the Eagles. The Eagles have their bye this week, which gives Sproles an extra week to rest. A longer absence would hurt. “He’s a big-time player,” teammate LeSean McCoy said. “He makes me better.”

Ryans plays: Inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the Eagles’ defensive signal-caller, played despite a groin injury. He said he knew by Friday that he would probably be able to play Sunday night. “It felt really good tonight,” Ryans said. Although he came out in the fourth quarter as a precaution, Ryans said he was fine going forward.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

October, 12, 2014
Oct 12

PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 27-0 victory against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field:

What it means: The Eagles dispatched a division opponent that had won three consecutive games and was starting to feel pretty confident. With the Dallas Cowboys' big win in Seattle, the Eagles kept pace with a 5-1 record. And they did it in style. Their offense finally looked like the 2013 version, with LeSean McCoy rushing for more yards (85) in the first half than he’d gained in an entire game all season. Nick Foles was efficient, throwing for two touchdowns before a couple of interceptions clouded his evening. The Eagles' defense also played its best all-around game, sacking Eli Manning five times in the first half and getting the Eagles’ first shutout since a 24-0 defeat of the Giants on Dec. 1, 1996. Put simply: The Eagles really looked like the team their record says they are.

Stock watch: LeSean McCoy -- the real one, the player who led the NFL in rushing last season -- finally appeared. On his second carry of the game, McCoy went around right end for 12 yards. On the next play, he ran up the middle for 18 yards. On the way to a season-high 149 rushing yards, more than his past three games combined, McCoy passed Steve Van Buren and moved into third place on the Eagles’ career rushing list. With a nod to the much steadier offensive line, McCoy’s stock went way up.

The empty box: OK, it wasn’t empty, but it must have looked that way to the Eagles. All season, opposing defenses have loaded up the middle of the field with seven or eight defenders in order to make life difficult for McCoy and the Eagles’ running game. The Giants held McCoy in check (2.7 yards a carry in two games) last season, but decided not to stack the box in this game. That opened things up for McCoy as well as the passing game. It also suggests future opponents will be very likely to load up the box when preparing for the Eagles.

Game ball: We have to go with McCoy. You could make an argument for Foles or Connor Barwin, who had three sacks. But it has been such a frustrating season for McCoy, let’s just hand him the rock one more time.

What’s next: The Eagles have their bye week, which means they can only watch as the Cowboys and Giants battle for an edge in the divisional race. The week off will help injured Eagles such as DeMeco Ryans (who played Sunday night) and Mychal Kendricks (who did not), plus offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis. The week after that, the Eagles travel to Arizona for a tough road game against the Cardinals.

The Film Don't Lie: Redskins

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7
A weekly look at what the Redskins must fix:

The Redskins once again failed in a key area that continues to haunt the offense: third downs. Quarterback Kirk Cousins in particular has struggled in this area. Fortunately for the Redskins, they’re playing a team on Sunday that could help them get better in this department. Or, perhaps, their stats are a little misleading -- and not as inviting as they appear.

Let’s start with Cousins. Quarterbacks earn their money in the red zone and on third down. Too often, though, that’s been a troubling down as Cousins ranks last in the NFL among quarterbacks who have appeared in at least three games with a 49.8 passer rating on this down. Cousins has completed 21-of-37 passes for 204 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

In three starts last season, Cousins had a 64.5 passer rating -- that was 25th in the NFL during that stretch. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

So it’s been an issue. Some of it is too many third-and-longs: Of their 12 third downs Monday, eight were for 5 yards or more. The problem is that teams will blitz Washington more on third down. Cousins has faced a blitz on 19 of his 37 third-down throws. He’s completed eight of those 19 passes for 55 yards and an interception.

Which brings us to Arizona. The good news for Washington: The Cardinals allow the opposition to convert on 45.5 percent of third downs. The quarterbacks they’ve faced: Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Colin Kaepernick and Peyton Manning. A pretty good group.

But it’s the pressure on third down that will be worth watching. The Cardinals have blitzed an NFL-high 33 times on third down. It usually works: Quarterbacks have completed 16 of 30 passes for 242 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on those plays. The yards per attempt (8.37) ranks 21st in the league, so there’s a potential payoff -- but that means Cousins and the rest of the offense must handle this scenario better than they have in the past.

The Film Don't Lie: Eagles

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7
A weekly look at what the Philadelphia Eagles must fix:

The Eagles made some progress in their running game Sunday against the Rams, but they are still vulnerable in the interior of their offensive line. That’s unfortunate, because next Sunday night’s opponent, the New York Giants, gave the Eagles’ line fits last season.

LeSean McCoy had 94 rushing yards on 35 carries combined in two games against New York. The Giants’ defensive tackles -- Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Johnathan Hankins -- made life miserable for Eagles center Jason Kelce and guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. On Sunday night, only Herremans will be in uniform.

Backup center David Molk and left guard Matt Tobin were better in their second game playing together. They will need to improve at least as much to give McCoy some running room as well as to keep the Giants' defenders out of quarterback Nick Foles' face.

Head coach Chip Kelly said that Foles’ recent habit of throwing off his back foot resulted from him not setting his feet properly after sidestepping the pass rush. That gives the Giants that much more incentive to bring heat up the middle. If Molk, Tobin and Herremans aren’t able to counter that, Foles won’t be able to work through his recent bad habits, and McCoy won’t be able to build on Sunday’s relative success.
PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Foles led the NFL in passer rating last season. He is 38th in the league after five games in 2014.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s one way to quantify what your eyes are telling you. Foles just doesn’t look as comfortable or as confident running Chip Kelly’s offense as he did in 2013. He appears to be throwing off his back foot a lot, and he already has turned the ball over eight times -- twice as many turnovers as Foles committed in 2013.

"I think sometimes what happens is there’s a rush," Kelly said Monday, after watching tape of Sunday’s 34-28 win against St. Louis. "He’s trying to slide to the right or slide to the left, not setting his feet when he slides. Some of the movement stuff within the pocket where he’s got to be a little bit more (set) with his feet."

Foles threw a higher percentage of short passes Sunday than he typically has in the past. Considering he didn’t complete a single one of his throws deeper than 20 yards in San Francisco last week, that was probably by design. Foles’ lone interception came on a deep throw.

"I think it’s fixable," Kelly said.

But by whom? Last season, Foles had a 119.2 passer rating while throwing 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. His quarterbacks coach was Bill Lazor, who left to become offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins after the season. Lazor was replaced by Bill Musgrave, a former NFL quarterback who has been an offensive coordinator as well.

"It’s just a matter of drill work, fundamentals," Kelly said. "Do a lot of movement drills. Bill does a really nice job with that. We just have to get him to where he’s real comfortable there. Sometimes guys are coming that you didn’t expect -- there’s a 3 technique that beats the guard, so he’s got to slide-step. Usually, you kind of understand that when there’s a blitz coming and you know where the unblocked guy is coming from, but sometimes when you think it's going to be solid, but you feel a little bit of pressure and you’re stepping to your right or to your left, you just need to do a little better job of getting your feet set before you throw the football."

Foles’ lowest point came on an otherwise routine play in the fourth quarter. He saw an open area to his right and took off running. Instead of sliding feet first, Foles sort of flopped forward. He fumbled the ball away, helping to spur the Ram’s fourth-quarter comeback.

"I tried to get down," Foles said after the game. "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 on to the ball."
PHILADELPHIA -- Late in the game, when you’re protecting a lead, is when you need your top running back to do his thing. Any maybe the Philadelphia Eagles had just that with Darren Sproles running in the fourth quarter Sunday.

Of course, LeSean McCoy is the Eagles’ top running back. He did lead the NFL in rushing last season. But McCoy hasn’t enjoyed quite the same success this season. When he took himself out of the game in the fourth quarter of the Eagles’ 34-28 win over the St. Louis Rams, coach Chip Kelly wasn’t all that concerned about it.

“I think we’re all comfortable that, if he comes out and Darren goes in, I don’t change play calling-wise,” Kelly said Monday. “We don’t change anything we’re doing. I don’t think it’s a big deal. When he knows we need a rest, he comes out for a play or two. Darren goes in and then we roll. He feels comfortable that the guy behind him, there’s not a drop-off.”

The Eagles got the ball with 4:41 left on the clock. McCoy ran the ball twice, picking up seven yards, before going to the sideline. On his first carry, Sproles burst up the middle for 25 yards. It was the biggest gain for the Eagles in the entire game.

That begs the question of whether Sproles’ style -- hitting the hole quickly, little horizontal movement -- is more effective behind this Eagles offensive line.

“He’s got a knack of understanding (the blocking scheme),” Kelly said. “He’s a real smart football player. He really is a talented, talented running back. He has great vision and understands what we’re doing from a blocking scheme standpoint. And a lot of people don’t see him. There’s some advantages to how he plays the game and how he fits in terms of how we run the ball.”

People “don’t see” Sproles because of his height, of course. McCoy can’t do much about being five inches taller than Sproles. Ultimately, Kelly said, all he cares about is whether he can call the plays he wants with the personnel on the field. If so, he doesn’t spend much time worrying about whether it’s Sproles or McCoy.

“I’m not concerned with who the running back is,” Kelly said. “I don’t sit there and say, 'How come this guy isn’t in or this guy isn’t in?' They’re both playing very well, they’re both running the ball very well. I’m happy with both those guys.”



Thursday, 10/23
Sunday, 10/26
Monday, 10/27