NFL Nation: bryce brown

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown are seemingly at the center of the fantasy football universe this week.

Their precise usage in Sunday's game against the New York Jets remains an unknown, even to Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone.

"You know, I don't really know that yet," Marrone said Wednesday. "It's not like we sit down and we say that. We're going to look at practice and set the plan and see where it goes. A lot of times that's dictated by the things that go on in the game also, depending on what your plan is.

"I really can't say how we want to do it right now. Hopefully whatever way we do it is productive."

It will be the first appearance of the season for Brown, who has been a healthy scratch each of the first seven games, while Dixon could potentially make his second career start after running with the first team in practice Wednesday.

"I ran out there first today, but me and Bryce are gonna kinda do it together, as a combination," Dixon said Wednesday. "That's pretty much how we're going to get it down. We gonna compete this week and see who got feel for the plays that coach want to run, and then on Sunday we gonna go with it."

Dixon is known more as a bruising, short-yardage back but said he can has experience as a receiver. In 71 career games, Dixon has 12 catches, including three this season.

"I got a little experience," Dixon said. "My last year in San Francisco, I played a lot of fullback, and you play flanker when you play fullback in that offense. So you split out, all the little types of stuff like that."

Meanwhile, Marrone praised Dixon and Brown's abilities Wednesday.

"I know there's been a lot of talk about it, but I feel comfortable with the guys we have back there. I think Bryce Brown is a threat, either receiving, catching the football, doing all those things. He's a home-run threat from that standpoint," Marrone said. "And then we've seen Anthony a little bit and his style of running, running downhill.

"So I don't really think I'm as concerned maybe about that situation. They're two players, guys that have played. So they'll get in there and play."
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 17-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings:
  • Spiller
    After being carted off in the first half, running back C.J. Spiller was diagnosed with a broken collarbone, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported. Spiller will have surgery Monday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan. Coach Doug Marrone said Spiller will be out "an undetermined time." He added that Fred Jackson, who was carted off with a groin injury, will need further tests.
  • Bryce Brown, acquired in an offseason trade, was inactive Sunday for the seventh time this season. There was more buzz about Brown last week after Spiller's continued struggles, and Marrone acknowledged Brown will now have a chance. "I have no problem bringing up Bryce. We talked about him last week -- which I hope wasn't a jinx," Marrone said, chuckling.
  • The Bills won this game, but you wouldn't know it. Marrone generally had a frustrated tone when speaking about the game, saying the Bills will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs if they play like they did Sunday. Many players were gone by the time reporters entered the locker room. One of those who did speak, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, acknowledged the Bills' poor play for long stretches Sunday but added, "They're all beautiful [wins] as far as I'm concerned. I don't think there's such a thing as an ugly win."
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- After the Buffalo Bills traded for Bryce Brown and signed Anthony Dixon this offseason, the prevailing thought was that the team would spread out carries among its four running backs this season.

That's why our ears perked up Wednesday when coach Doug Marrone was asked a question about C.J. Spiller's role in a "three-headed" attack at running back.

"I don’t know if I want to get it down to three. I’ve never been a guy that has three backs playing in the game," Marrone said. "I’ve always believed, and you guys know, in the two backs. It’ll come down to two backs; the two backs going in there."

Dixon
Perhaps it's time to pump the brakes on talk of Brown and Dixon being significant contributors. If Marrone wants his game plan to include only two running backs then Spiller and Fred Jackson are the overwhelming favorites to land those roles.

However, that might not mean Brown and Dixon are shut out entirely. Examining stats from the four seasons Marrone has served as an offensive coordinator or head coach in the NFL, there were instances where carries were spread over more than two backs.

2006 New Orleans Saints
Total carries: 472
Breakdown: Deuce McAllister (52 percent in 15 games), Reggie Bush (33 percent in 16 games), Drew Brees (9 percent in 16 games), others (7 percent)

2007 New Orleans Saints
Total carries: 392
Breakdown: Bush (40 percent in 12 games), Aaron Stecker (30 percent in 16 games), Pierre Thomas (13 percent in 12 games), others (17 percent)

2008 New Orleans Saints
Total carries: 398
Breakdown: Thomas (32 percent in 15 games), McAllister (27 percent in 13 games), Bush (27 percent in 10 games), others (14 percent)

2013 Buffalo Bills
Total carries: 546
Breakdown: Jackson (38 percent in 16 games), Spiller (37 percent in 15 games), EJ Manuel (10 percent in 10 games), Tashard Choice (6 percent in 12 games)

In other words, Marrone's plan and reality might differ. An injury to Bush in 2008, for example, led to a spike in carries for Thomas, just as an injury to Spiller or Jackson could lead to Brown or Dixon stepping into that two-back rotation in any given game this season.

What we wouldn't expect is Dixon to still be on the field with Jackson or Spiller as a fullback. There was buzz about Dixon's potential role as a fullback this offseason but it hasn't materialized. We've seen little, if any, of him at that position in training camp.
Spiller Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesC.J. Spiller and the Bills are an NFL anomaly: a run-heavy offense that likes to push the tempo.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Last season, the Buffalo Bills' offense only hurried up to get off the field faster.

Preaching an up-tempo pace, the Bills had the NFL's second-quickest offense, averaging 24.7 seconds of possession per play. Only the Philadelphia Eagles were faster.

Yet the Bills' speed didn't translate into points. They had the NFL's most offensive drives (214) but ranked 25th in points per drive. Moreover, the Bills had the NFL's seventh-highest percentage of drives that ended without a first down or touchdown.

It's a problem that put stress on the defense. The Bills' defense played the seventh-most snaps in the NFL, while opposing offenses possessed the ball for an average of 31 minutes, 59 seconds per game, fourth-most in the league.

The sputtering offense and overworked defense were two key ingredients in the Bills' 6-10 record and fourth-place finish in the AFC East.

Despite their issues last season, the Bills still intend on pushing the tempo this summer -- but will also stick with their run-first philosophy. In doing so, the team risks the same fate.

Teams found success at either extreme of offensive pace last season. Six of the eight clubs that advanced to the divisional playoffs were either in the top five or bottom five in seconds of possession per offensive play, a measure of the speed at which offenses operate.

At one fringe were the NFL's up-tempo, no huddle attacks: the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, who squared off in the AFC Championship Game. At the other end of the spectrum were the ground-and-pound styles of the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, and San Diego Chargers.

The Seahawks and 49ers met in the NFC Championship Game, with the Seahawks then knocking off the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Both offensive approaches, then, have been proven to work in the modern NFL.

What didn't work last season was the Bills' offense. Much of its inability to convert drives into points traced back to failures on third down. Only three teams had a worse conversion rate on third down than the Bills last season, while only one NFL quarterback -- Oakland's Matt McGloin -- had a lower third-down completion percentage than Buffalo's EJ Manuel (47.5 percent).

The Bills' hope is that a second year in the system for Manuel, plus the additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams at wide receiver, will allow for an offense that can move the ball through the air and put up points.

"[Watkins] is a dynamic playmaker. That's what this game is all about," general manager Doug Whaley told ESPN in May. "We got to score touchdowns."

The Bills aren't backing down from their vow to hasten their offensive pace, either. Coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett brought a no-huddle system from Syracuse, and they are sticking with it this season.

"It needs to be moving a lot faster," Marrone said Wednesday of the offense's pace. "Obviously we’re installing again, so we’re reinstalling, and in the back of my mind that might tend to slow things down a little bit, but my expectation is to be right on the money with it, so we need to be faster."

In an ideal world, the Bills' 2014 offense would be a carbon copy of their early 1990s attack: a quick pace with both explosive receivers (e.g., Andre Reed, James Lofton) and a more than capable running game (Thurman Thomas).

Last season, however, showed the danger of falling short of that goal: the offense was efficient -- but efficiently bad. The Bills gained the NFL's second most rushing yards, but the offensive pace only served to negate the ball-controlling effects of a good ground game.

Whaley comes from a run-first background with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has brought in maulers across his offensive line in Buffalo. When we gathered data in May, the Bills' offensive line had an average weight of 325 pounds, by far the heaviest in the NFL.

This offseason, Whaley added two running backs to his backfield: Bryce Brown, who he long coveted in Philadelphia, and Anthony Dixon, who was lost in the 49ers' crowded backfield. Added to Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, the Bills have stocked their shelves to ground-and-pound their way through opposing defenses.

"The sky is the limit for that group. You have four true guys who I think can start or play for any other team in the league," Manuel said Tuesday. "When you have great talent like that on the backfield, it’s always a huge friend to the quarterback. If the running game is great, the passing game should open up as well."

Yes, the enhanced backfield should benefit the passing game. But there is no requirement that the Bills must try to maintain their breakneck offensive pace.

In fact, the Bills were a somewhat of an anomaly last season among teams that ran an up-tempo offense. They gained 42.6 percent of their offensive yards by running, the highest percentage in the NFL. The 49ers (42.5 percent), Seahawks (40.3 percent), and Panthers (40 percent) ranked second, fourth, and fifth, respectively.

Yet those three NFC juggernauts were among the four slowest offenses in the NFL last season. They didn't try to be the high-flying Broncos. Instead, all three of those teams controlled the ball, shortened games, played quality defense, and advanced deep into the playoffs.

That is not to say the Bills' up-tempo, run-first offense can't work this season. If everything clicks, it will be a thing of beauty.

But is that realistic, and are the two approaches truly compatible? Or will the Bills simply run into the same problems their offense created last season?

Bills Camp Report: Day 2

July, 21, 2014
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • There has been a throng of national media watching Bills camp through two days and they've seen Sammy Watkins put on a show. After catching every pass thrown his way in Sunday night's practice, Watkins continued to impress on Monday. He strode past Leodis McKelvin for a would-be touchdown grab early in practice and made a catch over three defenders look effortless later on. It's not just the deep game, either: he used his long arms to snag a pass on a crossing pattern, through traffic at one point as well. Watkins has that rare size and speed combination that can make him a dangerous weapon against opposing defenses. His height, long arms, and make-it-look-easy strides remind me of Randy Moss.
  • Speaking of height and speed, I've been impressed with Bryce Brown thus far in camp. The 6-foot running back has long legs and shows some burst getting into the second level. The Bills coveted Brown for more than a year before acquiring him in May. It remains to be seen how many carries the Bills can siphon from C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to Brown, but he adds depth to a backfield that didn't have much of it last season.
  • Nigel Bradham continues to see first-team reps at linebacker, a surprise given how his role virtually evaporated under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine last season. Even coach Doug Marrone has noticed a change in Bradham's work ethic. "Honestly, I think last year Nigel struggled at times with us," Marrone said Monday. "I saw a change, more of a commitment from him when we came back, which I give him a lot of credit for." The Bills are giving Bradham the first crack at replacing Kiko Alonso and he seems to have impressed the coaching staff. The issue with Bradham may be his abilities in stopping the run: The Bills turned to Arthur Moats last season against heavier offenses and rookie Preston Brown is knocking on the door for playing time on defense. It's a battle we'll continue to monitor closely.
  • After missing all of organized team activities and minicamp, T.J. Graham is back practicing this week. The results have been up-and-down. He made the play of Sunday's practice when he caught a deep bomb from Jeff Tuel, but in one of his first routes Monday he had a pass fall right through his hands after beating a defender on a similar deep route. Graham is the top "bubble" player for the Bills and can't afford those sort of plays.
  • Cordy Glenn remained out of practice Monday and the Bills are still mum on what landed him on the non-football illness list. "It’s a medical condition. I’m preparing to go on as if he’s not playing, which he’s not," Marrone said. "I’m just waiting for the doctors and I can’t speak about the condition because it’s something that happened outside of football. I’m planning on playing and right now he’s not there, so I have to play with him not being there. When they tell me he’s there then obviously we’ll plug him back in."

Fact or Fiction: Bills offense

July, 14, 2014
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With Buffalo Bills players set to report to training camp on Friday, let's play a rapid-fire version of fact or fiction, starting with the offense:

1. EJ Manuel will play in all 16 games this season.

Manuel
Our take: Fiction
Justify it: After Manuel had issues in both of his knees last season, it's harder to envision him lasting from the start of training camp on July 20 through potentially January without experiencing any problems. Manuel and the Bills referred to his October knee sprain as a "freak accident," yet he was sidelined again in December after another sprain. The less Manuel tucks the ball and runs, the better his chances of staying healthy. But as much as it will make the Bills' brass squirm in the press box, Manuel will need to run on occasion this season. It would hardly be shocking if, at some point this season, swelling recurred and Manuel had to miss one or two games.

2. Bryce Brown will receive at least 50 touches this season.

Brown
Our take: Fact
Justify it: After trading a fourth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Brown, there is an expectation that he will contribute to the Bills offense this season. With C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson still in the fold, what's a realistic expectation for Brown's role? He had 128 touches his rookie year (115 carries and 13 catches) and 83 last season (75 carries and eight catches). It would be surprising if he was used that much this season, but 50 touches seems like a more attainable number. That's more than Tashard Choice was used as the third running back in recent seasons, but it's reasonable to assume the Bills will try to cut down on Fred Jackson's touches as he progresses into his mid-30s.

3. Sammy Watkins will have 1,000 receiving yards this season.

Watkins
Our take: Fiction
Justify it: He'll come close, but there is too much uncertainty at quarterback to assume that Watkins will surpass the 1,000-yard mark. Even at the height of his career in Buffalo, Stevie Johnson was barely able to eclipse that figure. The two-headed attack of Spiller and Jackson could take some opportunities away from Watkins, as could a crowded depth chart at receiver that could see Robert Woods, Mike Williams, and others catching passes on Manuel. Ultimately, Watkins' final receiving total could depend on how many big plays he can make. Long catch-and-runs -- one of Watkins' specialties at Clemson -- will help drive up that number. Yet it's not the end of the world if Watkins doesn't crack 1,000 yards. A.J. Green checked in at 1,057 yards his rookie year, while Julio Jones finished with 959 yards in his first season. I don't think anyone would fault Watkins if he's in the neighborhood of 1,000 yards but not quite at that number.

4. Scott Chandler will lead the Bills in red zone touchdown catches this season.

Chandler
Our take: Fiction
Justify it: After leading the Bills with four red zone touchdown grabs in 2012, Chandler was held without one last season. In fact, he had only only one catch in the red zone at all, a significant red flag for a 6-foot-7 tight end. Overall, the Bills were awful in the red zone last season. They were one of just four teams to finish under 50 percent in red zone touchdown efficiency. The Bills need to improve in that area this season, although I'm not sure Chandler will be the catalyst. Ideally, receiver Mike Williams should shine in the red zone with his physicality. He's a candidate to lead the team in red zone touchdowns, as is Watkins.

5. Cyrus Kouandjio will win the starting right tackle job in training camp.

Our take: Fact
Kouandjio
Justify it: We saw Kouandjio line up with the first team early in organized team acitivities but he settled into a role with the second team by minicamp. That doesn't mean that the second-round pick has been disappointing or behind schedule, and we'd expect him to get more chances with the top unit once training camp begins. Given the choice between starting Kouandjio, who turns 21 this weekend, or Erik Pears, who is 32, I think the Bills would prefer to have Kouandjio on the field and developing. Pears will make it a battle, but I'd compare it to the Manuel-Kevin Kolb competition last season. There's a certain inevitability to Kouandjio taking over, just as there would have been with Manuel even if Kolb had stayed healthy.
The Buffalo Bills have long coveted running back Bryce Brown, whom they acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in a trade Saturday.

"We started this process probably about a year and a half ago trying to get Bryce Brown," general manager Doug Whaley said Saturday. "So, that was maybe a little more uplifting once that got done just because of how long it took for us to get the deal consummated."

In the end, the Bills gave up a conditional 2015 fourth-round pick for Brown that is contingent on the Bills receiving that pick from the San Francisco 49ers. If the 49ers instead send a third-round pick for Stevie Johnson, then the Bills will ship a 2016 fourth- or third-round pick to the Eagles.

Mid-round future picks aren't the most valuable of assets in a trade, so the Bills didn't necessarily give up the house for Brown. However, there is a line of thinking that the Bills may have given up too much for Brown.

Why? He was in danger of being cut by the Eagles, who already have LeSean McCoy and traded for Darren Sproles this offseason. It's not to say that Brown doesn't fit with the Bills -- but why pay more than what's necessary?

There were a couple of reactions on Twitter the past few days that caught our eye. First, from former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, now an ESPN NFL analyst:
And another from veteran Eagles beat reporter Reuben Frank:  

No room for Bryce Brown in Philadelphia

May, 10, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown was caught in a numbers game.

The Eagles traded Brown to the Buffalo Bills on Saturday.

With All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, newly acquired Darren Sproles, and Matthew Tucker, playing time would have been limited for Brown.

In return for Brown, the Bills will receive a conditional 2015 fourth-round pick that can become a 2016 third-round pick, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. The Bills and Eagles also swapped 2014 seventh-round selections as part of the deal.

The 22-year-old Brown rushed for 878 yards and six touchdowns over two seasons with the Eagles. He had problems with ball security in his rookie season, losing three of his four fumbles, but rebounded with no fumbles in his second season.

Brown has tremendous ability, but he was clearly not going to receive many touches unless the Eagles were hit with the injury bug. When Sproles was brought in, it had to signify Brown falling further on the team’s depth chart.

Brown averaged 4.2 yards per carry under coach Chip Kelly, but he seemed to lack the explosive type of runs he managed as a rookie. Too many times, Brown would take a handoff and go to the outside instead of pouncing through the hole up the middle.

Eagles need depth behind RB McCoy

February, 18, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- You learn a little bit about what coaches are thinking by listening to them speak. You learn a lot more by watching what they do when the pressure is on.

All season, Eagles coach Chip Kelly had positive things to say about Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, his backup running backs. They were coming along. They would get some carries as Kelly sought to lighten the load on LeSean McCoy.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Al Bello/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy rushed for 1,607 yards and had 539 yards receiving last season.
When the Eagles played Dallas in the final game of the season with the NFC East title on the line, Brown got exactly two carries when McCoy desperately needed a blow late in the game. Polk had zero carries and one catch.

The next week, in the Eagles' playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, neither Brown nor Polk touched the ball. No carries, no catches, no nothing.

That tells you that the Eagles, the team with the NFL's leading rusher and No. 1 overall running game, need an upgrade at the running back position.

McCoy, who is still just 25, is and will be the man. Part of the reality here is that it is just plain tough to take him out of a game. He's that good. But his career is going to be longer if the Eagles can find a way to lessen his workload.

McCoy carried the ball 314 times in 2013 and caught 52 passes for a total of 366 touches. That's more touches than anyone in football (Chicago's Matt Forte was close with 363 -- 289 rushes and 74 receptions). When you add pass blocking, that's a lot of contact.

But sheer volume isn't the only factor. There were several games in which the run game just wasn't clicking. The offensive linemen talked about not being “on the same page” with McCoy at times. McCoy himself admitted to being too fine at times and not just hitting the holes that were there.

That might be an opportune time to get another back a series or two. See if things start working better. Once the run game gets into a groove, McCoy just might slide right into it and produce as he normally does.

The two most notable of those not-on-the-same-page games were the touchdown-less losses to the Giants and Cowboys in consecutive weeks. Brown got a total of five carries in those games. Polk was inactive for one and had zero touches in the other.

With Matt Barkley forced to play quarterback because of injuries to Nick Foles and Michael Vick, the run game was needed even more. It produced even less.

Polk had surgery on his shoulder after the season, so it's possible he was limited by that injury in the second half of the season. Brown and Polk both got in on the snowy rout of Detroit in December, but neither made much of a mark otherwise.

So yes, the Eagles have arguably the best running back and the most productive running game in the NFL. But they are still very likely to look to upgrade the running back position during this offseason.

There are a number of backs available in free agency, including Minnesota's Toby Gerhart -- a player Kelly went out of his way to praise and who played for new Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave.

If Kelly is sentimental, he could look at New England's LeGarrette Blount, who played for Kelly at Oregon. If Kelly is feeling mischievous, he could bring in Denver's Knowshon Moreno, who was on the receiving end of some barbed comments from McCoy back in September.

More likely, the Eagles will keep an eye out for a back they like in the draft. Another Oregon product, De'Anthony Thomas, could be an interesting match. Thomas is just 5-9, 176 pounds, but has elite speed and could be the answer to the Eagles' need for a big-play return man as well.
 

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 11
Preseason Power Ranking: 25

Biggest surprise: Easy. Nick Foles. He started six games as a rookie in 2012, winning one of them and pretty much disappearing amid the debris of a 4-12 season. He seemed like a terrible fit for new coach Chip Kelly's offense, especially in contrast to the mobile Michael Vick. When Vick pulled a hamstring, Foles seized the starting job with epic numbers: 119.2 passer rating (third best all time), 27 touchdowns and two interceptions (best ratio ever). Foles won eight of his 10 starts and led the Eagles to the NFC East championship. Anyone who says they saw Foles' season coming is fibbing.

Biggest disappointment: The outcome of Saturday night's playoff game against New Orleans -- which says something about how thoroughly Kelly changed the culture here. No one expected the Eagles to win their division and reach the playoffs, but once they did, plenty of people expected them to win the first-round home game. But LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, didn't have his best game, and the Saints caught the Eagles off guard by running the ball so much themselves. The Eagles appeared capable of beating almost anyone, including the Saints, which made the loss hard to swallow.

Biggest need: Defensive difference-makers, especially in the secondary. The cornerbacks were solid and improved steadily by season's end, but a shutdown corner or legitimate playmaking safety would help a lot. A close second would be a pass-rushing threat, preferably from the outside. Trent Cole had a good year making the transition from defensive end to linebacker, but he's not going to play forever. Funny: For the midseason version of this, I listed quarterback as the biggest need. That's how shocking Foles' performance was.

Team MVP: LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing and in total yards from scrimmage, setting Eagles franchise records in both categories. No one could argue with you if you named McCoy MVP of the team, or even of the NFC. But McCoy was the running back when the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point. It wasn't until Foles took over the starting quarterback spot that the Eagles began winning games. That seems like the very definition of "most valuable." Nevertheless, the Eagles' first NFL rushing title since Steve Van Buren probably earns McCoy the team MVP award.

 

PHILADELPHIA -- LeSean McCoy had the glittering gold championship belt because he won the NFL rushing title.

McCoy wore the belt over his shoulder on national television, though, because the Philadelphia Eagles won a football game.

[+] Enlarge LeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezEagles running back LeSean McCoy finished the season as the league leader in rushing -- but more importantly, will continue his hot season in the playoffs.
No NFC East title, McCoy said, no gaudy display of pride in his league-best 1,607 rushing yards.

“It was something fun,” McCoy said in the locker room after the Eagles’ white-knuckle, 24-22 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. “It was on the sideline. Confident about the win, so definitely had it ready.”

McCoy has had excellent individual seasons before. The Eagles went to the playoffs in his 1,000-yard season but were dispatched in the first round by the Green Bay Packers. In 2011, McCoy rushed for 1,309 yards for a team that went 8-8 and missed the postseason.

He was down to 840 yards for the 4-12 team that marked the end of Andy Reid’s tenure. McCoy could only wonder what 2013 would bring after the Eagles hired this hotshot college coach, Chip Kelly, to replace Reid.

“Coming from college, I didn’t know what to expect,” McCoy said. “Being around coach Reid for so long, he’s been a guy that was established as a winning coach. I didn’t know what to expect from coach Kelly. After I talked to him, I was very optimistic about it. He was just amazing, how he wanted to run the ball and his thought process for getting the ball in his playmakers’ hands.”

The results speak eloquently for themselves: McCoy led the NFL in rushing yards (1,607) and total yards from scrimmage (2,146) – both franchise records. He broke the Eagles’ single-game rushing record with 217 yards against Detroit in the snow. He had seven games with over 100 rushing yards. McCoy was selected for his second Pro Bowl.

Oh, and the Eagles went 10-6 and won their division.

“With the stats and the record, none of that stuff means anything if we don’t win (Sunday night),” McCoy said. “That was the most important thing. I think it’s big for the city, for this franchise, this team. It’s been a while and it’s actually amazing -- coach Kelly’s first year, making the playoffs.”

McCoy played a huge role in the win over the Cowboys. The Eagles offense stopped working in the third quarter, allowing Dallas to seize momentum and threaten to take the lead. After a big defensive stop on a fourth-and-1 at the Eagles’ 40-yard line, Kelly turned to McCoy.

McCoy ran the ball seven times on the 11-play, 5-minute, 37-second drive. Bryce Brown carried it twice, including the 6-yard touchdown run that gave the Eagles a 24-16 lead with 6:09 left.

“They know we’re running and they’ve got to stop it,” McCoy said. “Coach Kelly said, we’re running the ball, and we did. Bryce came in and scored. I got a little winded at the end.”

It took a couple more big defensive plays, but the Eagles hung on for the win. The NFL’s leading rusher could wear his championship belt, knowing there was more football to play.

“We should be in the playoffs,” McCoy said. “We should be the division champs. We just have to go out there and get it done Saturday.”
PHILADELPHIA – It was a game the Philadelphia Eagles would love to forget but can’t. There were too many lessons in their 17-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 20 that could help the Eagles in Sunday night’s virtual playoff game.

The shorthand on that game is that quarterback Nick Foles simply had a terrible day. And he did, completing just 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards before leaving with a concussion at the end of the third quarter.

But there was plenty of terrible to go around for the Eagles' offense, which failed to score a touchdown against a Dallas defense that has allowed an average of 29 points in its other 14 games.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesThe last time they faced Dallas, Nick Foles and the Eagles' offense couldn't seem to get anything right.
“I don't think any of us played well the first time we played Dallas,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “I look back on it now and I don't recognize some of what happened. We dropped balls, we weren't on the same page with who we blocked. Certainly Nick had some inaccuracies. We did a poor job coaching and playing. I think we're a different team now.”

We’ll focus on Foles again in a future post. But Shurmur is correct that blame for the performance can be spread around.

On the Eagles’ first offensive series, Foles was sacked once and forced into an intentional-grounding penalty. That kind of immediate, in-your-face pressure makes it tough for any quarterback to feel comfortable in the pocket, and Foles never did quite settle down.

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson seemed to have trouble shaking Dallas cornerback Orlando Scandrick. When Jackson did get open, Foles missed him badly on a couple of throws.

Running back LeSean McCoy made poor decisions, taking the ball inside when there was room outside and vice versa. Center Jason Kelce said at the time that McCoy and the offensive line were “not on the same page” for several weeks, including the Dallas game.

It wasn’t a great week for coach Chip Kelly and his staff, either. The Cowboys copied the disruptive run-defense approach used by the Giants two weeks earlier (and by the Giants again a week later). They moved interior linemen around just before the snap and attacked at unexpected angles, and the Eagles had trouble adjusting.

Kelly also opened the game with both McCoy and Bryce Brown in the backfield, a look the Eagles hadn't shown much of before or since. It may simply have been one of those ideas that looks good on the dry-erase board but fizzles on the field.

Bottom line: The Eagles' offense was terrible that day. It wasn’t any better with Michael Vick and Matt Barkley at quarterback against the Giants the next week.

The offense has been excellent ever since.

“I was telling somebody it's like my early schooling, where you could throw one test out,” Shurmur said. “I wish we could have thrown that one out. It was a bad day. We didn't play well on offense, and the game was close enough where if we had just gotten out of our own way, we could have maybe affected the outcome more.”

Redskins Film Review: Defense

November, 19, 2013
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Thoughts and observations after re-watching the Redskins' defense against the Philadelphia Eagles:
  1. The Redskins did an excellent job against LeSean McCoy in limiting him to 77 yards on 20 carries (he had 184 in the opener). Unlike the first meeting, they used seven defenders in the box most of the game. They also aligned their inside linebackers consistently two to three yards off the ball, to help them avoid blocks and be more aggressive. It worked as McCoy was tackled for a loss five times.
  2. Alas, here's the tough part for Washington: He was hit in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage on eight other runs. But on those he still managed to gain 63 yards. They hit him in the backfield on four of those runs, but a jump cut or a spin move later he wound up with positive yards (a combined 28, in fact). You can blame the Redskins for not tackling him, but McCoy is a phenomenal runner. One Redskin last week compared him to Barry Sanders; I saw some electric jump cuts to avoid would-be tacklers in the backfield. There was one run in the second half in which he bounced wide, but David Amerson was there to tackle him for a 5-yard loss. Typically, though, McCoy gained positive yards after these moves.
  3. Kerrigan
  4. Their ability to handle McCoy is why I liked their game plan. They had to start by doing this and they did so. You can argue over certain calls -- like how Ryan Kerrigan is ever matched against McCoy in the open field. I was not a fan of the zone coverages (that's in general, too, not just this game); the Redskins do not play zones well (you do have to mix it up, just to keep offenses guessing and I get why they use it against some teams. But if you do that, you need to play it better, be it the drops of certain positions or applying faster pressure).
  5. The pass defense has killed the Redskins all season. Sure, they played some quarterbacks who threw quick in previous games. Not in this one. Quarterback Nick Foles ran play-action and would take deep drops. There was pressure, but not consistent enough. It's about the rushes; it's about the coverage. It just doesn't work hand-in-hand enough. Coaches always say you can take away something if you really want to; the Redskins did that with McCoy. They just couldn't do enough in the pass game and this is a passing league. They need to win more one-on-ones up front.
  6. A couple times the Redskins' rush couldn't get free because of the Eagles' protection. On the second play, for example, off play-action, they kept seven in protection to block five rushers. Foles had 3.0 seconds to throw deep to Riley Cooper, who had beaten Amerson. It was incomplete. I'll be curious to see if Amerson is more consistent next season.
  7. On a deep out to DeSean Jackson for 23 yards, against zone coverage, Foles took 3.1 seconds to throw. No pressure.
  8. Brian Orakpo's first sack took 3.4 seconds (he lined up three yards over right guard and ran outside stunt with Ryan Kerrigan) and his half-sack with Jarvis Jenkins took 4.4 seconds. That's asking a lot for coverage to consistently hold up that long. I did like how Orakpo played the run.
  9. Back to Kerrigan on McCoy. I know why the Redskins wanted to attack inside with Perry Riley and London Fletcher; the Eagles' play-action is mostly to the outside, leaving the middle vulnerable and with no one there to pick up a blitz. On the 49-yard wheel route to McCoy, the Redskins sent both Riley and Fletcher. But the rush didn't get home and the pass did.
  10. However, the Redskins ran that same coverage on Fletcher's sack as well as one other time in which Riley stuck Foles on a blitz as he unloaded an incompletion to Cooper. Still, it's a tough situation for Kerrigan. Riley covered him solo a couple times, though on the horse collar penalty it almost looked like Riley reacted too slow to go with him when McCoy motioned out of the backfield, leaving an empty set. Yet nobody ran with McCoy, until Riley did so too late. It didn't make sense.
  11. The problem with playing the Eagles in the red zone is they kept the Redskins in a nickel defense, with two down linemen and four linebackers. Makes it tough to stop a run. On McCoy's 1-yard scoring run in the second quarter, the Eagles motioned receiver DeSean Jackson to the left; he sprinted at the snap and that caused Riley and safety Brandon Meriweather to widen a half-step that way. It took them out of a chance to help on McCoy's run.
  12. The screens. One thing I saw on film and I'm positive the Redskins saw it too is how the Eagles loved to sprint a player one way, fake a toss and then throw a screen back the other way. They did this twice against Washington, for gains of 42 and 24 yards. On the 24-yarder to running back Bryce Brown, the defensive linemen, Chris Baker and Jarvis Jenkins were let in too easy. That's the tipoff something's coming, but both kept rushing at the quarterback -- it could be what they're told to do regardless. But the recognition on both plays, including the one to tight end Brent Celek, was too slow.
  13. The defense did a better job on third downs after it was 24-0 (1-for-6 the rest of the game). They set up more third-and-longs but on one third and short, Kerrigan raced in from the backside for a pivotal stop. And on a fourth-and-1 in the fourth, London Fletcher filled the gap hard to tackle Brown.
  14. The Eagles had seven plays for 20 yards or more (they entered with 69 for the season, so it was about average). They had one after halftime.
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly has had a few misadventures in his first circuit around the National Football League. But his play calling in the second half of Sunday's 24-16, white-knuckle victory over Washington does not qualify.

The first-year Eagles coach has been criticized locally for taking his foot off the gas while protecting (and almost failing to protect) a 24-0, fourth-quarter lead. But Kelly was only doing what he did in wins against Tampa Bay and Green Bay, and he was universally praised for fourth-quarter, clock-draining drives in those games.

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Kelly
“When we have an opportunity to put people away,” Kelly said, “we have to put them away, and we didn't do that.”

Well, they did, but it took until Robert Griffin III threw a floater into the arms of Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin with 24 seconds left. The issue is whether or not Kelly's play calling facilitated the Washington comeback, and the answer really comes down to two plays.

The first: On fourth-and-1 at the Washington 38, Bryce Brown was stuffed for no gain by linebacker London Fletcher. Kelly might have been wrong for not having LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, carry the ball there. But a rushing game that averages 4.9 yards per carry should be able to pick up a yard with Brown toting the ball.

“No. 1,” Kelly said, “we were on the 38-yard line, so we weren't going to kick a field goal in that situation. I felt at the time if we could get another first down there, that would have been huge for us. We had had a 13-play drive for a touchdown in the third quarter, so we had proven we could consistently move the football, and we were just half a yard short on the (third-down) pass play to LeSean. Thought we could go with it really quick and try to get one in there.

“I'll give them credit. Fletcher made a great play standing Bryce up in the hole and made the tackle and we didn't convert.”

Kelly is forgiven for not anticipating that a defense pitching a shutout would allow a touchdown on the very next play. And it was a very strange play. Griffin bought some time with his legs and found fullback Darrel Young standing alone along the left sideline. If you're the Eagles, Young is probably the one guy you don't expect to beat you for a 62-yard touchdown.

“We've got to convert offensively,” Kelly said, “but we also can't let them go one play and score a touchdown defensively. It's a combination of both.”

The Eagles' next series was probably Kelly's least impressive, in terms of play calling. But that's better understood if you accept the fluky nature of Young's touchdown, and if you harken back to the 9-minute, 32-second drive in Green Bay.

The Eagles moved the ball from their own 20 to their 44, picking up two first downs on five runs and two passes. If Foles completed the third-down pass to Riley Cooper on third-and-12, maybe we're discussing another epic, game-clinching drive. But he didn't, and Washington scored another touchdown on their ensuing possession.

That brings us to the second pivotal play. On third-and-4 at the Eagles' 23, Foles was flushed from the pocket. He ran to his right, and Washington cornerback Josh Wilson caught him. Foles reached forward, and the on-field officials marked the ball at the 27 for a first down. Washington coach Mike Shanahan challenged the spot and it was moved back far enough to make it fourth-and-inches.

That was the margin between another long, clock-killing drive and giving Griffin the ball with a chance to tie.

“If we had gotten the first down, we may have put them away,” Kelly said. “I know we're trying to do it, but we're not there yet.”

They were there in Tampa and in Green Bay. They were very close Sunday. The play calling was the same in all three situations.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 10

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
8:00
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Taking a look at four storylines from the Philadelphia Eagles' 27-13 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Nick Foles is flirting with history. Foles has thrown 16 touchdown passes this season without an interception. That would've tied the NFL record set in 1960 by Milt Plum, except that Peyton Manning already broke that 53-year-old mark this season. Manning threw 20 touchdowns before throwing a pick.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNick Foles has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no picks in the Eagles' past two games.
What's even more compelling is that Foles isn't being extra cautious. In fact, his receivers say that he's trusting them and throwing the ball out where they can get it. That raises the degree of difficulty on the no-pick streak.

“Nick does a great job protecting the football,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He hasn't thrown an interception. He doesn't really make egregious mistakes. If he misses, he may not be as accurate on the throw. He's got a good grasp and command of what we're doing.”

Foles put two strong games together. After his rough outing against Dallas, Foles needed to prove he could be consistent. Check that box.

His numbers in the past two games combined: 34-of-46 (73.9 percent) for 634 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Foles has a passer rating of 155.3 for the two games.

“We just have to keep moving, but I felt good out there,” Foles said. “Receivers were making some good plays and helping me out.”

Does that mean he will be the starting quarterback if Michael Vick is healthy? It's a question Kelly won't answer. Until Vick is 100 percent, it's a question Kelly doesn't have to answer.

Tempo works both ways. The Eagles have done a better job maintaining Kelly's high-tempo offense. But in some ways, their ability to run a slow-it-down offense has been just as important at times. In the fourth quarters of wins in Tampa Bay and Green Bay, the Eagles drained the clock by methodically running the ball.

“You're in a game, it's a couple-score game,” Kelly said. “Even if we did turn the ball back over, hopefully there's not a lot of time left on the clock. Everybody knew what was happening. Everybody knew we were running it. It's something to build upon. We feel comfortable it's something we're getting better with.”

LeSean McCoy ran the ball nine times for 50 yards in the Eagles' last drive, which took up the final 9:32 of the game. Foles ran for a first down. Bryce Brown mixed in a couple of runs for 11 yards.

“That's what championship teams have to be able to do,” wide receiver Riley Cooper said.

The Ouch Department was extra busy. The Eagles went into the game without starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who injured a pectoral muscle last week. They lost two more defensive starters, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and safety Earl Wolff, plus offensive tackle Jason Peters -- all in the first half.

“I think it speaks a lot about the depth,” Kelly said. “You have to have it. It's a tough, hard-nosed, physical game and everybody needs to be ready to play at any point in time. I thought the guys that stepped up and came in did a really nice job.”

Cornerback Roc Carmichael, linebacker Najee Goode and safety Patrick Chung helped the defense hold the Packers to 13 points. Allen Barbre replaced Peters at left tackle.

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