Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Johnson

PHILADELPHIA -- Unlike the first two categories in our NFL Nation survey, the Philadelphia Eagles' results were markedly different from the national totals when it came to naming the most respected player in the NFL.

Nationally, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning was the runaway winner. Although he beat Philadelphia 52-20 early in the 2013 season, the 10 Eagles polled did not name Manning.

Indeed, they didn’t show much of a consensus on anyone. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson was the only player to get two votes from the Eagles. One player said he had the most respect for the guys who play special teams and run the scout team in practice.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick got one vote. So did London Fletcher, Calvin Johnson, Tamba Hali, Andre Johnson, Ed Reed and Earl Thomas.
PHILADELPHIA -- Quarterback. When asked to name the first player they would pick to start a franchise, players from every corner of the Philadelphia Eagles' locker room went with a quarterback -- with one exception.

Maybe it’s because the Eagles were preparing to play the Detroit Lions at the time of the polling, but one player named wide receiver Calvin Johnson. His thinking: Johnson will make any quarterback better.

Otherwise, the Eagles’ voting echoed the national results. Peyton Manning, who finished No. 1 in the NFL Nation survey, was tied for second with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the Eagles' locker room. Tom Brady and Cam Newton also received votes.

But Andrew Luck, a guy the Eagles haven’t faced, was the leading vote-getter with three votes. The players who named Luck cited his youth as a factor. They wanted the next great quarterback to build with. Those who named Manning and Brady said they would want to win right away.
PHILADELPHIA -- Every Sunday, before most of the other Eagles had peeked out of the tunnel from the locker room, quarterback Matt Barkley stood in the middle of the field throwing passes.

At the other end: one of the Eagles' inactive receivers or tight ends. At Barkley's side: quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor.

According to ESPN's Ed Werder, Lazor is expected to leave Chip Kelly's staff after one season to become offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. Lazor would be charged with getting the most from quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush.

The 41-year-old Lazor has the benefit of exposure to Kelly's innovative offense without being completely identified with a single system. Lazor came to the Eagles after three years as the offensive coordinator at Virginia. Before that, though, he worked for NFL head coaches Dan Reeves, Joe Gibbs and Mike Holmgren.

The Miami Dolphins reportedly interviewed Lazor for their offensive coordinator position. The Detroit situation seems like a better one. Instead of joining the staff of a head coach who could be on the hot seat in 2014, Lazor will be coming in with Caldwell from the beginning. And while Ryan Tannehill and Brian Hartline are a nice quarterback/wide receiver combo, Stafford and Johnson are among the most dangerous in the league.

In his one year with the Eagles, Lazor helped Nick Foles to one of the great individual seasons in history. Foles threw for 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions in 10 regular-season starts. His passer rating was a league-high 119.2.
When asking members of the Philadelphia Eagles about the most feared player in the NFL, the initial reaction was the same: "We don't fear anybody."

The secondary reaction was divided. Some players took it to mean the nastiest, toughest player. Others took it to mean the most difficult to defend against. Based on that initial reaction -- not fearing anyone -- more players went with the latter interpretation.

So there was one vote for Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but three for Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. There were votes for Peyton Manning (two), Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers -- players feared because they might break an opponent's heart, not because they might stomp on his head.


The way things have gone for the Philadelphia Eagles this season, you half expected to hear that Drew Brees fell down an elevator shaft or was hit by some space junk. But no, the New Orleans Saints' superb quarterback will not go the way of Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Tony Romo the week before their teams played the Eagles.

Of course, that doesn't mean anyone knows which Brees will show up for the first-round playoff game Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field. Will it be the Brees with the 8-0 record at home, or the Brees who has gone 3-5 on the road this season?

In search of the answer to this and other questions, ESPN.com reporters Mike Triplett in New Orleans and Phil Sheridan in Philadelphia exchanged insight and info.

Phil Sheridan: Let’s start with the obvious: the disparity between the Saints at home and on the road. Is it mostly Brees? The fast track at the Superdome versus grass fields elsewhere? Exposure to electromagnetic waves in the outdoors? Some combination?

Mike Triplett: Shoot, if I had the answer to that question, I’d probably be interviewing for some of these head-coaching vacancies around the league. It really is a mystery. Of course, the most obvious answer is that it’s harder for all teams to play on the road -- especially when weather conditions become a factor. And the Saints have had some road struggles in the past (including an 0-3 playoff record with Sean Payton and Drew Brees). But even in those playoff losses, their offense showed up. We've never seen a season quite like this, where they've had so much trouble scoring points on the road.

Honestly, it’s really come down to the football stuff: Early turnovers that put them in a hole, drive-killing penalties, an inability to stop the run. I expect their offense will still put up plenty of yards and points in this game, but I’m curious to see if they can avoid those costly turnovers -- and if they can find a way to contain LeSean McCoy. Those are the trends they must reverse from their previous road losses.

While we’re dwelling on the negative, what could be the Eagles’ fatal flaw? If something goes wrong for them in this game, what do you think it will be?

Sheridan: The Snowball Effect. While the Eagles' defense has done a remarkable job of keeping points low -- 11 of the past 12 opponents have scored 22 or fewer -- there is a persistent suspicion that the smoke could clear and the mirrors could crack. Matt Cassel hung 48 points on them two weeks ago, the most since Peyton Manning put up 52 in Week 4. Even Sunday night, Kyle Orton was only a couple of slightly better throws away from scoring another touchdown or two. Brees is obviously capable of making those throws. If the Saints can move the ball the way many teams have, plus translate the yards into points, it could force the Eagles to play catch-up. And we haven’t really seen Nick Foles in a shootout-type game yet. Jay Cutler didn't show up two weeks ago when the Bears came to town, and a freak snowfall took Detroit's Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson out of their game.

The stats say Rob Ryan has transformed the Saints' defense from a farce into a force. Does that align with what you see when you watch them? Does Ryan have the scheme and the personnel to be physical with the Eagles' receivers while getting pressure on Foles?

Triplett: That’s absolutely true, Phil. Ryan has been an outstanding fit for this team. I know Philly fans didn't see his best results with the Dallas Cowboys the past two years. But it must have been a perfect storm here, where the Saints' defense had just given up the most yards in NFL history under former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo in 2012. The players were ready for a change -- and Ryan is all about change. He constantly adapts his approach from week to week, building around his players’ strengths and tailoring game plans for certain opponents.

Several young players are having breakout years -- including pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette (12 sacks each this season) and cornerback Keenan Lewis, who is a true No. 1 corner. He’s physical with long arms and plays well in man coverage. I imagine he’ll be matched up a lot against DeSean Jackson.

From what I've read about Chip Kelly, it seems as though he’s a kindred spirit of both Ryan and Sean Payton -- trying to create confusion and mismatches. Is it possible for you to boil down his philosophy to one or two paragraphs?

Sheridan: Force the issue. That’s the underlying principle. It’s behind the no-huddle, up-tempo approach, and it drives many of the unusual things he does with formations and blocking schemes. Kelly wants to spread the field horizontally and vertically, forcing defenses to account for every offensive player and every square foot of grass. He’ll line right tackle Lane Johnson out like a wide receiver, or left tackle Jason Peters at tight end on the right, or DeSean Jackson in the backfield, just to see how the defense responds. If he sees a mismatch, he’ll exploit it until the defense corrects it.

It must be said that Kelly inherited a lot of offensive talent that was pretty darn good under Andy Reid. The line has been outstanding and, just as important, healthy. Jackson, McCoy and the other skill players are exceptional. The X factor has been the way Foles has mastered what Kelly wants to do. There are a lot of quick reads and decisions for the quarterback to make -- whether it’s a zone-read or a package play with run/pass options -- and Foles has translated Kelly’s dry-erase board to the field very well, leading the Eagles to a 7-1 record since they were 3-5 at the midway point.

Payton is a similar creative offensive mind with an NFL pedigree. The first time I met him, he was the Eagles' quarterback coach on Ray Rhodes' late 1990s teams, trying to win with Bobby Hoying and various Detmers. Is he any different or more driven since serving his one-year suspension? Is there a sense the Saints are back where they belong and determined to make a deep run?

Triplett: I think it’s a great comparison. Although the offenses don’t look identical, the philosophies are the same -- create, identify and exploit mismatches. The Saints will actually rotate in a ton of different personnel groupings early in games, as well as mix up their formations, to see how defenses react.

Payton hasn't changed drastically this season. One of the things that stood out to me most early in the season was his patience in games -- how he’d stick with a methodical attack, settling for a lot of check-down passes, etc., to win games against teams such as Chicago and San Francisco. Lately, Payton's been a little stumped in similar-style games on the road, though.

Overall, the idea with him is that he is hyperfocused on every detail that can help this team win. Brees keeps saying Payton’s leaving no stone unturned. It started with switching defensive coordinators on his second day back on the job, then things such as changing the team’s conditioning program, then recently switching out the left tackle and kicker heading into Week 16.

I’ll leave you with a quick question, Phil. Who are the one or two players we haven’t talked about much who could have a big impact on this game? From my end, the answer would probably be those young pass-rushers, Jordan and Galette.

Sheridan: I’m going to go with the Eagles’ key pass-rushers, too -- Fletcher Cox, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin. The Eagles didn't sack Orton at all Sunday night in Dallas. Orton is no Brees, but he does get the ball out quickly. So it might not result in many sacks against the Saints, but the defense has to disrupt Brees' rhythm as much as possible. Cole had eight sacks in the second half of the season. Cox has been outstanding at collapsing the pocket. Barwin is as likely to jam Jimmy Graham at the line of scrimmage as rush the passer.

But somebody from that group -- or maybe it will be Brandon Graham or Vinny Curry -- has to make Brees feel uncomfortable, or it’s going to be a long night for the Eagles. As you pointed out, the Saints have made more mistakes on the road than at home. Forcing some of those mistakes, preferably early, could make the air feel colder and the wind feel sharper.


.
PHILADELPHIA -- If you’re looking for signs the Eagles can handle New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, you won’t find much comfort in Sunday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Tight end Jason Witten caught 12 passes for 135 yards in a game the Eagles hung on to win, 24-22.
Graham is bigger (6-foot-7), faster and just plain better than Witten at this point in his career. But Witten is probably not the best precedent for gauging the Eagles’ ability to cover Graham. Wide receivers like Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson are.

"I think Witten had a great game the other night on us, but he's a great player," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "He's a Pro Bowl player and he's going to make those plays. The first game, he didn't have so much but we kind of shifted where we were helping different places, put a little more help on Dez (Bryant). You move it around and great players play great, especially this time of the year when it's playoff football."

In other words, Davis focused on defending Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray. That left Witten more space to operate. The Saints present a number of challenges, but Graham is a lot closer to the top of the list of priorities.

"He's the No. 1 target they have and he's been their most consistent target," Davis said. "He's a big, athletic tight end, catches everything thrown near him. They move him all over the place so it's tough to practice and get a bead on how to help guys on him."

Against those big wide receivers, the Eagles were far from perfect, but they did limit the damage. And that will likely be their approach with Graham. It wouldn’t be surprising if Davis used linebacker Connor Barwin as he did against Fitzgerald and other big wideouts. Barwin would line up at cornerback and jam the receiver, trying to throw him off his route and disrupt his timing. Usually, a defensive back would then pick the receiver up.

Considering how quickly quarterback Drew Brees makes his first read and gets the ball out, that could be enough to get him looking away from Graham at least some of the time.

"It’s a big thing, messing up that timing between he and his receivers," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "With that quick release that he has, it’s going to be huge."

New England used cornerback Aqib Talib to follow Graham all over the field. Davis has not used his corners that way all season. Cary Williams is on the right side and Bradley Fletcher is on the left. It seems unlikely Davis would ask them to change up at this late date.

But it wouldn’t be shocking if Barwin, Kendricks and Trent Cole played Graham physically at the line and then a safety or nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin took over. Boykin can run with anyone, but he gives up nine inches to Graham. That requires a different solution.

"Jump," Kendricks said. "You’re playing ball, man. You’ve just got to go for it. That factor’s not going to change. You’ve got to study him and his routes and attack his hands."
PHILADELPHIA -- If it’s better to be lucky than good, the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles could win the NFC East title by being a little of both.

They opened the season against Washington, with Robert Griffin III looking very much like a young quarterback who hadn’t taken a preseason snap.

They played Tampa Bay in Mike Glennon's second career start, while the Buccaneers were dealing with fallout from the Josh Freeman mess and a MRSA outbreak.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Matt RourkeTony Romo passed for 317 yards in Dallas' 17-3 win against Philadelphia on Oct. 20.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone six days before the Eagles played the Packers, and his backup, Seneca Wallace, left with an injury in the first quarter.

When the Eagles were worried about how to cover Calvin Johnson, eight inches of snow covered the Detroit receiver for them.

Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson injured his foot the week before the Eagles played the Vikings. His backup, Toby Gerhart, also missed that game.

And now Tony Romo will be out for the biggest game of the season, the virtual playoff game between the Eagles and Dallas, according to ESPN reports.

It’s enough to make you wonder if Chip Kelly’s super-secret sports science program includes hexes and voodoo dolls.

While there will be plenty of jokes about the Cowboys being better off without Romo and his 1-6 record in win-or-go-home games, his absence clearly takes some of the luster off of this much anticipated battle for the NFC East title.

Kelly, speaking before the news broke, had little regard for those criticisms of Romo. He cited the game-winning touchdown Romo threw Sunday to beat Washington and force the showdown with the Eagles.

“Fourth [down], game on the line, scrambles, keeps the ball alive, hits the mark to [DeMarco] Murray and they win the game,” Kelly said. “I'm always on what you did last, and what he did last was pretty special -- the way he avoided the rush, kept drives alive, and I think he's as talented a quarterback as there is in this league.

“Any time with that position, sometimes I think you get probably too much credit and too much blame. But he's one of the really, really, really good quarterbacks we've seen, and I said that the first time we played him. If you're a fan of just quarterback play, he's pretty special.”

As the Eagles learned the hard way, a little luck is no guarantee. They went to Minnesota two Sundays ago knowing that Peterson and Gerhart were unlikely to play. And they still were stomped 48-30 by Matt Cassel and the Vikings. A virtually unknown running back named Matt Asiata ran for three touchdowns in that game.

Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton has more of a pedigree than Asiata or -- sticking with his position -- Glennon, Wallace or Scott Tolzien, who played most of the Packers game. Orton has faced the Eagles twice. He beat them in 2008 while with the Bears, and lost to them the following year as a Bronco.

Though the Eagles have had their share of luck this season, they aren’t going to feel too sorry for the Cowboys. Remember, Michael Vick was their starting quarterback when the season began. After he was hurt, Nick Foles took over and played too well to be sent back down the depth chart.

Throughout that process, Kelly repeatedly said that you had to have two good quarterbacks in the NFL. The Packers found out what happens when you don’t. If Orton isn’t able to compete, that’s on the Cowboys for not having another quarterback in development.

The year Orton and the Bears beat them, the Eagles went to the NFC Championship Game against Arizona. If Orton can beat them this time, they’re going home.

Eagles' defense regroups for Bears

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
1:30
PM ET
PHILADELPHIA -- Coming off a game in which his defense gave up 48 points and lost three more defensive backs to injuries, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis called Sunday’s visit from the Chicago Bears “our biggest challenge of the season.”

That’s quite a distinction, considering the Eagles have faced Peyton Manning (allowing 52 points), Philip Rivers (33 points), Jamaal Charles (26 points), Larry Fitzgerald (21 points) and Calvin Johnson (20 snow-covered points).

But Davis was taking in all the factors: A game with enormous playoff implications for the Bears and possibly the Eagles; quarterback Jay Cutler and his array of weapons, including Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, and a secondary thrown into disarray by injuries and poor performance.

“Chicago might be one of the most talented offenses we face,” Davis said. “They’re obviously in the top five in scoring. They’ve got the big, physical Pro Bowl receivers – two of them. They’ve got a tight end who’s a big, athletic pass receiving tight end. The running back is as rounded as any running back we’ve faced.”

That would sound daunting coming off the nine consecutive games in which the Eagles' defense held the opposing team to 21 points or fewer. Coming off Sunday’s debacle in Minnesota, and dealing with the smoking ruins of his secondary, you can see why Davis is concerned.

Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with four interceptions, has a concussion. His availability will be determined by the NFL concussion protocol. He would be replaced by safety Patrick Chung or cornerback Roc Carmichael, or a combination of both.

Davis may get rookie safety Earl Wolff back after a five-week absence due a knee injury. But Davis said Wolff will have to “crawl” back into the lineup before he’s completely back to where he was in early November.

Wolff’s replacement, the veteran Chung, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman. Davis revealed Tuesday that decision was made before the game.

“Pat and Kurt knew we were rotating every two series,” Davis said. “Now we were rotating because Patrick is in a little bit of a slump. We were prepared in practice, we were 50/50 with the reps. That wasn’t something that was a knee-jerk reaction.”

Coleman injured his hamstring and spent the second half in the locker room getting treatment. Colt Anderson, who plays mostly special teams, injured his knee while pressed into service on defense.

Davis said Wolff and Coleman are “day to day,” while Anderson is “more week to week.”

And those are just the injured players. Davis also has to regroup with starting cornerbacks, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who are coming off their worst performance since the Denver game. Safety Nate Allen earned the distinction of being the least-bad defensive back of the day for the Eagles.

“It is a well-rounded offense that’s coming at us,” Davis said. “We had a bad day in Minnesota. They’re in the right mindset. Nobody’s pouting about last week. We accepted it, we owned up to it, we talked about the mistakes. Now we’re going forward and we’re going to attack Chicago with everything we have.”
MINNEAPOLIS -- The demolition in Denver made sense. Peyton Manning at the top of his game shredded a still-learning Eagles defense in a 52-20 Broncos rout.

But the meltdown in Minneapolis? Against a Vikings team with a journeyman quarterback and without Adrian Peterson? Nobody saw that coming, and when the 48-30 beating was over, nobody seemed able to explain how a defense that held nine consecutive opponents to 21 or fewer points got dismantled so thoroughly.

“I wish I had better answers for you,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsGreg Jennings said he's confident that Norv Turner's scheme will help make the Vikings' offense more potent than in recent seasons.
“They just made more plays than we did,” Eagles safety Nate Allen said.

Matt Cassel completed his first eight passes, finishing 26-of-35 for 382 yards and two touchdowns. Greg Jennings caught 11 of those passes for 163 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown. Matt Asiata, who hadn’t touched the ball in a game all season, ran for three touchdowns.

It added up to the most points surrendered by an Eagles defense since Oct. 30, 2005, when the Broncos scored 49 points. Denver scored two special-teams touchdowns in their 52-20 win in September.

“I do not know if we were overlooking them or did not take it seriously,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “I don’t know what happened, but whatever we did was not good enough going into this game.”

The Eagles have made it a priority to avoid giving up big plays. Cassel found Jennings streaking behind Allen and Patrick Chung in the first quarter for that 57-yard score. The Eagles gave up four passes of 20 yards or more, the most they allowed since a game against Carolina last year, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Chung, who lost his starting job to rookie Earl Wolff earlier in the season, was benched in favor of Kurt Coleman.

“Kurt has done a good job in practice,” coach Chip Kelly said. “Just trying to find out where we are since Earl has been down (with a knee injury). I think Kurt deserves some time and we’re just trying to figure out who can play.”

No one on the defense made much of a case for themselves in this game.

“We just weren’t playing tight enough coverage,” Davis said. “That’s attached to the rush, too. It’s all attached together. It’s not just the coverage giving up plays, it’s the rush that has to get there. Collectively, as a defense, we came up really short today.”

The Eagles had gotten some breaks this season. They faced Green Bay in its first game without Aaron Rodgers. That snowstorm last week helped neutralize Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. Facing a Vikings team without the injured Peterson and backup Toby Gerhart seemed like good fortune smiling on the Eagles again.

But without Peterson to lean on, Cassel was free to throw to Jennings, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Chase Ford. It begged the question of how Chicago, with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, will attack this defense.

“I don’t see it as a blueprint,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “It was mainly us. We are going to have to go back and watch the film to see what we can correct.”

They should see plenty.

Uncertainty easier to plan for than AP

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
3:00
PM ET
PHILADELPHIA – Every offense presents challenges for the opposing defensive coordinator. Ultimately, it is tougher to stop Adrian Peterson than to cope with playing the Minnesota Vikings without him.

Peterson
Peterson
“We prepare like everybody is healthy,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “We prepare that all people that are in question, if we don't know if they are healthy, we're going to get their best, all of them are up, and we're going to prepare that way. And then we'll adjust as the week goes on and we get more information, just like we would during a game.”

Last week, the Eagles prepared to face the Detroit Lions with Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford in what was forecast as a “wintry mix” of rain and snow flurries. Instead, the field was buried in snow and Bush was a late scratch due to his calf injury.

“If something happens to one of those guys during a game, we would adjust accordingly, like we did in this game where all of a sudden at the last minute Reggie Bush wasn't up,” Davis said. “You just kind of prepare for all of them and then adjust as you go.”

The Vikings present more variables than most. Peterson injured his foot last week. Backup Toby Gerhart has a hamstring injury and could be out or limited. The Vikings will start Matt Cassel at quarterback for the second week in a row. Christian Ponder started the six games before that, and Josh Freeman remains in the mix.

“When you watch Minnesota, their gameplan doesn’t change if Adrian doesn’t play and Toby goes in,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said. “Toby’s a similar type back. We’re preparing as if he’s going to play.”

There is a bigger adjustment to the quarterback, Kelly said.

“”I don’t know if [the offense] changes much,” he said. “I just think they both have a little bit different skill set in terms of what they do. The gist of what Coach [Bill] Musgrave is doing there offensively doesn’t change.”

It will have to change at least a little if Peterson and Gerhart are out or hampered by injuries. They are the only two running backs who have carried the ball for the Vikings all season.

With the running game in doubt, Musgrave will have to try to get the ball to wideouts Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings. They represent challenges, too, but nothing like a healthy Adrian Peterson.
PHILADELPHIA -- For Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, every game is a "one-week season," with all focus on preparing to beat the next opponent on the schedule.

For those of us on the outside, every game of Kelly's first NFL season has been like a chapter in a book. We learn a little more about Kelly, his offense, his characteristics as a coach, his play calling. There were several chapters devoted to his quarterbacks, Michael Vick and then Nick Foles.

Sunday's 34-20 game against the Detroit Lions was different. The snow and its impact on the game made it impossible to learn anything about Kelly's approach to a tough defense, about Foles' ability to rise to the occasion in a big game, about anything to do with X's and O's.

"Everything went out the window," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "We played a completely different game than what we practiced for."

There was an important lesson about this team in this chapter. The Eagles took control over the game from the Lions largely because they took a better, smarter approach to the situation. Faced with heavy snow and treacherous footing, they embraced the novelty of the day and made the most of it.

"We were saying this is a game we're always going to remember," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "It's going to be a lot better to remember if we win."

Wide receiver Riley Cooper looked miserable in the early going. The native of Clearwater, Fla., looked like he'd been dropped on some hostile planet and forced to adapt. By the second half, Cooper was making spectacular catches -- including a 44-yard gain that injected life into the offense and a vital two-point conversion -- and rolling around in the snow like a polar bear cub.

The Eagles offensive line figured out how to keep their balance, slow their movements and get good push against the Lions' celebrated defensive line. That was the difference in the game.

The Eagles defense switched from its two-gap based approach to simpler, more direct gap control. That move allowed the Eagles to shut down the Lions running game even as LeSean McCoy was being freed on the other side of the ball.

Both teams were faced with unique circumstances that made their week of preparation basically useless to them. We may never know if the Eagles could have covered Calvin Johnson in better conditions or if the Lions defensive front would have smothered McCoy and pressured Foles into more errors.

The game wasn't a true test of the merit of the two football teams. But the Eagles turned it into an important win and the Lions allowed it to become a painful loss.

So the rest of us learned something about the Eagles from this chapter of the book. After two years of watching a team that accepted losing, this team keeps pushing until it finds a way to win.

As for Kelly himself?

"I didn't learn anything," Kelly said. "I knew exactly what those guys were going to be like. I think maybe some other people did, but I didn't have any question in my mind what was going to go on in that football game because I've been around these guys every single day."
PHILADELPHIA -- Sports science, blocking schemes, dome teams, Winston Churchill -- you just don't know what you're going to get when you go to a Chip Kelly news conference.

The Philadelphia Eagles coach addressed a few issues and made a few observations a day after his team's snowy 34-20 victory over Detroit.

Fight them on the beaches. "The problems of victory are more agreeable than the problems of defeat, but no less difficult." Kelly (fairly accurately) quoted Churchill in explaining how he approaches game tape after a win.

McCoy
"There's always lessons you can learn," Kelly said. "Shame on you if you don't look back and analyze what happened and what were the positives and what can you take from it. But I also think you have to take what did we do wrong and how can we continue to execute? When you have a big win, sometimes it's well, we made a couple mistakes but don't worry about it. We've never been that way."

As an example, Kelly cited a LeSean McCoy run. McCoy broke the franchise record with 217 rushing yards in the game, but the tape showed room for improvement.

"LeSean could have had a 70-yard run," Kelly said. "He cut back and got tackled by (Ndamukong) Suh and a defensive lineman. If he had broken to his left, he could have had another (touchdown). Those are things we'll continue to work on."

Taking advice. While it's not unusual for a player to make a suggestion on the sideline, it's unusual for Kelly to take the suggestion as seriously as he took cornerback Cary Williams' advice to throw deep Sunday.

Williams
"I've had a lot of players come up and suggest a lot of things," Kelly said. "You just have to be smart enough to know which ones to listen to. Trust me, I don't think I've ever had a receiver that's ever been covered.

"It's an amazing phenomenon: 'I'm wide open!' 'I know you're wide open because the ball went over there and the entire defense went over there. That's why you're standing by yourself. Now if you were blocking like you were supposed to be, you wouldn't be open, because it was a run play.'"

Williams suggested taking some deep shots in the passing game. If he was having trouble recovering from moves made by Calvin Johnson, Williams reasoned, the Lions' secondary would be similarly vulnerable. Kelly responded by calling for that 44-yard pass from Nick Foles to Riley Cooper, which kickstarted the Eagles' comeback.

"Cary's one of the guys on this team, he's all football," Kelly said. "He's a student of the game. He's got a great football mind. He made a really valid point. You can run by these guys because they can't transition, because he can't transition. I've had a lot of guys make suggestions. I'll listen to Cary because Cary really understands the game."

Avant
Avant guard. Wide receiver Jason Avant also understands the game. Kelly listened to him, too.

"One of the unsung heroes yesterday -- I don't even think he had a pass thrown to him -- was Jason Avant," Kelly said. "You watch the block he threw on LeSean's (57-yard touchdown) where he took the safety back into the free safety. That's the type of team we have. Jason's on the sideline asking me, 'Can we run the ball my way?' I don't know how many wide receivers in this league are asking to have the ball run their way."

Watching the play on tape, Avant's block was the one that turned a 20-yard run into a touchdown. As McCoy bursts through the middle of the Eagles' line, Avant drove Bill Bentley back into Louis Delmas. Bentley went down in a cloud of snow. Delmas was knocked off balance. By the time he turned and got his footing, McCoy was beyond him. Delmas dove helplessly at McCoy's feet.

Already iced. The Eagles had zero injuries reported after the game. Whether that was luck, the players getting ice treatment every time they hit the ground or the lack of traction keeping joints from twisting, it's impossible to say.

Kelly said rookie safety Earl Wolff (knee) is expected to try to practice this week. Wolff has been inactive since getting hurt in the Green Bay game. Linebacker Najee Goode (hamstring) is the only other Eagle expected on the injury report.
PHILADELPHIA -- Cary Williams figured it was worth a shot.

The Eagles cornerback was having a rough time changing direction in the snow and staying with the Detroit Lions wide receivers. It stood to reason the Lions defensive backs were having the same issues.

Williams
So, early in the second half, Williams did something he’d never done before. He went over to his head coach, Chip Kelly, and suggested an offensive strategy.

“I just haven’t had that happen in my career where you could go up to a guy and tell him what’s the best thing to do,” Williams said. “I am just grateful that Chip listened. I really didn’t expect him to listen, but I am happy he did.”

Kelly called for a deep throw to Riley Cooper. Nick Foles hung a pass up that Cooper ran under. It wasn’t pretty, but Cooper caught the ball falling backward into the snow. That 44-yard gain set up the Eagles’ first score and really changed the energy in the game.

“It was a big play, a real tough catch,” Kelly said. “It was funny. Cary Williams was the one who came up to me and he was like, 'Coach, this is what you’ve got to do, because you can’t make up speed if the receiver makes a stick move on you just because of the footing.' It’s coming from a defensive guy saying, hey, if you have an opportunity to throw a post or throw a corner, it’s hard to make up. It’s almost like that catch kind of got us going.”

Williams found that out the hard way. He was covering Calvin Johnson when Matthew Stafford hit him for a 33-yard gain in the first half.

“It wasn’t the fact that I couldn’t run with Calvin,” Williams said. “It was the fact that when I tried to turn, I was sliding initially. I didn’t get the initial grab into the ground the way I wanted to. I saw a lot of times they were slipping, and they were having an issue with sliding.”

Williams said he was surprised the Lions didn’t throw the ball to Johnson more often, given the conditions.

“You practice backpedaling and turning on a level surface,” Williams said. “Out there, with the snow, it was completely different. It’s hard for us to stop and then turn and run.”
PHILADELPHIA -- It was funny but totally understandable.

A week ago, as he prepared for the Arizona Cardinals, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis declared Larry Fitzgerald “probably still the best receiver in the league.” A week later, Davis was asked about Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, this week’s challenge for the Eagles defense.

“Well, he's 6-foot-5 and his range, he's got a huge vertical,” Davis said. “So his radius, his catch radius, is second to none. There are similar players that are big bodied, go up and get the ball away from their body. They snatch it well out of the air. Fitzgerald is one of the top in the NFL, but Calvin is the best when you watch him game in and game out, what he does and what he can do at that size/speed ratio. He’s the best.”

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
AP Photo/James D. SmithEagles defenders will be facing another daunting test on Sunday in Lions WR Calvin Johnson.
You can’t blame Davis for being haunted by the video he’s studying in a given week, even if it means Brandon Marshall will likely be the best receiver in the league while the Eagles are preparing for the Bears in a few weeks.

There are pluses and minuses to facing Fitzgerald and Johnson in consecutive weeks. Preparing and dealing with Fitzgerald can help the Eagles defenders be ready for the challenge of dealing with Johnson. On the other hand, Davis’ scheme for dealing with big, talented wideouts is right there on Sunday’s game tape for the Lions staff to dissect.

“There will be some carryover,” outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. “We installed some certain things for big, productive receivers like Fitz. There will obviously be some carryover this week. But it’s not all going to be the same.”

So how did Davis defend Fitzgerald? Let’s just say it took a village. If teams with a shutdown corner try to match him on Johnson all over the field, Davis took the opposite approach. Nine different Eagles had primary coverage on Fitzgerald during the course of the game. Along with the obvious guys -- defensive backs Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nate Allen and Patrick Chung -- Davis had all four of his linebackers cover Fitzgerald at different times.

Barwin, especially, lined up across from Fitzgerald as a cornerback. Usually, he was in the slot, but on a couple plays Barwin was basically an outside corner. His job was to jam Fitzgerald, disrupt his route and his timing, then usually give him up to a defensive back.

Trent Cole did surprisingly well on the few times he dropped into coverage with Fitzgerald. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks ran with him on several plays down the middle before quarterback Carson Palmer found Fitzgerald for a first-down completion in the fourth quarter.

Williams slapped one ball away as Fitzgerald attempted to catch it. Fletcher and Allen did a good job limiting his yardage on quick outs. Boykin made the single biggest play, leaping to bat a pass away in the end zone just before the Cardinals’ final touchdown. Chung blanketed Fitzgerald in the end zone on the play in which Roc Carmichael drew a pass interference call at the 1-yard line.

Fitzgerald’s biggest play, of course, was his 43-yard touchdown catch on a third-and-20 play. Boykin had excellent coverage on the play, but he and Chung collided just as the ball arrived. They went down in a heap, allowing Fitzgerald to sprint the last 26 yards untouched.

Palmer threw the ball 41 times. He targeted Fitzgerald eight times, completing five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. That’s not exactly shutting a receiver down, but if the Eagles can limit Johnson to that kind of damage, they’ll have a very real chance of beating Detroit. Johnson is that good.

“The combination of his size and his speed and explosiveness, I don’t think there’s anybody else like that in this league,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “He can just go get the football.”

In other words, Johnson is the best there is. This week, at least.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
8:00
AM ET
PHILADELPHIA -- A look at four issues from the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-21 win against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.

[+] EnlargeNate Allen
Matt Rourke/AP PhotoEagles safety Nate Allen did his best to keep Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald in check during their Week 13 game Sunday.
Foles is lucky as well as good. Nick Foles needs to throw just two more touchdown passes to break Peyton Manning's NFL record of 20 touchdown passes without an interception. Foles also broke teammate Michael Vick's team record of 224 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Going back to late last year, Foles has thrown 233 pick-free passes.

That's all good. But luck came in when he threw an ill-advised pass as he was being hit in the fourth quarter. The ball landed in the hands of Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, but the interception was negated by a holding penalty on safety Tyrann Mathieu.

"It definitely was a mistake by me," Foles said. "I was happy there was a penalty that kept our drive going. It wasn't a smart decision." It was the kind of decision that can turn a game around. Luck kept that from happening.

"That's just the game of football," Foles said. "It's a crazy game, and things happen."

Nate Allen isn't Brian Dawkins, but that's OK. Allen, the fourth-year safety from South Florida, made a nice break on an underthrown Carson Palmer pass for an early interception. Allen was part of an egregiously bad secondary the past two years and has not exactly been a huge fan favorite. But his improved play has been a big part of the defense's development.

"He's one of the hardest workers in the building," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "It means so much to him. He's motivated because he hasn't had the success and everyone has been on him for a couple years here. Everyone wanted him to be Brian Dawkins and now everybody's kind of letting him be Nate Allen."

Fitzgerald? Check. Megatron? The Eagles' defense did a decent enough job on Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Each caught a touchdown pass. Fitzgerald caught five passes for 72 yards, Floyd five for 99. Those are very good numbers, but neither could break open the game. That's encouraging, because the Eagles defenders get Detroit's Calvin Johnson here next Sunday.

"Those guys stepped up and took on the challenge of playing this top receiving group," Davis said. "There's a lot of times they were one-on-one. Throughout the game, I was mixing in [coverages], but there were a lot of snaps that were, 'Hey, get your man.'"

Davis often had linebacker Connor Barwin lined up directly across from Fitzgerald, especially in the slot. Barwin was able to get a more physical jam on Fitzgerald at the line before giving him up to a defensive back to cover.

The NFC playoff picture is a little clearer after this. The Eagles earned a tiebreaker over Arizona should they wind up with the same record in the wild-card race. Sunday's win also keeps them within a game of San Francisco (8-4), which is currently in position to earn the second wild card. Chicago's loss to Minnesota leaves the Bears at 6-6, a game behind Detroit. The Eagles face those three NFC North teams over the next three weeks -- Detroit and Chicago at home, with Minnesota on the road in the middle.

The Eagles' best shot at the playoffs remains in beating Dallas (7-5) for the NFC East title, but the Cowboys are one of the teams with a realistic shot at a wild card.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider