Philadelphia Eagles: Morris Claiborne

Good health a good sign for Eagles

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
4:00
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PHILADELPHIA -- As expected, the Eagles will go into Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals with only one notable injury. Safety Earl Wolff, who hyperextended his right knee in Green Bay Nov. 10, was listed as out on the team’s Friday injury report.

The relative health of the Eagles in Week 13 could have a significant impact on the NFC East race. The Eagles (6-5) are a half-game behind the Dallas Cowboys, who beat Oakland 31-24 on Thanksgiving Day to get to 7-5.

But Dallas was without three defensive starters – cornerback Morris Claiborne and linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant – for that game. They have been without defensive end Anthony Spencer all season. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who has missed three games, played after saying he is at “97 percent” healthy.

The Eagles and Cowboys meet in the season finale on Dec. 29. Between now and then, the Eagles face Arizona (7-4), Detroit (7-5), Minnesota (2-8-1) and Chicago (6-5). Dallas plays Chicago, Green Bay (5-6-1) and Washington (3-8). The strength of schedule and chance to play the Eagles at home would slightly favor the Cowboys.

But the battle of attrition seems to give the Eagles an edge.

“When you have starters with games lost, I think it’s always a difficult deal, just because of the preparation part of it and getting guys ready to play in games,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “It’s a huge thing for us, not only in the (offensive) line but a lot of our positions because we haven’t lost many guys, especially starters to injuries that have had them out. It’s really helped us.”

Wolff, safety Patrick Chung, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and quarterbacks Michael Vick and Nick Foles are the only starters to miss games with in-season injuries. That’s a total of 14 games missed by starters (Wolff replaced Chung as a starter while he was out with a shoulder injury).

Chung has returned to the lineup to replace Wolff. Fletcher (pectoral muscle) and Kendricks (knee) are expected to return to their spots Sunday.

The Eagles lost three players, including starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, to ACL tears early in training camp. They have not placed a player on injured reserve since the season began.
Nick FolesAP Photo/Matt RourkeNick Foles could not get into a rhythm or hit his receivers against Dallas.
PHILADELPHIA -- While watching the Philadelphia Eagles' 17-3 loss to Dallas Cowboys in real time, it was hard to believe quarterback Nick Foles was that awful or that head coach Chip Kelly's scheme was as bad as it appeared. After watching the game again, the answers are sobering.

Foles was, and so was Kelly's scheme. Here are some observations:

• Right off the bat, Kelly wanted to throw running back Bryce Brown at the Cowboys as a wrinkle. It did not work. Brown and LeSean McCoy opened in a two-back set I don't recall seeing before Sunday.

The novelty produced literally nothing. Foles missed both backs on the same play, a wheel route designed to exploit the perceived vulnerability of Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter. But Carter's coverage was fine and Foles could not make the perfect throws necessary to execute the play.

"It's the matchup," Kelly said Monday. "The ball wasn't like it hit his hands and he dropped it. I think we could have been a little more accurate on a couple of those throws."

Or it was a poor guess in preparation by the coaches.

• Foles was effectively sacked twice (one sack, one intentional grounding penalty) on the Eagles' first possession. Rookie right tackle Lane Johnson was involved in the protection breakdown both times, with help from guard Todd Herremans once.

Getting pounded twice in three plays is never a good way for a quarterback to start, and Foles never really seemed comfortable in the pocket all day. Even when protection was solid, he had happy feet and appeared to be anticipating pressure in his face.

On both the plays in question, DeSean Jackson lined up in the slot and was covered by cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Jackson had no success against Scandrick all game.

• Kelly got a lot of backslaps for using that unbalanced line look effectively last week against Tampa Bay. He used it again against the Cowboys and guess what? It isn't fooling anyone anymore.

The alignment has left tackle Jason Peters lined up as a tight end, outside tackle Lane Johnson, on the right side. Brent Celek, the tight end, lines up at left tackle. Every time I saw this alignment, the Eagles ran the ball from it. Every time. NFL coordinators tend to notice things like this.

Maybe if the blocks had been executed better, or the Eagles had been better prepared for the way the Cowboys line slanted and attacked different gaps, the ruse would have worked. But that didn't happen, and McCoy continually ran into unblocked linebackers (Sean Lee, usually) and safeties.

On one play, the first time I saw the unbalanced line, McCoy ran to the left and probably could have gotten outside. He cut inside Celek's block and was easily tackled by J.J. Wilcox.

"You've got to finish the blocks up front," Kelly said. "There are a lot of times where the numbers were right for us and we do have hat for a hat. We've got to finish it. There are other times when maybe the ball should have gone outside because of how we're blocking it and what the landmarks are, but the back cuts it inside. We've just got to get everybody on the same page.

"But again, schematically it wasn't like we're trying to run the ball and they've got an extra guy and we just keep running them into the unblocked guy. We've got to finish blocks up front. We have to finish runs when we have the ball in our hands."

Actually, there were a number of plays where the scheme left McCoy running right into unblocked Cowboys. That's on the coach.

• Bad blocking wasn't limited to the offensive line. The Eagles opened their fourth possession with Foles throwing a quick bubble screen out to Jackson. Riley Cooper whiffed on his block of Scandrick, and the corner blew up the play.

• Meanwhile, Foles was just terrible. I wondered if having the sun in his eyes was an issue until I realized that didn't happen until the second quarter. He was off target and out of rhythm long before that.

Foles almost got Jason Avant decapitated, lobbing an ill-considered pass that exposed Avant to a forearm in the throat from Brandon Carr. He kept missing open receivers, most notably Celek on what would have been a drive-launching first down in the second quarter, Avant on a likely first-down throw and Jeff Maehl on a couple throws that a truly gifted receiver might have caught.

Foles had Jackson running down the right sideline and threw it two yards out of bounds. Just a bad toss.

Foles' best throw of the day was an incompletion. He had Jackson streaking through the end zone and put the ball in the right place. Wilcox sprinted across and poked the ball away from Jackson. Just a great defensive play in that case.

• Kelly's explanation of his decision to go for a 60-yard field goal on fourth-and-a-foot at the end of the first half made sense – on the surface.

"If we run a play with 14 seconds left on the clock, I've got to call a timeout," Kelly said. "And we have to kick a 59-yard field goal. If the field goal was one-yard short, I'd be kicking myself in the tail right now because we need to be a little bit closer because he wasn't one yard short. … I don't think we were going to dial up a play that was going to get us 15 yards on 4th and 1 to put us in a situation for a closer field goal."

Kelly said the wind was at Alex Henery's back, which also meant it would be in the face of the Cowboys if Henery missed, which he did.

The problem was the play calling that put the Eagles in that situation. With Foles finding a faint pulse in the two-minute offense, he threw a quick hitch to Cooper for a nine-yard gain. Naturally, Kelly called the same play out of the same formation on second-and-one. This time, with cornerback Morris Claiborne unfooled, Cooper dropped the pass.

On third-and-inches, Foles threw that deep ball out of bounds for Jackson.

So the fourth-and-inches didn't happen by itself. It started as a second-and-inches and Kelly play-called his way into a 60-yard field goal.

• Finally, a look at the play on which Foles was injured. Again, it starts on first down at the Dallas 9-yard line, with that unbalanced line look. The Cowboys knew McCoy would run and McCoy ran into three -- repeat: three -- unblocked defenders for no gain.

On second down, Foles had time as the Cowboys rushed only four men. But he couldn't find anyone, ran left at the first hint of pressure and was forced to throw the ball away before he was brought down from behind. The folks at Pro Football Focus timed Foles at 6.3 seconds from taking the snap to throwing away.

That brought up third down. Foles had time again. He slid to his left and had Cooper open at about the 4-yard line. Foles waited long enough for a defensive back to slip up behind Cooper. About then, the blockers lost their men and Foles was forced to start running to his right.

David Carter and George Selvie -- raise your hand if you'd heard of them before -- followed him. Foles held on to the ball for a ridiculous 9.5 seconds, according to Pro Football Focus, before Selvie wrapped him up. Their helmets bumped, but it appeared the back of Foles' head bounced off the ground on the sack, too. As soon as he got up, referee John Parry looked for Eagles medical staffers and pointed to his head.

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