Philadelphia Eagles: mychal kendricks

PHILADELPHIA -- It is easy to read too much into what you see during organized team activities. On Tuesday, safety Earl Wolff was running with the first team. It turns out that Nate Allen was sick, and Wolff simply moved up a spot.

On Monday, inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks was calling out the defensive signals. That could mean the Eagles want Kendricks to replace DeMeco Ryans in that role, or it could simply mean Kendricks might have to fill in if Ryans gets hurt during a game.

In general, the Eagles' draft picks are running with the second or third teams. That is just coach Chip Kelly's way. It is not necessarily a reflection of where each rookie stands in the coaches' evaluation process.

[+] EnlargeEagles coach Chip Kelly
AP Photo/Matt Rourke"There's nothing to read into who is where, what, whatever, because we're not playing a game until September," Chip Kelly said.
"If anybody is trying to make anything of who is playing what or how many reps -- all we are trying to do is see if we can get three reps a minute as fast as we can go, get it on tape and coach off of that," Kelly said Tuesday. "So there's nothing to read into who is where, what, whatever, because we're not playing a game until September. We are just trying to get as many plays as we can possibly get. So I would not read anything into who is where or what."

First-round pick Marcus Smith is working at the left outside linebacker spot. That is Connor Barwin's spot. That doesn't mean Smith is being groomed to replace Barwin. It just means that Brandon Graham is the No. 2 guy on the right side, behind Trent Cole. In time, Smith will learn both spots. For now, six weeks before the start of training camp, the idea is to see how Smith reacts to different situations and coach him as needed.

"It's trying to figure out what those guys can do and what their skill set is and what their strengths and weaknesses are," Kelly said. "And then we'll go from there. But you got to start them somewhere. You can't say, ‘Hey, learn every single position.' Just want to put them at one spot and figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are as we evaluate them."

The big difference between last year and this year is that Nick Foles is the clear No. 1 quarterback. Michael Vick is gone. Mark Sanchez is here, but he has been told he's competing with Matt Barkley for the No. 2 spot.

Kelly said it's a "unique situation for Mark because he's probably ahead of where Nick [Foles] and Michael [Vick] were last year because he has Nick to rely on. So everything was new for everybody in the quarterback room last year. ... And he also has probably a lot more experience than a lot of guys. He's played in this league for a long time and has got 60 plus starts."

Sanchez doesn't have quite the standing that Vick had, maybe because none of those 62 starts were for the Eagles. But his experience must give Kelly some comfort going into a season in which Foles will be under more pressure than he's experienced before.

Sanchez said he is still on a "pitch count" -- a limit to how much work his right shoulder can do. But he has established himself as a good teammate, eager to help Foles develop even as he learns from him.

"Having a year under his belt really helps," Sanchez said. "He's really maturing into what I think is a really good quarterback. He's going to be tough to play against for defenses."

That won't really start, as Kelly said, until September. For now, the Eagles' focus is on learning and evaluation. It is, after all, only June.
PHILADELPHIA -- You learn more about what an NFL team thinks from what it does than from what it says.

The Philadelphia Eagles know they need to improve their defense if they’re going to repeat as NFC East champions and make more noise in the postseason. The Eagles allowed more passing yards per game than any team in the NFL in 2013. That is an obvious area to address.

“I think we can be better than 32 [ranked],” cornerback Cary Williams said. “I think we’re going to be much improved from last season.”

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Cary Williams
AP Photo/Michael PerezCary Williams and the Eagles won the NFC East in 2013 despite allowing the most passing yards per game in the NFL.
The Eagles drafted outside linebacker Marcus Smith of Louisville in the first round of last month’s draft. But there’s a real chance Smith won’t start ahead of Trent Cole right away. Indeed, the only definite new starter will be former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. During OTA practices the past two weeks, 10 of the 11 starters from the end of last year were still at the top of the depth chart.

And that’s how you know what coach Chip Kelly, GM Howie Roseman and defensive coordinator Bill Davis really think. If they believed the defense was simply devoid of talent, they would have done more in free agency to add some. Instead, they appear convinced that it’s more important for the current players to grow within Davis’ 3-4 defensive scheme than to shuffle personnel.

“Overall, the whole defense has grown because we’re more comfortable with what we’re doing,” inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.

Last year, Ryans was adjusting to the 3-4 after playing middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He wound up playing more snaps than any inside linebacker in the NFL in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s because Ryans stayed healthy, but also because Davis desperately needed his awareness and knowledge on the field on every down.

Ryans will likely carry just as heavy a burden in 2014. But the addition of Jenkins will help ease the strain a bit. Jenkins replaces Patrick Chung, who was hampered by injury last year, and rookie Earl Wolff, who replaced Chung as a starter.

“Malcolm is going to be the leader in the back end,” Ryans said. “He’s a guy who gets the guys in the right position. He can make the plays you want to make. He’s a great addition to our secondary.”

That should help the entire secondary play as a cohesive unit. So should some more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles began to identify and develop strong players in their front seven last season. That process should continue and bear fruit in 2014.

Defensive end Cedric Thornton will begin this season as a starter rather than as a curiosity. Bennie Logan will be the nose tackle. Cole will be in his second season as a linebacker after spending 2013 making the transition from defensive end. Ryans, Cole, Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks should all be better after playing together for a full season.

Best of all, the defense experienced some success in that first year. The Eagles finished strong, earning the division title with a victory in Dallas in Week 17. Their first-round playoff loss to New Orleans showed them exactly where they need to get better.

“We understand what is expected from us,” Williams said. “We’re going to continue to build off what we did last year. I think we’re on the right path.”

Kelly, Roseman and Davis think the same thing. Their actions this offseason say so.

Linebacker now a strength for Eagles

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
11:00
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The linebacker position hasn't always been a priority in the past for the Philadelphia Eagles.

But times have changed under coach Chip Kelly.

Even before the NFL draft, the Eagles will enter the 2014 season with a much-improved group of linebackers.

With linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks anchoring the inside, the Eagles also feature some impressive depth with the likes of Najee Goode, Casey Matthews, Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho.

Veteran Trent Cole (eight sacks) was a force at outside linebacker and he received plenty of help from Connor Barwin, who was a key offseason acquisition in Kelly's first season. Brandon Graham made some improvement and the Eagles recently added Bryan Braman, who should get a chance to play at linebacker. Braman was signed as a special-teams player but that role could be expanded.

“You don't find many players of Bryan's size with the ability to run down the field and make plays on special teams,” Kelly said after Braman's signing. “It's an area of the game that we always have our eye on and look to improve. With his size, we also like his potential as a guy who can compete for spot as an outside linebacker.”

In the NFL draft, the Eagles could add a linebacker or two to their ever-improving depth chart.

This group of linebackers showed terrific stamina as Cole, Ryans and Barwin started all 16 games last season. Cole will turn 32 during the season while Barwin will be 28. But Kendricks is just 23 and he had a solid second season in the league.

Kendricks accumulated 106 total tackles, four sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and four recovered fumbles. He became one of three players in franchise history to record at least four sacks and three interceptions in a single season, joining Seth Joyner (1991 and '92) and William Thomas ('96).

With a combination of veterans and young players, this position continues to be one worth looking at as the 2014 season inches closer.
So far the Philadelphia Eagles have re-signed key their own players, such as Jason Kelce, Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Nate Allen, and added pieces like Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll.

They have not, however, added any pieces to help the pass rush.

[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
AP Photo/Michael PerezTrent Cole led the Eagles in sacks last season, but the team's pass rush could use reinforcements.
The Eagles recorded 37 sacks in 2013, which ranked 20th in the NFL. Trent Cole led the team with eight sacks. Connor Barwin had five and three players -- DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry -- had four apiece.


"It's hard to find pass rushers, especially on the open market," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said in this Philadelphia Daily News story. "There aren't a lot of teams letting them go. And then you look at the draft and where those guys go, they go high.

"Certainly, you want to continue to add pass rushers. But we feel we have some guys we think can rush the passer and fit what we're doing at the outside linebacker position."

Philadelphia had interest in DeMarcus Ware, and the Cowboys were not keen on possibly seeing their all-time leader in sacks twice a year, but the Denver Broncos swooped in with an offer Ware could not refuse ($20 million guaranteed).

In free agency, Shaun Phillips has 3-4 experience from his time with the San Diego Chargers, but the pickings are thin.

As the Eagles move into their second year in the 3-4 scheme, they will have a better feel for what they want in an outside linebacker. Projecting a college defensive end to outside linebacker in a 3-4 is never easy, but it is something the Pittsburgh Steelers have excelled at for years.

The two best in this year's draft, Buffalo's Khalil Mack and UCLA's Anthony Barr, figure to be gone by the time the Eagles pick in the first round.

In a division with quarterbacks such as Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III, finding pass rushers is more important than pass defenders.
The Philadelphia Eagles will be in almost perfect position when NFL teams are allowed to open talks with unrestricted free agents Friday.

They are perceived as a team "headed in the right direction," as soon-to-be-free-agent safety Jairus Byrd said on ESPN on Tuesday. And they have enormous flexibility thanks to more than $26 million in salary-cap space, according to ESPN's Roster Management service.

The Eagles didn't have to release wide receiver Jason Avant for cap purposes. That decision was about paying the $1 million roster bonus negotiated into his contract and due on March 15. But with Avant's departure, the Eagles save another $2.5 million on their cap.

General manager Howie Roseman has set low expectations for the team to make a huge splash in free agency. He could be doing that because he simply doesn't see a free agent worth splurging on, because he wants to prevent potential fan disappointment or because he doesn't want to telegraph his real plans to other teams before the market opens.

Three of the more intriguing names disappeared from a potential wish list this week: Miami extended the contract of cornerback Brent Grimes, Washington placed the franchise tag on linebacker Brian Orakpo and Pittsburgh linebacker Jason Worilds signed his transition-tag tender.

The two top safeties, Byrd and Cleveland's T.J. Ward, are expected to hit the market. Roseman has acknowledged his preference to address the safety position in free agency so it isn't a glaring need going into the draft. But he may have his sights set on some of the less expensive players expected to be on the market.

Roseman said last week that his spree of contracts for current Eagles would not limit the Eagles' options in free agency.

"It will affect other things going forward," Roseman said. "We have some flexibility. Obviously, this affects it, the things we've done the past couple of days. But we're going to go out and try to do things that make sense for our football team."

Another thing working in the Eagles' favor is the expansion of the cap this year to $133 million and the expected continuing rise over the next couple of years. That extra cap space comes just as Roseman will have to decide on extensions for players like Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Boykin and Mychal Kendricks.

Foles, especially, gives the Eagles a lot of flexibility. Starting quarterbacks can eat up 12 to 15 percent of a team's salary cap. Foles' 2014 salary of $770,880 accounts for 0.65 percent of the Eagles' cap. That's about as much as backup offensive lineman Allen Barbre.

Eventually, if they're going to be successful, the Eagles will have to pay a quarterback that kind of money. For now, they can build a team and deal with Foles -- or someone else if Foles should stumble -- when the cap increases.

"It's hard to look three years out," Roseman said. "It's hard to know where you're going to be after two full seasons and after two draft classes. We do spend a lot of time on the cap next year. We try to be conservative with what the cap projections are going to be."

Finally, there's this reality: The salary cap is not nearly as onerous as it is made out to be. The Dallas Cowboys were in as tight a situation as any team in the NFL going into the new league year. By reportedly reworking quarterback Tony Romo's contract, converting salary to bonus money, the Cowboys resolved their cap issues.

So there is an escape hatch from cap purgatory. The Cowboys still probably won't have the cap space to be proactive in free agency.

The Eagles will. They are in position to do whatever they want.
PHILADELPHIA -- When we left off looking at the Eagles position by position Friday, we were talking about the in-transition nature of the outside linebackers.

The inside linebacker situation would seem more settled based on the 2013 season. DeMeco Ryans was exactly the leader a team needs in the middle of its defense, and Mychal Kendricks developed into arguably the most dynamic playmaker on that side of the ball.

With glaring needs in the secondary and at edge pass-rusher, that would make the inside linebacker spots appear less than pressing. So it was surprising that the Eagles' personnel people and coaches spent so much time talking to inside linebackers during Senior Bowl activities – as documented by Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com.

Kempski noted four inside linebackers among the 14 players the Eagles showed special interest in. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have interest in other players. With the scouting combine later this month, and with pro days and the chance to bring players to Philadelphia for visits, the Eagles will certainly talk to dozens of potential picks before the draft.

Still, the interest in inside linebackers is itself interesting. According to Kempski, the Eagles talked to LSU’s Lamin Barrow, Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, Illinois’ Jonathan Brown and Florida State’s Christian Jones.

Ryans is due to make $6.9 million this year. I’ve always believed it’s a bad idea for teams to ask important players to take pay cuts for a number of reasons. It’s bad for morale, it undermines a player’s ability to be a leader in a locker room where salary and stature are connected and it erodes every player’s confidence in the team’s commitment to the contracts it negotiates.

In this case, Ryans' contract was negotiated in Houston, before he was traded to Philadelphia. That eliminates one of those considerations. If general manager Howie Roseman can pitch a restructuring that helps the salary cap without hurting Ryans too much, then fine.

The larger question is whether, despite the Pro Bowl lobbying from defensive coordinator Bill Davis, the Eagles feel they need more impact from Ryans’ spot. At the very least, they may want to start grooming a young successor for Ryans, who turns 30 before the season.

There are other possibilities, though. After a season in his scheme, Davis may think Kendricks could be effective on the outside, for example. He’s a good pass-rusher and would be better at dropping into coverage than Trent Cole or Brandon Graham.

A relatively high draft pick at an inside spot could allow Kendricks to move outside while simultaneously developing into an eventual replacement for Ryans.

The counterargument there is that Kendricks spent his rookie season on the outside in the Eagles’ 4-3 scheme. Moving him inside for a year and then back outside would negate the considerable progress he made during the 2013 season.

Maybe it’s all just this simple: Roseman’s approach is to take the best player on the Eagles’ draft board regardless of position. If that player is an inside linebacker, then you take him and figure out exactly how to use him and the incumbent linebackers later.

Behind Ryans and Kendricks, the Eagles have a couple of special-teams guys in Casey Matthews and Jake Knott. Najee Goode showed promise playing in relief of Kendricks. Jason Phillips, signed for depth and special-teams prowess, tore his ACL in training camp and missed the entire season.

Bottom line: Assembling a deep group of versatile, athletic linebackers couldn’t hurt.
PHILADELPHIA -- Bad drafts don’t happen in a vacuum, and neither do good ones. The Eagles’ 2013 draft class is an example of what it looks like when everything -- scouting, drafting, coaching, development -- works the way it is supposed to.

The Eagles took tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth pick in the draft, tight end Zach Ertz in the second round and defensive tackle Bennie Logan in the third. All three were contributors in their first season and look like very good choices.

[+] EnlargeZach Ertz
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsZach Ertz and the other top picks in the Eagles' 2013 draft class were valuable contributors during their rookie seasons.
But what if they had taken defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who excelled in Carolina, in the first round, then took linebacker Kiko Alonso in the second round and either cornerback Tyrann Mathieu or offensive tackle Terron Armstead in the third?

The point isn’t that, with hindsight, the Eagles should have done that. The point is that there are different ways to assemble the puzzle pieces for a good draft. And the larger point is that a draft class can sink or rise depending on the coaching that it gets.

For a number of reasons, the Eagles under Andy Reid lost that hands-on teaching and development element. Were the 2010 (Brandon Graham, Nate Allen) and 2011 (Danny Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett) draft classes really as bad as they looked? Or were all those players undermined by the dysfunction that had crept into the NovaCare Complex – constant change at defensive coordinator, Jim Washburn’s wide 9 defense, Howard Mudd’s idiosyncratic offensive line approach, etc.?

Case in point: If the Eagles had taken safety Earl Thomas or defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul instead of Graham in the 2010 first round, would they be the players they became in Seattle and New York? Or would they have the same lost look on their faces that became common among Eagles defenders in the Juan Castillo era?

The Eagles weren’t alone in ranking Watkins as a first-round pick. Was everyone in the NFL that wrong, or was Mudd precisely the wrong guy to coax the best out of a raw rookie from Western Canada? Maybe a little of both.

Chip Kelly and his coaching staff helped make this 2013 class look good, and there’s proof. Kelly’s staff also made the 2012 class better. Fletcher Cox improved steadily as he made the transition to the 3-4 defensive techniques. Mychal Kendricks grew into a turnover machine. Vinny Curry may not really fit the new system, but he was productive when used as a pass-rusher in defensive coordinator Bill Davis’ defense. Brandon Boykin was a revelation playing nickel cornerback.

You might have heard that Nick Foles had a pretty good year.

Like Reid, Kelly brought in a bunch of smart, energized teachers for his position coaches. Over time, Reid’s group aged and moved on. Kelly’s staff is just about to hit its stride here.

“Now that we've got at least a year of experience, it'll be a little bit different here in the offseason,” Kelly said. “We're all not living in a hotel and spending basically 20 hours a day here because we've got nowhere else to go. There's a lot of differences to it. ... I think we've laid a foundation, but you've got to build something upon that foundation.”

A little later, a look at the 2013 draft class.
 

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 -- There is roster change every year for NFL teams. The Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in pretty good shape going into the 2014 offseason. They have control over most of their roster and can, for the most part, make only the changes they want.

Here's how the roster shapes up:

Unrestricted free agents: Wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin; safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson; quarterback Michael Vick; defensive end Clifton Geathers, punter Donnie Jones.

The Eagles could lose all of those players without taking a major hit. That doesn't mean those players aren't valuable, merely that they're not irreplaceable. It's not as if LeSean McCoy or Mychal Kendricks or Jason Kelce were free to leave.

My guess is general manager Howie Roseman will make solid market offers to Cooper, Maclin, Allen, Geathers and Jones. He will not overpay for any of them. If some other team does, the Eagles will move on without the player in question.

Players due for contract extensions: Defensive end Cedric Thornton (exclusive rights free agent) and center Jason Kelce.

Let's project to the year 2022. The 35-year-old Kelce announces he is playing his final season after 13 years with the Eagles. That's how things should go with this guy. He's smart, physical, athletic and exactly the kind of player teams should commit to. So yes, extend Kelce.

Thornton was one of the delightful surprises of 2013. An undrafted rookie from Southern Arkansas, he hung around for a couple years without anyone paying much mind. But he's living proof of Chip Kelly's no-expectations approach. Kelly judges based on what a player does, and Thornton was very good this year.

Players who could be gone: Vick, Anderson, Coleman, wide receiver Damaris Johnson, kicker Alex Henery, linebacker Brandon Graham, safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Phillip Hunt (restricted free agent on IR), wide receiver Arrelious Benn, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly.

Mostly self-explanatory. Vick wants to find a place where he can start. Even if he doesn't, the Eagles really like Matt Barkley and may well prefer a younger (read: cheaper) No. 2 behind Nick Foles.

Henery will have competition for the kicking job next summer. Not sure he'll answer that bell. Graham belongs at end in a 4-3 defense and may get a chance to return to one. The Eagles tried to replace Chung over and over but injuries kept him in the lineup.

Johnson lost his return job and never played on offense. Anderson has been a solid special teams guy, but Kelly likes versatility and may prefer a replacement who can fill in on defense, too.

Veterans on the salary-cap bubble: Tight end Brent Celek, linebacker Trent Cole, guard Todd Herremans, wide receiver Jason Avant. They are all good enough players to stay. That, not their cap numbers, should be the deciding factor.

Youth movement: The Eagles signed their practice squad and one other player to futures contracts. They are linebackers Emmanuel Acho, Josh Kaddu and Travis Long; offensive tackle Michael Bamiro; defensive end Brandon Bair; wide receivers Will Murphy, B.J. Cunningham and Ifeanyi Momah, and tight end Emil Igwenagu.

The takeaway here: The Eagles staff spent a lot of time coaching these guys and one or three of them just might become contributors.
New Orleans SaintsAl Bello/Getty ImagesThe Eagles had their chances but couldn't do the little things to beat the Saints.
PHILADELPHIA -- Quarterback Nick Foles warmed up on the sideline, waiting for another chance, for one more possession.

It never came. Instead of running onto the field to try to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to one more score, Foles watched the New Orleans Saints celebrate a 26-24 playoff victory. Instead of regrouping for a playoff game against the Carolina Panthers next Sunday, Foles and his teammates will spend the offseason picking at the seams of a game they let slip away.

"It's tough right now," Foles said. "There are a lot of emotions and I'm holding it together. ... I'm hurting inside right now in my heart."

"They killed us slowly," running back LeSean McCoy said. "It was a terrible feeling. There was nothing we could do but watch."

By the time Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, there was nothing they could do. But for the 59 minutes and 57 seconds before that, there was plenty they could have done.

That's why these are the hardest games to lose, the ones in which a dropped pass here, a missed field goal there accumulate like individual snowflakes until a team's hopes are buried in an avalanche. On Saturday afternoon, the Eagles were improbable NFC East champions with a chance to do something special in coach Chip Kelly's first season.

By midnight, they were finished. Buried.

"It's just disappointing," Kelly said. "I don't think us winning the division or getting to the playoffs was a surprise to us. I just think everybody is really disappointed that we're not moving forward."

"I've never been out of the first round of the playoffs," left tackle Jason Peters said. "I felt like this is the year. But we got knocked out and we're at home now. That kickoff, the missed field goal, a couple drops, that sack -- there's a bunch of stuff that went wrong that's messing with me right now. Just got to get over it."

It will take some of them longer to get over than others. Peters is 31. He tore his Achilles tendon twice and had it surgically repaired twice. After missing the entire 2012 season, he returned this year and earned another Pro Bowl berth. He doesn't know how many more chances he's going to get.

Cornerback Cary Williams won a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens last year. He was seething after losing this game, to this team, with so much at stake.

"I don't know whether it was the moment or what it was," Williams said. "But we've got to get better in that scenario, in these situations. We failed. We lost to a team that wasn't necessarily better than us. They weren't better than us, period."

Williams was in the middle of the single play that cost the Eagles most dearly. Foles hit tight end Zach Ertz for a 3-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 24-23 lead with 4:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Shoot the final gun there and Foles' remarkable season is extended by the kind of fourth-quarter comeback that burnishes quarterbacks' reputations. Instead, the Eagles had to kick off. Darren Sproles took the ball 2 yards inside his own zone and somehow got through the Eagles' first wave of tacklers.

"He broke contain," Williams said. "I'm the safety valve there. I didn't want to dive, because if he steps out of my tackle, it's six points. I just wanted to get the man down, just give our defense a chance to get on the field and make a stop."

[+] EnlargeCary Williams and Darren Sproles
AP Photo/Julio CortezCary Williams' horse collar tackle on Darren Sproles proved costly -- it gave the Saints a short field on the game-winning drive.
Williams went high, tackling Sproles and drawing a penalty for a horse-collar tackle. The Saints got the ball at the Philadelphia 48. They ran the ball, converting three first downs and draining the clock until calling a timeout with three seconds left. There would be no time for Foles and the offense to get that one last chance.

"The game came down to us as a defense making a stop, and we knew it was going to come down to that," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "That is what the playoffs are all about. Whoever is on the field last has to stand up and make a play."

But it was all the plays before that created the situation:

Foles held the ball too long and took a sack that turned a makeable Alex Henery field goal try into a 48-yard miss.

Wide receiver Riley Cooper dropped a third-down pass in the third quarter with nothing but green in front of him.

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks slapped the ball from Saints tight end Jimmy Graham's grip, but a replay showed the fumble occurred a moment after Graham's knee touched the ground. Instead of a turnover, the Saints kept the ball and kicked a field goal.

Foles' pass to McCoy on third-and-6 in the red zone picked up 5 yards. Instead of a touchdown and a 21-20 lead, the Eagles kicked a field goal and trailed 20-17.

Those are the little loose threads that the Eagles will pick at when they reflect on this game. It didn't matter that they had exceeded expectations to get to this point. They had a chance to keep playing and they fell short.

"There was a missed opportunity tonight," Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said. "We were a dangerous team."

They will be a different team in 2014. Change is inevitable. All of them know that. And while there is every reason to expect good things from Kelly and Foles in the future, nothing is certain.

"It hurts whenever you lose a game that you know you should have won," center Jason Kelce said. "We all expected to do a lot better in the playoffs. As a player, the careers don't last very long. The opportunities you get in the postseason, you have to try to seize them. We didn't seize the day here."
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."

Defense saves game for Kelly, Foles

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
2:25
AM ET
Chip KellyMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Boykin's interception sealed a playoff berth for Chip Kelly and the Eagles.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Whatever Chip Kelly and Nick Foles accomplish together as coach and quarterback of the Eagles, in these playoffs and beyond, they will look back on Sunday night's 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys as their first big game together.

And they will know, deep in their hearts, that those unheralded guys on the Philadelphia defense saved their postseason lives.

With a combination of smarts, sports science and magic, Kelly turned the 4-12 Eagles team he inherited into a 10-6 division title winner. Foles, who took over at quarterback in October, went 8-2 as a starter and finished the season as the NFL's highest rated passer.

The Eagles came to Foles' native Texas for a virtual playoff game against the Cowboys. Win and the Eagles would be NFC East champions. They would host the New Orleans Saints in a first-round playoff game Saturday night. They would have a puncher's chance to be that hot team that burns its way to the Super Bowl seemingly every year.

For a half, they had things in hand. Foles threw two touchdown passes, giving him 27 for the season against just two interceptions. His passer rating was 155.5. The Eagles had a 17-10 lead and possession of the ball to start the third quarter.

And then it started unraveling. The offense was brutal in the third quarter. Foles looked overwhelmed, completing 3 of 8 passes for 41 yards and fumbling the ball away at his own 20. It was so bad, Kelly had Foles throw exactly two passes in the entire fourth quarter.

"We made it a game," Eagles left tackle Jason Peters said. "Not scoring, stalling out a couple times on offense. We let them back in the game."

The defense took the game back.

After Foles' fumble, Dallas ran three plays for a total of 2 yards. Linebackers Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans and Connor Barwin made one-on-one tackles to stop Jason Witten once and DeMarco Murray twice. The Cowboys kicked a field goal and the Eagles clung to their slim, 17-16 lead.

After another three-and-out by Foles and the offense, the Eagles' defense allowed 1 yard on the Cowboys' next possession. That forced a punt that DeSean Jackson, who was held to three catches, returned 23 yards to the Philadelphia 48-yard line.

That was the spark the Eagles needed. They were at midfield instead of their own 20. LeSean McCoy ran three times for 24 yards. Foles completed a short pass that Brent Celek took 22 yards down to the 6-yard line.

That's when Kelly almost outsmarted himself. He couldn't resist bringing Brad Smith in for another of those gimmick plays that look so clever on the dry-erase board. The halfback option pass went incomplete.

"Trying to score," Kelly said. "We thought we would be in man coverage down there. We had a throw back to the quarterback [called]."

Foles threw incomplete on second down. On third down, Jackson caught a ball at the 1-yard line and was held out of the end zone by Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr.

Fourth-and-less-than-a-yard, late in the third quarter.

The book says kick the field goal. Kelly decided to go for it.

"We felt like with the ball on the half-yard line, we've got to be able to punch it in," Kelly said.

They couldn't. Foles was stuffed on the quarterback keeper.

If the Cowboys had seized the momentum there and won, Kelly would have had a very tough time living down the gadget play, the failed fourth down and the non-use of McCoy. That didn't happen, because the Eagles' defense wouldn't let it happen.

"That was an interesting fourth quarter," Kelly said. "Those guys didn't flinch."

The Cowboys drove 59 yards to a fourth-and-1 of their own at the Philadelphia 40-yard line. Jason Garrett decided to go for it. He had a good play call. The Eagles expected a run, so Murray slipped into the flat for a flare pass from Kyle Orton.

Barwin thought it was a run, saw that Orton still had the ball and closed in on him. Orton tried to get it over the 6-foot-4 linebacker's head. He couldn't. Barwin swatted it away. Eagles ball.

"I thought I could catch it," Barwin said. "I knew we were off the field. But I knew there was still some game left to play. I knew it was a big play in the game, but I knew we would be back out there on defense."

It was the first of several signature plays the defense made to save this game for the Eagles. The next was cornerback Cary Williams, breaking up a 2-point conversion pass for Dez Bryant that would have tied the game at 24.

Foles and the offense got the ball back with a chance to run down the clock. Instead, it was another three-and-out, another punt, another save required by the defense.

As it turns out, the Eagles' defense had been through this drill a few times this season. Those home wins against Washington and Arizona came down to late defensive stops.

On first down, needing maybe 30 yards to get within field goal range, Orton threw a pass intended for Miles Austin. It was a little behind him. It wasn't behind Brandon Boykin.

The nickel corner caught it and the Eagles were NFC East champions, Kelly had a division title in his first season and Foles won the first elimination game of his career.

"There's going to be adversity in games," Foles said. "We overcame it today as a team and it was an exciting game to win. I had a blast out there. Our defense was coming up big, special teams played really good ball, and our offense was able to put some points on the board. In those times of adversity, the game's not over. There's still time on the clock. That's how I've always looked at it -- I'm going to play until that clock says zero."

Earlier this season, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said he wouldn't judge Kelly strictly on wins and losses. That was before Lurie knew there would be 10 wins and a home playoff game.

But his larger point still holds true. Lurie hired Kelly because he believed the unorthodox college coach with the cocky grin could build a winning program. His Eagles, on offense and defense and special teams, made a pretty good case this year that Lurie was correct.

"This team has character," Peters said.

That seems clear. And it's just as clear the coach is a character.

"He's a little different than what most coaches are," said Williams, who won a Super Bowl with John Harbaugh in Baltimore last year. "He goes against the grain. It's great."

 

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
11:25
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-22 victory against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night.

What it means: Chip Kelly won the NFC East title in his first season as a head coach in the NFL despite a rough night on the sideline. The Eagles' defense bailed Kelly and his offense out, holding the Cowboys to one touchdown and three field goals. Linebacker Connor Barwin batted down a Kyle Orton pass on a crucial fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter to prevent Dallas from taking a late lead. Brandon Boykin intercepted a pass to seal the Eagles' win with 1:43 left. The victory gives the Eagles a 10-6 record -- six more wins than last year -- and a date next Saturday night with the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs.

Kendricks shows up: Second-year linebacker Mychal Kendricks has shown flashes of excellence all season, often negated by some lapses. He was the Eagles’ best defender all night. Kendricks forced a DeMarco Murray fumble after the Cowboys drove to the Philadelphia 25 on their first possession. He intercepted a pass to set up an Eagles touchdown just before halftime. Kendricks also made some big tackles to hold Murray and Jason Witten to little or no gain in key situations.

Head scratching: Kelly couldn’t resist trying another gimmick play with Brad Smith in the red zone. This time, on first-and-goal at the 6, Smith lined up wide left. He took a handoff from Nick Foles and rolled out to his right. He threw an incomplete pass to Zach Ertz in the end zone. Foles had to throw the ball away on second down, and hit DeSean Jackson for five yards on third. That set up the fourth-and-goal play. Kelly decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. Foles was stuffed on the keeper and Dallas had a huge shot of momentum.

Stock watch: Falling: Nick Foles. It didn’t tank completely, but Foles’ stock fell within the game. In the first half, he was terrific, completing 12 of 16 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns -- a passer rating of 155.5. In the second half, Dallas started getting pressure as Foles struggled to get rid of the ball. Foles was 3-of-8 for 41 yards and a passer rating of 54.7 in the third quarter. He was sacked twice in the quarter, fumbling the ball away on his own 20-yard line. It’s the kind of mistake Foles had avoided all season. The defense held the Cowboys to a field goal to minimize the damage.

What’s next: The Eagles host the Saints (11-5) Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field. The Saints are 3-5 on the road this season. The Eagles have won their past four home games after enduring a 10-game home losing streak. It will be Kelly’s first NFL playoff game, although he does have plenty of experience coaching on Saturdays.

Halftime thoughts on Eagles

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
10:05
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Philadelphia Eagles lead the Dallas Cowboys 17-10 at halftime in their game to determine who wins the NFC East and hosts the New Orleans Saints in a playoff game next weekend.

Some quick thoughts:

Nick Foles told the truth. That first Dallas game was not stuck in his craw. Foles was accurate, authoritative and not afraid to take some risks. He threaded two defenders for a 16-yard throw to Riley Cooper in the first quarter. His jump balls to Jason Avant and Brent Celek set up the Eagles’ second-quarter touchdowns.

LeSean McCoy set the Eagles’ franchise record for rushing yards in a season on a 16-yard run in the second quarter. Wilbert Montgomery’s 1979 record of 1,512 yards lasted 34 years. McCoy had 51 rushing yards in the first half for a season total of 1,527.

Mychal Kendricks was the Eagles’ defensive MVP. He ended the Cowboys’ first drive deep in Eagles territory by knocking the ball out of DeMarco Murray’s hands. (Cornerback Bradley Fletcher recovered.) In the second quarter, Kendricks caught a ball that tight end Jason Witten dropped. The Eagles scored 10 of their 17 points off the two turnovers.

PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly became the Eagles' head coach in January. He might have become Philadelphia's head coach Sunday night.

At about 4 p.m. ET, the Dallas Cowboys beat Washington with a late comeback, robbing the Eagles of a chance to clinch the division against the Chicago Bears. By about 9 p.m., the Eagles had a 21-0 lead on their way to a dominating 54-11 victory over a team that had its own division title on the line.

All that speculation about resting starters for the must-win game in Dallas next Sunday? Forget about it.

"Very simply, we're from Philadelphia and we fight," Kelly said. "If there's a game on, we're playing. End of story. And all this stuff about backing in, not worrying, all these other things, I have no idea.

"So many scenarios. What if there's a tie when we go play Dallas next week and we gave a game away last week? If we're going to line up and kick off, tell us what time to show up and we'll be there."

If there aren't “We're from Philadelphia and we fight” T-shirts rolling off a silk-screen machine somewhere, someone is missing a golden opportunity.

Kelly's demeanor might have been different if one of his key players had been injured. But that didn't happen. Even better, the players who might have been candidates for the injury-avoidance program were the ones who delivered the biggest momentum-building performances of the game.

LeSean McCoy ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns to retain his place atop the NFL rushing leaders list and position himself to break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record for yards in a season next week. McCoy needs just 37 yards to break the mark of 1,512 yards.

Quarterback Nick Foles was nearly perfect, completing 21 of 25 passes (84 percent) for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Coming off an inconsistent performance against the Vikings, Foles now goes to Dallas with a hot hand.

“I'm just excited to play another game,” Foles said. “I know what's on the line. Everybody knows what's on the line. I'm excited for the opportunity.”

Trent Cole, the oldest player on the Eagles' defense, sacked Jay Cutler on the Bears' third play from scrimmage, setting a tone and forcing the Bears to punt. Cole had three sacks, his most in a game in three years.

“I was very excited for this game,” Cole said. “This is just the start. Coming off a loss like that, it's good for confidence in the team. This does build momentum for us going into Dallas. That's the start of our playoffs right there.”

Kelly convinced his team to treat this as a big game. The way his players responded has to be considered a good sign as they prepare for the franchise's biggest game since a playoff loss to Green Bay here after the 2011 season.

“It's going to be the biggest show on earth,” Cole said. “It's going to be a circus down there, like always.”

“This is what we want,” said linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who sacked Cutler twice and forced a fumble. “We're on the biggest stage. We're in Dallas' stadium, which is a great place to play. We're excited.”

Not only did the Eagles not want to sit this one out, veterans were volunteering for hazardous duty. With key special teamers Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson sidelined by injuries, starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher were covering kickoffs -- as if holding receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in check wasn't enough to worry about.

“Whatever it takes, man,” Williams said. “No 'I' in 'team.' Coach needed me to do that, then dang it, I'm going to do it. It didn't matter. It was a great game plan we had in place. There were a lot of DBs out there. It didn't bother us, because the game was so significant. We wanted to get back to winning ways.”

Fletcher forced Bears kickoff returner Devin Hester to fumble in the first quarter. Williams recovered, giving the Eagles the ball at the Chicago 39.

“That's what we do,” nickel corner and special-teams regular Brandon Boykin said. “That's our personality. The starters on kickoffs, that's the want-to, that's the attitude of our team. Get the job done no matter who's out there.”

The Eagles scored on McCoy's 1-yard run five plays later, their second touchdown in 2 minutes, 10 seconds. It was 14-0, and the Eagles were on their way.

It was hard to believe they were the same players who got crushed by the Vikings the week before.

“Redeeming ourselves,” Boykin said. “That was huge, man. It was a great team win. Knowing where we are, knowing our possibilities, we wanted to come out and get our momentum rolling again. Especially at home, Sunday night football. There's nothing better.”

It's also hard to believe this is the same Eagles offense that failed to score a touchdown against the Cowboys here in the teams' first meeting this season. That was Oct. 20. The Eagles lost the next week to the Giants, falling to 3-5 at the midway point of the season.

They are 6-1 since then, with the only loss that mystifying game in Minnesota.

“We stumbled when we were in Minnesota,” Kelly said. “Minnesota beat us and played better than us that day. But we weren't going to let Minnesota beat us twice.”

Now the task is not letting Dallas beat them twice. Win next week, and they earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC. For Kelly, it also would mean eliminating the rival Cowboys. There's no better way to win over Eagles fans.

“One down, one to go,” Kelly said.

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