Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Fairley

It took three quarters, but Philadelphia finally began going to its zone-read rushes in the fourth quarter on Sunday during the Eagles’ 34-20 win against Detroit.

And it changed the game.

Perhaps no play shifted things more than LeSean McCoy's 57-yard run in the fourth quarter, a touchdown where Detroit’s once-stout run defense fell completely apart, part of a fourth quarter when the Lions couldn’t stop anything or any rusher the Eagles used.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Michael PerezLeSean McCoy ran past Detroit's Louis Delmas, 26, on his way to a 57-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
It was the second big touchdown rush of the game for Philadelphia, and was the last time the Lions had the lead Sunday.

Everything Detroit tried to do on the play essentially failed.

The Eagles lined up in shotgun with 13:24 left in the fourth quarter and the Lions up, 20-14. They had McCoy to the right of quarterback Nick Foles and three receivers to the left side, the side McCoy would eventually try to run to.

Detroit had its nickel package on the field, including two defensive backs playing within two yards of the line of scrimmage. Foles snapped the ball and used a zone-read to eventually give the ball to McCoy moving forward behind the left side of his offensive line.

At the time the ball was snapped, the Eagles' offensive line also had a good jump on the Detroit defensive front. Nick Fairley was blocked wide to open the hole for McCoy, and he was also blocked into linebacker DeAndre Levy, essentially taking him out of the play as well.

This was only the start of Detroit’s issues on the play.

“It was just a missed run fit, somebody was in the wrong gap and they split us,” Levy said.

This opened up a hole for McCoy, who was already at the second level and almost the third level of the defense. This was what he did much more effectively in the fourth quarter -- he essentially made one cut and then accelerated forward.

Meanwhile, the Lions were struggling with assignments and tackles.

“They lost gap integrity a couple times,” Philadelphia center Jason Kelce said. “That’s when you saw Shady (McCoy) get those big runs.”

Once McCoy got past the initial line, Stephen Tulloch was slow on his read of the run, taking him out of the play. Ndamukong Suh appeared to be held early on the play as well, but he likely wasn’t going to be able to get there fast enough to make the play at the line.

What turned this particular run into a touchdown was receiver Jason Avant. The veteran was downfield and had Detroit nickel back Bill Bentley blocked well. What sealed the touchdown was the angle safety Louis Delmas took to the ball.

It appeared Delmas was heading the opposite direction of McCoy anyway, but then Avant blocked Bentley into Delmas, knocking him off track as well. Delmas then tried to catch McCoy, as did Willie Young from the back side of the run on the line, but neither could catch him.

“Missed tackles, missed tackles,” Delmas said. “You’ve got to find a way to get the ball on the ground. You’ve got to grab cloth or pick up a snowball and hit him in the back of the head with it.

“But you’ve got to find a way and we didn’t.”

Young actually ended up being the closest player to McCoy when he reached the end zone. Delmas dove for him after the mistake and missed, and Rashean Mathis couldn’t catch up with him, either.

It was just part of what Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said were 180 yards after missed tackles Sunday. And part of what was a record-setting day from McCoy.

“The guys up front gave me opportunities one-on-one by blowing those guys off the ball,” McCoy said about his running game in general. “I think everybody was so intimidated and scared up front, but I thought the big guys on my team took the challenge and stepped up.

“The whole week they talked about just running the ball and giving me different matchups one-on-one. Not only myself, but with the backs that we have, I think in one-on-one opportunities, we’re going to win. (Sunday), that’s what happened.”
LeSean McCoyHoward Smith/USA TODAY SportsLeSean McCoy, right, gained 217 yards Sunday, setting a new single-game team rushing record.
PHILADELPHIA -- Whether you're Chip Kelly or Bode Miller, the best way to handle 3 1/2 inches of fresh snow is the same.

Go downhill. Fast.

The Eagles weren't able to build a freestyle course in time for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. But they were able to turn running back LeSean McCoy loose, letting him freestyle his way to a franchise-record 217 rushing yards -- including game-changing touchdown runs of 40 and 57 yards.

"It was very tough, especially with this defense, to go lateral," Kelly said. "We learned with the weather that it was very difficult to go lateral. We felt like we had to get a downhill game going."

In football talk, of course, that means running straight ahead rather than skiing down a slope. The problem here was that the Lions' defensive line, with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the middle, is very good against the run. The Lions had held their past six opponents to fewer than 70 total rushing yards.

The Eagles ran for 299 yards Sunday -- 244 of them after halftime. McCoy ran for 148 yards and both touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

He regained the NFL rushing lead from Adrian Peterson, who was injured Sunday. McCoy has 1,305 rushing yards on the season.

"He's obviously a great player," wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. "He's done great things in this offense. As long as I have known him, he's been doing great things. It's a blessing to have that guy on our team."

Listening to his teammates marvel, you'd think McCoy can walk on water. In this game, he did. It was frozen, which made McCoy's cuts and moves that much more impressive.

"It was insane," tight end Brent Celek said. "Sometimes it felt like there were eight inches of snow out there. When you would step, you wouldn't be touching the grass. The fact that he was doing that, it's insane."

McCoy's Twitter handle, @CutonDime25, is a not-so-humble reference to his ability to change direction and leave defenders with armfuls of nothing. He wasn't able to make the really sharp moves, but then, the Lions' defenders were hampered at least as much.

"To be honest, it was definitely tough," McCoy said. "You just didn't have the normal footing and traction that you get when stopping and cutting. Sometimes I couldn't really plant. I can usually plant on a dime, but it all worked out. The guys were giving me so much room.

"I feel like it is a mental thing. Obviously, it's going to be tough because of the snow and weather, but you don't think about it when you're running."

The Eagles had minus-2 yards of total offense in the first quarter. They weren't much better in the second and were trailing 8-0 at halftime. After Detroit's Jeremy Ross returned a punt 58 yards for a third-quarter touchdown, it was 14-0 and the game seemed out of reach. That's how extreme the conditions were and how poorly the Eagles seemed to be handling them.

But quarterback Nick Foles threw two passes -- a 44-yarder that Riley Cooper caught while rolling through the snow like a sled and a 19-yard touchdown to Jackson -- to make it 14-6 (there was no kicking game in this one).

"I think we took some shots deep, which kind of set [the Lions] back a little bit," McCoy said. "The guys up front gave me opportunities one-on-one by blowing those guys off the ball. I just felt with how well the line was blocking today, we would gash them once Nick started throwing the ball."

"We just kind of kept poking and prodding and then we started to move the ball," Kelly said. "When we got in here at halftime, I thought our offensive staff did a good job of putting together some formations of how to run some things and what we could come back with."

Center Jason Kelce said Kelly's scheme was designed "to attack the explosion out of [their defense]. Those guys rely on such explosion, and I think that slowed them down a bit. I think as we got the game going, we realized the snow was taking them out of their game, in terms of the defensive ends being able to rush up the field quickly. We just had some success moving the ball vertically and the coaches picked up on that."

Vertically. Downhill. North and south. Whatever you call it, McCoy was suddenly unstoppable. He broke a 40-yard run to tie the game. After Ross took the kickoff back 98 yards for a second touchdown return, the Eagles came back with the same offensive approach.

"We just weren't firing off the ball," Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said. "We really had to slow it up and let the Lions linebackers overrun their gaps. Then we just sealed off and Shady [McCoy] hit them on the back side for long runs."

McCoy broke a 57-yarder to give the Eagles the lead for good 22-20. Chris Polk ran 38 yards for another fourth-quarter touchdown. Foles took one in from the 1-yard line.

In the fourth quarter, McCoy broke Steve Van Buren's 64-year-old franchise record of 205 rushing yards in a game.

It was a win that gave the Eagles an 8-5 record, doubling their win total from last season. It kept pressure on the Dallas Cowboys, who have to beat the Bears in Chicago to keep pace in the NFC East race. Mostly, it was a comeback win in adverse conditions that represented another step in the growth of this team in Kelly's first season.

"I don't think this group gives up," Kelly said. "I think they've got way too much invested, and I think the more you have invested in something, it's a lot more difficult to quit."

With three games left, as Bode Miller might have said, it's all downhill from here.
Fairley/FolesGetty ImagesNick Fairley and the Lions' defense will have their hands full slowing down Eagles QB Nick Foles.
The Philadelphia Eagles have exceeded expectations so far in coach Chip Kelly's first season. The Detroit Lions have arguably fallen a little short of expectations in coach Jim Schwartz's fifth season.

When the two 7-5 teams meet in Philadelphia, it won't matter how they got there. The Eagles and Lions are both in position to win their division titles, and a win Sunday will be a major step toward achieving that goal.

The game will feature two potent but very different offenses. Nick Foles may not be the bona fide franchise quarterback that Matthew Stafford is, but he is the hottest quarterback in the league over the past five weeks. The Eagles' defense may lack stars like Ndamukong Suh, but it is playing better every week as a group. Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush will provide its toughest test since the Denver disaster back in September.

ESPN.com reporters Michael Rothstein, who covers the Lions, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, took a look at some key issues in a game with major playoff implications.

Sheridan: The NFC North race has been deeply affected by quarterback injuries, with Chicago's Jay Cutler and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers out of the picture lately. Despite a healthy and productive Stafford, the Lions haven't been able to separate from the rest. What are some key reasons for that?

Rothstein: It starts with turnovers and inconsistency. The Lions' defensive line, the same group that dominated on Thanksgiving, largely disappeared in some earlier games. Turnovers are a major issue, too. The Lions have three or more turnovers in four of their past five games. Against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, that was a key factor in those losses. Detroit is a very talented team that continues to feel like a group still finding out exactly how it wants to play. But it does start with those turnovers. A couple of the Lions' players even told me after Thursday's game -- by far the Lions' best performance this season -- that turnovers were still a major issue. And Detroit committed four of them and still scored 40 points. If they do that Sunday, the Lions will be leaving with a loss.

Speaking of turnovers, Foles appears allergic to mistakes, especially turnovers, this season. Is it all fitting in with Chip Kelly's system? Maturation? Magic? Something different? What has turned him into this quarterback this season?

Sheridan: There is almost certainly an element of magic involved. By that I mean that Foles has had a bit of luck on his side. He threw two would-be interceptions to Patrick Peterson Sunday, for instance. DeSean Jackson batted one away and a penalty negated the other. But there is no doubt that Foles has played extremely well and with remarkable poise and confidence. He has fully embraced and absorbed Kelly's offense, which includes sound pass protection and a great running game -- two of every quarterback's best friends. Foles has been accurate and unafraid to trust his receivers to make plays on the ball. If you make good decisions and sharp throws in a well-designed offense, it turns out pretty much like what we've seen from Foles the past two months.

The Eagles felt pretty good about running their offense effectively against good Tampa Bay and Arizona defenses. The Lions seem like a new challenge with that front of theirs. Was the Thanksgiving game a sign the Lions have gotten it going on defense or are they just as likely to disappear in the face of Kelly's uptempo, unorthodox offense?

Rothstein: It's tough to say because the Lions haven't really seen this type of offense before, although I'm guessing the three younger guys on the line -- tackle Nick Fairley and ends Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor -- are somewhat familiar from their recent college days. Getting pressure with the front four -- and, at least last week, well-timed blitzes from linebackers and safeties -- is still going to be the key for any Detroit defensive success. And doing it for one week doesn't make it a guarantee that it'll continue. Even though he doesn't have huge stats, Suh has been a consistent force up front and if he and Fairley can get going early, it opens things up for Ansah on the outside.

The pressure key, though, is more important for Detroit's cornerbacks. The Lions have been very inconsistent there this season, but they were able to take the first read away from Green Bay's Matt Flynn a lot. By doing that, it gave the defensive line an extra second to get to Flynn so it all worked together. But it has been a matter of consistency, which the Lions have not had there this season.

Since we were talking about the Detroit defensive line, the Lions have been extremely good against the run. They haven't allowed a rushing touchdown in two months and have gone six straight games holding teams under 70 yards rushing total. Some of this is the proliferation of passing in the NFL, but considering LeSean McCoy's numbers this season, how much do the Eagles try running before sticking with Foles and his arm?

Sheridan: One of the most striking differences between Kelly and Andy Reid, a guy I covered for 14 years and respect a lot, is that Kelly is very committed to the run. He sticks with it almost no matter what, with the belief that it will eventually wear a defense down. Reid would abandon the run game after two or three unsuccessful plays. Early in the season, McCoy was on pace to break the NFL record for rushing attempts in a season. He is now on pace for 100 fewer carries than that, about 310. That's because Foles' success in the passing game has allowed Kelly to be more balanced. A few teams -- the Giants and Cowboys, especially -- were able to shut the Eagles' running game down. Arizona did a good job of it in the second half. But Kelly hasn't completely abandoned it in any of those games. If that changes Sunday, it will mean he really thinks the Lions' defense is invulnerable to it.

The Eagles were moderately successful keeping Larry Fitzgerald from going off last week. Johnson is another matter. Has anyone been really effective in stopping Megatron and, if so, how did they go about it? Does it take an elite corner or an elite scheme? A drone strike?

Rothstein: The team that has been most successful in limiting Johnson this season has been ... the Detroit Lions. There have been times during games this season when the Lions have seemed to go away from the best receiver in football, most notably in the second half against Pittsburgh, when he had no catches. Darrelle Revis has been pretty good on Johnson as well, but for the most part, it takes a really good scheme to keep the ball out of his hands. Unless you have a corner like Revis, usually some sort of bracketing of Johnson can be effective. But the Lions are OK with that happening because it opens up the field for Bush and Nate Burleson. That was a big reason the Lions got Bush -- just for that.

This kind of leads into my last question. Philadelphia's pass defense has been both poor and porous this season. Do they have any sort of manpower to match up with Johnson -- and to a lesser extent Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Kris Durham and Bush -- or could this be another game like he had against the Cowboys or Bengals?

Sheridan: Before getting to the answer (spoiler alert: It's no, the Eagles can't match up with Johnson), let me clarify a bit. It's true that the numbers show the Eagles to be terrible as far as yards allowed. They really have given up vast chunks of yardage. But they are keeping teams out of the end zone, and that is giving the offense breathing room to function.

While insisting the Eagles' defense is better than its stats, I have to say this matchup could be the one that breaks some of those trends. Stafford is better than Carson Palmer and Johnson is better than anyone, so this may be the week the yards translate into more points. The Eagles' strength right now is their front seven, and if they can get pressure on Stafford and force him into some of the mistakes he is prone to making, that will go a long way toward covering up the mismatches on the back end.

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