Eagles

Eagles' starting O colder than the temperature

Eagles' starting O colder than the temperature

BOX SCORE

Frigid temperatures at the Linc on Sunday were in the teens. The wind chill dipped into single digits.

The Eagles' starting offense was colder.

Nick Foles didn't inspire much confidence as he and the starters put together a lackluster four drives in the first quarter as the Eagles eventually went on to lose the meaningless regular-season finale to the Cowboys by a score of 6-0 in an absolute snooze-fest (see Roob's observations).  

Before Sunday, the last time the Eagles were shut out was the last game of the 2009 season. The last time they were shut out at home was in 2005 against the Seahawks.

The good news is, the Eagles' defense played well for most of the afternoon and the entire team escaped without any real injuries.

The bad news is, confidence in Foles might be at an all-time low with a playoff game just two weeks away (see report card).

With the loss, the Eagles finished the regular season with a 13-3 record and failed to win the meaningless game that would have given them their first 14-win season in franchise history.

The Cowboys won and finished their season with a 9-7 record, which doesn't look terrible, but they missed the playoffs and had an extremely disappointing season a year after they were the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Sunday's game was the first scoreless game through three quarters in the NFL since December 2007.

The first half was brutal too. It was 0-0 after 30 minutes. The highlight of the first half was when punter Donnie Jones forgot to take off his warmup pants and had to do it in a hurry before booting a ball to the Dallas 4-yard line.

This was the first time an Eagles-Cowboys game had ever been scoreless at halftime, according to ESPN. It was the first scoreless half in Philadelphia since 1993.

It was the first scoreless game at halftime in the entire NFL since December 2011.

Turning point
The Cowboys put together a 99-yard touchdown drive after Jones pinned them at the centimeter mark. It put them up 6-0 after Dan Bailey's missed extra point. That's all they needed. 

Key stat
Foles was 4 for 11 for 39 yards and an interception. He had a passer rating of 9.3.

He became the first Eagles quarterback to have a passer rating under 10 with at least 10 passing attempts in a game since Donovan McNabb in 2007. He's the second player in the NFL to do it this season, joining Matt Cassel.

Offensive stud
No, he wasn't great, but Nate Sudfeld made a few good plays, including a 22-yard scramble. Sports talk radio will be fun in Philly for the next two weeks.

Offensive dud
Foles was pretty terrible in his four first-quarter drives. Maybe the offense could have put up points if Torrey Smith doesn't drop a pass on third down on the first drive, but it's hard to say. Foles didn't gain any confidence Sunday afternoon.

Defensive stud
Vinny Curry was forced to play a lot Sunday because Brandon Graham was out. He played really well. He was a force against the run, even after most of the other starters were out.

Defensive dud
Rasul Douglas didn't have a great game (see rookie report). He had a particularly bad series on the Cowboys' scoring drive early in the fourth quarter. He was beaten on a 20-yard slant for the touchdown.

Sidney Jones watch
Jones played some significant time in his NFL debut and had an up and down day. He showed he can play tight coverage at times. He did let Ezekiel Elliott get wide on him for a first-down run and later was beaten by Terrence Williams on a sluggo route, but the pass fell incomplete.

Jones left briefly in the third quarter after cramping and didn't return, although he was listed as probable to return.

Key plays
• Dak Prescott hit Brice Butler for a 20-yard touchdown pass to break the scoreless tie in the fourth quarter. Douglas was beaten on the play. That capped a 99-yard touchdown drive. It was the only score of the game.

• Sudfeld scrambled for 22 yards on third down in the third quarter, but the Eagles' offense stalled. Then Jones drilled a perfect punt that went out inside the Cowboys' 1-yard line.

• On Sudfeld's second drive, the Eagles started in Dallas territory, but Mack Hollins dropped a pass on first down. Then came a short run and a sack. That was the Eagles' best chance to score in the first half.

• Foles threw a terrible interception about 2/3s through the first quarter. He just underthrew the pass terribly.

• The Eagles stuffed Elliott on fourth down on the Cowboys' first drive.

• On a key third down in the first quarter, Smith dropped a pass on third down when he was wide open. The fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

Injuries
Graham (ankle) sat out Sunday's game. He should be good to go for the playoffs. Same with Jalen Mills (ankle).

Up next
It's playoff time at the Linc in two weeks.

By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

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AP Images

By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

Bill Belichick didn’t win a playoff game until his fourth year as an NFL head coach and didn’t reach a conference title game until his seventh year.

Don Shula didn’t win a playoff game until his sixth year as a head coach.

It took Dick Vermeil four years to win a playoff game, Dan Reeves six years, Tom Landry eight.

Heck, Pete Carroll didn’t reach a conference title game until his third head coaching stop, and Marv Levy didn’t even get to the playoffs until his eighth year as a head coach.

Just a little context.

Pederson has been magnificent this year, and out of everybody we talk about who’s played a role in the Eagles' success — from Carson Wentz to Nick Foles, Howie Roseman to Joe Douglas, Fletcher Cox to Malcolm Jenkins, Jim Schwartz to John DiFillippo, Jason Kelce to Alshon Jeffery — Pederson is the common thread that’s tied all of it together.

We saw last year that Pederson had a rare ability to keep a team together when faced with adversity. Whether it was the whole Sam Bradford situation before the season, Lane Johnson’s suspension, a couple arrests, two players publicly speaking out about mental health, or just keeping the thing on the rails after three straight late-season ugly losses, Pederson won over his players by confronting each issue openly and professionally and treating his players like grown men.

By the time the team training camp ended this past summer, Pederson had earned the respect of the veterans by preaching discipline without being over the top about it and by constantly keeping the lines of communication open with his players. 

Here’s a young, inexperienced coach who had a long but undistinguished playing career and no real track record or resume as a head coach trying to convince a locker room of Super Bowl winners and all-pros that he knows what he’s doing.

But he did that. Just by being himself. Tough, smart, open, honest.

And once you get guys like Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Peters, LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery to buy in, the younger guys just fall in line. 

And that might be the biggest challenge any head coach faces. Getting guys to believe in his message. To believe in him.

But Pederson has tremendous instincts when dealing with people, a real natural, honest way of getting his point across, and it enabled him to seamlessly win over the locker room. 

Once that happened, this team was built to withstand whatever challenge it faced. To withstand whatever roadblocks stood in its way.

And as it turned out, there were plenty of them. 

We don't have to run down the littany of season-ending injuries the Eagles faced, but what this team has accomplished without its MVP quarterback, its Hall of Fame left tackle, its best linebacker, its all-pro returner and its top special teamer is nothing less than astonishing.

Nick Foles is their quarterback and they're in the NFC Championship Game.

Think about the last month.

They came from behind in Los Angeles to beat the Rams after Wentz got hurt. They beat the Giants on the road. They beat the Raiders to clinch No. 1 seed. They "upset" the Falcons in a conference semifinal playoff game. 

For this football team to be one home win away from the Super Bowl after all it has been through speaks volumes about Pederson. He's guided this franchise through adversity that would have crushed some locker rooms, and he's done it in his second year as a head coach above the high school level.

Pederson found a way to get 53 guys to believe in themselves even when very few other people did. And they returned the favor by consistently playing smart, physical, disciplined football for him no matter who the opponent, no matter what the score, no matter how long that Injured Reserve list grew.

This has been a masterful year for Pederson, and anybody who can't see that just isn't looking very hard.

Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

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USA Today Images

Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

Jay Ajayi wasn't hurt Saturday night. So why did he barely play after a huge first quarter?

Ajayi dominated the first quarter of the Eagles' 15-10 playoff win over the Falcons at the Linc with seven carries for 49 yards. But after a one-yard carry a minute into the second quarter, he didn't touch the ball again until the third quarter.

After his hot start, he didn't even get on the field on the Eagles' last two drives of the first half.

LeGarrette Blount actually had more carries than Ajayi after the first quarter, but netted only 19 yards on nine attempts, although he did score the Eagles' only touchdown from a yard out in the second quarter.

Ajayi never got into a rhythm after his long layoff. He had eight carries for five yards after the first quarter and finished with 15 carries for 54 yards along with four catches for 44 yards, including a 32-yard catch and run that was the Eagles' longest offensive play of the game.

Head coach Doug Pederson said Monday he just wanted to get Blount some work. He also said he likes to go hurry-up after long plays and was unable to sub Ajayi while the offense was going with tempo. But there weren't any plays longer than 15 yards while Ajayi sat.

Pederson said the decision on which back to use rests with him and not running backs coach Duce Staley.

“I ultimately control the personnel," he said. "Duce doesn’t sub them. I’m the one calling the plays, so I call for those guys in particular situations, and a couple times when we broke off a long run or a pass particularly — it’s a good time to go a little tempo. So whoever the back is at the time on the field, I just kept him in there.

"And [Blount] was heating up a little bit and we wanted to get him going as well and it’s just the way it went."

Ajayi had 35 of the 86 net yards on the Eagles' only touchdown drive of the game.

After that second-quarter TD drive, the Eagles ran 15 times for 17 yards, not including three Nick Foles kneel-downs.  

Pederson said all the backs know all the plays, but he just prefers different backs depending on what the Eagles are doing offensively. 

Of the Eagles’ 67 offensive plays, Ajayi played 29, Blount 20, Corey Clement 16 and Kenjon Barner one (see Snap Counts).

"The way it is set up is by design, by scheme design, a particular back might be good at a certain run scheme so we put that back in for that particular play," he said.