Eagles

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Raiders

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Raiders

BOX SCORE

I have no idea how they won this game. But they did win this game, and the Eagles are now securely the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff bracket.

The defense forced five second-half turnovers, Jake Elliott made his second long game-winning field goal of his rookie season and the Eagles overcame a lackluster performance by Nick Foles to find their way to 13-2 with one meaningless game left against the Cowboys Sunday.

Eagles 19, Raiders 10, in a game the Eagles appeared to be on the brink of losing with a minute left (see breakdown).

Somehow.

Onto the playoffs!

1. All year, the Eagles have stared adversity in the face and laughed at it, and they did it again Monday night, stealing a game they had no business winning and clinching No. 1 seed in the process. Despite an offense that did virtually nothing after halftime, the Eagles somehow sent everybody home from the Linc happy after a long, cold, weird night. They did the impossible. And that's what this team is best at.

2. The Eagles' defense really showed me something down the stretch. They gave up a bunch of big plays early but made plays when they had to, forcing five turnovers in the second half, two of them deep in Eagles territory. Vinny Curry forced a Marshawn Lynch fumble, Patrick Robinson and Ronald Darby picked off Derek Carr and Malcolm Jenkins forced a Jalen Richard fumble. Darby's INT led to the winning field goal — all in the span of 20 minutes. While the Eagles' offense was stalled, the defense held the Raiders to 41 yards with five turnovers on their last nine drives of the game. The offense has won a few games for this team, and Monday night, it was the defense's turn. There are still a lot of big questions facing this football team. Some will say this was an ugly win, but the standings say 13-2 and No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff bracket, and there's nothing ugly about that.

3. As well as Foles played Sunday at the Meadowlands, this was a disaster. And certainly not the sort of performance you wanted to see three weeks before the postseason opener. Foles was victimized by a couple drops, but he was largely ineffective and totally unable to get the ball down the field to his wide receivers, who combined for five catches for just 40 yards with a long gain of 12 yards. Foles needed to attack that 23rd-ranked Raiders pass defense far more aggressively than he did. Foles had guys open down the field, but either missed them or elected to throw underneath instead. What's most alarming is Foles got worse as the game went on. He was just 6 for 17 for 44 yards with no TDs and an interception in the second half — a 19.5 passer rating. He did hit a few short passes in the final moments to get into field goal range, but Foles has to be dramatically better if the Eagles have any hope of beating a playoff team. This was terrible (see report card).

4. Key point late in the second quarter was Foles throwing the ball away on 3rd-and-4 from the 15-yard line just before halftime when he had Corey Clement wide open just past the sticks. Can't afford to miss those chances. Elliott missed a short field goal, and the Eagles ended up getting nothing when they had a chance to go into the locker room with some momentum.

5. And speaking of big plays … the Eagles had 10 offensive plays of 40 yards or more in their first 11 games and just two in the last four. It's not just in the passing game that the Eagles have lost their explosiveness. The long runs we saw earlier in the year have largely evaporated as well. Something else the Eagles have to figure out in the next three weeks.

6. The Raiders had nothing to play for. They flew across the country. They had to play on Christmas far from home. A team like that, the last thing you want to do is give them a reason to play, and that's exactly what the Eagles did. During their nine-game winning streak, the Eagles jumped on people early, outscoring their nine victims 68-15 in the first quarter. Taking command early. The last month, they just haven't started out strong, and it's snowballed. They've been outscored 37-28 in the first quarter the last four games, and although they managed to come back late and beat the Rams and Giants, it's a dangerous way to operate. You hoped getting back home after three road games would solve the Eagles issues with slow starts, but it happened again Monday night, and the Eagles never recovered.

7. We don't talk enough about Robinson, but in a very young group of corners, the 30-year-old veteran has been really good this year. His interception Monday night was his team-leading fourth this year, tying his career high set with the Saints in 2011. The Eagles have historically had terrible results acquiring veteran corners — you know the names — but Robinson has been a pleasant surprise after a disastrous training camp. He's the first Eagles corner with four INTs in a season since Brandon Boykin in 2013 and the first who the Eagles acquired from another team since Asante Samuel in 2010. He's been sound in coverage and when he jumps a route, he rarely guesses wrong. And he's been a good tackler.

8. Since Darren Sproles got hurt in Week 3, the Eagles really haven't thrown to the backs very much. LeGarrette Blount isn't a receiver, and Clement has good hands and has made a few plays on third down but doesn't play enough to make a big impact in the screen game. In fact, going into Monday night's game, Wendell Smallwood — who's been inactive the last five weeks — had the most receptions of all Eagles running backs. But the last two weeks, Jay Ajayi has looked pretty sharp in the screen game. Ajayi has never been much of a receiver. He only caught 48 passes in 31 games with the Dolphins, but in the Giants game, he had a couple catches for 40 receiving yards — second-most in his career — and Monday night, he turned a screen into a 17-yard touchdown, his first career receiving TD. This offense operates so much better with a running back who can make plays as a receiver, and it's encouraging to see Ajayi show signs of becoming that guy.

9. Marshawn Lynch is not the Marshawn Lynch of old, but he sure moved the chains against the Eagles Monday night. And that just shouldn't happen. Lynch is averaging just 53 yards per game, but he hammered the Eagles for 95 yards on 25 carries, his second-most yards this year and third-most since 2014. The Eagles' run defense has been stout all year, but add it to the list of concerns going down the stretch here. That's the most rushing yards the Eagles have allowed in their last 26 games.

10. This is where I was going to ask if the Eagles have a kicker issue. After Elliott missed a 33-yarder? His third miss inside 40 yards all year? Second-most misses inside 40 yards of any NFL kicker this year? Then he bombs a game-winning 48-yarder with 22 seconds left and just like that, Elliott is once again a hero in Philadelphia. That was a tough kick in tricky wind, but he crushed it. That kid showed me a lot.

Corey Clement adding element Eagles didn't expect

ap-eagles-corey-clement.jpg
AP Images

Corey Clement adding element Eagles didn't expect

Corey Clement corrected himself.

His initial answer, when asked how far he's come as a receiver this year, was, "I think I've really come a long way."

Then he stopped, smiled and reconsidered.

“I think in a funny way I don’t think I made that big a leap," he said. "Because I always knew I could catch."

Clement never caught the ball at Glassboro High. Never caught the ball at Wisconsin. Never caught the ball during the regular season.

So guess who the Eagles' leading receiver was in their playoff win over the Falcons.

Who else?

"Five catches … that's not just a career high, it's probably my highest in life," Clement said laughing. "My lifetime high."

Clement caught five passes for 31 yards in the Eagles' 15-10 win over the Falcons at the Linc. The numbers may seem modest, but considering that Clement had only 29 catches in 39 games in four years in Madison and caught just 10 passes during the regular season, it's eye-opening.

Clement became the first undrafted rookie running back in NFL history to catch five passes in a playoff game and became only the ninth running back in Eagles postseason history to catch five passes in a game.

“[He's come] really far," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "We've said it all year, that's been a surprise, a running back from Wisconsin who is running power [in college]. You’re not thinking he's going to come in here and be your third-down back. But he's worked very hard at it and really made a role for himself."

Clement is a very good ball carrier — he averaged 4.3 yards per carry during the regular season — but on a team with Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, he's not going to get very many carries. He had just one for five yards last Saturday, on one of the Eagles' last plays of the game.

But none of the Eagles' other backs are much in the way of receivers. In fact, this was the first year since 1956 the Eagles didn't have a running back with at least 15 catches. And they were the only NFL team without a back catching 15 passes.

Wendell Smallwood is probably their best receiving back, but he's been inactive since the Eagles acquired Ajayi.
 
"I know in college I had one season (junior year) where I had only two catches," Clement said. "It just shows you that some of the college coaches got to give you an opportunity to catch.

"But I knew the opportunity I was walking into. It’s a running school and that’s the offense we ran, so I knew I wasn’t going to catch much.

"I’m happy with where I came from and I wouldn’t want it to be any different, but I know what I can do. I know I can catch the ball, but at the same time I know I can get a lot better at it as well.”

Clement never caught more than three passes in a game in college and had only three catches in the Eagles' first 10 games (two for touchdowns) before recording seven in the last six regular-season games.

A functioning screen game can be a terrific tool to offset an aggressive, pursuing defense like the Vikings' highly regarded unit. It's something the Eagles have been missing much of the year.

So Clement's emergence as a legitimate receiving back is timely on an offense that's lacked punch since Carson Wentz got hurt.

"First of all, he's getting better in route running," Doug Pederson said. "We've got to be smart as a staff on how we use our running backs. People can start keying in on certain guys and certain personnel groups, so we've got to make sure that we mix things up.

"He's one of those guys that I feel like we're getting more comfortable with throwing him the football whether it's a screen or down the field, and you saw a couple out of the backfield to him and one big third-down play there. He catches well and he's done a nice job."

Still, this is all new to Clement.

And he's learning as he goes.

"I’m getting a lot of help from (Nick) Foles and the other receivers on how to pinpoint a ball at a better location, so I think the ball is slowed down a lot for me in the air as far as looking it in and keeping it secure once I get it," he said.

"There’s so many fine points that I can keep working on, but I think as far as making a tremendous leap, I think I’m in a good position to keep excelling, especially going into the offseason."

Clement's five catches last Saturday are the fourth-most in Eagles history by a rookie in a playoff game, behind Keith Jackson and Jeremy Maclin (seven) and DeSean Jackson (six). 

The previous record, believe it or not, was two, shared by Heath Sherman, Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook.

“I think it helps me stay on the field, just to show them I can run after the catch as well and not basically be a rock out there catching the ball," Clement said.

"Just showing versatility and staying calm out there is big, because I know I can catch, but if you make the game bigger than what it is, you’ll start doing weird crap. So I kind of just stay to the fundamentals and just play fast."

Eagles' D or Vikings' D? Cox ready to answer

Eagles' D or Vikings' D? Cox ready to answer

Before the Eagles faced the Falcons, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was ready to prove himself. He wanted his high-priced defensive line to show it was worth the money, and he wanted to lead the way. 

Cox barely left the field on Saturday. 

And he dominated. 

"Me taking a lot of snaps, I get in a whole lot of rhythm," Cox said on Wednesday. "I think that affected my play and everybody else just followed. 

"I just said to myself, 'Go out and take over the game and everybody else will follow.' I think it kind of rubbed off on them."

The Eagles' Pro Bowl defensive tackle finished the divisional round game with seven combined tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He led the way for the Eagles' defense in the 15-10 win. 

Cox was an absolute game-wrecker. 

"He was a man on a mission and just took a lot of it upon himself and got the rest of the D-line going a little bit," head coach Doug Pederson said. 

The Eagles went into Saturday's game with just three defensive tackles active. While Tim Jernigan (29 snaps) and Beau Allen (26 snaps) played 46 and 41 percent, respectively, Cox played 57 of 63 snaps (90 percent). 

Cox knew he was going to play a ton in that game. He was well-rested after the long layoff and was ready for his second career playoff game. 

"I was super excited," Cox said. "I wasn't coming off the field. I think I played 57 snaps. I wasn't tired. Beau always asks me how you do it. I just find a way."

The Eagles' $100 million man needs to find a way to do it again. 

On Wednesday, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer called Cox an "outstanding player," but Zimmer has some pretty impressive players on his defense too. The Vikings have the top-ranked defense in the NFL with an impressive defensive line that features pass-rusher Everson Griffen and big veteran tackle Linval Joseph. 

"I think in order for us to win this game, man, our defense is going to have to play really good," Cox said. "We know — and everybody else knows — I think this game is going to be one possession. We gotta get some takeaways on defense. 

"But at the end of the day, it's going to come down to is our D-line better than theirs? I mean, they got a dominant D-line, we have a dominant D-line. And we'll see who shows up on Sunday."

This week, the Eagles are back on their disrespect kick. For the second straight playoff game, they're going to be home underdogs as the No. 1 seed. They used it as fuel before the Atlanta game and they're going to use it as fuel as they get ready for the Vikings. 

There are going to be a bunch of dog masks inside the Linc on Sunday. 

"At the end of the day, respect is not given," Cox said. "We have to go take it like we've been doing all year. We're ready to go out and dominate."