Eagles

Eagles-Vikings: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Vikings: Roob's 10 observations

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They lose when they’re supposed to win, they win when they’re supposed to lose, and good luck figuring out the 2016 Eagles because I haven’t.

The Eagles on Sunday won a game they pretty much had to win, considering how rough their schedule is the next month and a half. They toppled the previously unbeaten Vikings 21-10, improving to 4-2 overall and 3-0 at home, with all three wins coming by double digits (see Instant Replay).

This was huge.

The Eagles won it the way we all knew they had to — with a furious defensive performance, a huge play on special teams, and a play here and there from the offense against a big-time Minnesota defense.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a happy 10 Obervations, so enjoy this one. And maybe read it twice!

1. For me, this game was all about whether the Eagles’ defensive line could return to form after dismal performances in Detroit and Washington and once again perform like the elite unit it claims to be. The answer was a resounding, “Aw, hell yeah.” This was a ferocious defensive performance from a group that was embarrassed the last couple weeks. Brandon Graham continued his brilliant play, Connor Barwin re-emerged after a few ineffective games, Beau Allen aquitted himself very well in place of injured Bennie Logan, and the Eagles’ defensive line took command of this game on a day when its offense couldn’t do a whole lot. Sam Bradford came back to Philly with MVP credentials, but with just a couple exceptions the D-line made sure he had no time to set his feet and find his receivers. They pounded him early and often and forced him to move in the pocket, which is where he’s at his least effective. The Eagles took it as a personal affront that the Vikings’ defense was considered the best in the league, and at least for one Sunday, they played like it was a mantle they deserve (see report card).

2. I know how much Jim Schwartz hates blitzing. It’s just not in his nature. He wants the front four to get all the pressure, and the last two weeks, when that wasn’t happening, he didn’t dial up enough blitzes to make Matt Stafford and Kirk Cousins uncomfortable in the pocket. Sunday, he mixed in the perfect number of blitzes, bringing safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins and linebackers Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham, and the blitzes did a terrific job keeping the Vikings’ front off-balance and keeping Bradford on his back.

3. Speaking of McLeod, this was quite a performance by the veteran safety, who forced a fumble, had his first career sack and also had his career-high third interception of the year. You can make a case for McLeod as the Eagles’ defensive MVP so far. He’s been so solid, and this was his best game yet.

4. Here’s what I love about Carson Wentz. Nothing bothers this kid. Nothing affects him. He’s got an uncanny ability to stay calm and poised when all sorts of chaos is happening around him. Ugly game, turnovers, interceptions, dropped snaps, dropped passes, missed blocks … none of it gets to him. None of it bothers him. That is a rare quality for anybody, much less a 23-year-old quarterback making his sixth NFL start. The Eagles had gone 21 straight possessions without an offensive touchdown going into the third quarter Sunday, and Wentz had thrown three interceptions since the Eagles’ last touchdown. But his ability to shrug all that off and drive the Eagles 77 yards in nine plays for what was essentially the clinching third-quarter touchdown shows poise and composure far beyond his years (see full breakdown here). Wentz was 3 for 3 for 60 yards on the drive, including a 19-yard gain to Darren Sproles on a broken play with a botched snap. There’s a lot to like about Wentz. His knack for shaking off adversity — for shutting out the noise and just leading the team — is remarkable for anybody. Much less a young QB just starting his career.

5. I was concerned about Ryan Mathews early in the season, but the last two weeks he’s looked very sharp, and I can only assume that the ankle injury that limited him against the Bears and Steelers was an issue up through the Lions game, even though Mathews wasn’t technically injured. The first four games of the season, Mathews ran 44 times for 146 yards, 3.3 yards per carry.  The last two he’s 23 for 116 (5.0 yards per carry), including 56 yards on 14 tough carries Sunday against the Vikings. He also had a 27-yard catch and run against the Vikings, the Eagles’ longest pass play of the day. He has to stop fumbling, but he does seem to have his power and explosion back.

6. The Eagles were particularly impressive in the red zone defensively, holding the Vikings scoreless on three straight red-zone possessions. On the first, McLeod picked off Bradford, on the second Connor Barwin forced a Bradford fumble and on the third, the Eagles stuffed the Vikings on downs. Good red-zone defense is good team defense, and that’s what the Eagles got back to playing. The last two weeks it seemed like the defense was operating more as a bunch of individuals running around than as a unit. Sunday, they got back to playing tough, aggressive, physical team defense, and it was fun to watch.

7.  Can’t say Halapoulivaati Vaitai played a great game. When your offense scores only 14 points and nets 239 yards of offense, the offensive line isn’t going to be celebrating. But it’s important to note that Vaitai did show progress, and that’s the big thing with him as he tries to hold down right tackle in Lane Johnson’s absence. Vaitai was better Sunday than he was in Washington last week, and as long as he keeps getting better, he’ll keep that job. Big V did commit one penalty, but the Vikings — who led the NFL in sacks per game coming in — had no sacks in this game, so Vaitai was blocking somebody. The Eagles did help him more Sunday than in Washington, but I have a hunch in a few weeks he’ll be giving the Eagles pretty solid football at right tackle.

8. Josh Huff. I’ve been tough on Huff, and through five games he really hadn’t made an impact this year. But his kick return TD, which came at a point where the Eagles couldn’t do anything on offense, was probably the play of the day (see Standout Plays). With his explosive first step and decisiveness, Huff has a real knack for kickoff returns, and he’s now one of only five Eagles in history with more than one kick return TD in his career. Huff also led the Eagles with four catches for 39 yards on a day when the passing game never really got going. These sort of days have been rare for Huff, but every once in a while he shows these flashes that make you think there’s something special there.

9. In addition to McLeod, can’t forget Hicks and Graham, who were both beast-like Sunday. Hicks, who really seemed to struggle to get off blocks the last couple weeks, was very effective, with 10 tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and two pass defenses. Graham had his fourth sack in six games, plus four quarterback hurries, numerous hits on Bradford and a forced fumble. Game balls to both those guys.

10. Finally, I don’t want to hear anybody talk about how this was an ugly game. The Eagles righted the ship and won a must-win game against an undefeated team, and that’s not an easy thing to do. I look up at the scoreboard and see Eagles 21, Vikings 10, and I look in the standings and see 4-2, and there’s nothing ugly about those numbers.

Film Review: Doug Pederson dials up a gutsy screen call vs. 'Boys

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Film Review: Doug Pederson dials up a gutsy screen call vs. 'Boys

The Eagles ended up scoring the final 30 points of Sunday's game in North Texas to crush the Cowboys 37-9. 

They didn't start off so hot though. 

In fact, the Eagles were down 9-7 at halftime, so when they got the ball back to start the second half, it was a pretty important drive. 

On first down, Jay Ajayi ran for 8 yards. On the next play, he went 1 yard. 

That set up a 3rd-and-1 and one of Doug Pederson's best and gutsiest play calls of the game. Out of an unusual look, the Eagles ran a screen play to Brent Celek that picked up 28 yards and helped them continue a scoring drive. 

"It was a great call," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "Great feel and call from coach. We're meeting the night before. He and I always meet on Saturday night, the night before (the game) for an hour, hour and a half, just going through the call sheet, talking about what he's going to call, why he's going to call it. And we're bouncing things back and forth. 

"That was one I knew he was going to call. He was just waiting for the opportunity to call that play. Had a good sense."

Let's take a closer look at the play: 

Here's a look just before the snap. The Eagles are using a "tackle over" formation. You'll notice Lane Johnson is lined up inside Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Celek (circled) is lined up as the right tackle. 

The Eagles didn't motion into this look. They came out in it, with all three tight ends to the right side of the line. Trey Burton is lined up like a fullback. When the Cowboys see this, they load up that side of the defensive line, prepared for a run on 3rd-and-short. 

Carson Wentz takes the snap and begins to roll right for the play fake. Celek (still circled in red) engages and holds his block for a couple seconds. "Celek did a great job of selling it and good execution," Reich said. 

With the play going right, the Cowboys' linebackers are going with it. 

Here's the other angle just after Celek releases his block. The Cowboys' corner on the defensive right is blitzing, but with Wentz rolling right, he won't have enough time to get to him. 

Marcus Johnson, who was the outside receiver on the offensive left is running a go route, which will drive the safety out of the play. That leaves a ton of space open on that side of the field. 

 

It takes a perfect throw from Wentz and it wasn't easy to get off. Because of the blitzing corner, he needs to throw off his back foot and will need to loft the ball over the defensive end, who never gained an inch on Vaitai. 

 

At the point of the catch, Celek would have already had the first down. He has the ball for a short gain but rumbles ahead into open space for a 28-yarder, his longest catch of the last two seasons.  

This was a play the Eagles practiced during the week, but Reich said it looked just OK. According to Reich, those types of plays usually look better live in games than they do in practice. 

It certainly worked. 

"You want to hear defensive players swear," Chris Collinsworth said on the NBC broadcast, "that play probably does it more than any other."

Rob's Rants: Plenty to be thankful for in Philly sports

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Rob's Rants: Plenty to be thankful for in Philly sports

With Thanksgiving upon us and the rest of the holiday season just around the corner, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to reverse course from Rob’s Rants and express what I’m thankful for in Philadelphia sports. Truth be told, with the football team having the best record in the NFL and the basketball team having two dynamic, budding superstars and playoffs in their sights for the first time in a long time, things are pretty good around these parts. So let’s show a little gratitude.

Eagles
Where to start? Before this season, the hope was a playoff appearance. After 10 games, a division title, a bye and home-field advantage in the NFC are all real possibilities. This team is complete, laser-focused, well-coached and talented. Further, they have a second-year quarterback in Carson Wentz whose skill is only matched by his work ethic and football IQ. This city has always loved a tough defense and that’s exactly what they have. They are physical from the deep, defensive line to the surprising cornerbacks. The Saints, Vikings, Rams and Panthers are right there on the Eagles’ tail, so nothing is a given, but I just don’t see this team collapsing. I love that they can beat you in a multitude of ways whether it’s Wentz’s arm, a punishing running attack, a ferocious pass rush, or out-scheming the opposition. We are in for an amazing ride with this group.

Sixers
Ben Simmons has 11 double-doubles in his first 16 games in the NBA. That‘s the most by any player in that span of time in his first season since Shaquille O’Neal in 1993. His ability to finish with both hands is remarkable. If you never watched him shoot a jump shot or a free throw, you would have no idea he is left-handed. His size, power, handle and ambidextrousness mask his inability or willingness to pull the trigger from the outside. And by the looks of his stats and what the eyeball tells you, he’s doing just fine. Mr. Meat Pie is averaging 21.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and two steals a night. Then there’s the big fella. Joel Embiid is a once-in-a-generation talent, who by his own admission is not even in basketball shape yet. His Tinseltown two-step where he throttled both L.A. teams out there may have been the highlight of this short season thus far. But Embiid shows on a nightly basis that if he stays healthy, he’s capable of leading this teams to multiple championships. The Wells Fargo Center is back to the A.I. days of being the place to be for a basketball game. It’s electric.

Flyers
The Flyers' season has been very up and down. But there are certainly things to be thankful for when it comes to the orange and black. The first line of Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, centered by Sean Couturier has accounted for 69 points through 20 games. Whether it was Dave Hakstol or Ron Hextall’s call, the decision to move Giroux to the wing and insert Couturier as the top-line centerman was a stroke of genius. Ivan Provorov deserves a plate full of kudos himself for his machine-like play.

Phillies
The Phillies' youthful core of Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, J.P. Crawford and soon-to-be Scott Kingery has the makings of a nucleus to be proud of going forward. Aaron Nola showed himself capable as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. There’s much work to be done here but the club appears headed in the right direction.

College Hoops
Let’s give college hoops a little love as well. Villanova has dominated the headlines of late and rightfully so but there’s a possibility that at least three of the local teams will be dancing come April.
      
So pass the stuffing and enjoy the gravy, things are looking up in Philadelphia sports.