Eagles

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Giants

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Giants

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Nick Foles was way better than expected, the defense was worse than expected and the Eagles somehow escaped the Meadowlands Sunday with a way-too-close 34-29 win over the Giants (see breakdown).

With the win, the Eagles clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs, their first since 2004.

It sure wasn't pretty. But that first-round bye will be. 

While we all catch our collective breath, here are 10 instant observations from the Eagles' 12th win of the year.

1. Nick Foles showed a little rust early but ultimately did everything you would want your quarterback to do. Moved the ball, got the offense in the end zone, managed the offense, avoided mistakes. In his first start in 14 months and first start in an Eagles uniform in more than three years, Foles threw four TDs on the road, and that's darn impressive. I really felt good about Foles going into Sunday. He's a good, solid QB, and other than a few bad games on a terrible Rams team in 2015, he's always been a good, solid quarterback. But he was actually better than I expected. He finished 24 for 38 for 237 yards and the four TDs, no INTs and a 115.8 passer rating (see report card). What I was most impressed with was how Foles kept his composure early, when the Giants had that two-TD lead and nothing was going right for the Eagles. This is a guy who hasn't played much football lately, but he was calm and poised in the face of adversity. On the road, down 13 points, nothing going right. Impressive afternoon for Foles.

2. On the other hand? This was an absolutely embarrassing performance by the Eagles' defense against one of the NFL's worst offenses, a team that just fired its coach, a team with a lame-duck interim coach, a team with nothing to play for, a team with the third-worst offense in the NFL. Pathetic. Forget who's playing quarterback for the Eagles, if the defense doesn't get its act together soon, the Eagles' postseason run is going to be a very short one. This is three straight games now where their tackling has been poor, they've allowed big plays and they've been unable to keep an opponent out of the end zone. After allowing just 18 touchdowns in their first 11 games, they've now given up 10 in their last three. For crying out loud, the Giants came into the game averaging 14 points on offense, and they scored three TDs on their first 26 plays and laid 29 points on the Eagles. Are they worn out? Are they being exposed by better, more experienced quarterbacks? Are they just getting away from basics, like tackling and coverage? Whatever the answer, Jim Schwartz has to get this solved very, very soon.

3. A couple numbers to ponder: Eli Manning, benched just a few weeks ago, threw for 434 yards, the second-most yards ever against the Eagles (Jon Kitna once had 446 for the Lions in a 2007 Eagles blowout win). And the Giants netted 504 yards. This is one of the worst offenses in the NFL! It just seemed like there were Giants open 8 to 12 yards down the field on every play, and nothing ever changed. The Eagles were really, really fortunate to escape North Jersey with a win.

4. I have to say I'm just not in love with the Eagles' running back rotation right now. It just seems too hard for any of the Eagles' four backs to get into any sort of rhythm right now. Early in the year, the way the offense was operating, they were all getting enough carries to kind of get going individually, but in close games, when the Eagles are scrambling on offense, it just seems that the rotation is hurting the offense's rhythm. Kenjon Barner had an 18-yard run at the start of the second quarter, then didn't get another carry. LeGarrette Blount gets the ball on a crucial 4th-and-1 midway through the second quarter, but it's only his second carry of the game and the play goes nowhere. Corey Clement runs for 10 yards midway through the first quarter and doesn't get another carry in the next five drives. Jay Ajayi? I've been saying since about the second game he played in an Eagles uniform he should be this team's lead back, but after gaining four yards on his first carry of the game, only five of the next 14 running back handoffs went his way. His next carry? That went 22 yards for a first down. Ajayi had only 12 carries Sunday and that's not enough. He needs to carry the bulk of the load. Has to.

5. I can't think of a more dramatic transformation in Philadelphia sports history than what we've seen this year from Nelson Agholor. It's flat-out remarkable, and that kid deserves so much credit for never making excuses and just working his ass off during the offseason and hammering himself into a legit NFL wide receiver. That insane third-quarter touchdown catch on the heels of his 141-yard game in L.A. last weekend … that's big-time stuff right there. 

6. Howie Roseman has to do everything imaginable to make sure the Eagles don't lose Trey Burton. That kid can play.

7. Impressive day for Zach Ertz, especially that 15-yard catch and run down the right sideline for a huge late first down. Ertz didn't have huge numbers — 7 for 59 with a touchdown — but his history with Foles really showed up. They were together in 2013 and 2014, and you can tell Foles loves having him out there.

8. I'm trying to figure out Ronald Darby. Played awful much of the game, but he did have that huge interception and big return, and then he made an enormous play in the end zone in the final minute, knocking away a potential Manning touchdown pass to Roger Lewis. One thing is for sure — the kid has talent. Another is for sure — he has to be more consistent.

9. With all due respect to Fletcher Cox, sometimes I really believe Brandon Graham is this team's defensive MVP. He was very good once again Sunday, extending his career high in sacks to 9½ and also making a huge play in the fourth quarter, throwing Shane Vereen for a nine-yard loss on a drive that ultimately ended with the Eagles' blocking a field goal. On a day when most of the guys around struggled, Graham continued his brilliant play. He was there when the Eagles needed him the most.

10. The left side of the offensive line was everybody's biggest concern going in, and while Chance Warmack and Halapoulivati Vaitai aren't going to pick up any late Pro Bowl votes for their performances, they hung in there enough, protecting the blind side of a quarterback making his first start in 14 months. Foles didn't always have a ton of time, but he was only sacked once — that was on Big V and caused a fumble (that the Eagles recovered). The Eagles scored 34 points with those guys. Could have been worse. Could have been a lot worse.

Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh concerned by Titans' pass rush

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USA Today Images

Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh concerned by Titans' pass rush

Three takeaways from Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh’s chat with the media Tuesday:

Did you see what the Titans did to Blake Bortles?

The Titans are fourth in the NFL in point allowed (16.7 per game), and they really did a terrific job on Blake Bortles Sunday, limiting the Jaguars’ quarterback to just 155 yards on 34 passing yards and sacking him three times. Bortles’ longest completion went for just 19 yards.

“They just made it really challenging on Bortles,” Groh said. “They got good pressure, (and) he couldn't really set his feet in the pocket and make any throws. They had some throws down the field to make, but he would have to move off his spot, and then when he tried to reset the throw there was somebody else in his face and he couldn't get the ball out of there.”

This is big because the Eagles are coming off a game in which Carson Wentz was sacked five times, matching the most sacks the Eagles have allowed at home in five years. 

It wasn’t all on the offensive line. Wentz did run into some trouble Sunday. But the bottom line is that the offensive line has to pass block better and give Wentz time to work. If they don’t, it’s going to be a difficult day Sunday.

Why opening in no-huddle made so much sense 

One of the underrated coaching moves Doug Pederson and Mike Groh did Sunday was opening the game in no-huddle. What better way to get a quarterback who hadn’t played in 9 ½ months into a quick rhythm?

This wasn’t out of the Chip Kelly playbook. Running tempo all the time is lunacy because of the pressure it puts on a defense. But as a change-of-pace, it can be a tremendous weapon, and it was Sunday.

Wentz was 5-for-7 for 55 yards and a touchdown to Dallas Goedert on that drive, with all but the first snap coming on no-huddle.

“Just another way to try to get Carson immediately into the game and into the flow of the game and not have any time to think about anything,” Groh said. “Just get up to the line of scrimmage and be able to conduct the game from there.”

Where are the big plays?

There are a lot of explanations for the lack of big plays from the Eagles' offense so far.

No Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace or Mack Hollins. No Darren Sproles or Jay Ajayi last week. A quarterback change. A couple new coaches.

But the reality is that the Eagles are making it very difficult on themselves by not getting the football down the field.

They have only five pass plays of 20 yards or more so far, and only the Bears (four), Cowboys (three) and Titans (three) have fewer. 

“We haven't had as many explosive passes as we would like,” Groh said. “For 40 minutes (time of possession), we would like to have more than 20 points. We left some points out there on the field.”

Yeah, you can’t control the clock for 40:20 minutes and score just 20 points. The Eagles are only the third team in the last 10 years to do that (not counting OT). But that’s what happens when you don’t hit big plays. You can move the ball all over the place between the 20s, but you don’t score. The Eagles were fortunate to escape with a win Sunday but they won’t be able to get away with it every week.

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Titans love to run, which will play right into Eagles' hands

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Titans love to run, which will play right into Eagles' hands

In an era where the average team throws 41 times a game and runs 24 times a game, the Tennessee Titans are a rare exception to NFL convention.

They run more than they throw. Way more.

The Titans love to run. Which should play right into the Eagles’ hands Sunday, when they face the Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

The Titans are averaging 32.7 rushing attempts per game so far, second-most in the league (they have one carry fewer than the Redskins). But they’re only 24th in yards per carry (3.7).

It’s an anachronistic way of operating an offense in the NFL these days.

So far, the Titans have run 54 percent of the time and thrown just 46 percent.

The league averages are 37 and 63.

So Tennessee runs 27 percent more than the average 2018 NFL team.

They’re averaging six more rushing attempts per game through three weeks than passing attempts.

The combination of a very good defense and ball control means the Titans want to win low-scoring games, like they did Sunday, 9-6 over Jacksonville.

They’ve only scored three offensive TDs this year, but they’re 2-1.

The Titans are the only NFL team that hasn’t scored or allowed more than 50 points, and they’re actually only the third team to do that after three games in the last nine years.

But in the Eagles, the Titans will see the best rushing defense in the league.

Since 2016, they’ve allowed an NFL-low 89 rushing yards per game. This year, that number is an NFL-best 61.7, their lowest since 2008.

At their current pace, the Eagles will become only the 11th team since 1960 to allow fewer than 1,300 rushing yards in consecutive seasons.

The Eagles have faced 54 runs so far this year, only four for 10 yards or more and only two of those by running backs.

Nobody has even rushed for 40 yards against the Eagles in their last five games, the first time that’s happened since the last two games of 2002 and the first five games of 2003.

The Eagles haven’t allowed a second-half run over nine yards this year and just one over six yards.

So a team that wants to run far more than it throws is about to take on a historically great rush defense.

“They are committed to the run,” Jim Schwartz said. “They've invested a lot of resources in it.

“Drafted a couple offensive lineman, offensive tackles (in the first round). They’ve got a veteran offensive line. They have a Heisman Trophy running back. They had probably their premier free-agent pick-up this year, Dion Lewis, and they have a running quarterback.

“So obviously it's what they want to do and they're committed to it, so it's our job to combat that. … So our goal is to get opponents stopped. However we do it, we do it.”

Lewis is the Titans’ leading rusher with 143 yards but only 3.7 per carry. Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner for Alabama, has 139 yards but only a 3.0 average.

QB Marcus Mariota is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has a 5.9 career average, ninth-highest in NFL history.

He’s really the Titans’ only threat in the backfield.

“He's probably the fastest quarterback in the NFL right now,” Schwartz said. “Looks like a 40-yard dash he's running so fast.”

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