Monday, December 29, 2014

Domo's Eagles-Lions Day-After Dissection

A second look at Sunday’s ugly 26-23 overtime loss to the Lions:

Domo's Eagles-Lions Day-After Dissection

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy finished with just 22 yards on 14 carries against the Lions. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy finished with just 22 yards on 14 carries against the Lions. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

A second look at Sunday’s ugly 26-23 overtime loss to the Lions:

NOWHERE TO RUN: At Andy Reid’s day-after news conference Monday, somebody asked the Eagles coach if he thought he should’ve run the ball more against the Lions. Sometimes, a lot of times, that question is justified. Not Monday.

Take Michael Vick’s nine scrambles out of the equation and the Eagles gained just 12 yards on 20 rushing attempts. They had seven negative plays that lost a total of 32 yards, including five by LeSean McCoy. That’s just seven fewer negative runs than he had in the first five games.

McCoy finished with just 22 yards on 14 carries. That’s the lowest rushing total of his career in a game in which he’s had more than six carries.

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The Eagles’ offensive line just couldn’t block the Lions’ front seven, particularly on those outside zone running plays that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg kept insisting on dialing up, even though it was pretty apparent early on they weren’t going to work.

In the third quarter, Lions linebacker D’Andre Levy pushed left guard Evan Mathis into the backfield and tackled Bryce Brown for a four-yard loss. In the same quarter, defensive tackle Nick Fairley overpowered center Dallas Reynolds and tackled McCoy for a five-yard loss. On another stretch play in the fourth quarter, right guard Danny Watkins, who continues to play like a guy who would rather be fighting fires than defensive linemen, got pushed into the backfield by Fairley on a four-yard loss by McCoy.

BAD DAY FOR O-LINE: Sunday was just a bad day all around for the Eagles’ offensive line. They didn’t run-block very well and they didn’t pass-block very well either. The Lions were credited with 14 hurries and 10 hits, in addition to their three sacks of Michael Vick, who completed 28 of 46 passes for 311 yards, two touchowns and two interceptions.

When Vick got the ball out quickly, he did well. He was 14-for-18 for 133 yards on throws that got out of his hand in two seconds or less. And one of those four incompletions was the third-quarter drop in the end zone by tight end Brent Celek. When he hung on to the ball for three seconds or more, he was just 2-for-9 for 32 yards with one interception.

On the first of the two overtime sacks of Vick, Lions end Cliff Avril just beat right tackle Todd Herremans with an outside rush. The play showed the one downside to offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s blocking technique. Herremans went to initiate contact with Avril and semi-whiffed, giving Avril a step on him to the outside, which he used to get around him and bring down Vick for a seven-yard loss.

The second overtime sack was on both left guard Evan Mathis and Vick. Nick Fairley and Kyle Vanden Bosch ran a stunt. Mathis stayed on Fairley as the DT came around the outside rather than pass him off to left tackle Demetress Bell. But Fairley got a step on him and was able to get a hand on Vick.

Running back LeSean McCoy had slid through the line and was wide open for a dump-off pass from Vick. But the quarterback tried to escape instead of getting rid of the ball. Bad move. Fairley and Vanden Bosch sacked him for a killer 14-yard loss that ultimately forced Mat McBriar to punt out of his own end zone and set the wheels in motion for the Lions’ game-winning field goal.

TOUGH GAME FOR HUGHES: Cornerback Brandon Hughes got victimized on two big fourth-quarter pass plays. He was the guy covering tight end Tony Scheffler on Scheffler’s 57-yard catch with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter. He also was the guy covering wide receiver Nate Burleson three plays later when Burleson caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford that closed the Lions to within three points, 23-20.

The touchdown pass was entirely Hughes’ fault. Burleson ran a wheel route on him and beat him down the sideline. On Scheffler’s long catch, though, Hughes’ fingerprints weren’t the only ones on it. Defensive end Jason Babin and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins also have to take a big chunk of blame for allowing Stafford to get outside and extend the play, which gave Scheffler time to get separation on Hughes. Stafford had the ball for 5.87 seconds on the play before he threw it, which is an eternity.

Babin tried to put an inside spin move on Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus. It not only didn’t work, but Babin ended up on the ground, falling over Jenkins, who already was off his feet. That made it easy for Stafford to get outside and buy extra time.

COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA: But for the big hand of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Eagles might’ve won Sunday’s game in regulation. Up by three and facing a third-and-four at their own 18 with less than three minutes to go, the Eagles ran the same play that resulted in Jeremy Maclin’s 70-yard touchdown catch and run on their previous possession.

They lined up with three wide receivers in a bunch formation to the left, including Maclin at the point. Maclin ran an in-route. On the touchdown pass, the Lions blew the coverage and Maclin was wide open over the middle. On the third-and-four play, he wasn’t wide open, but had safety Amari Spievey beaten by a good two or three steps. If Vick had been able to get the ball to him, the play would’ve gained at least 15-20 yards and Maclin just might’ve taken it all the way for another touchdown. But Suh batted the pass down and the Eagles had to punt the ball away to the Lions, who drove down and tied the game.

LACK OF SAFETY DEPTH: The Eagles’ lack of depth at the safety position came back to haunt them Sunday after Nate Allen left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. He was replaced by Colt Anderson. Anderson is a terrific special teams player, but he’s not a guy you want on the field playing safety against a potent passing offense like the Lions.

TO BLITZ OR NOT TO BLITZ: Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo brought the blitz out of moth balls on the Lions’ last two possessions. Judging from the results, he would’ve been better off leaving it in the closet.

He sent middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans on a blitz on a first-down play just after the two-minute warning. Stafford’s pass to Titus Young was incomplete, though Ryans had nothing to do with that. On the next play, they blitzed both Ryans and their other nickel linebacker, Michael Kendricks. Neither of them got to Stafford who completed the critical 17-yard sideline pass to Calvin Johnson that put the Lions in field goal position.

They blitzed once more on the Lions’ game-winning scoring drive in overtime. Sent Ryans and safety Kurt Coleman on a first-and-20 at the Philadelphia 44 following a holding penalty on Lions left guard Rob Sims. Neither of them got there as Stafford got the ball out in 2.06 seconds. His pass to Johnson gained 17 yards and put the Lions in position for a game-winning field goal by Jason Hanson.

Paul Domowitch Daily News NFL Columnist
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