Eagles-Redskins II: What Did We Learn?

The Eagles scored their biggest victory in nearly three years – yes, it’s been that long – with a 24-16 win over the Redskins. The Birds didn’t exactly beat a good team, but they’re 6-5 and own a ½-game lead in the NFC East heading into the bye. Here are some quick observations:

-- I’ll say it: I was wrong. I thought Chip Kelly would be successful, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon. I had the Eagles winning only six games in Kelly’s first season, but I thought they would end on a high note once they had gotten used to schemes on both offense and defense. But with five games left in the season the Eagles have already won six and are in the heat of the playoff hunt. The biggest reason for the turnaround, of course, is Kelly. The two biggest surprises, though, have been Nick Foles and Bill Davis. Foles, for the most part, has been excellent in place of Michael Vick and is now the bona fide starter, even if Kelly has been reluctant to acknowledge it. And Davis has gotten his defense to play sound football after a slow start and looks like a defensive coordinator with legs. The fourth quarter was kind of mess, but for three quarters the confluence of strong play in all facets had at least this scribe believing he saw a team worthy of the playoffs.

-- Kelly and his team aren’t there yet. If the Cowboys beat the Giants next week, they’ll be tied with the Eagles atop the NFC East. The Giants are 4-6 and hanging around after beating the Packers. A win over the Cowboys would have them a game back of the Birds. The Redskins are 3-7 and all but eliminated (Not dead yet!). A quick look at the remaining schedules for each team: Eagles have the Cardinals and Lions at home, Minnesota on the road, Bears at home and finish up at Dallas. The Cowboys have the Giants, Bears and Redskins on the road and home games against the Raiders, Packers and Eagles. The Giants are on the road vs. the Redskins, Chargers and Lions and host the Cowboys, Seahawks and Redskins. No team seems to have a decided advantage. The Cowboys play the Packers on Dec. 15 and there’s a chance Aaron Rodgers is back by then.

-- Davis’ unit has not allowed more than 21 points in seven straight games now. There aren’t any “stars” on defense, but the collective 11 are playing as one. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been standout performances. Last week, it was DeMeco Ryans. This week, it was Connor Barwin who set the tone early. Kelly called Barwin “very underrated.” His sack and forced fumble at the 5-yard line was clutch. Last week, Brandon Boykin forced a turnover inside the red zone. I’ll get to his interception that sealed the game. But the point is the defense is making big plays at pivotal moments. And Davis has them always giving full effort.

-- LeSean McCoy went over 1,000 yards rushing and passed Duce Staley moving into fourth place on the Eagles’ all-time rushing list. McCoy has 4,875 career yards in less than five seasons. He tweaked his hamstring late in the first half, left and went into the locker room, but returned after the break. For all his elusiveness, McCoy’s toughness can sometimes be forgotten. He finished with 76 yards rushing on 19 carries, but also added four catches for 73 yards. McCoy is on pace to finish with 2,048 total yards from scrimmage, which would place him second on the Eagles’ all-time single season list behind Brian Westbrook, who totaled 2,104 yards in 2007.

-- Nick Foles is making believers out of doubters. I don’t know what his long-term prospects are, and I’m sure the Eagles don’t know either. But you can’t argue with his second-season resume. He’s 4-1 as a starter, 5-1 in games he played extensively, and now leads the NFL in passer rating. He hadn’t qualified up until this week’s games. Foles’ 127.9 rating is following by Peyton Manning (118.3) and Aaron Rodgers (108.0). Rodgers’ 122.5 rating in 2011 is the NFL record. Foles completed 17 of 26 passes for 298 yards. He didn’t toss a touchdown, but again didn’t turn the ball over. He still hasn’t thrown an interception. Foles ran nine times for 47 yards, the second straight week he did damage on the ground. He took a number of hits both in and out of the pocket and kept getting up. He needs to do a better job of avoiding contact when he keeps in the zone read.

-- Boykin played only 26 of 82 snaps on defense. Think about that for a second. He played less than a third of the snaps on defense and made at least three standout plays, including, of course, his game-sealing pick of Robert Griffin III. The Eagles want to keep Boykin in the slot and it’s hard to argue with the results. But this is a defender that needs to see more of the field. The Eagles have increased his load on special teams. He’s now the kick returner. And he plays on all the cover teams and once again saved a punt from a touchback with a diving play. But I would play Boykin on the outside in the base and move him inside in the nickel. He should have at least started ahead of Roc Carmichael, who struggled in place of Bradley Fletcher on the outside.

-- A few quickies … Bennie Logan had the best game of his rookie season. He just keeps getting better. … While Sav Rocca shanked punts, Donnie Jones finished with a 50.7-yard net and boomed a 70-yard kick to the Redskins 4 late in the fourth. … Bryce Brown continues to struggle as a situational running back. … Zach Ertz dropped a pass in the third quarter, but Foles went right back to him in a tough spot and the rookie tight end made the catch and bounced for more yards after taking a hit. … Najee Goode was up and down, but he made plays, tipping a pass and sacking Griffin.