TAMPA, Fla. – The Eagles moved to 3-3 with their 31-20 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday. There were a few sweaty palms moments – like when Tampa took a 17-14 lead into the half and drove 90 yards on the Eagles only to settle for a field goal in the fourth. But Chip Kelly’s team pulled away in the fourth and will share at least a tie in the NFC East heading into next week’s showdown with the Cowboys. Here are some observations off the game:
-- Nick Foles was great. Was he perfect? Not by any measure. He didn’t do a great job of picking up blitzes in the first half. But he was effective in avoiding sacks by dumping the ball at his receivers’ feet and he took advantage of long-ball opportunities in the second half. Should he start next week? If Michael Vick’s hamstring isn’t 100 percent, and it sounds like it won’t be, then Foles should get another opportunity. Should he get the start even if Vick is ready to go? That’s a tough question, but I still think Vick should remain the starter. The offense sputtered for three weeks – and I’ll get to that further down – but Vick overall had been effective enough to retain the job. Now what if Foles starts for the injured Vick and he and the offense look as sharp as they did in Tampa? If that were to happen, I think it would be a difficult decision for Kelly considering Foles’ potential for the future. But until then, Vick remains the guy in my book.
-- I think Foles once again showed strong presence in the pocket. He kept his eyes downfield even when protection broke down as it often did in the first half. He has a steadiness about him. There were a couple of errant throws, and many of the tosses were screens and dink-and-dunkers but he completed 71 percent of throws. That’s good against a Bucs defense that has three very talented defenders in tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Darrelle Revis.
-- The myth about the running game suffering with Foles under center lost some luster, as well. LeSean McCoy rushed for 116 yards on 25 carries and Bryce Brown also picked up 20 yards on four totes. The yards were hard to come by, and there obviously isn’t as much space on the zone read runs with Foles handing off. But the ground game was more than effective and helped open up play-action touchdown passes to Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson in the second half.
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-- The passing game has been sharper with Foles than with Vick over the last four games. Vick completed only 46 percent of his passes in the 2-1/2 games before he injured his hamstring last week against the Giants. Foles has connected on 69 percent since. Three Eagles receivers caught 20 passes for 338 yards and one touchdown from Vick in those 2-1/2 games. Five have caught 21 for passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns in Foles’ 1-1/2 games.
-- Cooper looked like a different receiver Sunday. He caught four passes for 120 yards and the 47-yard score when he separated from rookie corner Johnthan Banks on a go route. His catch-and-run 44-yarder in the fourth showed that he also had some moves and not-quite breakaway speed, but enough burst to pick up yards after the catch.
-- Jackson didn’t hit many home runs, but he caught two touchdowns in the same game for the first time in his career and now has two red zone scores in back-to-back weeks. I’m fairly sure he’s never done that before. The Eagles are 3 of 4 inside the 20 since Foles took over. He also snuck four yards for a touchdown when the Birds went 85 yards on eight plays. Center Jason Kelce said it was a play the Eagles worked on all of last week and when Foles saw that he had the right numbers in the box he took advantage and ran in almost untouched into the end zone.
-- A week after the Giants disrupted the Eagles inside zone read, the offensive line, Kelce in particular, rebounded with a strong effort. Kelce and other said that the coaches worked on various ways to stopped slanting defensive linemen that were penetrating into the backfield. It wasn’t a clean effort up front, but I’ll have to watch the replay before forming any conclusions.
-- The defense remains a very slow work in progress. There were some really ugly stretches for Bill Davis’ unit against a Bucs offense that hadn’t done much in the first four games and was starting a rookie quarterback. But the defense did come up big when it forced a field goal after a 90-yard drive in the third and fourth quarters and a series later when it forced a three-and-out after the Eagles went ahead, 28-20.
-- Davis dialed up a load of blitzes against Mike Glennon. Some worked, others didn’t. Safeties Patrick Chung, before he left with an injury, and Earl Wolff got into the backfield a few times. The Eagles didn’t have a sack, though, until the fourth quarter when linebacker Connor Barwin dropped Glennon on third down. But better late than never.
-- Chung re-injured his shoulder, returned briefly and then left for good. He has a long history of injuries over his career. It’s going to be difficult to count on him going forward. The good news is that Wolff appears to be showing improvement with each week. He struggles in zone defenses, but plays downhill against the run. I’m not sure who was most responsible for tight end Tim Wright catching seven passes for 91 yards. He had only six catches for 46 yards entering the game. Vincent Jackson, you know, is tough to stop, but Wright?
-- It seemed like Davis had his cornerbacks playing man-to-man on Jackson with little safety help in the first half. He probably figured he could do so because the blitz would get home. But Glennon was much better than I think anyone thought he’d be under pressure. He eventually folded, but the Eagles weren’t likely pleased with allowing 273 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
-- Fletcher Cox was active as a pass rusher, although he never recorded a sack. He drew a holding penalty and then knocked down a pass a play later during one second half sequence. It seemed like he was still struggling in the run game. Cedric Thornton has more than compensated and busted up a few Doug Martin carries in the first half. DeMeco Ryans was also strong against the run and finished with a team-high 12 tackles.
-- A few quick notes … Damaris Johnson had his first catch of the season but continues to struggle in the return game. … Bradley Fletcher recorded his first interception on the season. Glennon threw it right at him, but he didn’t drop it. … McCoy had his first fumble of the season. … The Eagles dressed only two tight ends – James Casey was out with a groin – and Brent Celek and Zach Ertz finished with a combined four catches for 23 yards. … Bennie Logan had a late sack for the second straight week.