Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Eagles-Dallas: What Did We Learn?

ARLINGTON, Tex – The Eagles are back in the playoffs after besting a not-yet-dead Cowboys, 24-22, in the season finale. The NFC East champions will host the Saints on Saturday night at 8 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field. Here are some observations off what was a sloppy, but ultimately, satisfying end to Chip Kelly’s first regular season:

Eagles-Dallas: What Did We Learn?

Eagles running back Bryce Brown. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
Eagles running back Bryce Brown. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

ARLINGTON, Tex – The Eagles are back in the playoffs after besting a not-yet-dead Cowboys, 24-22, in the season finale. The NFC East champions will host the Saints on Saturday night at 8 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field. Here are some observations off what was a sloppy, but ultimately, satisfying end to Chip Kelly’s first regular season:

-- Let’s start with the defense because this unit has far exceeded expectations this season. It wasn’t sharp by any means. Bill Davis’ defense allowed 417 yards and 358 yards through the air, but the bend-but-don’t-break scheme once again held on for a victory. The Cowboys converted only 3 of 11 third downs, turned only one of two red zone possessions into touchdowns and failed on a big four quarter fourth down. And the Eagles forced three turnovers – the first two translated into ten points and the last essentially ended the game. Kyle Orton, in for the injured Tony Romo, completed 30 of 46 passes, so the obvious question now might be – “Well, what will Drew Brees do to this pass defense?” But that will remain a question for later in the week.

-- There were four players on defense that came up with big plays. No one was uniformly great, but they made stops when it counted. Mychal Kendricks had the most impact. He forced a fumble on the Cowboys’ first drive after they moved deep into Eagles territory and he had an interception just before the half that the Eagles turned into seven points. He had several tackles in both the run and pass that kept gains short, but he did have low moments in the second half when he could not cover tight end Jason Witten (12 catches for 135 yards). DeMeco Ryans also struggled in coverage. The 30-year-old linebacker looks a little slower late in this season. I could be just seeing things. I’m not sure who’s going to be able to cover Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. No one has kept him at bay for an entire game. Again, a problem for another day.

-- Brandon Boykin had a few moments in the first half he’d like to have back. He got beat on third down and 12 when Terrance Williams caught a 39-yard pass in the second quarter. And he was later called for interfering Dwayne Harris on a punt return. But Boykin rebounded in the second half. He broke up a pass to Dez Bryant in the end zone in the third quarter and he intercepted Orton – doing his best Romo impersonation -- on Dallas’ final possession when the quarterback tried to go to Miles Austin over the middle. Boykin finished the season with a team-high six interceptions and he played about only 2/3 of the defensive snaps.

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-- Connor Barwin has been a pass-batting machine the entire year, so it was fitting that his shining moment came when he swatted a fourth down Orton pass to the ground. After the Eagles failed to score on fourth down at the 1-yard line, Dallas raced 59 yards the other way. But when DeMarco Murray (17 carries for 51 yards) was stopped short of a first down on third down and three by Trent Cole, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett went for it. It was a play-action call with Orton going to Murray, but Barwin rushed, got his hands up and knocked the ball to the ground. If the Eagles linebacker hadn’t made a play, there was a good chance Murray could have picked up big yards. There was no one in the vicinity.

-- Cary Williams and the Eagles secondary had a rough night but he came up large after the Cowboys trimmed the lead to two points with just under four minutes left. Dallas went for two and the tie and Orton threw a back shoulder pass to Bryant. But the throw was a little low and Williams made sure the receiver had no chance to pull it in when he slapped the ball to the ground.

-- There was plenty to pick apart, though, and I’ll have more after I re-watch the game. But the Eagles pass rush was virtually non-existent. Orton wasn’t sacked once and he was hit only twice, according to the official stat sheet. Cole, after he recorded eight sacks in the seven previous games, was not heard from for most of the game. Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton were quiet, except for when they were penalized for encroachment. If the Eagles are to have any shot against the quick-releasing Brees, they’ll need to get in his mug at least occasionally. The secondary wasn’t doing its part either. There were giant holes in the Eagles zone. I don’t know who was mostly at fault. Maybe Davis was calling the wrong scheme. But safeties Nate Allen and Patrick Chung were chasing after receivers all game long

-- Offensively, the Eagles had a weird game. You look at the numbers for LeSean McCoy (27 carries for 131 yards) and Nick Foles (17 of 26 for 263 yards and two touchdowns) and you would have thought the Eagles put up more than 24 points. I thought Kelly’s play-calling was inconsistent. He didn’t help his players, especially on a series of plays inside the Cowboys 10 late in the third quarter. But Kelly got it right on the next possession and hammered the ball on the ground down Dallas’ throat. I wrote more on those two drives in my running column for the newspaper.

-- McCoy had a career year, and he’s not even likely halfway through his career. The Eagles running back finished first in the NFL in rushing (1,607 yards) – more than 250 yards ahead of his closest competitor – and set a single-season franchise mark when he passed Wilbert Montgomery’s 1979 record of 1,512 yards rushing. McCoy also set the team’s mark for yards from scrimmage with 2,146 yards (Brian Westbrook, 2,104 yards in 2007). He caught 52 passes for 539 yards and two touchdowns on the season and scored the first touchdown of the night when he caught a three-yard pass. McCoy ran 27 times against the Cowboys but it didn’t seem enough. Credit goes to Kelly, though, for sticking with his franchise back even though there were multiple times he was dropped behind the line.

-- Foles was mostly steady as a rock and won the first high-stakes game of his career. It’s amazing to look back at this unprecedented season for an Eagles quarterback. He finished first in the NFL in passer rating (119.2) and has the third best rating in the history of the league. Foles tossed 27 touchdowns against just two interceptions. He started only ten games (8-2 record) and threw for 2,891 yards. He completed 64 percent of his passes. He had a fumble in the third quarter, his second of the season, but Foles avoided costly mistakes. He was sacked five times, but never threw the ball into a tight spot or at least in a spot where a defender had the upper hand on a receiver.

-- The Eagles offensive line had an up-and-down night. McCoy ran through some decent-sized holes, but many of the yards were of his own doing. Foles was sacked five times, but they weren’t all on the line. He held the ball too long a few times or simply ate the sack rather than try and make a play. But he was hit seven times and pressured consistently. Dallas entered the game last in the NFL in sacks per pass, so it was a little surprising that they were able to get to Foles as often as they did. But as Kelly noted after the game, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher are normally very good pass rushers.

-- A few quickies … Brent Celek led all Eagles receivers with three catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. The tight end made two great downfield catches, one for 35 yards that set up his own 14-yard grab a play later. … Zach Ertz also had three catches for 43 yards. The Eagles tight ends have been featured more prominently later in the season. … Chris Polk touched the ball once, but it was a big play – a 34-yard catch that set up the Eagles’ first field goal. … Bryce Brown sat for most of the game, but he got in on the drive that put the Eagles up, 24-16, and had two carries for 11 yards, including the six-yard touchdown the culminated the drive. … DeSean Jackson was held to just three catches for 28 yards and finished the season with 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. Mike Quick’s team record of 1,409 yards survived another year.

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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

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