Thursday, December 25, 2014

Eagles-Redskins: What Did We Learn?

Chip Kelly earned his first NFL victory after the Eagles jumped out to a 33-7 third quarter lead and held on for dear life to top the Redskins, 33-27. Much will be written about Kelly, his up-tempo offense and the offensive trifecta of Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson – and rightly so – but here are some other quick observations after the game:

Eagles-Redskins: What Did We Learn?

Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

Chip Kelly earned his first NFL victory after the Eagles jumped out to a 33-7 third quarter lead and held on for dear life to top the Redskins, 33-27. Much will be written about Kelly, his up-tempo offense and the offensive trifecta of Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson – and rightly so – but here are some other quick observations after the game:

-- It’s been more than two years since I last saw an Eagles post-game locker room as juiced following a victory as it was Monday night. The Eagles won their openers in 2011 and 2012, but there was a different vibe following this Redskins win. Some of that certainly has to do with the new blood at head coach. But the excitement seems to be more about the possibilities the team could have with Kelly’s explosive offense. It’s just one game, so there will need to be some perspective. But the players seemed very happy about being back in the national spotlight.

-- Jackson was finishing up at the post-game podium and Vick was waiting in the cramped room when an Eagles spokesman called out last question. Vick yelled a question to Jackson, something about seeing him down the field a few times with his arms held up, asking for the ball. Jackson shot back with a joke and said, “We’ll be alright,” and the room erupted. Sorry, I don’t have the exact conversation (I fumbled with my tape recorded), but we haven’t seen the light side of the Eagles superstars in some time.

-- Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie awarded Kelly the game ball.

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-- Bill Davis did a good job of lowering expectations for his defense heading into the season. And frankly, he didn’t need to. Not many thought the unit could shutout the Redskins offense in the first half. Things got a little sloppy in the second half, but they made stops when it counted. Kelly said he liked the energy of the group. It’s a simple thing, and something you would think all NFL defenses should have. But the Eagles were lacking in energy the last two seasons. You could see it in their body language. But Davis, at least, has his guys playing for him so far. They made a number of mistakes against the Redskins, but the effort was always there. They recorded three turnovers and three sacks. Last season, the Eagles finished with only 13 turnovers and 30 sacks.

-- Many had Trent Cole dead and buried, but the old defensive end showed he still had some tricks despite the move to outside linebacker. Cole set the tone when he forced a fumble on the Redskins’ first play from scrimmage. He also had several other stops against the run, including one in the backfield. Cole didn’t drop much into coverage it seemed. I’m not sure if that was by design, or just because of the way the Redskins were playing.

-- What sconces? Cary Williams delivered the type of game that will have many forgetting the dubious start to his Eagles career. And, really, what happens on the field is mostly what matters. A wary eye should be kept on the cornerback, but his one-interception, one-sack, fourth-down-pass-breakup performance was a solid start in green. Williams didn’t talk with reporters last week after his fight with Riley Cooper, but he did after the game and said the altercation was not racially motivated.

“I have no animosity towards Riley,” Williams said. “As far as I’m concerned, it was two competitors going at it. It’s just two tough guys playing the game of football that they love. We bounced back from it and we performed well tonight. That’s all that really counts.”

-- Kelly had given away a few secrets in practice, but he had yet to unveil a number of unorthodox o-line formations in the preseason. On one play Monday night, left tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson were split wide as blockers with one receiver and another behind them. Quarterback Michael Vick handed off on that play. Earlier, Kelly revealed a stacked o-line formation in which Johnson lined up inside Peters. The Eagles ran several plays in a row with that look in the second quarter and the offense had success on the ground running to that side. It was unclear exactly if the odd looks threw off the Redskins defense, but they were just more wrinkles to Kelly’s offense.

-- It was criminal neglect how little the Eagles blitzed Mychal Kendricks last season. The inside linebacker was only a rookie, but the wide-nine scheme did not utilize his skill set. Jim Washburn’s linemen were supposed to provide the pass rush. Kendricks has uncommon speed for his position. He’s strong in coverage, but he could be the best blitzing linebacker the Eagles have had in years. Late in the second quarter, he shot through a gap and forced Robert Griffin III to intentionally ground the ball.

-- Nate Allen started at safety opposite Patrick Chung, but rookie Earl Wolff did spell him at few times, as Davis said he would. I’ll have to watch the replay, and later in the week, the all-22 film, to get a real grasp on how the safeties played. But my initial impression was that they were cohesive in the first half, but when Griffin started airing it out in the second half they had a few breakdowns. Chung looked like he was at fault when Griffin hooked up with Leonard Hankerson for a 24-yard TD that narrowed the Eagles lead to six late in the fourth quarter.

-- Rookie Jordan Poyer also saw some action on defense. He relieved Brandon Boykin (one interception) in the slot in the second half. He looked OK, but there was a big third down the Redskins converted when Griffin went right at the young corner.

-- The Eagles defense did a great of stuffing the Redskins’ run game early and thus forcing the Redskins to the air earlier than perhaps they wanted. Alfred Morris ran seven times in the first half and gained just 26 yards. He finished with 45 yards on 12 carries and scored a TD. Griffin ran five times for 24 yards.

-- McCoy just missed out on setting a career mark in yards rushing. He rushed 31 times for 184 yards and a touchdown. His career best was a 30-carry, 185-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Cowboys in 2011. Bryce Brown wasn’t as effective (9-25), and was shaky in the blocking department. Chris Polk didn’t get a tote.

-- A few quickies: Brent Celek only saw three passes tossed his way, but he caught two for 56 yards and a 28-yard TD. Rookie tight end Zach Ertz had one catch for 11 yards, but dropped one pass. James Casey, where are you? … The Eagles special teams were sound. There weren’t many opportunities for long returns, but the cover units did their jobs. Alex Henery hit a 48-yard FG (twice) and had three touchbacks on kickoffs.

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

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
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