Thursday, July 10, 2014
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Eagles-Vikings: What Did We Learn?

MINNEAPOLIS -- Chip Kelly and the Birds laid an ostrich egg at the Metrodome and had their five-game winning streak come to an end with a 48-30 loss to the Vikings on Sunday. The Eagles came out flat, Kelly made some questionable decisions and Bill Davis’ defense couldn’t stop a fly. Here are some observations:

Eagles-Vikings: What Did We Learn?

Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson runs from Eagles strong safety Nate Allen after making a reception during the first half. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP)
Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson runs from Eagles strong safety Nate Allen after making a reception during the first half. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Chip Kelly and the Birds laid an ostrich egg at the Metrodome and had their five-game winning streak come to an end with a 48-30 loss to the Vikings on Sunday. The Eagles came out flat, Kelly made some questionable decisions and Bill Davis’ defense couldn’t stop a fly. Here are some observations:

-- There were multiple reasons for Sunday’s defeat, but the defense played particularly bad. For nine weeks Davis’ unit showed steady improvement and held each of its opponents to 21 points or less. But they allowed 48 points to a Vikings team that was without arguably the NFL’s top running back in Adrian Peterson, his backup Toby Gerhart and journeyman quarterback Matt Cassel. It’s hard to say if the effort was just a blip or that the defense was finally exposed. We’ll find out in a week against a Bears offense that has scored more points than any team in the NFC and has two deadly weapons in receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. I’m inclined to think it was the latter. Davis should be commended for covering up the cracks, especially in the secondary, but cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher and safeties Patrick Chung and Nate Allen were bound to get torched eventually.

-- Chung, in particular, struggled and was benched for Kurt Coleman. When Coleman left with a hamstring injury Davis had no choice but to put Chung back out on the field. I’ll have to watch the coaches’ film to make a full evaluation of Chung’s play, but he bit on a couple of pedestrian play-action plays and took poor angles on a couple of tackle attempts in the open field. His coverage was spotty at best. Allen was only slightly better. He’s made improvement this season and the mistakes have been fewer, but he hardly ever blows up plays. Earl Wolff practiced some last week, but was doubtful for Sunday. He could return next week, but nothing is certain. You know things are bad when you’re counting on a rookie safety to come back and rescue a floundering secondary.

-- Williams and Fletcher aren’t as bad as they looked Sunday. But they need help from the Eagles pass rush and the officials if they are to be effective. The line and Davis’ blitzes applied little pressure to Cassel. The pass rush hasn’t been consistent for most of the season, but there has been enough to offset the soft coverages Davis likes to play. But when Cassel had time he just picked Williams, Fletcher, et al apart. The quarterback deserves credit, of course. He made a number of strong throws, but his receivers were constantly open. The Eagles could be down a cornerback against the Bears. Slot man Brandon Boykin suffered a head injury. He’s the Eagles’ best cover corner and tackler in the secondary.

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-- Kelly probably had his worst game as an NFL head coach. There were decisions he made that bit him in the rear. He had decided during the week that he wasn’t going to let kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson beat him. So the Eagles special teams practiced having Alex Henery pooch kick short of Patterson. Some of Henery’s attempts were OK, others were too short and the Vikings consistently had good field position to start. Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, meanwhile, booted seven of nine kickoffs for touchbacks. Kelly said that Patterson can be just as dangerous running out of the end zone – he has 109-yard and 105-yard returns for touchdowns this season – but I would have liked to have seen Henery attempt to kick a few out of the back of the end zone. He said he was capable.

-- The other dubious decision by Kelly was abandoning the run far too early. He said the Eagles wanted to take advantage of a suspect secondary and when the Eagles fell behind he had no choice but to take to the air. But a 55-10 pass-run disparity is mind-blowing, especially considering the Eagles were down only four midway through the second quarter and down only eight at the half. He also has LeSean McCoy coming off a career performance against the Lions and deadly indoors on turf. It was clear fairly early that the Eagles defense was going to have problems slowing the Vikings offense. Kelly needed to establish some kind of ground game to churn the clock and establish some rhythm. But having Nick Foles drop back time after time made an explosive, multifaceted offense predictable.

-- I don’t know if I can kill Kelly for his fourth-and-one attempt in the third quarter from his own 24. The Eagles were down 24-9 and he was looking to jump start his offense. As he said, if they couldn’t get a half yard it was going to be a long day anyway. But it may have come off as a panic move that early in the second half. The Eagles did rebound and managed to trim the Vikings’ lead to 27-22 late in the third quarter. But Henery’s ensuing kickoff was painfully short and the defense just wasn’t stout enough to get three-and-outs.

-- I’m not sure if the Eagles overlooked the Vikings or couldn’t ratchet up enough energy following an emotional comeback victory over the Lions in the snow. But too many players lost their composure on Sunday. I wrote more about DeSean Jackson’s sideline outburst here, but the temperamental receiver lost his cool after Foles missed him and threw an interception in the third quarter. I’m not sure if he could have broken up the pick. It looked like he didn’t see Shaun Prater behind him, but not hustling to tackle after the pick was inexcusable. I imagine wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell had something to say to Jackson as he walked off the field because Jackson was caught yelling something repeatedly at his position coach by cameras. He had to be held back by multiple people. Jackson is a diva and sideline spats happen, but it looked particularly bad considering the player and past examples of dubious effort.

-- That being said, Jackson was probably the best player on the field Sunday. He caught a career-high ten catches for 195 yards and a touchdown. His 51-yard catch in the fourth quarter when the game was all but out of reach should not be forgotten just because the Eagles lost.

-- As for the other moments in which the Eagles came unglued, Williams was called for unsportsmanlike conduct late in the fourth quarter and was promptly benched and Roc Carmichael was called for taunting earlier in the fourth when the Eagles were trailing by 12. These may be isolated incidents, but Kelly has to get his players back on track with the playoffs still very much a possibility. The Eagles got a break after the Cowboys choked up a 23-point lead and lost to the Packers Sunday evening. They remain a game ahead of 7-7 Cowboys, but Dallas holds the tiebreaker. The Eagles could clinch the division next week with a win over the Bears coupled with a Cowboys loss at the Redskins. If both teams win or lose, the final game will also decide the division. The Eagles were eliminated from the wild card race on Sunday.

-- Foles’ numbers were impressive (30 of 48 for 428 yards and three touchdowns) and he made a number of impressive throws, but he was too inconsistent. The interception was, of course, bad. He waited too long to throw and overshot Jackson. He also took a number of sacks that likely called for him to throw the ball away instead. The protection wasn’t great but it was good enough for most of the day. The cutback block he delivered on the double reverse fourth down play in the second quarter called back a Jackson touchdown. He didn’t need to make the play – Jackson was already past him – and it took points off the board.

-- A few quickies … Foles led the Eagles with five carries for 41 yards, but he needs to learn how to slide properly. … Bryce Brown played only four offensive snaps. Chris Polk had seven, but dropped a screen pass. … The Eagles were 2 of 5 inside the red zone while the Vikings were 5 of 6. … The Vikings won time of possession, 36:26 to 23:34. … The Eagles had nine penalties for 94 yards. … Mychal Kendricks recorded his second interception of the season. He made a fine play and had three tackles for loss , but he was beat by tight end Chase Ford on a crucial third down and 14 in the fourth quarter and when Colt Anderson missed a tackle the play went for 37 yards. … Trent Cole also had three tackles for loss. … DeMeco Ryans and Connor Barwin had the Eagles’ two other sacks. … Tight end Zach Ertz (six catches for 56 yards) made a beautiful one-handed touchdown catch.

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

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