Here are some observations and notes after re-watching the Eagles’ 30-22 loss to the Panthers on Monday night:
ON SECOND THOUGHT
While it may have looked as if the play-calling changed Monday night with Bryce Brown at running back, the Eagles called the same plays they called when the injured LeSean McCoy was the primary ball-carrier. There may have been more reliance on the run and a few specific plays – the direct snap to Brown worked well. But for the most part the biggest difference was that Brown did a better a job of hitting the hole than McCoy.
That isn’t to suggest that Brown is a better tailback or that McCoy has had trouble accelerating through lanes. McCoy is one of the best in the NFL and has proven that in almost four seasons. But he runs differently than Brown and sometimes that can be a detriment, although most of the time McCoy’s shiftiness gets the Eagles extra yards.
But Brown was as good as one could expect in terms of rushing. As for his ball security, that was major issue. Brown’s two second half fumbles were costly. He has to do a better job of holding onto the ball if he wants to be a viable complement to McCoy next season. But Brown’s 19 carries for 178 yards and two touchdowns was quite the debut as a starter.
On his 19-yard scamper in the first quarter, Brown showed great vision and patience. He waited for the line to block to its right and then he went up in the middle. Brown benefitted from some strong blocking at the point of attack on his 65-yard touchdown in the second quarter – especially from wide receiver Damaris Johnson. But he displayed a rare combination of speed and power on the carry.
He skipped out of two would-be tacklers and zoomed into the end zone. Later in the third, he shook off linebacker Thomas Davis and plunged ahead for six yards and a first down.
Monday night’s loss to the Panthers provided little to be excited about, but the emergence of Brown could give the Eagles one of the better 1-2 punches in the backfield next season. With their quarterback situation unsettled, the Birds may have to rely on more of a running game next season. McCoy and Brown will be two strong selling points to potential head coaching candidates.
REWIND THE TAPE
Andy Reid claimed that handing off to Brown on fourth and inches in the fourth quarter was the right call even though the tailback was dropped in the backfield. The Eagles coach said the play wasn’t blocked properly and he was the correct. The main culprit? Dallas Reynolds. The center had an otherwise (see: below) strong performance as a run blocker, but he was run over by defensive tackle Dwan Edwards on this play. The Eagles lined up in the I-formation with two tight ends on each side. Fullback Stanley Havili was the lead blocker – the Eagles ran the same play successfully in Week 1 at Cleveland – but Brown never got to follow him because Edwards had blasted by Reynolds for the tackle well short of the first down.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
1. Vinny Curry shined in his debut. The rookie defensive end played only 21 snaps in his first NFL game, but he made the best of them. Curry had obvious issues going up against Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross on his first few plays. Carolina even doubled him a few times. But when Curry was matched up one-on-one he made plays. His finest moment came on back-to-back plays in the third quarter. On the first, he fought off Gross and held Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart to a two-yard run. On the next, he swam through what was supposed to be a double team and shot into the backfield. Defensive tackle Derek Landri was already there, but he couldn’t bring Cam Newton down. Curry failed on his effort, as well. But he got up off the ground and chased Newton down after just a one-yard gain. It was a pure hustle play. Later, he shot from one end of the line to another to drop Newton after three yards.
2. He isn't at fault for many of the problems in the Eagles’ secondary, but you’ll hardly ever hear Nnamdi Asomugha shoulder much blame. He did not have one of his worst games, but again the cornerback struggled in zone defense. In the third quarter, he lined up in the slot and let receiver Steve Smith slide through because he was responsible for the underneath route. However, Asomugha was late to react to Brandon LaFell, took a bad angle to tackle him after a short pass and the receiver ran for 19 yards. When Smith caught a 31-yard pass in the fourth, Asomugha had him off the line, but ran with him like he was in zone. When Smith cut and ran an out, Asomugha was out of the picture and safety Kurt Coleman had once again missed an assignment.
3. Aside from the aforementioned (non)blocking on fourth down, Dallas Reynolds was helpful in the run game. In the first quarter when the Panthers showed a potential “A” gap double blitz on third down and three, quarterback Nick Foles checked to another play and Reynolds scooted ahead and blocked his man at the next level. Brown easily picked up the first down. Reynolds was part of the crew that sealed off the right flank on Brown’s 65-yard scamper. He did a fine job picking up linebacker Luke Kuechly on a 24-yard run by Brown in the fourth. Reynolds continues to have problems in pass protection, though, as he did when end Frank Alexander zipped by him and forced Foles to throw to Jeremy Maclin short of a first down.
DeSean Jackson, who was placed on Injured Reserve with fractured ribs, has not dropped a pass all season and was one of the Eagles’ most consistent players. But he did little in the red zone this season (2 catches for 33 yards and a touchdown) and will likely not play the remainder of the season. Jackson’s brittleness and lack of production inside the red zone were reasons some believed the Eagles shouldn’t have given him a contract extension in the offseason.
THIS AND THAT
-- On Carolina’s second touchdown – a 43-yard touchdown pass to LaFell -- Brandon Boykin was not supposed the blitz, hence the wide open receiver.
-- Remember Akeem Jordan? The Eagles’ weak-side linebacker plays only a third of the time, but his name is hardly ever called over the course of a game. He did a nice job of containing Newton and dropping him for a loss in the third quarter. Still, isn’t it about time we see what Casey Matthews can do?
-- Riley Cooper has easily become the best blocker among the Eagles receivers. He gave a good effort on Brown’s five-yard touchdown run in the third.
-- As many suspected, we’ll likely never see Danny Watkins again this season, healthy or not. Jake Scott has already done a much better job at right guard. He had a textbook block on a linebacker that cleared room for Dion Lewis’ 11-yard run in the second.
-- Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert will likely draw a fine for his block on Matthews on the opening kick of the second half. Tolbert was flagged for clipping, but he speared Matthews with a helmet-to-helmet blow.
-- Foles audibled at least three calls when he saw something he didn’t like at the line. Each time, he checked to a run play – or another run play – and the Eagles gained more than five yards.