Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A chance for Eagles' Foles to score points with Kelly

YOU LOOK AT the teams, you play out the game in your head. It is what the midweeks are for during the NFL season. You look at the Eagles, you look at the Cowboys, you see explosive offenses, you see defenses that only occasionally stop the other team, almost as if by accident. It is a clear picture.

You begin the calculations. In the absence of an unforecast monsoon, you cannot see the winner of the game having fewer than 30 points. You see plenty of scenarios where the winner will nudge 40, where Nick Foles and Tony Romo match each other, lightning bolt for lightning bolt, electrifying the afternoon sky. Field goals will be for losers.

You do this. You all do.

Chip Kelly says he does not.

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    "No," said the Eagles' coach. "An example: We played the national championship [at Oregon] against Auburn. That was supposed to be one for the ages and it was 22-19. You had 37 days to prepare, you could analyze it 27 million different ways. I've been in games and it's, 'This one is going to be a stern defensive test,' and it's 38-31 at half. And you're like, 'That's not what I thought.' "

    Still, this one has 38-35 written all over it. It is why the game is so important to Kelly's decision about his quarterback in the weeks ahead. Yesterday, Foles and Michael Vick held hands and sang "Kumbaya" at a joint news conference - a news conference where Vick declared himself officially out as the starter this week because of that pulled hamstring. (He apparently did not receive the memo from Kelly that they were hoping to keep the Cowboys guessing for another couple of days. Whatever.)

    This game presents Foles with both the opportunity and the imperative to score a bunch of points. The opportunity, because the Cowboys actually have worse pass-defense numbers than the Eagles in several categories. The imperative, because any chance he has to keep the job, long-term, would seem predicated on his ability to win this kind of game.

    On the other side, people love to hate Romo, but it is because they remember only the gaffes. The truth is that, week to week, he throws it as effectively as almost anyone in the business. Yes, the gaffes are part of the package. But since 2009, for quarterbacks who have started at least 50 games, Romo is fifth in the NFL in one of the better measure of passing offenses, yards per attempt. He is behind only Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees.

    Everything about this game suggests it will take a big number to win it. If Foles can conjure up such a number, it will be hard to go away from him when Vick gets healthy. But Kelly insists that the need for that big number will not affect either his game plan or his play-calling on Sunday.

    "We don't go in that way," he said. "I think we try to execute what we do offensively and defensively and we see how the game goes."

    After weeks of tight man coverage on their wide receivers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers backed off and played more zone against the Eagles - and Foles played great, throwing accurately, reviving the screen game, finding Riley Cooper and hitting on a couple of big touchdown passes to Cooper and DeSean Jackson.

    And this week? The Cowboys are unlikely to play as much zone against the Eagles as the Bucs did. To do that just invites vivisection by Kelly's offense. And while Cowboys coordinator Monte Kiffin made his reputation playing the Tampa-2 defense, with the two deep safeties, it is not strictly a zone and it is not all he does. Last week against the Redskins, Kiffin had cornerbacks Mo Claiborne and Brandon Carr playing a lot of press man coverage on the wide receivers - which, again, is what has worked best against the Eagles so far this season.

    You can still play a two-deep zone behind that, and you have to figure that is where the Cowboys might start their plan - which would likely invite a lot of running by LeSean McCoy. It is the nature of Kelly's offense, to happily gobble up whatever the defense gives you - and then to gobble up something different after the inevitable defensive adjustment.

    The point is, the Cowboys do not likely have a ton of answers for the Eagles' offense this week, especially with their best pass rusher, DeMarcus Ware, out with an injury. But on the other side, the Eagles do not likely have many answers for Romo, either, and especially for his big receiving targets, wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.

    Thus, the equation: few answers = many points.

    Thus, Foles' challenge.



    On Twitter: @theidlerich



    Rich Hofmann Daily News Sports Columnist
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