Here are some observations and notes after re-watching the Eagles’ 16-14 loss to the Steelers on Sunday:
ON SECOND THOUGHT
LeSean McCoy’s strong effort against the Steelers was another example of why statistics, especially in football, can be overrated. If you were just looking at the running back’s numbers on Sunday – 16 carries for 53 yards and four catches for 27 yards and touchdown – it could be surmised that McCoy had just a so-so day. In actuality, he turned in his most gutsy performance of the season.
McCoy’s most impressive moments came in the fourth quarter during the Eagles’ 17-play, 79-yard drive that briefly gave them a 14-13 lead. He ran off right tackle on the first play for five yards. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg had been running McCoy more to the right this season, but on Sunday he had seven carries to the right for 17 yards (2.3 avg.), eight to the left for 32 yards (4 .0 avg.) and one up the middle for five yards.
On the Eagles’ first fourth-and-one conversion, McCoy and center Dallas Reynolds were the heroes. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons met McCoy at the line when there was initially no room for the running back to run right. If Timmons didn’t leave his feet, he probably makes the tackle. But McCoy slipped him and bounced back to his right. Waiting there was Keenan Lewis. The cornerback unwisely went high and McCoy powered two yards behind Reynolds, who held his block for a long time.
Five plays later, McCoy took another handoff on a fourth-and-one play designed to go right, but this time he didn’t have to dance. He plowed straight ahead behind guard Danny Watkins. McCoy’s longest tote of the day was 10 yards. But he consistently churned out the tough yards and ran for six first downs.
McCoy displayed his open-field moves, as well. As the “hot” receiver after the Steelers blitzed in the third quarter, he took a short pass from Michal Vick, pivoted left and scurried past linebacker Larry Foote for a 15-yard touchdown. Foote is 32 and may be excused, but later, McCoy juked 27-year-old safety Ryan Mundy out his jock on a six-yard run.
REWIND THE TAPE
There were many plays the Eagles could look back upon and say, ‘What if?’ But the Steelers’ third-and-12 conversion on their game-winning drive was perhaps the most frustrating because it wasn’t properly executed. The Eagles were in a “Tampa 2” zone defense with both safeties deep. They pass rushed only four. Defensive end Jason Babin got around right tackle Marcus Gilbert, but he was little deep. Babin slapped an arm across the Ben Roethlisberger’s thigh as Gilbert pushed him to the ground, but the quarterback merely stepped up in the pocket to avoid the pressure.
The Eagles did not have significant push up the middle. Cullen Jenkins rushed from the left defensive tackle spot. Fletcher Cox ran a loop from the other tackle position as defensive end Trent Cole rushed inside. Steelers running back Isaac Redman helped his lineman with a chip block on Cox. Jenkins and Cole were contained.
Meanwhile, down the field 20 yards wide receiver Antonio Brown slipped in between cornerback Brandon Boykin and linebacker Mychal Kendricks. It wasn’t clear after the game which player had ultimate responsibility for Brown, but it was Boykin, who was supposed to stay with receiver.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
1. Nnamdi Asomugha did not have a strong game. He was targeted seven times, per Pro Football Focus, and surrendered six catches for 58 yards. The one incompletion was the Roethlisberger throw to Brown in the end zone that he should have caught before the half. Asomugha’s struggles did not mean Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was perfect at the other cornerback spot, nor should one expect as much at an under-the-spotlight position. But he was very good for most of the game and contributed to Mike Wallace catching two of eight targeted passes for 17 yards. Roethlisberger threw at Rodgers-Cromartie six times, but the intended target only caught three passes for 28 yards. If there was one quibble with Rodgers-Cromartie’s play it was when he backed off of Brown on a third and seven late in the first half. He was more than ten yards off when the receiver caught an 11-yard pass on a slant route.
2. The Eagles offensive line, for the most part, acquitted itself against a tough defense in difficult playing conditions. But each lineman had breakdowns, perhaps none more so than Danny Watkins. The right guard continues to have issues in pass protection. The most egregious example occurred in the third quarter when Vick dropped to throw from the Steelers 49. He had no time to throw because Watkins flat-out missed his block on Steve McLendon. The nose tackle sacked Vick and forced another fumble. Watkins, nearby and not doing much, was able to recover the fumble.
3. Even though he played the least amount of snaps among the defensive tackles, Cedric Thornton was the most active of the group. He recorded three tackles – one solo and two assists – and drew two of Steelers guard Willie Colon’s four holding penalties (one was offset by an Eagles penalty). On both holds, Colon had to tackle Thornton to the ground because he had beaten him so badly. After coming out like gangbusters in his first four games as a pro, Fletcher Cox had a quiet fifth game.
In the first four games of the season, the Eagles run defense was especially nasty in the second half. Opposing running backs gained only 115 yards on 44 carries (2.6-yard average) after totaling 176 yards on 42 tries (4.2 avg.) in the first half. But the Steelers run game wore the Eagles down on Sunday. In the first half, Pittsburgh running backs rushed for 26 yards on eight carries (3.3 avg.). After the break, they ran for 96 yards on 20 totes (4.8 avg.).
THIS AND THAT
-- Even though Brent Celek caught only three passes for nine yards – and a pretty important touchdown – it wasn’t because he was asked to stay in and block more than usual. Reid said that the Steelers played particular attention to limiting the tight end’s effectiveness over the middle.
-- The officials should have called pass interference on the second quarter bomb Vick threw to DeSean Jackson. The receiver was double covered, but cornerback Ike Taylor draped his arm around Jackson just before the ball hit his one hand.
-- To be fair, the Eagles got away with a few no-calls. Safety Nate Allen made contact with receiver Emmanuel Sanders before he was credited with a pass breakup in the second quarter. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans decked a pressured Roethlisberger after he threw a ball out of bounds. The quarterback was out of the pocket which may have been why the referees swallowed their whistles.
-- Tackle Demetress Bell had what could accurately be described as an up-and-down game. He kept Steelers linebacker James Harrison in check for much of the game. But Bell missed several blocks and did very little to help tight end Clay Harbor on the screen pass that advanced the Eagles to the 2-yard line in the fourth quarter when he was the lead blocker.
-- Jason Babin was credited with tipping a Roethlisberger pass near the goal line before the half when it was really Kendricks that got his hand on the ball.
-- Safety Ryan Clark will likely be fined for leading with his helmet when he hit Celek in the third quarter. He made no attempt to wrap Celek up and was clearly using his helmet as a weapon.
-- Kendricks sprained his ankle when Brown took a screen pass 14 yards. After tight end Heath Miller blocked Asomugha to the ground, Kendricks got tangled up with Miller’s foot.
There’s a chorus of fans that don’t want to hear it, and in some ways it’s understandable considering Vick’s 11 turnovers in five games. But there’s no way Reid should go to backup Nick Foles at this point.
Besides the unknown, Vick’s improvement over the last two weeks against the blitz is more than enough reason to keep the rookie in the garage for now. Vick completed 11 of 16 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns when the Steelers sent more than four pass rushers, according to PFF. Vick was also sacked twice.
His two touchdown passes against the blitz were perfectly executed -- hitting McCoy as the hot receiver and then standing in the pocket, under intense pressure, and delivering a two-yard strike to Celek.
If only Vick can figure out that fumble thing.