LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 16: LeSean McCoy #25 of the Philadelphia Eagles scores a touchdown against the Washington Redskins during a game at FedExField on October 16, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
A season-saving victory against the Redskins has the Eagles going into the bye week at 2-4, but nobody's exhaling just yet. Sunday's performance was enough to beat a particularly wretched Rex Grossman. Though if the Eagles expect to play like that and win many other games, they got another thing coming. Still, there were reasons for encouragement, and with three straight home games coming up the season can get back on track very quickly.
And so the angry lynch mob will stay at bay for a few weeks. As the Eagles temporarily saved their season with an underwhelming win against the Redskins, there were reasons to be both encouraged and discouraged about this team going forward. It was a classic Jekyll and Hyde performance, and a game the Eagles likely would have lost had they been playing a competent quarterback. Luckily Rex Grossman has made a career of teetering on the brink of competency, and he went into self-destruct mode on Sunday. Regardless, it was a relief to see the defense come through, especially when the offense continuously failed to put the game away. The win is certainly nice and a good feeling to have going into the bye, but by no means should the Eagles be satisfied because we could easily be talking about another epic second half collapse, a 1-5 record, and a lost season.
1. Offensive play-calling.
First... LeSean McCoy. I love this novel concept of giving the ball to your best player on offense and letting him do his thing. Whodathunk it might work?! A career-high 28 carries and 30 total touches for Shady, which yielded 139 total yards (126 rushing). Better yet, 17 of those carries came in the first half as the Eagles were building a lead. HALLELUJAH! Andy, again, let's just try a ~25 carries per game experiment for a bit. As electrifying as Michael Vick is to watch, he's a mistake-prone quarterback by nature, and that hasn't changed with his reincarnation in Philadelphia. Last season was the exception, not the rule. Quite simply, the more he drops back, the more chances there are that he will throw an interception or get hit and fumble (or suffer an injury). Meanwhile, McCoy has not fumbled the ball yet this season and done so just four times in his career (losing two), which has featured 606 total touches so far. He's also not a slight back in the least and is equipped to carry a heavy load on offense, just as he did in college. For the love of all things holy, give Shady the football.
I can't write about McCoy's performance and not mention his infamous poke/jab right into Andy Reid's gut after thinking he'd picked up a first down to end the game (turns out he was short of the marker and Vick needed to gain that final fraction of a yard to finish it off). The .gif has already secured all-time great status and its place in history next to the one of DeSean Jackson and Reid chest/butt/side bumping after a touchdown against the Giants two seasons ago. It was just a perfect moment all around. Sure, Shady likely just got carried away and was being playful, but I'd rather think it was his way of telling Andy, "SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GIVE ME THE BALL, YOU [STRING OF EXPLETIVES]!?!?!" You know, that kind of poke/jab. After the game, Andy said Shady can do whatever he wants if he plays like that... so hopefully more gut poke/jabs are on the way.
The Eagles are ranked FIRST in the league in rushing because of Shady and Vick's seven scrambles per game. Andy, it's time to embrace and employ the run. Don't fight it anymore. Please. I'm way beyond sick and tired of watching a soft football team.
Second... three-step drops and short, quick passes. This was certainly an adjustment for Michael Vick, who likes to hold onto the ball and extend plays, but it worked really well. He was able to get the ball of out of his hand fast and minimize the risk of getting hit. It was great to see Brent Celek more involved, too. Traditional West Coast offense > Feast or famine aerial attack. The emphasis for this offense going forward should be centered around efforts to protect Vick*, who continues to struggle against the blitz, and an increased focus on putting the ball in LeSean McCoy's hands.
*Edit: This should also include moving the pocket and calling more designed roll-outs to make up for the fact that he's barely 6'0".
2. Defense. Against the run and the pass. Just marvelous. That was easily the best game the unit has played thus far. Tough, fundamentally sound, swarming, and opportunistic. FINALLY. Yes, it came against an anemic Redskins offense, but at least it happened against somebody. The Skins' rushing attack that came into the game ranked in the top ten was smothered from the very beginning. I really thought that offensive line was going to be able to handle the Eagles' front seven and dictate the flow of the game. I was sorely mistaken. Tightening up the "wide nine" (FINALLY!) yielded favorable results, and each player on that Eagles defense brought his big boy game. Obviously Juan Castillo's defensive gameplan going in was to sell out to stop the run and force Rex Grossman to throw because he's terrible. But it's one thing to scheme and another to actually execute. Eagles defenders remained disciplined, filled gaps, attacked the line of scrimmage instead of flowing to the ball (which you have to do against the zone blocking scheme), and actually made tackles. That bone-rattling Nnamdi Asomugha hit on Chris Cooley (which broke his finger) to stop him short of a first down was a tone-setter and momentum-shifter. Throw in four interceptions, two of which were made inside the five-yard line, and you have a very encouraging performance from the defense. That unit made big plays when it had to -- especially to bail out the offense -- and was the difference in the game, but forgive me if I'm not yet convinced. Let's see how this new-look defense plays against better offenses, as it's important to remember that a quarterback who doesn't suck probably completes two of those interceptions for touchdowns instead.
PS - Derek Landri, despite limited playing time, was a force at defensive tackle. He picked up right where he left off in the preseason. Landri just makes plays and was probably the hardest guy for the Eagles to cut during the final roster trimming. I'm surprised no other team picked him up. In just 14 snaps Sunday, Landri recorded four tackles (three solo) -- the most memorable of which was when he stood up Ryan Torain for only a one-yard gain on 2nd and 4 in the second quarter. I have a feeling he will be seeing increased playing time.
3. Kurt Coleman. KURT COLEMAN! He had the game of his life and, like Nate Allen last week, took a stranglehold of one of the starting safety spots. In addition to the three interceptions (first time an Eagle has done that in 45 years), he led the team with seven tackles and had two pass breakups. Coleman was flying all over the field and making plays in a display very reminiscent of his days at Ohio State. One game does not a season make, but perhaps it's a glimpse of the kind of player he can be when playing under control. Fellow Buckeye Brian Rolle continues to impress, as well.
4. Winston Justice and Todd Herremans. Yeah, Shady and Coleman had superb performances, but the game ball has to go the Eagles' right and left tackles. Enough cannot be said about the job the two bookends did blocking the dynamic duo of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Herremans has been a rock for this team for six years and played his third position of the young season on Sunday. And he played it well. Damn, he's good. One of the best in the business, and he shut down Orakpo. That pancake on Oshiomogo Atogwe was particularly delicious. Justice, in his first game back from knee surgery, slid right back into his natural role as the protector of Michael Vick's blind side. Remarkably, he had probably one of the best games of his career as he silenced Kerrigan, who'll be in the discussion for defensive rookie of the year. It looks like the offensive line situation is coming into focus; once Jason Peters returns from injury, Herremans (presumably) goes back to left guard.
I also have to believe a lot of the offensive line's success in keeping Vick alive against the Redskins could be attributed to the Eagles' success on the ground. The run game forces the defense to slow down and seems to make everything easier. Defenders can't pin their ears back and solely focus on getting after the quarterback.
1. Second half offense. Really? This team still can't play a full game? The Eagles should count their lucky stars that Sunday's opponent was the Redskins. That second half performance on offense was simply unacceptable. Aside from a four-drive stretch in the first half, the Eagles produced precisely zero points. Give the Redskins' defense credit for playing much better after halftime, but the Eagles' offense went into stall mode and turned the ball over twice (which it had avoided in the first half) on interceptions. If this team doesn't learn how to finish games, it has no chance of making any kind of run and getting into the playoffs. At least the offense was able to come through at the end by, you guessed it, handing the ball off to LeSean McCoy. John Beck, who'd replaced the hapless Grossman, had just led the Skins down the field for a touchdown to make the score 20-13. With the lead cut to a touchdown, the Eagles' offense got the ball back at its own 20 with 2:44 to go and a raucous home crowd yearning for a three and out. Shady left end for 11 yards. Washington calls its second timeout. Shady left end for seven yards. Washington calls its final timeout. Shady left end for two yards. The immortal poke/jab to Andy Reid's inviting stomach. Michael Vick quarterback sneaks to the left side for one yard and a first down. Kneel down. Kneel Down. Kneel Down. That's how it's done.
2. Red zone offense. The Eagles had five total chances to score inside the Redskins' 20-yard line. The first two opportunities resulted in touchdowns, while the last three resulted in two field goals and an interception. The two field goals came after having first and goal inside the five. One of those needs to be a touchdown. This game ended up being a lot closer than it should have been, and that's because the red zone offense still needs improvement. Most of the time that kind of ineffectiveness is going to cost a team the victory, which is something the Eagles have experienced too often already this season. And it will happen again if the offense doesn't get shit figured out down the near the goal line. Here's a good read about play-calling in the red zone.
3. Vince Young. Gross.
Again, the win is nice, but it only feels like a brief reprieve from frustration rather than a "turning the corner" moment. Even so, winning by being more physical than the other team -- and beating it at its own game -- is always welcome. The Eagles have three very winnable games coming up, all at home. As is sure to get jammed down our throats until kickoff of the Dallas game in two weeks, Andy Reid has a perfect record coming off the bye. If this Eagles team is any good, it really should be 5-4 going into the Week 11 tilt against the Giants at the Meadowlands. But being good will require a better effort than the one put forth against the Redskins. Speaking of the Redskins, what a disappointing showing by a team that felt it was ready to take the next step and announce itself as a contender in the NFC East.
I won't hold my breath that Sunday's game served as some sort of epiphany for Andy Reid with regard to offensive philosophy. As effective as this team can be with a balanced offense, he feels you win in this league by passing... and passing... and passing some more. Andy will feed the masses rhetoric about the importance of running the ball to finish games, but he must also recognize that is not its only function and role within the offense. Until that happens, the same problems will persist. As Ray Didinger wrote during our e-mail exchange after the game: "We've seen Andy do this before. Just as the ship is about to go down, he actually runs the ball for one or two weeks, gets things back under control and wins a few games. But inevitably he goes back to his way of doing things. He'll never change." What, you were expecting something different?