NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
PHILADELPHIA -- The decision isn’t getting any easier.
When Chip Kelly traded Nick Foles for Sam Bradford, he knew what he was getting. Bradford had missed most of the past two seasons with torn ligaments in his left knee. He had one year left on the contract he signed in St. Louis as the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Bradford had some preseason discussions about a contract extension. Those talks were fruitless, and Bradford began this season as a lame duck, contract-wise.
That season is now 25 percent over and the Eagles are no closer to knowing whether they found their franchise quarterback or whether Bradford is in the same category as Foles or Mark Sanchez or a number of other quarterbacks.
The Eagles are 1-3 in Bradford’s four starts. Bradford has completed 88 of 145 passes (60.7 percent) for 948 yards. He has thrown six touchdown passes and four interceptions. His passer rating is 82.2.
Bradford is 17th in the league in passing yards, 30th in passer rating, and tied for 13th in touchdown passes.
Those are not numbers that scream a conclusion either way. Bradford could be just a middle-of-the-pack quarterback. That is not what Kelly was hoping for when he acquired him.
Bradford had his best game Sunday at Washington. His rating was 122.6, some 40 points above his season number. He threw three touchdowns, or half his season total, including throws of 62 and 39 yards. He hung in the pocket despite taking five sacks and facing pressure at other times.
Is that a sign Bradford has taken strides toward being that franchise quarterback, or merely a sign that Washington has a poor pass defense?
The point here isn’t to rush to one conclusion or another. The point is only to consider the possibility that the rest of the season has similar ups and downs.
Bradford’s numbers project to 352 completions, 580 attempts, 3,792 yards, 24 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
But is “pretty good” what Kelly is looking for in a quarterback? Would a season in of Flacco/Cutler/Romo level quarterbacking convince Kelly he needed to invest in a five-year, $90 million contract for Bradford? Or would it convince Kelly he needs to look elsewhere for that Super Bowl-caliber quarterback?
The decision isn’t getting any easier as more information on Bradford becomes available.
That leaves the players, and that’s why Kelly has talked so much about “execution.”
ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said on 97.5 The Fanatic Monday that Kelly is using classic “coachspeak” to explain his team’s struggles. Kelly the GM has acquired the players and Kelly the coach has devised the offensive system.
So if the players aren’t good enough or the system is flawed, Kelly is the only one to blame. By talking about “execution,” Kelly is saying the players are good enough and the scheme is sound. It’s just a matter of a few mistakes preventing the Eagles from succeeding.
“You just keep practicing and you keep working on it and you trust the guys you have,” Kelly said Monday. “We know we have the right players here. We just -- it's a play here or a play there. We've lost a game by two and we've lost a game by three. We lost another game by 10. We've lost three games by 15 points.
“You hit two kicks and we are sitting here 3-1 and everybody's happy.”
The Eagles certainly were within striking distance in a couple of their losses.
“The difference in this league, right now, is almost every game when you look up, is a less-than-one-score-game,” Kelly said. “It's a one-score game in terms of -- I think 31 of the 62 games so far have been decided by eight points or less.
“So it's a matter of making one more play than your opponent. We had a touchdown called back because we lined up wrong. That's the difference in a football game. We missed an extra point, we missed a field goal; that's the difference in a football game. We get a completion on third down, we allow a completion on the third down; that's the difference in the football game.
“It's just one play here or there and it's a different story where we are standing here today.”
The alternative view is that the Eagles have come out in their three losses and been outplayed in the first half. The Eagles have been outscored by a combined 39-3 in the first half by Atlanta, Dallas and Washington.
The Eagles have outscored those three opponents by a total of 51-30 in the second halves of the games.
Clearly, the Eagles are not as well prepared for games as their opponents have been. Whether that’s a failure of coaching or a product of inferior talent, it’s significant.
In his theory on the issue, Kelly used the “E” word again.
“We are not executing,” he said. “We need to stay on the field offensively in the first half and not be on three-and-outs.”
PHILADELPHIA – Chip Kelly doesn’t think DeMarco Murray is getting the ball enough, either.
The problem, Kelly said, is that the Eagles’ offense isn’t converting third downs and sustaining drives. That means shorter possessions and little chance to develop a rhythm on offense.
“We all should be getting more touches on the offensive side of the ball,” Kelly said Monday. “But when you only have 51 snaps on offense, there aren’t a lot of touches. When we can stay on the field and snap it for 68 or 70 plays, then we’re going to have a lot more balance in our run and pass game because we’re on the field longer.”
The Eagles ran a total of 51 offensive plays against Washington Sunday. Washington’s offense ran a total of 79 plays.
Murray carried the ball just eight times for 36 yards. For the season, Murray has 29 carries for a total of 47 yards.
Through four games with the Dallas Cowboys last season, Murray had 99 carries for 534 yards.
After Sunday’s game, Murray was asked if he’s getting the ball enough.
“Do I think I’m touching the ball [enough]?” Murray said. “No, I’m not. I don’t think I am. But it’s the plays that are being called. I love this offense. I love playing with these guys. It’s just how it is.”
Kelly said he had no trouble with Murray’s comment.
“I want all of our guys at the running back and wide receiver spot to want the football,” Kelly said. “I don’t think you want someone who says I don’t want the ball more. It’s what you’re looking for.
“Again, it’s a team deal on the offensive side of the ball. Everybody needs the ball more. We need more than 51 snaps in a game for us to be successful on the offensive side of the ball. When you only have 51 snaps, no one’s going to get the ball as much as they should get the ball.”
Last season, the Eagles ran a total of 1,127 plays on offense, most in the NFL. That’s an average of 70 plays per game. Through four games this year, they have run 241 plays. That is 25th most in the NFL, and an average of 60 plays per game.
LANDOVER, Md. -- When it is all going right, when everything is working according to Chip Kelly’s grand design, the Eagles are tough to beat.
Their offense scores at a frenetic pace while their defense finds ways to get the offense the ball.
But when it is all going wrong, well, it looks a lot like it has for the first quarter of the 2015 season. The Eagles hit the quarter pole Sunday with a frustrating 23-20 loss at Washington. They do not look like a playoff team. They do not look like a good football team in any phase of the game.
The offense that zips down the field toward another touchdown suddenly bogs down. The Eagles’ uptempo offense produces breathtaking scoring drives, but it also delivers some lightning-quick three-and-outs. That puts the defense on the field for way too long.
On Sunday, the Eagles’ offense was on the field for 18 minutes, 52 seconds. That left the defense to stop Washington’s offense for 41 minutes, 8 seconds. The defensive coaches and players take the blame for that.
“We’re not going to play 79 plays if we get off [the field] on third down,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “That’s nobody’s fault but ours. We need to do a better job on third down and a better job on that last drive.”
The Eagles converted only 4 of 12 third-down opportunities, a 33 percent success rate. Washington converted 9 of 17 third downs, a 52 percent rate.
But Washington also stuck with its running game. It produced a big early play -- a 42-yard gain by Chris Thompson -- but was otherwise a series of 2- or 3-yard gains by Alfred Morris and Matt Jones. That didn’t stop coach Jay Gruden from staying with the run.
On that game-winning 15-play, 90-yard drive, Washington got runs of 16 and 13 yards from Morris. The run game moved the chains and created a lot of manageable second and third downs. The Eagles' defense wore down as the drive went on.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are built to be a run-first team. But Kelly called only 18 running plays (11 in the second half) in the entire game. Yes, the Eagles were behind 13-0 at halftime, but that was hardly an insurmountable deficit.
By abandoning the run, Kelly put more pressure on Sam Bradford and the passing game to keep the ball moving. That worked at times, but the Eagles were always one dropped pass from having to give the ball back.
And if the Eagles can count on one thing this season, it is dropped passes.
“We had a couple of key drops in the fourth quarter,” Kelly said. “We get those drops, it changes the game. We had two key drops when we were trying to drive down the field. You catch those two balls and you give yourself a chance to win the game. You have to execute.”
That happens when you throw the ball. When you run it, the other team starts to wear down. When things are going according to Kelly’s design, the Eagles are able to run the ball, control the game and wear their opponents down.
When things aren’t going right, it is the Eagles who wear down. Their offense can’t stay on the field and their defense can’t get off the field.
That’s where the Eagles are after four games. They are 1-3. They have looked like a good football team for about five quarters out of the 16 they’ve played.
That isn’t the way Kelly planned it.
What he got was much worse.
Hurricane Joaquin veered out to the ocean before the Eagles' game Sunday at FedEx Field. The storm blew away any excuses Sturgis would have for missing an extra point and a 33-yard field-goal try. That was four lost points in a 23-20 Eagles loss to Washington.
"I missed," Sturgis said. "It was on me."
Sturgis was signed after winning an open audition for kickers last Monday. The Eagles had to place kicker Cody Parkey on injured reserve that day. Parkey tore a groin muscle before last Sunday's game against the New York Jets.
It won't be surprising if the team holds another audition this week. Coach Chip Kelly was noncommittal after the game.
"He was fine in practice," Kelly said. "There's a difference between practice and a game. You can't simulate anything in practice that's going to give you this environment. That's what I said the other day, that it's going to be a big unknown because he hasn't had the opportunity to kick for us in a game."
It was windy Sunday, but Sturgis said that wasn't a factor.
"It really wasn't that bad out there," Sturgis said. "I just went out there and missed and hurt the team. It's on me."
"He missed them," Kelly said. "It was a clean look, it was a clean snap and a clean hold from where I saw on the sideline. I haven't seen the film yet."
It won't look much different.
The Eagles' 23-20 loss to the Washington Redskins was a grim performance on Sunday at FedEx Field.
The Eagles were held scoreless in the first half for the second time this season. They rallied to take a 20-16 lead early in the fourth quarter, then allowed Washington’s offense to burn nearly the last six minutes of game clock as quarterback Kirk Cousins drove Washington 90 yards for the game-winning score.
Cousins found wide receiver Pierre Garcon for a first down at the Eagles’ 4-yard line with 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter, with Washington needing a touchdown for the win. Washington got it, as Cousins fired a strike that was caught by a diving Garcon just inside the end zone. The 4-yard touchdown essentially gave Washington the win and the advantage in the NFC East race.
What it means: The Eagles are in disarray. Their offense was largely anemic, producing just 20 points against an injury-riddled Washington defense. At 1-3, the Eagles aren’t dead, but they absolutely must win their next two games against the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants. Worse still, the Eagles managed to miss points on special teams and allow a 90-yard scoring drive on defense. It was an all-phases breakdown. There’s nothing for the Eagles to hang their hats on right now.
What were they thinking? The Eagles worked out a bunch of kickers last week after Cody Parkey tore muscles in his groin. They chose former Miami kicker Caleb Sturgis. In his first game, Sturgis missed an extra point and a 33-yard field goal attempt. It won’t be surprising if there’s another cattle call at the NovaCare Complex this week.
One reason to get excited: Sam Bradford can throw the ball downfield after all. Bradford had mysteriously avoided taking any deep shots through three games. Was it him? The receivers? The way defenses were playing? At Washington, Bradford took five or six deep shots, resulting in a 62-yard touchdown for Riley Cooper, a 39-yard score for Miles Austin and a 45-yard gain by Nelson Agholor. Bradford missed Austin and Jordan Matthews on some deep balls, but the plays added some big-play potential to the Eagles’ offense.
One reason to panic: The Eagles' offense was a mess for the entire first half. Although they got the deep ball going in the second half, you have to wonder how Chip Kelly’s offense would have fared against a team with a healthy secondary. The Eagles were able to get back into the game against a less-than-impressive Washington team, but there was still plenty to be concerned about as this team goes forward.
Fantasy watch: Agholor, the rookie wide receiver, moved the needle by hauling in a rare deep ball from Bradford. Agholor picked up 45 yards on the play, which he accented with a one-handed catch. Later, Bradford went deep a couple of times. He missed Matthews on one throw but caught Cooper in stride for a 62-yard touchdown.
Ouch: The Eagles lost four players to leg injuries in the first half, which makes you wonder about their choices of footwear on a wet surface. Cornerback Byron Maxwell hurt a quadriceps muscle. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks aggravated his hamstring. Defensive end Brandon Bair left with a groin injury. And late in the half, left tackle Jason Peters exited the game with a quad injury.
PHILADELPHIA – As the Philadelphia Eagles began warming up for their Thursday practice session, the big speakers next to the field began to rumble.
The playlist for this practice began with the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” a nod to the storm battering the Bahamas. By the time Hurricane Joaquin has run its course, it might rock the Eagles’ scheduled game at Washington Sunday.
The NFL is considering its options if the hurricane’s path includes Landover, Maryland, on Sunday afternoon. One possibility is postponing the game until the last weekend in October, which is scheduled as a bye week for both the Redskins and Eagles. Another possibility is moving the game to another site.
For Chip Kelly and the Eagles, all there was to do on Thursday was crank up the Scorpions and practice.
“We’re preparing to play on Sunday,” Kelly said. “There’s been nothing definitive in terms of what’s going on. If the plans change, we’ll adjust accordingly. But there’s been nothing told to us.
“This is a normal Thursday for us, just like we’re playing Sunday at 1 o’clock. If they make an adjustment, then we’ll all make an adjustment.”
Kelly said he’s never faced a situation like this, going back to his days as head coach at Oregon.
“In terms of being not sure if a game’s being played? No,” Kelly said. “I understand it, though. If it does hit in some of the manners it could hit, it could really affect everybody – people attending the game. Obviously, no one can control the weather.”
In Kelly’s first season as Eagles coach, the team played the Detroit Lions at Lincoln Financial Field. The weather forecast called for a “light dusting” of snow after halftime, as Kelly recalled.
“I remember going out in pregame and going, `Wow, this is a little more than a light dusting,’ “ Kelly said. “I don’t know what happened in that 15 or 20 minutes we were in the locker room. We came back out and I couldn’t even see my feet. You just had to make do with it.”
There are logistical issues that could cause the NFL to change the time or location of the game, and then there are practical issues. If the game is played, the weather could influence how it is played.
In that snowy game against the Lions in 2013, eight inches of snow changed the play calling and decision-making. Both teams were forced to abandon their kicking games. No field goals were attempted and two-point conversions were attempted after seven of the eight touchdowns. The teams scored with long returns and runs from scrimmage as defenders struggled to keep their footing.
“I think every coach is watching the weather,” Kelly said. “You watch the weather more than anything. Are you preparing for wind? Are you preparing for rain? Part of it becomes on game day, you’re going to have to figure it out.
“Which way is the wind blowing? Is it behind you? Is it a crosswind? Is it behind you for two of the quarters and in our face for two quarters? That’s stuff you decide on game day.”
First, you have to find out when game day is.
“I’m not sure, to be honest” Bradford said. “I think if I knew, it would already be corrected. When you look at the tape from the past couple of weeks, there are small mistakes all over the place. We’ve got to do a better job as an offense of being more consistent.”
The Eagles offense got off to a poor start in the season opener in Atlanta. It was better in the second half. Against the Dallas Cowboys a week later, the offense was back in the doldrums.
On Sunday against the New York Jets, the running game was improved in the first half. The passing game was limited but steady. In the second half, though, the Eagles seemed more determined to protect their 24-7 lead than to add to it.
With the play calling very conservative – 19 running plays, eight passing plays in the second half – the Eagles had six consecutive possessions go three-and-out. The Jets were able to close to within 24-17, but committed three second-half turnovers.
So the Eagles won the game, but didn’t inspire much confidence in their offense’s ability to dictate to an opposing defense.
“If you look at the tape, there have been drives or spurts where things have come together,” Bradford said. “We’ve played the way that we wanted to play. I don’t think it’s a long ways off.
“Once we get in rhythm, get in sync, hopefully this thing will take off. I think it’s close. In the past two games, we haven’t converted on third down. If you don’t keep yourself on the field, it’s hard to get in rhythm.”
Getting first downs is tougher when you’re constantly chipping away with runs and short passes. The Eagles’ lack of a deep passing game has all but eliminated the big play from their offensive arsenal.
That was a big part of Kelly’s offense in 2013 and the first half of 2014. It wasn’t as big a factor when Mark Sanchez replaced the injured Nick Foles at quarterback last season. Bradford’s numbers in St. Louis indicate that he has always been reluctant to throw the ball downfield.
“It's a combination of everything,” Kelly said. “We've had some drops, but there's been some times where guys are open and we didn’t put it on them at the appropriate times. It's a combination of both.”
“Sam was off target a couple times the other day, and we had a couple untimely drops by guys that in the game were playing extremely well,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “We had a couple of wheel routes that might have gone for touchdowns had they been executed; where we caught one later, which did go for a touchdown. You've just got to just keep working and get everybody in sync and I think that's going to be the challenge.”
Bradford is looking for answers, but he may hold the answers himself. He’s the guy with the ball in his hands on every play.
“I don’t think we’ve called a lot of deep balls,” Bradford said. “Hopefully that’s something that we could get to. I think it kind of depends on what we see as our best matchups. If they present it to us this week, we’re going to take advantage of it.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly said he wanted depth at inside linebacker. The first month of the regular season has proved his point for him.
The Eagles were without inside linebackers Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. Third-round pick Jordan Hicks stepped up and created two turnovers in the 24-17 Eagles victory.
The Eagles got some good news Wednesday. Alonso, who sprained his left knee in the Sept. 20 game against the Dallas Cowboys, is in Florida this week to see Dr. James Andrews. It was Andrews who performed reconstructive surgery on Alonso’s left ACL last year.
According to ESPN’s Adam Caplan, Andrews used an arthroscope to examine Alonso’s knee. The scope showed that Alonso’s ACL is intact and will not require further surgery. Rest and rehabilitation will be all that is required, and Alonso should be able to return to the field in a month or so.
Meanwhile, Kendricks was back on the practice field Wednesday after missing the Jets game with a hamstring injury.
“Today wasn’t a full-speed practice, so it stayed pretty calm,” Kendricks said. “I’m happy I’m out there.”
If Kendricks is able to play Sunday at Washington, the Eagles will have a three-linebacker rotation with him, Hicks and DeMeco Ryans. When Alonso returns, they will have to figure out a way to get everybody enough playing time.
By then, though, injuries are likely to solve that problem for the Eagles. And that was Kelly’s thinking all along.
Something is keeping the Eagles receivers from having an impact so far this season.
In Sunday’s 24-17 win against the New York Jets, Jordan Matthews was the only Eagles wideout to catch a pass. Matthews caught six passes for 49 yards against the Jets. Through three games, he has 22 receptions for 231 yards and one touchdown.
"I think in the last two years, our offense has been different," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Tuesday. "So you kind of do what you have to do to win games. The challenge is to win more games than we did last year no matter how that works, and we want to play good, efficient offense.
"So we feel like we love to see everybody touch the ball, and that's not always the case. But if everybody is doing what they are supposed to and the ball is getting kicked around and handed off and punched out to the perimeter, that will happen. So that's what we're shooting for."
Shurmur said Agholor, the team’s first-round draft pick this year, is going through a similar introduction to the league as Matthews went through last season.
"He's just got to keep grinding through it," Shurmur said. "I think there's a lot of similarities to his game if you compare it to Jordan Matthews a year ago. You know, he was kind of grinding it out and we were all asking questions, 'When is it going to happen? When is it going to happen?' And boom, he had a game where he had a good bunch of production.
"There's no real easy answer there. You’ve just got to grind through it. But he's doing all the right things. He can run all day long. He can be on the field without coming out. He's a tough guy. Catches the ball well, and I think he’s just got to keep playing and the production will come his way."
Last season, Matthews caught three passes for 54 yards through the first two games. In his third game, against Washington, Matthews caught eight passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Over the next five weeks, Matthews averaged just over four catches per game. Then, against Carolina, he caught seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. That was, not coincidentally, the first game Mark Sanchez started after Nick Foles was injured.
Agholor said he learned a lot from being matched up with Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis Sunday. When the game ended, he said, Revis told him he would be successful in the league.
"That’s what you want, to earn that kind of respect," Agholor said.
Bradford tried to throw to Agholor, but one throw, at least, bounced on the ground a few feet in front of him. Agholor would have had to make a great catch. On another pass, Agholor had a step on the defensive back covering him, but Bradford overthrew him.
Shurmur said that should even out over the course of the season.
"We intend to have a balanced game where we are attacking the whole field, width and depth," Shurmur said. "As time goes on, it will balance out and I think we'll get what we're all asking about."
PHILADELPHIA -- Sam Bradford is living Mike Schmidt’s famous saying.
“Philadelphia,” the Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman said, “is the city where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day.”
On Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, Bradford was all smiles. He had just started and finished his first victory since Oct. 13, 2013. The Eagles had beaten the New York Jets, 24-17, for their first win of the season.
“It feels good,” Bradford said. “Obviously, that’s a really good football team. To come on the road and get a win today, a tough win, our defense did a great job today of keeping us in the game. It was just a great win for the team.”
On Monday, the airwaves and websites were filled with breakdowns of Bradford’s performance. Statistically, it wasn’t very impressive.
Bradford completed 14 of 28 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown. That’s an average of 4.2 yards per attempt. Bradford missed some open receivers. He also had several passes dropped. Only one wide receiver, Jordan Matthews, caught a pass.
Pro Football Focus, which grades every player in the NFL, gave Bradford a minus-3.5 grade for the game. “Despite the win,” PFF’s John Breitenbach wrote, “QB Sam Bradford still played poorly.”
Through three games, Bradford has not been able to throw the ball downfield. That obviously limits big plays -- something Nick Foles excelled at two years ago -- but it also affects the running game and short passing game.
If defenses don’t have to account for a deep threat, they can pack the short-to-intermediate area with players. That makes it easier for defensive backs to come up and play the run as well.
“There are some throws Sam probably wants back,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “There’s a couple in there that he missed. But there were also some drops that could have really extended some drives for us. We’re pleased with Sam.”
Bradford was asked how he would have felt if told before the game what his stats would be.
“Good and bad,” Bradford said. “Obviously, the turnovers are something we talked a lot about this week. This defense had 10 takeaways in the first two weeks. For us to have one giveaway today, that’s big. Obviously, the passing game has to be a little more efficient.”
Bradford threw only eight passes in the second half as Kelly leaned on the running game to protect a 24-7 lead. Ultimately, getting the win was important. It gives Bradford and the Eagles something to build on.
“The first couple of weeks,” Bradford said, “there was a lot of pressure on us. I feel like we were all pressing a bit. It’s nice to get that first win. Now that pressure is gone. Like I said, it wasn’t perfect today. There are things we need to correct, but this is a great building block for this team.”
No one really knew how it would work when Chip Kelly signed Mathews and DeMarco Murray to replace LeSean McCoy in the Philadelphia Eagles' backfield. Two games, both losses, were enough to suggest that it wouldn’t work at all.
Murray had 21 carries for an absurd 11 yards. Mathews had a total of four carries for 4 yards.
“I knew what I was signing up for when I signed with the team,” Mathews said after rushing for 108 yards on 25 carries against the Jets. “We have DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles. Both of them are great running backs. I just tried to wait for my number to be called.”
It was called Sunday because Murray didn’t feel right in warm-ups. He had tweaked his hamstring during practice on Wednesday and did only limited work the rest of the week.
When Kelly signed the two free agents, he talked about the importance of having depth at running back. The Eagles had gotten lucky with McCoy, who stayed healthy for two seasons. That isn’t the norm. Backs get hurt.
Mathews, who had two 1,000-yard seasons in San Diego, was ready.
“I’ve played this game before,” Mathews said. “It’s fun to get back out there and run. I just had to step in for a great running back.”
The question is whether the Eagles’ offensive line blocked that much better against the Jets, or is Mathews’ running style a better fit for Kelly’s scheme? Kelly praised Murray and Mathews as “downhill” and “one-cut” runners. But after Sunday’s game, he seemed to be distinguishing between the two backs.
“I thought Ryan hit it in there a few times,” Kelly said. “Give him credit. I like his style in terms of how it fits with what we’re doing. [The Jets] have got some big bodies up front, so we had to try to get outside a little bit more.
“He’s a real decisive, one-cut runner. Stick[s] his foot in the ground and go. You’re going to have to run through some arm tackles and he did. He’s got some size to go with his explosion. You’ve got to be physical through there and he was really physical today.”
Murray put up his big numbers in Dallas last year running behind the Cowboys’ first-rate offensive line. The Eagles’ line seems to be struggling a little bit in the early going this season. It may be that Mathews is better suited to deal with that than Murray.
“I think I’m starting to see the field better,” Mathews said. “The more I dance around, the more the defenders will get to me. I try to find the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B.”
It worked on Sunday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When Chip Kelly’s offense is working at full speed, it’s a sight to see: running backs sprinting through big holes, wide-open receivers catching balls in stride, all conducted at a breakneck pace with no huddling.
There wasn’t any of that in the Philadelphia Eagles’ 24-17 victory over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. This was a necessary step and a vitally important win for the Eagles, but it was not proof that all their problems are solved.
“It wasn’t a pretty win,” Kelly said. “It was kind of ugly, but it was what we had to do.”
Kelly’s offense had looked dysfunctional, for the most part, in losses to Atlanta and Dallas. The running game, which is the centerpiece of the whole operation, was simply not there. The Eagles rushed for 63 yards in the opener in Atlanta, then were held to just 7 yards on the ground last week against the Cowboys.
The Eagles had to be able to run the ball to control the clock a bit better and to get Sam Bradford and the passing game into gear. They succeeded to some degree, but Bradford’s numbers were still not all that impressive. He completed half of his passes (14 of 28) for just 118 yards.
That won’t win a lot of games in the NFL, but it was enough against the Jets. Bradford didn’t turn the ball over, something he did five times in the two losses. He took care of the ball and minimized mistakes.
“I thought Sam did a nice job considering what they brought,” Kelly said. “I think they can bring a rush unlike any team we’ve played. They bring seven [pass-rushers]. They’re going to play 'zero man' behind it.”
The Eagles were able to run the ball effectively, for a half. With DeMarco Murray sidelined by a hamstring injury, the Eagles gained 86 yards on 20 carries in the first half. Ryan Mathews accounted for 67 of those yards.
For the game, the Eagles gained 123 yards on 39 carries. The number of carries was important. The Eagles ran the ball just 33 times in the two previous games combined. Some of that was situational -- the Eagles were losing and needed to pass more -- but some of it was Kelly’s play calling.
In this game, the idea was to get back to what worked and stick with it.
“We really just kind of went back to basics, in terms of what we were doing run-wise,” Kelly said. “I thought Ryan hit it in there a few times. Give him credit. I like his style in terms of how it fits with what we’re doing.”
The Eagles had 13 first downs in the first half. They managed just five in the second half. The Jets' defense was able to stop the Eagles’ running game and kept the passing game from ever really being a factor. The Eagles scored 24 points in the first half and were shut out in the second.
But they won, and that outweighs any quibbles about the way they managed to accomplish it. The Eagles could not afford to fall to 0-3. Not just because only three 0-3 teams since 1990 have been able to reach the playoffs, but because the Eagles are playing in a very winnable NFC East.
With Dallas’ loss Sunday, the Eagles are only one game behind the Cowboys for the division lead. Washington and the New York Giants are both 1-2, same as the Eagles.
When the Eagles play in Washington next Sunday, they will be in position to get back to .500 and possibly catch the Cowboys for the division lead. Considering where they were after losing to Dallas last week, that wouldn’t be so bad.
“We’re not really worried about what anybody else is doing in the league or in our division,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “It’s early in the year. Everybody’s just trying to improve and become a better team. It’s the same thing for us.”
They could have played better than they had and lost this game to fall to 0-3. Instead, they got a win while registering only marginal improvement.
For the Eagles, this way is better. There is still plenty of work to do, but at least they’re in a position to make that work matter.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rookies are scary for coaches. They make mistakes. They lose their composure. It’s so much easier to stick with veterans.
After all, this year’s rookies will be veterans soon enough.
The Philadelphia Eagles got precious little from their draft class last season. Jordan Matthews contributed, but that was about it. First-round pick Marcus Smith still can’t find his way onto the field.
This year’s class is shaping up to be a very different story. Injuries forced the coaches to play second-round pick Eric Rowe and third-round pick Jordan Hicks against the New York Jets. The result was three turnovers caused by the Eagles' defense in a 24-17 win on Sunday.
“That’s what winning football teams do,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “Hicks had a great game. E. Rowe had a great game. That’s what good teams do: draft good young players and have them come in and play.”
Hicks started the game because of injuries to Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso. He was credited with 10 tackles. He also recovered a fumble when Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall attempted an ill-advised lateral.
“We were really excited about Jordan when we got him,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “We talked about him being a third-down linebacker. You’re starting to see that. He’s got great coverage skills. There’s a calmness to Jordan. I don’t think anything is too big for him.”
Rowe did not get on the field on defense in the Eagles’ first two games. That was somewhat disappointing, because he was in the mix to play a role in the Eagles’ nickel and dime defensive packages.
But Maragos bruised his knee in the first half of Sunday’s game. He was unable to return to the game. So Jenkins stayed at safety while Rowe and E.J. Biggers came in and played cornerback.
In the third quarter, Rowe was matched up with Jets wide receiver Devin Smith. On a third-and-5 play from the Eagles’ 30-yard line, New York quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a deep ball for Smith streaking down the left sideline.
“Eric had really good coverage,” Kelly said.
Rowe caught the pass for his first career interception.
“It was a big confidence booster,” Rowe said. “Now I know how the game speed is. Now I just have to focus on next week, go back to practice and be ready in case they call my number again.”
The coaches won’t hesitate to call on Rowe again. He’s still a rookie, but he played like a veteran on Sunday.
“My confidence didn’t really go down,” Rowe said. “I just knew what I needed to work on.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- From Vai Sikahema to Brian Westbrook to DeSean Jackson to Darren Sproles, the Philadelphia Eagles have a long tradition of getting game-changing touchdowns on punt returns at the Meadowlands.
Sproles' 89-yard touchdown Sunday in the Eagles' 24-17 victory against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium was the longest such return. Time will tell if it will be as momentous and season-changing as some of the others. But for an Eagles team stumbling through an 0-2 start and desperately trying to jumpstart its offense, Sproles’ second-quarter return was a breath of life.
Sproles fielded the ball at the 11-yard line and started up the left sideline. No fewer than five Jets got a hand on him, but Sproles proved to be as tough to bring down as he is difficult to catch. The touchdown gave the Eagles a 10-0 lead and keyed a three-touchdown explosion in the second quarter.
Sproles added a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Eagles a 24-0 lead.
What it means: The Eagles avoided an 0-3 start, which would have put them in terrible position with so much season left to play. Since 1990, only three teams that started 0-3 were able to make the playoffs. The win may have had more to say about the Jets’ chances for a good season, but it did represent progress. With a game at Washington next week, the Eagles can get to .500 and gain some ground in the NFC East race.
One reason to get excited: You wouldn’t get too worked up about the Eagles defense shutting down the woeful Jets offense. But this was the third week in a row the defense has looked good, and the earlier games were against Atlanta and Dallas. Playing well against good offenses and dominating against lesser teams is how you get to be a respected defense. Forcing four turnovers will win most games for you.
One reason to panic: Sam Bradford didn’t make any big mistakes. He didn’t throw a killer interception. But Bradford’s inability to stretch the field is becoming impossible to ignore. Bradford missed some open receivers (Nelson Agholor, especially) and seems uncomfortable in the pocket. Again, he wasn’t terrible, but that wasn’t supposed to be the standard when the Eagles traded for him. Getting shut out in the second half put pressure on the Eagles defense, which was able to hold up.
Fantasy watch: Chip Kelly’s offense is tough on fantasy players, but the quarterback should put up big numbers most weeks (see: Foles, Nick, 2013). Bradford completed 14 of 28 passes for just 118 yards. That’s just 4.2 yards per attempt.
Ouch: Right guard Andrew Gardner left the game in the second quarter with a foot injury. He did not return. Matt Tobin filled in, leaving the Eagles thin along the offensive line. When left tackle Jason Peters left in the fourth quarter, Tobin moved to left tackle and Dennis Kelly came in at right guard. Special teamer/nickelback Chris Maragos went down with a bruised knee. Rookie Eric Rowe played cornerback, with Malcolm Jenkins dropping back to play centerfield for Maragos.
Rise of the rookies: Second-round pick Eric Rowe got his first action on defense. The Jets noticed. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a 30-yard pass for Devin Smith down the left sideline. Rowe, running stride for stride with Smith, caught the pass for his first career interception. Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks scooped up Brandon Marshall’s fumble for another Jets turnover. With the Jets driving into Eagles territory, Hicks intercepted a Fitzpatrick pass that was tipped by Brandon Bair.