The Eagles Sunday afternoon game in Oakland against the three-win Raiders had a ‘Do or Die’ feel about it. Despite the rest of the NFC East finding new and exciting ways to lose on a weekly basis, the Eagles had just come off of two division losses on home soil and they were in danger of falling three games under .500 with a loss. While the team had performed better on the road all season, they were traveling across the country and facing a team that had performed well at home and had the looks of a team on the rise in the NFL’s best division.
Off the field, there were those who were starting to question Chip Kelly’s methodology and approach to the game in the NFL, and many felt like the heat might be starting to get to the Eagles’ first year coach. Making things more difficult for the Eagles was the fact that, following the re-aggravated injury to starter Michael Vick, Nick Foles would be starting against the Raiders. There are those that feel that Foles has the type of skill set to excel in the NFL, but a young quarterback coming off of his worst start as a professional heading into a hostile territory was a tall order for an offense that had not scored a touchdown in two weeks. The Raiders defense, a top-ten unit in the NFL, would be a stiff test for Foles, who arguably could have been playing for his immediate future in the league.
I’m not sure whether it took getting under Chip Kelly’s skin, Nick Foles getting his bell rung, or maybe the 76ers good will is bleeding over into the Novacare Complex, but what the Eagles did to the Raiders on Sunday afternoon was as spectacular an offensive clinic as I’ve seen in some time. After the defense, who had to overcome a questionable roughing the punter penalty and an answered prayer pass downfield by Terrelle Pryor, forced Oakland to punt on their first position, the Eagles started to roll and it was tremendous to watch.
Foles’ first completion of the game was a 42 yard pass to Riley Cooper. The pass was thrown exactly where it had to be to allow Cooper, a popular target of the Eagles quarterback, to turn the ball upfield and pick up substantial yardage. To put things in perspective, Foles threw for 80 yards before being knocked out of the Cowboys game in the 4th quarter. His first completion made up more than half of that number and the 2nd year signal caller was only warming up. He would find Brent Celek from two yards out to give the Eagles the 7-nothing lead in the 1st quarter. The 10-play, 84 yard drive used up just under four minutes of clock, and it would stand as the team’s longest drive from a time standpoint for the rest of the game.
The Raiders, aided by a 66-yard pass to Rod Streater, managed to kick a field goal toward the end of the first to respond to the Eagles touchdown. Little did they know that today was not a day to settle for field goals, as their opponent would be setting up camp in the endzone and not slowing down while doing it. In their final drive of the 1st quarter, which spanned into the 2nd, the Eagles rode Bryce Brown down the Raiders throat. As someone who has seen what Bryce Brown can bring to the table as a downhill runner that can deliver a punch that LeSean McCoy, as great as he is, isn’t necessarily capable of, it’s unnerving to see Brown not play a role in Kelly’s offense. His 32-yard run past midfield launched the Eagles back into scoring territory, which was a relative term for Nick Foles Sunday afternoon. Foles’ second touchdown pass came on a high-arching pass down the left sideline that Cooper was able to run under and touch his feet in the endzone to give the Eagles a 14-3 lead.
The Eagles defense forced another Raiders punt, and despite a foolish unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on DeSean Jackson after a solid punt return, Foles would get the ball back with solid field position. He would waste no time at all dialing up his third touchdown pass of the day. Foles floated a ball downfield that seemed as if it touched the sky before falling back down to Earth and into the waiting arms of Riley Cooper. Cooper muscled off his defender and 63 yards later, the Eagles were up 21-3 and the 2nd quarter had more than ten minutes remaining. For all of the issues the Eagles have had as far as bringing a tall, physical receiver through the organization to make big plays, Cooper is starting to establish himself as someone with that capability. While Cooper’s size / speed / strength / hands combination does not compare with many of the dominant receivers, he has shown a rapport with Foles and an ability to fight for balls against smaller cornerbacks. Riley Cooper could not have put himself in worse standing with the organization before the season started. Despite the smallish sample size, it looks as if he is making good on the franchise’s decision to hang on to him and making plays in big spots.
The Raiders had their most exciting play of the game on their next drive. Terrelle Pryor, running on air seemingly, broke out of the pocket and ran past what appeared to be a very gassed Eagles defense. The 35-yard gain put Oakland on the doorstep of the endzone and a Rashad Jennings scamper from 8-yards out cut the Eagles lead down to 11. It is tough to fault a defense for struggling to contain an athlete the caliber of Pryor after the offense used only nine seconds of clock between Raiders drives. It would be the offense’s responsibility to keep moving the ball and scoring to take some of the pressure off the defense, who would be spending the majority of the game on the field. Fortunately, Foles and company were more than happy to oblige.
Roughly halfway through the 2nd quarter, the Eagles got the ball back and started their second-longest drive of the game. When a couple of penalties on the offensive line put the Eagles in 3rd and long, and in danger of punting from deep in their own territory, Foles made one of his most important throws of the game. With defenders bracketing DeSean Jackson, Foles fired a strike where only the slight Jackson could catch it for a gain of 17 and a crucial first down. With all of the 3rd-and-long conversions the Eagles have given up on this season, to be on the other end of that feeling was an added bonus to this contest. After a series of positive plays, Foles fired to his right on first down and hit rookie Zach Ertz on the edge of the endzone for a response touchdown to the Raiders score. While Ertz’s involvement in the offense hasn’t been at the level many expected from an impact standpoint, the young tight end continues to improve and one has to think scoring his first touchdown will only continue to boost his confidence. Foles’ 4th touchdown of the game gave the Eagles a 28-10 lead.
Sebastian Janikowski hit a 53-yard field goal before the half that looked as if it could have been good from 70 to make it 28-13 heading into the locker room. Chip Kelly had some time management issues on the Eagles’ final drive of the half that gave the Raiders an opportunity to put points on the board. While it did not factor in the result of the game, there are still some instances where Kelly’s ‘all-go, all the time’ approach is a bit frustrating.
With the Eagles getting the ball first in the second half, they had a chance to do what they could not against the Redskins in the opener. Even with the Raiders scoring before the half, a young, unproven team can lose confidence fast if their opponent delivers the knockout blow. However, had the Raiders made a play or scored quickly coming out of intermission, the momentum could have swung their way and the energy of the fans could have drastically altered the storyline.
Brandon Boykin had his longest kick return of the season (41 yards), setting up the Eagles on their own 39 yard line. The first play of scrimmage was one we had not seen since the preseason. Nick Foles took a read option keeper but instead of carrying out the run, he lateraled the ball to Riley Cooper who took it 18 yards for the first down. LeSean McCoy kept the chains moving with his most impressive carry of the game and, a few plays later, the Eagles delivered the knockout blow. Foles sent McCoy in motion and, after pausing a few beats after the snap, hit McCoy curling on his wheel route with room to run and blockers in front. McCoy glided his way past defenders and into the endzone to run Foles’ touchdown total up to five and give the Eagles a 22-point lead.
The defense forced a quick three-and-out by the disheartened Raiders and got the ball back to their offense. Having dealt with criticisms and close games for the first half of the season, Sunday’s game showed that Chip Kelly was really excited to have his team engineer a blowout. Two plays after regaining possession, Foles lofted up another deep ball, this time intended for DeSean Jackson. Jackson had blown by his defender, and after hauling in the catch, pirouetted his way into the endzone. Foles’ 6th touchdown pass was as pretty as any of the other ones, and one could see the confidence building in a player who, just two weeks back, looked as if he was on his way out of the league.
The teams exchanged failed possessions over the midpoint of the 3rd quarter. On the Eagles’ last possession of the quarter, starting from their own 32 yard line, Kelly once again indicated he was in no business of taking the foot off the gas. Once again, Foles reared back and unleashed a picturesque deep ball in Jackson’s direction. This time the coverage on Jackson was strong, but the Eagles top receiver (who finished with 5 catches, 150 yards, and a touchdown), outdueled the defender for the ball and came up with the 59-yard reception. Two plays later, it was deja vu all over again, Foles to Cooper from five yards out. Seven touchdowns for Nick Foles…before the 4th quarter. The score made it 49-13 and left everyone clamoring for Foles to break the NFL record for passing touchdowns in a game (7).
Those select few would be left unsatisfied however. Foles was given two more possessions, running a largely run-oriented offense, before finally giving way to Matt Barkley in the 4th quarter. Penn State product Matt McGloin engineered the Raiders only other scoring drive towards the end of the game, with Jeremy Stewart scoring from two yards out. The Eagles would go on to win the game 49-20, improving their record to 4-5.
As a fan of the NFL and the history that goes with it, forgive me for saying I was happy that Foles did not break the record. Personally, I found the fact that Foles had more touchdowns (7) than incompletions (6) to be worthy of more distinction than eight touchdowns. This Eagles team really needed a win like this at some point this season. There were similarities to the Redskins game, but this time the Eagles showed an ability to maintain an intensity throughout the entire contest and put away a team that, for at least the first half of the game, could have been a spark away from making things much more uncomfortable. Despite being a rookie coach, there was nothing dishonorable about what Chip Kelly did as far as having his team score the way they did. He played mostly backups throughout the 4th quarter and was content to run the ball and bleed out the clock more quickly. Had Kelly allowed Foles to stay in throughout the entire game and try for his 8th touchdown, not only would he be putting an extremely important player at unnecessary injury risk, but he would be sending a message of disrespect to a fellow young coach trying to put together his team. After the way he left the game against the Cowboys, I am certain Foles was more than happy to be taken out with a 36-point lead and a chance to watch his teammates close out the win for him.
As far as big picture goes, this game was as impressive as the team’s previous two games were unimpressive. Oakland is never an easy place to win a game from an opponent’s standpoint. Their fans bring a lot of energy regardless of the team’s success and they can ramp up the craziness at a moment’s notice. They field a defense with a collection of young and veteran talent who had only allowed 30+ points to one other team (Denver). Meanwhile, Terrelle Pryor has brought an excitement level and energy to the quarterback position that the Oakland franchise has been without since Rich Gannon. The Pennsylvania native runs as well as any quarterback in the league and his passing is improving on a weekly basis. With Dennis Allen getting his improving roster to buy in to the competitiveness he brings to the locker room, there were those who thought the Raiders could be a team that gave the Eagles major issues.
However, in a very calculated and efficient manner, the Eagles took down the Raiders pillar-by-pillar until the flawed Oakland team had nothing else to turn to. When Pryor wasn’t busting big gains on pure athleticism, the Raiders offense looked confused and hamstrung by the deficit they were staring in the face. Considering Oakland’s heavy use of the read-option attack, it was extremely important for the Eagles to establish a lead and make their opponent one-dimensional. Sure enough, they were able to do just that and, for the fifth consecutive week, they held an opponent under 21 points. With everyone up in arms about the fact that the Carolina Panthers defense, led by former Philly DC Sean McDermott, looking like the 1985 Bears, what the Eagles are doing on defense is remarkable. Billy Davis has had to completely overhaul a unit that played one way, teach them all new methodology, and somehow do so with them knowing that, in most games, the defense would be on the field for the majority of it. Sunday’s game against the Raiders was no different, as Oakland held the ball for 37:54. The unit is improving on its 3rd down defense, holding Oakland to 6-18 over the course of the game. Key players are starting to make big plays at crucial times. Trent Cole recorded a sack on the opening possession, Vinny Curry collected his 3rd sack of the season, and Mychal Kendricks, tasked with spying Pryor throughout the game, added a sack to go along with his 10 tackles. Connor Barwin and Bradley Fletcher, both free agent acquisitions, chipped in interceptions of Pryor who was out of sync in the passing game all afternoon. Brandon Boykin and Cary Williams both came up with timely pass deflections and even second-string cornerback Roc Carmichael had a nice breakup in the endzone. The Eagles’ safety play, for all the criticisms, has been noticeably better the last four weeks. Nate Allen has not been picked on, either on the field or twitter, in what seems like months, and Earl Wolff has been making plays every week and the young rookie plays a confident game that this team has been desperate for at the safety position. For the first time all year, it seems an appropriate time to let Billy Davis continue to do what he is doing without criticizing them for giving up yards. Very few defenses, especially in today’s NFL, have shown the capability to stop a team three-and-out over the course of an entire game. In a league that is geared more toward offense, it is more about putting the offense in a position where they have to force something and making a play on it . Even in their losses, the Eagles defense has been making plays lately. Considering they are still learning the intricacies of the 3-4 hybrid scheme that Davis employs, one can only hope the improvements continue.
There is absolutely nothing that one can criticize in terms of the offense. They ran the ball well, they threw the ball masterfully, the offensive line blocked well, and the tempo was right where it had to be. They averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a team running the ball, completed 24 passes for 414 yards, and most importantly did not turn the ball over. If the Eagles can find a way to move the ball and score points without necessarily leaning on their ‘Superstars’ (DeSean Jackson, McCoy, Vick when healthy), it makes their offense almost unguardable. Especially with Foles’ ability to get rid of the ball quickly, rhythm is of paramount importance for the Eagles. Teams that rely on one receiver or running back can have their rhythm disrupted in a matter of a drive or two. If Foles (or whoever is playing quarterback) can utilize multiple weapons for big plays, it makes it impossible for defenses to try to ’stop what they do well’. This is why seeing Bryce Brown and Riley Cooper step up is so important. Even though the Cowboys and Redskins both won games they probably shouldn’t have, the Eagles are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Regardless as to who is calling the shots under center, Vick and Foles have both demonstrated the pros and cons of this offense.
Next Sunday the Eagles head to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay has won four straight and looks to be rolling even without the services of Clay Matthews. That being said, they will be playing a short week after an emotional rivalry game on Monday night against the Bears. The Eagles are 4-1 on the road and have appeared very unfazed by some raucous environments. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles can perform against a pass-heavy offense the way they did against a unit that relies more on the run. The Packers have dealt with some serious injuries on the offensive side of the ball, but have had some young players step up and fill in nicely during their current win streak. The Eagles will, to my knowledge, be fully healthy heading into a game that, while their records differ, poses two teams in heated division races against each other. Green Bay is a very good team and many argue that Aaron Rodgers is a top-3 quarterback. Billy Davis will have his hands full and Chip Kelly will need to keep his nose to the grindstone, gameplanning for a team that has champions littering their roster who would just love to knock down a team like the Eagles.