There were almost too many factors at play that were calling this a ‘Slam Dunk’ win for the Eagles. They were playing on the road, where they entered the contest 4-1. The Packers were coming off a disheartening home loss to a Bears team led by Josh McCown. Oh yeah, their all-pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers was injured in the loss and would be missing his first game of the season. Career backup Seneca Wallace would be starting his first game of the season at home against an Eagles team that had not given up over 21 points in 5 games.
Despite all of this, it was impossible to feel comfortable heading into a stadium like Lambeau Field. Even without Rodgers, the Packers roster was littered with weapons that would make defending them, regardless of who was under center, rather difficult. And while Green Bay has been as injury-ravaged as any team in the league, the return of linebacker Clay Matthews would inject some life into a Packers defense that had fought hard, but come up on the losing end against the Bears. Mostly due to the fact that the Eagles had not done enough at any point this season to inspire confidence heading into a game, they would have to take care of business to have their opinion of them change before their contest with the Redskins.
In their loss to Chicago, the Packers seemed very susceptible to the type of inside handoffs from the shotgun that the Eagles have run all season. LeSean McCoy had been a relative non-factor over the past couple of games for Philadelphia. With the similarities between the skill sets of Forte and McCoy, one of the more important things to watch in this game was how the Eagles got their star running back rolling again.
Despite moving the ball fairly well on their first drive, they would punt away to the Packers and Seneca Wallace. Green Bay, between a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy and short passing, moved the ball downfield rather easily at first. Wallace connected on the easy passes that he was supposed to and the Eagles pass rush could do very little with the short drops he was taking. However, on a 3rd down scramble and pass, Wallace came up lame on the sideline and would not return after suffering a tweaked groin muscle. In his place, Scott Tolzien, who earlier in the week was on the Packers practice squad.
On the 4th down following the injury, Mason Crosby would miss a 53-yard field goal which would start an alarming trend over the course of the game. The Eagles would take back over with exceptional field position with a chance to take a significant edge in the game. After McCoy ran for a couple of yards, the Eagles would dial up the deep ball and things would start rolling once more. Nick Foles, aided by wonderful pass protection, spun one deep over the middle in the direction of DeSean Jackson. Two Green Bay defenders had a chance to make a play on the ball, but instead it popped up and Jackson made the catch and strutted into the endzone. It was not a perfect throw by any stretch, but the Eagles had made the first play, and led 7-0.
On Tolzien’s first drive, the Eagles forced a three-and-out. Tight end Andrew Quarless had a chance to extend the drive, but a fine effort by cornerback Roc Carmichael, who started in place of an injured Bradley Fletcher. kept him from reaching the sticks and the Eagles would get the ball back. After coming up empty, the Eagles gave it back to Green Bay still leading 7-0, as the 2nd quarter began.
Tolzien looked extremely comfortable under center. The Packers marched down the field in a very efficient manner and looked poised to tie the game. On 3rd and goal, Tolzien fired a pass into the endzone and it was intercepted by Brandon Boykin who looked like he wanted to score. 76 exhausting yards later, Boykin finally stepped out of bounds setting his offense up with great field position.
After a Foles run for 9 yards, it looked as if they would turn the position into a short touchdown drive to take a potentially game-sealing 14-point lead. On 2nd down, McCoy took a handoff and had a cutback lane leading toward at least a first down. Yet he was brought down by a Packers defender almost exclusively by his facemask. No flag was thrown and the resulted loss of yards held, and would lead to a disappointing three-and-out. The Eagles could have taken solace in a field goal, turning the turnover into points, yet Alex Henery missed an easy 39-yard try to keep the lead at 7.
Henery’s struggles are mounting in a way that makes it difficult to imagine him remaining on the team beyond this season. As long as he avoids the sort of train-wreck games that claim several other kicker’s jobs, he should be safe for the rest of the season. However, with his inability to hit from beyond 50 yards, the fact that he was drafted by Andy Reid, and his sudden struggles with shorter kicks, its tough to see Henery staying on board with Kelly running the show.
Fortunately, Mason Crosby was even worse than Henery on Sunday. He would miss a 42-yarder on the Packers next drive to keep them off the board. The two teams would miraculously trade made field goals to end the half, giving the Eagles a 10-3 lead in the locker room. Even with a lead, it felt an awful lot like the Eagles had missed a chance to put the game away early. They allowed Tolzien to throw for nearly 200 yards in the 1st half and, even though they bottled up Eddie Lacy well, one Packers score would probably give them the confidence to play four competitive quarters against the Eagles. Meanwhile, Nick Foles’ 1st half following his seven touchdown performance was underwhelming. Even with the Jackson touchdown, Foles looked tentative and indecisive in the 1st half. He was as much to blame for the Packers still being in the game than anyone else on the field. It would take a definitive statement out of the break to put Green Bay away.
The defense did their job, forcing a punt on the Packers opening possession. After being relatively quiet in the 1st half, McCoy would start gaining momentum on what would turn out to be an All-Pro day for the Eagles back. He would break out with two runs for a combined 39 yards to get the Eagles into Green Bay territory. Foles’ first throw of the second half, while again not ideal, was a step in the right direction for him. On play action, once again with great protection, Foles unleashed another ball toward the endzone. Taking advantage of the momentum of the defensive backs, and what is starting to be an impressive connection with Riley Cooper, Foles connected with his receiver who rolled into the endzone to give the Eagles a 17-3 lead.
With a defensive stop, the Eagles would have a chance to take control of the game and dictate the remainder. With Tolzien back under center on a 3rd down play, Cary Williams deflected a pass under the middle, and DeMeco Ryans made an incredible diving interception to get his offense the ball back.
Ryans is not always the game-breaking linebacker that players like Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis are, he is always solid and delivers big plays when he is in a position to. With the rest of the front seven playing as well as they are, Ryans has a chance to diagnose plays without worrying about too many free runners. He, along with maybe Brandon Boykin, were huge standouts on the defensive end for the Eagles.
Henery made a 41-yarder after a couple of McCoy runs, and the Eagles went up 20-3. They had turned both Packers turnovers into points, albeit only in the field goal variety. With half the 3rd quarter behind them, the Packers would probably need a touchdown if they wanted to keep the game in reach. It looked as if the defense would make a triumphant stop to stop another Packers drive, but a catch and run on 3rd down by Ryan Taylor would extend the drive. It looked as if Taylor’s knee was down before he reached for the marker, but the play went on and the Packers drive continued. A pass interference call on Boykin put the Packers deep into Eagles territory. They would reach paydirt for the first time when Tolzien connected with Brandon Bostick on a wheel route. Safety Patrick Chung stumbled in coverage, giving the little-used Bostick a clear path for the catch and run, and it was a 10-point game. With the 3rd quarter winding down, the Eagles offense would need to quell the momentum to keep the game within a safe margin.
Jason Avant made a tremendous catch right out of the hands of a defender to give the Eagles a big first down early in the drive. Foles would scramble for a first down on third-and-six to give his team first down in Green Bay territory. Two plays later, Foles hit a wide open Riley Cooper on a crossing route and Cooper made his way into the endzone for his second score of the day. Foles would follow up his seven touchdown performance with a very efficient three touchdown, zero interception game.
The Packers would kick a field goal on their following possession, and the Eagles would get the ball back with a chance to start running the clock away. That plan would be put on hold however, after on 3rd down, Foles was sacked and stripped just before being touched down deep in his own territory. The Packers would get the ball back with a chance to bring the margin within one possession with a touchdown. The defense was more than up to the task. After taking care of the Packers underneath attempts to force a third down, the Tolzien would throw back-to-back incompletions to turn the ball back to the Eagles. Jordy Nelson almost made a spectacular catch on 4th down, but he never really had control of it and, after a lengthy challenge review, the call was upheld and the Eagles would get the ball back.
The following drive was what you want to see in every Eagles game. The running trio of McCoy, Bryce Brown, and even Nick Foles would salt away the Packers chances with a series of run plays that picked up huge chunks of yards and first downs to go with it. With the Packers having spent all their timeouts over the rest of the half, the Eagles would be able to run the entire clock down to complete their fifth win in victory formation. The final score would be 27-13 and Philadelphia would exceed their 2012 win total in week 10 with a two-game win streak on the road.
Sunday was an odd game from start to finish. The officiating was lazy and inattentive and allowed several calls, for both teams, go without any review. Even though the Eagles did a wonderful job bottling up rookie RB Eddie Lacy (73 yards on 24 carries), the Packers dominated time of possession up until the final drive of the game. Foles, who was nowhere close to the first half rhythm that he had against the Raiders, actually played much better in the 2nd half. Chip Kelly looked very much the part of a rookie coach when two clear missed calls did not result in coaching challenges from the Eagles sideline. Had Aaron Rodgers been playing, this sort of effort from the Eagles probably would have ended in a loss. Having said that, you have to play who you do, and other teams have fallen victim to backup quarterbacks this season. It is still a road win over a team above .500 and a solid showing to carry into next week’s rematch with the Redskins.
Injury concerns following this game are serious. Mychal Kendricks, Earl Wolff, and Jason Peters all left the game and did not return at some point or another. Kendricks and Wolff especially had been performing quite well as young defenders, and should their injuries be as severe they appeared, the defense will really have to work to make up for their losses.
For the most part, the offense operated ideally. Foles only had to throw the ball 18 times and did not throw any interceptions. He now has 10 touchdowns and no interceptions over his last two games, and his first half shakiness melted away in an impressive second half. Both McCoy and Bryce Brown were fantastic running the ball, wearing down a Packers defense and picking up first downs at a staggering rate. The offense appeared to work within a comfort level today that was never threatened by the Packers defense, and they did not let the return of Clay Matthews provide any extra motivation for Green Bay.
Next week’s showdown with the Redskins should be interesting. The Eagles return to Lincoln Financial Field, unfortunately, with a chance to effectively put an end to the Redskins season. Neither team has been good in the setting for week 11′s game, with Washington entering with a 1-4 road record going against the Eagles 0-4 home mark. Robert Griffin III appears to have completely recovered from the knee injury that clearly hampered him in the team’s week 1 showdown. Washington will have the benefit of a mini-bye week of sorts, having played on Thursday of last week against Minnesota. The last two games, the Eagles have used both passing and running games to salt away inferior opponents. I would still argue that the Redskins probably have the superior roster, even if just by a small margin. That being said, they are on the brink of having a promising season ended much earlier than expected. If the Eagles were able to win a game like that going into their bye week, it would make for an extremely exciting final few weeks of the season to see if Chip Kelly can lead his team to a division title in his first year.