Hold the Phone: Missed Opportunities Haunt Eagles in 33-30 Loss to Chargers


Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders perform during the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Lincoln Financial Field. The Chargers defeated the Eagles 33-30. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The feel at Lincoln Financial Field was different from year’s past surrounding the Eagles home opener. Previous Eagles teams were always expected to contend, but the buzz coming off of the team’s surprising week 1 win against the Redskins gave Philadelphia fans a chance to see something new and exciting on their home field for the first time in over a decade. Having struggled to establish, or maintain any sort of home field advantage, many felt that the hiring of Chip Kelly may help bring an element of pride in defending Lincoln Financial Field. Adding to the anticipation, a Chargers team, coming off a brutal week 1 loss against the Texans, had to travel from coast to coast on a short week would be the Eagles opponent. To say that, before the game started, the odds were stacked in the Eagles favor would be an understatement. Yet, as we were reminded the first of what will ultimately be several times over the course of this season and seasons beyond, one cannot take an opponent lightly, no matter how impressive a performance came in the week prior.

With the Eagles receiving the opening kickoff, the home fans would not have to wait and see their new offense start rolling like they did in the first half against the Redskins. They would punt after a promising first drive stalled at around midfield, and San Diego would have to start their opening drive on their own 10 yard line. From there, it became clear that the Chargers had a plan on how to beat the Eagles, and they were going to follow it to a tee whether it worked or not. After a first down aided by a facemask penalty on Nate Allen (who will be discussed at length later on) got the Chargers in reasonable field position, their use of short, calculated passing routes, timely running by both Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews, and clutch throws by Phillip Rivers started to take effect. San Diego drove 49 yards on their opening drive, eating up over 4 minutes, and cashing in on a Nick Novak field goal.

Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (25) runs for a first down against the San Diego Chargers during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

Before one could blink, the Eagles were right back in the Chargers territory. A shovel pass to LeSean McCoy turned into the Eagles longest play from scrimmage, as a series of moves and impressive speed got McCoy down to the Chargers 7, a 70 yard reception. On third and goal, with the Eagles poised to take the lead, Michael Vick took a roll out near the goal line and had James Casey wide open for the go-ahead score. Vick put the ball behind Casey and, despite an effort that looked as if could have been ruled a catch, the opportunity fell by the wayside and the Eagles settled for a chip shot field goal to tie it up.

The Chargers took back over deep in their own territory and, once again, their slow, methodical drive started chewing up clock. By not huddling, but also not rushing to snap the ball, Phillip Rivers waited out the Eagles blitz formations throughout the entire play clock, and the San Diego quarterback diagnosed the pressure at will. Their first touchdown drive, capped by one of three Eddie Royal touchdown receptions, took up just over six minutes and took eleven plays. With normal slot corner Brandon Boykin forced to the outside, the Chargers took advantage of the middle of the field throughout the entire game. With little pressure reaching Phillip Rivers and almost no resistance by the coverage in the middle of the field, San Diego put a premium of collecting big chunks of yardage over the middle.

A costly first down sack of Michael Vick led to the Eagles being forced to punt again, this time giving the Chargers the ball on their own 20. San Diego extended their lead to 10, after Nick Novak hit another field goal after the Chargers were unable to sustain a drive deep into Eagles territory. With the deficit at the point it had reached, the excitement and anticipation that engulfed the stadium early had been replaced by reservation and tentativeness. The Eagles offense needed a response and came through in a big way. It only took one minute and twenty seconds for the offense to get in the endzone. Two long passes to DeSean Jackson set the Eagles up in Chargers territory, and a dart of a touchdown pass from Vick to Riley Cooper cut the lead back down to three and hope had been restored.

Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin (22) strips the ball from San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers response, as it was throughout the game, was quite impressive as they drove toward the Eagles endzone yet again. It looked as if they were going to re-take their 10 point lead as Phillip Rivers found Antonio Gates and the tight end rumbled toward the endzone. Never giving up on the play, Brandon Boykin chased down the former all-pro tight end from behind, and jarred the ball loose right before Gates reached paydirt. Casey Matthews pounced on the ball and the Eagles, for the time being, avoided giving up any more points. Considering Gates had not lost a fumble since 2008, Boykin’s hustle and awareness was an extremely impressive play. I cannot remember one time during the past season where I saw a veteran player display the sort of pursuit and relentlessness that Boykin did against a much larger, more distinguished player like Gates, no less.

The Eagles drive from the shadow of their endzone stalled out, and it looked as if the Chargers might get one more chance to score before the half. After moving the ball all the way down to the red zone again, the Chargers elected a run play to try to bleed the rest of the clock while scoring. Another huge play by the defense kept the deficit at 3, as Trent Cole reached in and forced a crucial Ryan Mathews fumble to close out the half and keep San Diego off the board. The Eagles looked as if they might be able to tie it up before the intermission, thanks to a flurry of completions to DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy. Yet with seconds left on the clock, Alex Henery missed a very manageable 45-yard try wide right and the Eagles came away empty. Still, sitting at 13-10, with the ability of the Chargers to move the ball and eat up clock, one could say that the Eagles should have felt extremely fortunate with their predicament at the half.

Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal (11) runs in for a touchdown as the Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Cary Williams (26) defends during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego received the opening kickoff and, like they did earlier in the game, delivered a gut punch to the energy level of the Eagles defense and the Lincoln Financial Field crowd. An 11-play, nearly five-minute long touchdown drive, complete with three 3rd down and 5 or more yards to go conversions, put San Diego back up by 10 and re-established the fact that San Diego could move the ball at will against Billy Davis’ defensive unit.

It looked as if the offense was going to respond with another quick touchdown, as Michael Vick marched the team right back into San Diego territory before hitting DeSean Jackson up the seam for a 37 yard touchdown. However, an illegal formation penalty on rookie Lane Johnson nullified the score and continued the Eagles trend of shooting themselves in the foot with missed opportunities. Henery would hit from 48 yards and the lead was back down to 7.

The defense finally looked as if they might start turning things around when the Chargers got the ball back, forcing their only three-and-out of the game and getting the Eagles offense the ball back. Once again, the Eagles wasted no time capitalizing on the momentum. Michael Vick unleashed a beauty of a deep ball down the sideline to DeSean Jackson, and after three prior attempts had yielded no results, finally hooked up with his speedy receiver for a 61 yard touchdown. Vick had missed DeSean on two earlier attempts when the receiver had broken open, and Johnson’s penalty earlier in the game had washed out a touchdown. With how he has looked in the first couple of games, if Vick can stay on the field, DeSean could have one of the more special seasons for an Eagles wideout. With the score tied 20-20, it appeared that the Eagles might finally be taking control of the game.

Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) adjusts the play at the line of scrimmage during the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Chargers defeated the Eagles 33-30. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers following drive, while not producing a touchdown, could have been the most brutal of the game from an Eagles standpoint. The plodding, 17-play, almost 9-minute drive spanned over two quarters. The Chargers converted four third down plays and any chance for the Eagles to seize the game went out the window during that drive. They were able to hold San Diego to a field goal, and the Chargers would lead 23-20 in the fourth quarter.

In a more traditionally paced drive, Vick led the Eagles, through an impressive balance of run and pass plays down the field. A rumbling 27-yard reception by Zach Ertz proved to be the big play of the drive, and a 2-yard touchdown run by Vick, which almost looked like a two-man game in basketball, gave the Eagles their first lead of the game. The touchdown would come at a price however, as DeSean Jackson was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the yardage would be taken into account on the ensuing kickoff.

For a moment, it looked as if the kickoff would be the most unlikely of blessings. San Diego’s Fozzy Whitaker brought the kick through midfield and, after collecting an impressive chunk of yardage, coughed up the ball among a sea of Eagles jerseys. Alex Henery probably had the best chance to recover the fumble, but rather than falling on the ball, the Eagles kicker attempted to pick up fumble and could not make the play. The ball would actually squirt a few yards further down the field, only improving the Chargers situation, before they finally recovered the ball in Eagles territory. Even with the short field, the Chargers did an impressive job of using as much clock as possible before Eddie Royal took a screen pass into the endzone, with a bit of help from a King Dunlap hold that went uncalled, for his third score of the game. The Eagles trailed 30-27 and would have just over three minutes to make up the difference.

Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) runs for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back, had the drive started even 45 seconds later, the Eagles may have pulled out a win. Once again, the combination of Vick, McCoy, and Jackson helped move the ball down the field with ease and before one could blink, the Eagles had first and ten on the Chargers 14. With over two minutes to go and knowing they could tie the game or win it, the Eagles had control of the situation. For the first time since he’s been in control, I questioned Chip Kelly’s approach over the next sequence of plays. Having gassed the Chargers defense to the tune of almost 60 yards, the Eagles probably could have won the game while running out the clock. With their offensive line a clear advantage from a physicality standpoint, combined with their tandem of explosive running backs, it seemed very difficult to not even consider a running play. Kelly clearly had something else in mind, as he decided he was going to keep the ball in the hands of his quarterback to try to win the game. Vick’s first pass fell incomplete to Brent Celek. Vick was shaken up enough during the play that he would be forced to sit out at least one play. Nick Foles made his 2013 debut on 2nd and 10 with a chance to win the game with a touchdown. Foles’ attempt yielded nothing as well, as his attempt to Jackson in the right side of the endzone was too far out-of-bounds and all the sudden it was third down at the 2-minute warning. Vick returned to the game following the break, but was unsuccessful in prolonging the drive, as he could not connect with Jason Avant over the middle and suddenly, even with a chance to tie it, the Eagles chances at winning seemed diminished. Henery knocked home the 32-yard attempt, and it would be up to the defense to try to keep the Chargers from scoring in the remaining 1:51.

Rivers was not to be denied on this day. He only needed two completions to Antonio Gates to set the Chargers up in Eagles territory. From there, a few short passes to Danny Woodhead, extracting every second remaining on the clock, set the Chargers up to complete the win. Nick Novak, already 3 for 3 on the day, set up from 45 yards out to give Chargers coach Mike McCoy his first win as an NFL coach. Even the Chip Kelly mystique and bravado could not keep the veteran kicker from making the clutch attempt look easy. Novak sank the game-winner with little doubt and, just as quick as the whole football world was to jump on the Eagles bandwagon following the Redskins win, the doubting and the questioning of whether this team was truly a contender officially began. The Chargers would win 33-30 despite the Eagles racking up 511 total yards in less than 20 minutes of time of possession. While not the death sentence that a hard-fought loss like that might feel like midway through the season, certainly not the way the team wanted to show up in their first home game under their new head coach.

From an evaluation standpoint, there was a handful of things to like, a bit more to dislike, and so much to be left desired. Statistically speaking, Michael Vick was great. With the Chargers possessing the type of front-7 that held Arian Foster in check during week 1, it became clear early on that the Eagles wanted to expose the San Diego defensive backfield. Vick threw for over 400 yards, accounted for three total touchdowns, and did not turn the ball over. Under normal circumstances, and Vick is probably as far from the top of the list in terms of who was to blame for this loss, the Eagles are 2-0 and Vick is looking like a new player. The only gripes one can have with the Eagles starter to this point is that, even with such gaudy numbers, they could be even better. It took four attempts to finally hook up with DeSean Jackson for a long touchdown, despite the receiver being open on every opportunity. Due to the unpredictable nature of the read-option, Vick is going to miss open receivers every game, it is inevitable. To have the biggest issue with your quarterback be the fact that, even with ridiculous stats so far, he could be that much better, you have to be happy about that. LeSean McCoy only had 11 carries, but added five catches in this game and his 167 all-purpose yards really highlighted his versatility. McCoy also had a tremendous block on Michael Vick’s 2-yard touchdown run that sprung the quarterback to give the Eagles the lead at the time. Bryce Brown once again was not too much of a factor in the contest. With the Eagles being pressed to score, spending most of the game playing catch up, it is understandable that Chip Kelly wants his top personnel group on the field. Having said that, a player of Brown’s talent level is a terrible thing to waste sitting on the sideline. Hopefully, the team is in a position on Thursday to feature the second year back a bit more, considering it’s the third game in 11 days.

Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) runs after a catch for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

DeSean Jackson looks as if he is nearly unguardable these days. With the defense being forced to keep an eye on the backfield, even for a split second, when defending the read-option, Jackson is given the necessary split second to gain separation from his defender. Under Andy Reid, Jackson was running a lot of the same routes. However, under Chip Kelly, he is not dealing with the same amount of attention and faceguarding that he used to be opposed with. His 9 catches for 193 yards were all as spectacular as the other, and it seemed as if no one on the Chargers defense had what it took to keep Jackson in front of them. He did let his attitude get the worst of him on the personal foul penalty following the Vick touchdown, and there has been flashes of that each of the past two weeks. DeSean is an emotional player, and to try and keep that under wraps probably does more harm than good. However, it will be Jackson’s responsibility to reel in the sort of mental breakdowns that cost his team with some of these penalties. Once again, a lot of the passing game was somewhat limited to Jackson and McCoy on the checkdowns. Riley Cooper had a very impressive touchdown catch, but was more or less a non factor other than that. Jason Avant did what he normally does, and it is unreasonable to expect anything more than a handful of catches from him. The team still has not found a way to implement Damaris Johnson into the scheme. I’m not sure if Kelly is waiting until defenses find a way to stop Jackson before increasing the Johnson workload, but it is somewhat unnerving to consider that the team hasn’t found a way to get the shifty playmaker the ball.

Zach Ertz made his first solid impression as a rookie, catching two balls for a healthy 58 yards. Ertz, who played both on the line and split out wide in formation, demonstrated the sort of versatility that made him such a prized commodity in terms of the Eagles draft class. He was able to pick up big yards after the catch and ran, and caught the ball, with the type of confidence that you like to see from a rookie. Brent Celek was held off the scoresheet after a big first game. James Casey looked as if he was going to make his first impression in an Eagles uniform, when he appeared to catch a touchdown pass near the goal line on the Eagles second drive. Casey apparently did not haul in the poorly thrown Vick pass and was not utilized at all for the rest of the game. I envisioned Casey being utilized on plays that had Vick moving the pocket and allowing him to leak out of the backfield for catches on check down throws. I would argue that the up-and-down nature of the first two games has made that difficult from a playcalling standpoint. Would hate to see a unique talent like Casey’s continue to wither on the bench.

The offensive line spent most of their day in pass protection. Vick was sacked only once and hit a handful of other times, but I would argue that the line held up better against the pass than they did against the Redskins. Lane Johnson’s penalty that negated a potential Jackson touchdown was a costly blow at the time, as it seemed like the Eagles were ready to roll over a tired Chargers defense. It would have been nice to see if the line could have been given a chance to salt the game away late by run blocking the team into the endzone on their final drive, but as far as the plays that were being called, I thought the line played well.

Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles safety Nate Allen (29) grabs the face mask of San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (24) during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When it is difficult to point out an issue with the offense in a loss, the defense must have played historically bad. While the Redskins made sure the Eagles were not the worst defense of the day, the Eagles did their best to top them. All three levels of the Eagles defense struggled against the Chargers pass-heavy offense. After seeing Billy Davis unload blitz after blitz against the Redskins, San Diego spent most of the pre-snap offense at the line, waiting to see the cues from the Eagles defense in terms of where the blitzes were coming from. Six days after spending nearly every snap in the Redskins backfield, the Eagles could barely sniff Phillip Rivers. Whether it was a 3-man, 4-man, or 5+ man rush, Rivers always seemed to have a clean pocket to throw from. Credit Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown for their ability to pick up blockers on several of the third down blitzes. Acknowledging the deficiencies in terms of depth and talent in the defensive backfield, the Eagles are going to have to blitz if they want to succeed on defense. When the blitz is not successful in reaching the opposition, that is when the team will struggle. The defensive line did very little in terms of getting a push toward the heavy footed Rivers, and allowed the former pro-bowler to pick apart the middle of the field. Spending most of their day in coverage, inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans were unable to play as free-wheeling as they did against Washington. Kendricks probably learned a thing or two about guarding after seeing the day that Antonio Gates had. Outside of his fumble near the endzone, Gates thrashed the Eagles to the tune of 8 receptions and 124 yards. Trent Cole, save for the fumble he caused toward the end of the first half, was not nearly as disruptive as he was in the first game, and with the Chargers passing more, Cole was put at a disadvantage. Connor Barwin probably was the best player on the defensive side of the ball, collecting a sack to go along with seven tackles. Even when the team is struggling on defense like they were Sunday afternoon, Barwin seems to never lose his intensity. Hopefully that attitude can be contagious for the rest of the defensive unit.

While the line and linebackers struggled, the secondary was abysmal from the opening snap. Cary Williams, while still adequate in terms of coverage, collected multiple pass interference penalties. There are going to be games where  officials allow certain things to go by and others where they call it a bit tighter. I would prefer that Williams remain aggressive regardless of the official than try to adjust. He is a talented player who knows what it takes to play winning football on the defensive side of the ball. The injury to Bradley Fletcher seemed to really handicap the Philadelphia defense. Fletcher is not an all-world talent, but he is capable of covering most receivers and allows Brandon Boykin to play the slot corner position. With Boykin, and sometimes Brandon Hughes forced to play on the outside, the Chargers were able to utilize the slot receiver and tight ends a great deal to gain big chunks of yardage. Hopefully Fletcher can return from his concussion symptoms for the upcoming showdown with the Chiefs. With Andy Reid utilizing a great deal of his West Coast Offense in Kansas City, the Eagles will need a full arsenal of defensive backs to counter. Patrick Chung was once again active in the tackles department, collecting 8 total (6 solo). However, when the team needed a player to step up and take away the middle of the field from the Chargers receivers, no resistance was given by Chung. The only reason Chung’s performance was not as scrutinized was because of the play of Nate Allen. Many were surprised to see Allen get another chance with the Eagles. He has not regained his impressive form from his rookie season that was cut short due to injury. While Earl Wolff is a promising player who has confidence that goes beyond his years, Allen could only be pushed so far by a 5th round draft pick. Being penciled in as the starting safety, Allen would have one last opportunity to lock down a steady job in the NFL. After Sunday’s performance, it might be time to start dusting off the old resume. Whether it was being caught out of position, outdueled for balls with the chance to make plays, or being unable to make plays in the tackling department (see Eddie Royal’s 3rd touchdown), Allen was the most noticeably bad player on the defense and it was not close. He is a player that plays with no confidence and no longer has the physical tools to compensate. Being the leading tackler on a team that allowed 539 yards can only mean that Allen was picked on a great deal down the field and someone had to make the tackle. Chip Kelly said it best postgame when discussing the team’s situation at safety, exclaiming that, “There aren’t any safeties on the street, I can tell you that. We’ll play with the ones we got.”

This is a telling snippet from the Eagles coach, as last week’s win maybe hid the fact that this team is far off from a personnel standpoint. They have increased the talent levels in certain areas, but a couple of bad drafts can really set a team back from an organizational depth standpoint. In this year’s draft, the Eagles opted not to take a safety early on, but focus on the offensive side of the ball. As the year continues, it is probable that the only way for the defense to succeed is to blitz and leave their secondary a bit more vulnerable. Considering Allen is not performing much better than a rookie would, one would not be surprised to see Earl Wolff get more looks going forward. It’s safe to say that Kelly has no reason to show patience with Allen’s subpar play.

Sep 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly talks with tight end Brent Celek (87) during the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Lincoln Financial Field. The Chargers defeated the Eagles 33-30. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

So at 1-1, there is still a lot to like, and even more not to like. If the defense was constructed with a team of pro bowlers and top-2 round draft picks, they might not have to bring so much pressure. It was a given that they were going to give up yards. What this year’s team is doing that last year’s did not was make plays on the ball.  Forcing turnovers is a game of effort and not always so much talent. There was probably more talent on the Eagles defense last year, but no one wanted to give the effort. This year, they have already forced multiple turnovers in both games. The Eagles have also shown more of an effort to protect the ball. One questionable turnover and an untimely fumble by Jason Avant are the only blemishes in the turnover department to this point, and the Eagles offense has taken advantage of it.

The upcoming showdown with the Chiefs on Thursday is an interesting matchup. Kansas City is 2-0 after dispatching of the Cowboys in Kansas City on Sunday. They are making a similar trip to the Chargers with even fewer days rest, but a head of steam built up and every reason to play at their highest level to try to give their head coach a win that he has circled for quite some time. The Eagles very much remain a work in progress, as their defensive shortcoming caught up with them two games in. Hopefully, Chip Kelly and the rest of his coaching staff can put together the type of gameplan that can put a winning product on the field. It still appears as if the team is putting the effort on the field necessary to win. Sunday’s loss was a matter of a team putting together a gameplan, buying into it 100%, catching a break here and there, and pulling out a three-point win.