Philadelphia Eagles: Examining 7 Back-Breaking Plays from the Arizona Loss

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 25, 2012

Sept. 23, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid talks with quarterback Michael Vick (7) and wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) on the field during the game against the Arizona Cardinals in the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Eagles 27 - 6. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE
Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

Your typical NFL game contains over 130 plays, but only a handful usually make the difference. Although the Philadelphia Eagles were beaten handily by the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in Glendale, I'd actually argue that the difference again could be found in just a few key plays that went Arizona's way. The plays alone weren't everything, but it was the effect they had on the game going forward too.

Here are seven key plays that cost the Eagles in a big way Sunday:


Play No. 1: 
First quarter: Cardinals 3, Eagles 0
Arizona 4th-and-12 on own 16-yard line

The Cardinals are deep in their own territory and punting to Philadelphia, meaning the Eagles are bound to have good field position and a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Undrafted rookie Damaris Johnson makes a nice initial move on the punt return but tries to do too much and is far too careless with his hold on the ball. Arizona's Anthony Sherman barely touches it to force it to pop free.

Instead of the Eagles starting on the 35-yard line, the Cardinals steal the momentum back at home with a forced fumble and have a short field to take a two-score lead.


Play No. 2:
First quarter: Cardinals 3, Eagles 0
Arizona 3rd-and-5 on the Philly 8-yard line

On the ensuing drive and with the Cardinals threatening in the red zone, Philly again fails to deliver on an opportunity to steal the momentum. And in this case, Arizona benefits greatly. It was almost as if Kevin Kolb was offering a gift to his former team when he decided to throw a pass to Michael Floyd here:

I've circled empty air because you can't see it in this shot, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a split-second away from entering that zone.

DeMeco Ryans has to intercept that pass...

Instead, it bounces off Floyd's chest, Rodgers-Cromartie loses track of it, Floyd regains it and walks in for the touchdown. That's at least a seven-point swing and a huge missed opportunity on defense.


Play No. 3:
Second quarter: Cardinals 10, Eagles 0
Philly 2nd-and-8 on the Arizona 36-yard line

The Eagles would again begin to steal some momentum back with 44 yards to move into Arizona territory on the ensuing possession. But Michael Vick is scrambling like a maniac and fumbles on a forward dive, handing the ball back to the Cards.

Vick deserves the majority of the blame for failing to protect the football on a play that was going for no more than a gain of two yards anyway. That said, his pass protection broke down too quickly and his receivers failed to get open. It was just a poor offensive play, and it led to a series of events that would leave the Eagles in an impossible situation for the remainder of the game.


Play No. 4:
Second quarter: Cardinals 10, Eagles 0
Arizona 3rd-and-26 on their own 38-yard line

The Cardinals took two costly offensive penalties on the drive that followed Vick's fumble and were left with a third-and-ridiculous from inside their own territory. Again, Philly has a chance to go to work with relatively decent field position. 

Playing it safe, Kolb completes a simple underneath pass to Larry Fitzgerald, who is still 16 yards shy of the first-down marker with six Philadelphia defenders surrounding him.

Yet Brandon Boykin completely whiffs on the initial tackle attempt, while Nate Allen, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks end up bunched together and at a bad angle.

As a result, Fitzgerald suddenly has something out of nothing. Philly's defense would then be bullied by blocks, as he got it all the way to the 40-yard line. It was short of the first down, but it gave punter Dave Zastudil a chance to pin the Eagles inside their own 10, which he did. 

Here's Kurt Coleman getting manhandled as Fitz picks up five more yards on the end of the play:


Play No. 5:
Second quarter: Cardinals 10, Eagles 0
Arizona 1st-and-10 on the Philly 37-yard line 

The Cardinals would benefit from that field position, forcing a Philly three-and-out to gain the ball back at the 45-yard line. A few plays later, a tired Eagle defense would again get beat by Fitzgerald. 

Kolb gets the Eagles to bite on play-action, and Nnamdi Asomugha is quite simply beaten one-on-one. As you can see here, Asomugha is right with Fitzgerald five yards into his route...

But at 15 yards, he has a step...

And at 25 yards, he has two steps...

If Fitzgerald doesn't make that huge third-down gain on the previous series, there's a much better chance this touchdown doesn't happen. And as a result, the Eagles would panic down 17 points (when panic wasn't necessary) and would call only one running play for the remainder of the half (and that came when they were surrendering on a 3rd-and-20). The one-dimensional offense was easy for the Cardinals defense to pick up on.


Play No. 6:
Second quarter: Cardinals 17, Eagles 0
Philly 1st-and-10 on the Arizona 15-yard line

Despite ditching the run completely, the Eagles would have one more huge chance to get back into the game before halftime. Vick hits Jackson, who makes a grab two yards short of the end zone and with only one man to beat. With 20 seconds on the clock and only one timeout, this is where a star player like Jackson has to make sure he gets in.

But Jackson comes down into a shell, seemingly to protect himself rather than trying to make a quick move to ensure he crosses the goal line. 

Kerry Rhodes makes a great play, and it's another example of Arizona's defense proving to be tougher than Philly's offense. 

That would give the Eagles a few shots at the end zone, but without timeouts, it was obvious they were throwing the football on each play. That would again bite them in the ass on the game's most crucial play.


Play No. 7: 
Second quarter: Cardinals 17, Eagles 0 
Philly 3rd-and-goal on the Arizona 1-yard line

There are six seconds on the clock, and the Eagles don't have timeouts. A pass is coming, and the Arizona defense has been dominating all half. A field goal makes it a two-touchdown game at halftime, where you can make the necessary adjustments to make up that difference.

Instead, the Eagles gamble with one last passing play to attempt to make it a 10-point game at the half. 

The rest is history. Fumble, Arizona touchdown the other way, and for all intents and purposes, the game is over.

So, how does Michael Vick—a 32-year-old veteran—not see this coming?

Vick stood there for over two full seconds, never once looking to his blind side to account for the safety blitz from Rhodes. 

Had he done so, he could have thrown it away, and the Eagles could have kicked a field goal. In other words, this was—at the very least—a 10-point swing.

The Eagles were clearly outplayed Sunday, but my point is that even in one-sided losses, games often come down to execution on a few key plays (even the non-scoring plays like Fitzgerald's big gain on third down, which swayed field position to set up the ensuing scoring drive).

Philadelphia failed to execute in some big first-half moments, and the hole created by that lack of execution and those mistakes became too deep by halftime.