You can typically count on Thursday Night Football to be an ugly affair, but the Philadelphia Eagles clearly caught the worse end of the short week this time around. After all, the Kansas City Chiefs came into their building and stole a 26-16 victory for head coach Andy Reid against his old team.
As sickening as it was for the Birds faithful to watch Big Red take that Gatorade shower on the sideline, that’s nothing compared to what went on between the white lines. The Eagles went easy on their opponent simply by virtue of being the sloppier, more mistake-prone football team.
It’s the second straight game Philly let slip through their finger tips, but this one stings worse. Of course there was the emotional aspect, yet there was also more of a feeling that the Eagles quite literally gave this game away more than their opponent beat them. That’s the way it went down at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night though, and here’s why.
When an NFL team spots its opponent 10 points, fewer roads to victory are available. And when you turn the ball over five times, those roads turn into dirt paths that lead to places where lost travelers wind up in slasher flicks.
The Eagles essentially dug their own grave within the first few minutes on Thursday when a muffed punt by Damaris Johnson and a Michael Vick pick-six resulted in an easy 10 points for Kansas City. The nightmare didn’t end there; two more Vick turnovers and a Jason Kelce snap to nobody rounded out a night of Philadelphia gift-giving.
I once compiled the record of every team in the NFL over the course of a season based on the number turnovers they committed in a game. In 2011, 13 teams had five turnovers in a single game (out of 256 games, mind you)—none of them wound up on the winning end. Hmm…
It’s not hard to figure out what the main culprit was here.
If you were watching Philadelphia or Kansas City for the first time all season, you wouldn’t know whether the Eagles’ offensive line was that bad or the Chiefs’ front seven that good.
The answer is probably a combination of the two.
Much respect to the Chiefs, who backed up their league-leading nine sacks entering this week with five more. Justin Houston absolutely abused Todd Herremans and rookie Lane Johnson on the right side of the Eagles line, where the Kansas City outside linebacker picked up all 3.5 of his sacks—Houston is now the NFL leader with 6.5 quarterback takedowns.
The protection issues weren't isolated to the right side, though. Jason Peters, perhaps the most dominant offensive lineman before he ruptured his Achilles tendon last year, had issues with Tamba Hali on the left side.
The Eagles ran the ball effectively enough, gaining 260 yards on the ground, and we can expect Peters in particular to rebound. But the right side, where Johnson and Herremans are starting, has been having issues in pass protection dating back to the preseason.
After the game, Michael Vick decided to take “sole responsibility” for the Eagles loss. While there was plenty of blame to go around, I do respect that.
Still, Vick did play pretty poorly.
While we already mentioned that the protection he received wasn’t the greatest, that had nothing to do with the two interceptions Vick threw—one of which was taken to the house for six points. And although Vick was sacked five times, not all were a result of blown blocks.
Vick was indecisive from the opening whistle, and his decision-making only got worse as the game progressed. He missed his share of open receivers, even when there was a pocket for him to step up into, and his erratic passing (13-for-30) was a big reason Philly couldn’t sustain a drive.
With Vick, you can never tell whether to chalk it up to one bad game, one good defensive performance or...whatever. Then again, his performance tonight was a microcosm of the issues that have hampered No. 7's play since joining the Eagles.
Let’s take a reprieve from the negatives to look at two positives on the defensive side of the ball. Actually, defensive coordinator Billy Davis and his unit rebounded quite nicely after the Week 2 debacle. The Chiefs’ offense wasn’t able to locate the end zone until the fourth quarter.
A big reason why Kansas City struggled to move the ball was the play up front. Jamaal Charles didn’t take over the team lead in rushing from Alex Smith until sometime midway into the second half, and speaking of the Chiefs QB, Smith was sacked five times by five different players.
The Eagles did a good job of not allowing the passer to get comfortable in the pocket, which can be credited both to well-timed blitzes and players simply winning battles up front. Unfortunately they didn’t cause a turnover, and they did wear down as time of possession slid in K.C.’s favor (39 minutes to 20).
But there was a lot to be encouraged about by the play of the Eagles' defensive front.
A lot of people might not realize this, but Dwayne Bowe is sort of an amazing receiver. He once hauled in 15 touchdown passes in a single season, and that was with Matt Cassel as his quarterback. Imagine what he could with an elite signal-caller.
That’s not Alex Smith either, but he is an upgrade over Cassel. No matter for the Eagles though, as Bowe was essentially invisible on Thursday. He hauled in just one pass for four yards on three targets.
A lot of the credit goes to cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who returned from a concussion to absolutely shut down a Pro Bowl wide receiver. Bowe hadn’t exactly been tearing it up coming into the game (eight receptions, 86 yards, one TD), so it’s possible he and his new quarterback are not entirely on the same page.
But it was still an admirable job by the Birds corners.
At 6’2”, 221 pounds, Bowe is one of the tougher matchups on the outside in the NFL, and he didn’t even get a whiff of the pigskin until the fourth quarter.
The trade-off to not allowing Bowe to impact the game is Philadelphia got burned by a relative nobody for a second week in a row. In Week 2 it was Eddie Royal pulling down three touchdown passes, as many as he previously had in a season since his rookie year in 2008.
In Week 3 it was Donnie Avery, a former second-round pick of the Rams turned journeyman who came into the game with four catches for 49 yards. He exited with one of the best performances of his career—seven receptions on seven targets for 141 yards.
As if it wasn’t bad enough the Eagles simply haven’t had an answer for these pesky slot receivers running through their defense, Avery really made his game in an unconceivable way—3rd and longs. Avery converted two third down plays of 15 yards or beyond by catching underneath routes and running through the secondary, which one would’ve been too many.
With so many teams utilizing three wide receivers as a staple of their offense, it’s absolutely imperative the Eagles figure out what’s wrong with this picture. These were costly, drive-extending plays that should almost never happen.
For all the grief Nate Allen received over the past four days, he was far from the problem on Thursday night. I suppose it was Patrick Chung’s turn to be the weak link in the secondary this week—plug one leak, spring another.
Chung was awful in practically every way imaginable, but his inability to make a tackle was the real drawback to his performance. The same goes for inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, whose immense athleticism only promises to put him near the ball, not make a play on it or the person who possesses it.
Chung and Kendricks missed something like 97 tackles combined (unofficially), and that’s when they weren’t just flat getting beat in coverage. There were no game-changing plays—just the one tackle for loss for Kendricks—but there was plenty of lying on the turf with fingers reaching for air.
For the second week in a row, the Eagles’ special teams were disappointing considering just how much emphasis Chip Kelly places on strong special teams play. The Chiefs opened the game with a 58-yard kickoff return, and things didn’t improve much from there.
Damaris Johnson muffed a punt at the Philadelphia 8-yard line shortly thereafter to gift wrap three points for the Chiefs. Alex Henery would later get nailed for a personal foul on another long kick return later, and he missed a field goal that could have brought the Eagles within one possession.
Kelly even opted for one of those college-style fakes after his team’s first touchdown rather than take the extra point. It failed, and while in the grand scheme it didn’t matter even a tiny bit, that was just one more thing to pile on top of a dismal effort.
If there was one silver lining, it was LeSean McCoy escaping serious injury. Shady went down late in the first half, clutching his ankle and writhing around on the ground in pain. In that moment, it looked like something would knock him out for weeks, not minutes.
McCoy came back early in the third quarter, though, and proceeded to do what he does. 92 of the All-Pro back’s 158 rushing yards came after the injury, including a 41-yard touchdown that almost breathed new life back into the Eagles in the final period.
After the game, the fourth-year back described his injury as a “high-ankle sprain," according to Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
If that was the case, it makes McCoy’s comeback so much more impressive.