Believe it or not, the Eagles’ 36-21 Week 5 win over the New York Giants in the Meadowlands might very well be a game-changer.
Philadelphia suddenly finds itself in first place in the NFC East, and the upcoming schedule provides some opportunities over the next few weeks for the Eagles to begin building a lead over their division rivals.
Not buying the Birds’ playoff chances, even in a weak division? Fair enough, but the team's win over New York was still a game-changer. Snapping a three-game losing streak is a great feeling, and against a bitter rival no less. Now they have a chance to get back to .500 with another winless opponent in their sights.
The 0-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers these days are making more headlines off the field than for anything they’re doing on it. Quarterback Josh Freeman has been ousted, while head coach Greg Schiano is planted firmly on the hot seat. Their season appears to be well into freefall mode before they’ve even played a game in the month of October.
Things are looking up for Philly these days, especially if they can get out of Tampa Bay with a win—perhaps easier said than done with Michael Vick injured and backup quarterback Nick Foles likely to get the start according to a CSNphilly.com.
Here’s the latest with the Eagles, as they head into a huge Week 6 matchup for the franchise.
NFC East Standings
Philadelphia Eagles (2-3)
The Eagles are in the driver’s seat—at least for the moment—by virtue of their 2-0 record within the division. It hasn’t been pretty, and it may not last, but it’s a fun thing to say to the Cowboys fan in your life.
Being in first place may not change many perceptions about the Eagles. They’ve been victims of uneven performances in every phase of the game, in each game, and they appear to be at least a year away from contention.
But in the once mighty NFC East, they may very well be a playoff team. Who wouldn’t take those bragging rights?
Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
You have to hand it to Tony Romo. He was the first quarterback who stood toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning this season, throwing for over 500 yards and five touchdowns in an absolute classic 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos.
I don’t care if he did toss the decisive interception—that performance was impressive.
With the Cowboys, you never seem to know what you’re going to get from week to week. They can hang with the best offense in the NFL for one game, then play down to their competition the next. Romo is the lone constant, always there for a soul-crushing turnover in crunch time.
Washington Redskins (1-3)
Washington is coming out of the bye with a wee bit of momentum, but their win over Oakland looks even less substantial than it did one week ago after Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter reported the Raiders released quarterback Matt Flynn on Monday.
Flynn was the starting quarterback for the silver and black in its loss to the Redskins, now he’s on the street.
Maybe with an extra week to prepare, this is finally the week Robert Griffin III gets on track. Washington’s franchise quarterback better rediscover this week some of the magic that his team milked on its way to an NFC East title during his rookie season; the schedule is only going to get more difficult from here.
New York Giants (0-5)
Is there any end in sight to the Giants’ misery? On Dec. 29, maybe.
The G-men face a quick turnaround after falling to the Eagles 36-21 in New York on Sunday, traveling to Chicago to meet the Bears this Thursday. Thursday night games are never fun for the players, especially when having to go on the road.
But when that team is still searching for its first win, the trip must feel like a funeral procession.
Week 6 Opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4)
Nick Foles returns to the scene of his first and only win as an NFL starter. Last December, the then-rookie Foles found Jeremy Maclin in the end zone as time expired to complete an 11-point fourth-quarter comeback and stun the Buccaneers 23-21.
Tampa Bay is coming off a bye, so the Bucs’ coaching staff should have a solid game plan in place for Mike Glennon’s second career start. The third-round pick out of North Carolina State threw two fourth-quarter interceptions in Tampa Bay territory to choke away his NFL debut, a 13-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4.
To the casual observer, the Bucs appear to be in a state of complete disarray, but just having a prepared quarterback and home-field advantage can carry a team a long way.
Not to jinx them or anything, but the Eagles continue to maintain one of the healthiest rosters in the NFL. We are only aware of two significant injuries heading into Week 6.
Of course, one of the injuries happens to be the team's signal-caller. Early reports are that Michael Vick will not be back for the game against the Bucs. Head coach Chip Kelly said such reports were premature at his Monday press conference, but as of now the feeling around Philadelphia is that the Birds will be without their starting quarterback.
What Must Improve (Under Nick Foles Edition)
Assuming Nick Foles gets the start this Sunday, the Eagles aren’t necessarily in poor hands. Foles actually put up a fight for the job against Michael Vick at training camp, and the second-year pro flashed some potential during his rookie season, despite lacking much in the way of a supporting cast.
Foles was 16-of-25 for 197 yards and two touchdowns in the road win over New York. His contributions to the 36-21 victory were unmistakable. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though, and Philadelphia’s offense has plenty of room to improve with Foles at the helm.
Here are some specific things they need to work on.
On the bright side, Foles converted two Giants turnovers into touchdowns, but the Eagles only had to go 25 and 38 yards to reach paydirt. Otherwise, he directed only two drives of any significant length, both ending in field goals.
Twice under Foles the Birds stalled completely, going three-and-out.
Philadelphia’s offense loses a lot of its quick-strike capabilities without Vick in the lineup, becoming much more methodical in its attack. In other words, rather than rely on deep bombs and scintillating scrambles, Foles has typically been at his best when he’s able to dink and dunk his way down the field.
For that approach to work, though, the Eagles must go on lengthy marches where the number of plays run can sometimes crack double digits. Foles’ longest series on Sunday was 11 plays to set up a field goal at the end of the first half, but only one other possession lasted more than six plays.
Unless the defense can continue to come up with takeaways, the Eagles offense will need to be more efficient than that.
Running the Football
LeSean McCoy’s Week 5 rushing stats with Michael Vick in the game: 12 carries, 46 yards, one touchdown. McCoy’s Week 5 rushing stats with Foles: eight carries, -2 yards.
A big reason why Philadelphia couldn’t sustain drives was because its ground attack wasn’t producing favorable down-and-distance situations for the offense. Shady McCoy wasn’t exactly lighting up the Giants defense, even while Vick was under center, but it got so bad once Foles came in that Chip Kelly got away from the run altogether.
Why did McCoy become so ineffective? No doubt Vick’s own scrambling ability opens up lanes for McCoy, but it’s not like teams can’t run the football without a mobile quarterback. New York was committing an extra defender to the box, something the Eagles could see again in Tampa.
The Buccaneers are usually stout against the run, holding opponents to 3.7 yards per carry, tied for seventh in the NFL. Philadelphia’s offense goes as McCoy does, though, and the Eagles need some big plays out of their All-Pro back to help take some of the pressure off of Foles.
Getting the No. 2 Receiver Involved
You have to imagine DeSean Jackson will be deserted on Revis Island for much of the afternoon in Tampa Bay, and we’ve seen what big, physical cornerbacks can do to the diminutive wide receiver. Brandon Flowers for Kansas City and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were both able to contain Jackson—Darrelle Revis is capable of doing the same.
Should that come to pass, it means the Eagles desperately need another receiver to step up in the passing game. Unfortunately, nobody has been able to fill that role so far.
Riley Cooper has become increasingly invisible as the club’s No. 2 receiver—he was targeted just once against the Giants and had no catches. He was taken off the field for a few snaps, but his main replacement, Jeff Maehl, didn’t seem to fare any better out there.
Jason Avant? He hasn’t been much of a factor besides the five-catch, 87-yard performance against Kansas City. Damaris Johnson? I can’t recall so much as seeing him on the field on offense.
This is an area where Nick Foles has an opportunity to separate himself from Mike Vick. One thing Foles does well is anticipate his target coming open and releasing the football before or just as the receiver makes his break. With a guy like Cooper who is unable to get free from defenders on the outside, this might be the only way the Eagles get production from its No. 2 wideout this year.
Of course, the question remains as to whether Foles can make those types of NFL throws on a consistent basis.
It sounds like we’ll find out in Week 6.