Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Takeaways from Philly's 31-20 Win
It's official. The Philadelphia Eagles have a major quarterback controversy on their hands after Nick Foles led the team to a 31-20 win in Tampa Bay on Sunday, although it's not the kind most fans are accustomed to.
The decision between Foles and incumbent Michael Vick is not a decision between which one is the lesser of two evils. Both signal-callers have legitimately played well in their own ways. The four-time Pro Bowler brings an extra dimension to the offense with his runs, but the second-year passer has been far more efficient through the air.
All things considered, it's a good problem for Philadelphia to have. Maybe the old saying, "When you have two QBs, you have none," isn't true in this situation.
Needless to say, a lot of the Week 6 takeaways revolve around Foles and how the offense looked with him in charge. Understand that Vick can be very explosive, but what the 24-year-old has been able to accomplish so far in his second NFL season really ought to be opening some eyes.
The Buccaneers have a good defense that was holding opponents to 17.5 points per game entering this contest, and Foles shredded them every which way. Here's my take on the controversy and more from a quality win to move the Eagles back to .500 for the season.
Foles Should Start
It's amazing to me that there would be any debate over who should be under center for the Eagles going forward. Nick Foles has been far more effective as a passer than Michael Vick and, more importantly, has done a better job of moving the Birds offense into the end zone as well.
Foles completed 22 of 31 passes for 296 yards (9.5 average), three touchdowns and no interceptions on Sunday. He also took one in himself for six points.
Four touchdowns is more than the offense had under Vick over his last three games total.
Foles is completing 67.2 percent of his passes this season, Vick 53.8. Foles' passer rating is 127.9; Vick's is 90.6. Philadelphia's aerial attack is easily more efficient under the second-year quarterback, and Vick's 307 rushing yards isn't making up the difference—certainly not on the scoreboard.
If the Eagles passing game works better when Foles is at the helm, and the offense is scoring more points when No. 9 is in the backfield, aren't those the only things that matter?
McCoy Not Limited by Foles Under Center
There was some concern the Eagles running game would suffer without Michael Vick in the backfield. When Nick Foles came on in relief in Week 5 against the New York Giants, LeSean McCoy—the NFL's leading rusher—carried eight times for minus-two yards.
Those concerns were put to rest on Sunday, and against a top-10 run defense no less. McCoy toted the rock 25 times for 116 yards in Tampa Bay, maintaining a solid 4.6 average despite a good chunk of those touches coming in the fourth quarter when the Bucs knew the Eagles were trying to ice the game.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise in all honesty. Vick does open lanes for his running backs, but "Shady" wasn't the first back in NFL history to go over 100 yards without a mobile QB under center.
The point is, when it comes to the decision on who should be playing quarterback, how it impacts the ground attack will not be a factor.
Riley Cooper Not Useless After All
Few players in the NFL have been under fire more than Riley Cooper this season. Most recently, the troubled wide receiver has been criticized for his lack of production on the field.
Cooper finally responded. The 26-year-old entered Week 6 with eight receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday, he caught four passes for 120 yards and a score. Two of his touches went for over 40 yards.
What was the difference? It helped that Cooper had rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks in coverage. Foles also showed trust in the No. 2 receiver, delivering footballs on time and into one-on-one situations in a manner Vick hasn't.
Considering Cooper is a very good blocker and the Eagles don't have any better options, they need a QB who can get him involved in the offense. That's another plus for Foles for using the whole field in the win over Tampa.
Foles Protects His Offensive Line
Rounding out our Nick Foles love is one final observation about the quarterback's play. By virtue of his decision making, Foles makes the offensive line look better than it has under Vick.
Case in point: Foles was sacked just once in Tampa Bay, bringing his total up to two in roughly seven quarters this season. Vick—who statistically holds the ball longer than any other QB in the league this season, per Pro Football Focus (subscription only)—was sacked 14 times over the other 17 quarters.
No, the linemen don't block better when Foles is in the game. The ball comes out faster for one. He'll also throw the ball away when things break down. Finally, Foles knows how to move subtly within the pocket to buy an extra second rather than flee at the first sign of trouble.
Vick can be difficult to protect because the linemen never know where he's going to be or when the ball is leaving his hand.
It's just one more reason why the offense has been more efficient under Foles this season. Sacks kill drives, but the second-year QB knows how to live to fight another down.
Eagles Unable to Pressure Opposing QBs
Moving to the other side of the ball, Philadelphia's defense had one important job to do on Sunday. If the Eagles could get pressure on Mike Glennon, the rookie quarterback would likely wilt in his second career start.
Unfortunately, no matter what defensive coordinator Bill Davis dialed up, Glennon seemed to have all the time in the world inside the pocket. As a result, the third-round pick actually had a solid outing (26/43, 273 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT).
The Birds did not even manage to sack Glennon at all until the fourth quarter. They finished with two—and the Bucs were missing Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks.
It probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given Philadelphia entered the game tied for 24th in the NFL with 11 sacks. The complete inability to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket is a huge reason why the Eagles secondary has been picked apart to the tune of 314.5 yards per game.
Bradley Fletcher Looks Like a Big Find
The one player in the Eagles secondary who is really starting to make a name for himself is Bradley Fletcher. The fifth-year cornerback followed up a strong performance against the New York Giants (five passes defensed) with three more pass breakups and his first interception of the season in Week 6.
Signed to a two-year deal as a free agent from the St. Louis Rams, Fletcher came to Philly as a relative unknown. Injuries erased most of his 2011, and when he returned last season, the Rams had basically moved on.
It appears the fifth-year veteran may have found a home. Fletcher has seldom been beat in straight man-to-man coverage this season, a trend that continued on Sunday. He's not afraid to get physical with receivers while showing the speed to close the gap if they do get a step.
Fletcher looked like a stopgap when he joined the Eagles back in March. Now the 27-year-old seems like he could be carving out a role in this defense for years to come. He looks like the steal of this free-agent class for the Birds.
Special Teams Still a Concern
Coming off a week in New York in which there were no special teams issues, some not-so-minor problems popped up again for the Eagles' third unit in Tampa Bay.
There was a long punt return in Philadelphia territory that led to an eventual touchdown. There was Damaris Johnson returning two kickoffs out of the end zone and not even getting back to the 15-yard line, as well as his general ineffectiveness with the ball in his hands.
Even on Donnie Jones' punt that pinned the Bucs on their own 1-yard line, the ball needed a fortuitous 20-yard bounce to get there.
The Eagles escaped Tampa fortunate none of these proved to be a bigger issue. It's hard not to show concern, though, when some of the exact same problems have already contributed to losses this season. Maybe it's time I resign myself to the fact that it's not getting any better this season.
Huge Game with Dallas Cowboys Ahead
How many people predicted back in August that a Week 7 meeting between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys would be for first place in the NFC East?
Even if the Cowboys lose to the Washington Redskins on Sunday Night Football, the stage has been set for a battle for division supremacy next week at Lincoln Financial Field. An Eagles win would move Philly to 3-0 in the East, with wins over all three rivals.
And should it lose? While nobody ever likes losing to Dallas, the Birds will still be in better position than most people expected they would at this stage of the season.
The Eagles are playing in meaningful football games, and yes, they have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs this year while they're still rebuilding. That alone says a lot about the job head coach Chip Kelly has done turning around the culture in Philly after the team bottomed out with a 4-12 record in 2012.
Quarterback controversy or no, it seems like the offense is starting to heat up. If the defense can catch up even a little bit, a winning record at least is not out of the realm of possibility.