After the Philadelphia Eagles lost 52-20 to the Denver Broncos way back in Week 4, defensive coordinator Bill Davis asked reporters and fans to trust him. What will he have for us this week after Matt Cassel threw for 378 yards in the Minnesota Vikings’ 48-30 upset on Sunday?
In one horrifying afternoon, there went all of the good faith that Davis had built up over the previous nine weeks, which is how long the Eagles had gone without allowing more than 21 points to an opponent. On Sunday, they surrendered more than twice that amount to a Vikings offense without its best player and led by a journeyman quarterback no less.
In many ways, this was worse than the Broncos debacle. Technically, the Philly defense only allowed 38 in Denver—two touchdowns were on special teams. Plus, that was Peyton Manning and this is Cassel, not to mention Minnesota was without reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson in the backfield.
It didn’t matter. Cassel picked apart the Eagles secondary with ease, completing 74.3 percent of his passes for 10.9 yards per attempt. He threw two touchdowns and ran in another. This was the same Cassel who committed 19 turnovers in nine games for the Kansas City Chiefs last season.
Davis will talk to reporters this week, but The Philadelphia Inquirer beat writer Zach Berman managed to track him down for a brief word after the game. Via Berman’s Twitter account, Davis offered, “I said we’re going to find out how we are being the favorites and how we respond to that. And we didn’t respond to it.”
That’s for sure. Where the defense goes from here is anybody’s guess—that was some scary stuff out there. If Davis doesn’t figure it out prior to next week’s showdown with the Bears in Chicago—where the Eagles will face a pair of dangerous wide receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey—this team might find itself slipping out of the playoff picture.
Of course, a lot more had to go wrong than that in order for the Birds to lose by 18. Can they get everything cleaned up in time for the Bears? We examine the issues and more in this week’s takeaways.
Did Andy Reid come back to coach the Eagles on Sunday? Surely that’s the only explanation why LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, carried the football just eight times after having a franchise-record performance last week
This stat should say it all: Nick Foles had more yards on the ground (41) than McCoy (38).
It isn’t because the running game wasn’t working. McCoy averaged nearly five yards per carry (4.8, to be exact), and with the exception of short-yardage situations, he looked explosive every time he touched the rock.
It wasn’t because the Eagles were too far behind, either. Philadelphia never trailed by more than two possessions until the second half, and the team was back within one score before the fourth quarter was under way.
Only the Seattle Seahawks had more rushing attempts on the season entering Week 15, which is what makes the game plan so strange. After watching "Shady" gain 217 yards against the Detroit Lions seven days ago, why would Chip Kelly go away from feeding his All-Pro back?
One reason why Chip Kelly dialed up so many passes had to do with the state of the Vikings secondary. With Minnesota’s top three corners all absent due to injuries—not to mention ranked 30th in the NFL to begin with—there was definitely a weakness to be exploited.
Nick Foles did exploit Minnesota to a degree. He threw for 428 yards and three touchdowns while completing 30 of 48 attempts, which is a staggering line. He also made a terrible decision on his second interception of the season, though, and he was sacked four times. Several of them were drive-killers, and all of them were avoidable.
As is often the case, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The second-year passer was hot and cold from one series to the next, missing quite a few wide-open receivers and throwing some balls where it wasn’t clear who the intended target was.
Foles was far from the reason why the Eagles lost, and the offense did put 30 points on the board after all. However, it’s not at all unusual for him to go into stretches where he looks completely ineffective. That’s going to prove problematic when the coach asks him to drop back 50 times.
You can’t blame the Eagles for wanting to kick away from Cordarrelle Patterson, the NFL’s leading kick returner at 33.3 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. The rookie wide receiver matched the all-time record this season for the longest play with a 109-yard return against the Green Bay Packers.
The problem with Philly’s strategy was that it was still giving the Vikings tremendous field position.
Rather than kick it deep, Alex Henery hit little pop-ups or squibs down the field to the Minnesota’s up-backs. Sometimes it was fairly successful. Too often, those players returned the short kicks to midfield themselves.
Meanwhile, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh boomed almost every one of his kickoffs right out of the end zone. This was in a dome, after all. Henery really can’t do that? Honestly, the Eagles might have been better off just kicking it to Patterson either way.
Penalties weren't the primary reason why the Eagles lost—clearly that would be the play of the secondary—but they are high on the list. Philadelphia was flagged nine times for a whopping 94 yards, while Minnesota was charged with three for 25.
None was more damaging than the illegal block called against Nick Foles. He helped spring DeSean Jackson on a double end-around that went for a score, but the play was called back because the quarterback threw a low block. The Eagles had to settle for three points.
Not every penalty was the right call, either. Bradley Fletcher was tagged for a pass interference in the end zone that gave the Vikings a first down and the ball on the goal line, yet there was minimal contact. Minnesota punched it in for six.
Of course, then there were the ridiculous taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that went against the Birds defense as the game unraveled. We haven’t seen this team act so undisciplined all season, and this turned out to be a bad day to start.
As everybody ought to know by now, Chip Kelly is not one for convention. Perhaps that’s never been more apparent than on Sunday, when with 6:26 in the third quarter and trailing the Vikings 24-9, the head coach decided to go for it on 4th-and-1—at his own 24-yard line.
The handoff to McCoy out of the shotgun was judged to have come up short by officials, which the replay was unable to confirm. Minnesota wound up getting an easy three points out of the play, extending its lead to three possessions in the process.
During his postgame press conference broadcast by Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia on Eagles Postgame Live, Kelly said this about the call: “If you can't get half a yard, maybe it tells what you the day is all about.”
The decision didn’t come back to haunt the Eagles, seeing as they lost by a lot more than three, but it was questionable, to say the least. Personally, I think it was a great time to go for it, but I would have preferred Foles under center for a short-yardage play like that.
The Vikings came into the game with their secondary on the mend. By the time the game was over, the Eagles were in the same boat.
Safety Earl Wolff started the game inactive. Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson, primarily special teamers, joined him in the trainer’s room before the end of the game, leaving Philadelphia with just two healthy safeties in Nate Allen and Patrick Chung.
Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin also suffered an injury during the game while returning a kickoff. He was upended and hit the ground hard and then was landed on by several players. Thankfully, he was able to walk off under his own power.
The Boykin injury hurts the most if he’s going to be unavailable for any length of time, but the Coleman and Anderson dings could be a huge loss for special teams as well, not to mention depth, if Wolff isn’t ready to return next week.
Of course, after watching Matt Cassel take apart this defense, it may not matter who’s back there.
You probably already knew this, but Patrick Chung is not very good at safety. He lost his job to rookie Earl Wolff for a reason, but Wolff missed his fourth- consecutive game with a knee injury. Thankfully, the fifth-round pick should be nearing a return.
Chung was finally benched again on Sunday after allowing a 57-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings in the first quarter. It was the third touchdown of 40 yards that Chung was on the hook for in the last four games.
When the Eagles defensive backs started dropping like flies again, Chung was pressed back into action. Let's hope Wolff is ready to return next week, but we may not have seen the last of Chung regardless.
What makes it so much worse that the Eagles secondary was torched for 370 yards through the air is the fact that Minnesota’s running game was largely ineffective. Yes, Matt Asiata had three touchdowns, but that was a product of the Vikings making it to the goal line so frequently.
The real story on Asiata were the 30 carries for 51 yards. That’s less than two yards per attempt (1.7, to be exact).
Believe it or not, that tally may not have looked worlds different even had Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart been available. The Eagles had nine tackles for loss on the afternoon, including three each by linebackers Trent Cole and Mychal Kendricks.
It’s baffling that the Vikings running game could be that ineffective, yet the Eagles couldn’t make an adjustment to take away the aerial assault.
DeSean Jackson had never been a “volume guy” prior to this season. His career high in receptions entering 2013 was 62, and he came in below 50 in two of the past three seasons.
Chip Kelly changed that. Jackson had already broken that mark prior to Sunday, and with a new personal best 10 catches against the Vikings, he’s up to 75 for the season.
Jackson took care of Minnesota’s B-team secondary to the tune of 195 yards and a touchdown. He also would have had an 18-yard run for six points if not for a penalty.
Unfortunately, Philadelphia fell to 6-2 this season when Jackson catches a touchdown pass. No doubt he’d exchange the gaudy numbers for an Eagles victory. Still, it's great to see the 27-year-old flourishing under Chip, as he is headed for his third Pro Bowl for sure.
Give the Vikings a little credit. Yes, they were banged up with injuries to their best player and top three cornerbacks, among others. They’ve been playing teams tough for a while though, compiling a 3-2-1 record over the last six games, so a loss shouldn’t come as a total shock.
Fortunately, it didn’t come with nasty repercussions in the standings. The Dallas Cowboys blew their chance to get even with Philadelphia with a loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, which means the Eagles at 8-6 remain in sole possession of first place.
The situation still doesn’t seem quite as comfortable as it was heading into Minnesota. The Eagles were riding a five-game winning streak, but now the momentum is gone. With the Cowboys’ loss though, the Birds will still be in the race come Week 17.
Now on to Chicago.