Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Observations from Playoff Loss Against New Orleans Saints

Cody Swartz@cbswartz5Senior Writer IJanuary 5, 2014

Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Observations from Playoff Loss Against New Orleans Saints

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    There will be no continuation of the Philadelphia Eagles’ miracle season under Chip Kelly. A last-second field goal by New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham sent the Eagles home, handing Philadelphia a tough 26-24 loss in its home stadium.

    Nick Foles turned in his usual 100-plus passer rating, and the Eagles defense made some plays early against Drew Brees and Co. But a handful of inexcusable blunders did Philly in, as the Eagles never got their offense into full rhythm Saturday night.

    Still, a spectacular debut season for Kelly shouldn’t be negated by a narrow loss to a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Kelly’s Birds went 10-6 and won the NFC East after going 4-12 the previous season; along the way, the Eagles set their franchise record in points scored and total yards gained, and the defense overachieved all year under coordinator Billy Davis’ new 3-4 scheme.

    The Eagles head into the offseason with all the makings of a team set to contend in the division for years to come. Foles developed from a backup into a franchise quarterback, LeSean McCoy won the NFL rushing title with ease and the offensive line turned into a top-five unit in the game. The defense could still use a pass-rushing linebacker off the edge and a playmaking safety to replace Patrick Chung, and kicker may become a priority on draft day as well.

    For now, here are five takeaways from a tough Eagles loss.

Nick Foles Played a Solid, Turnover-Free Game

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    For essentially a first-year starting quarterback, Foles played a pretty good game on a national stage. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 195 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s a 105.0 passer rating in the most important football game of his NFL career.

    Foles led the Philadelphia Eagles to 24 points, and it would have been three more had kicker Alex Henery not missed a 48-yard field goal. Foles wasn’t perfect himself, taking a number of sacks and getting flagged for an intentional grounding penalty.

    Most importantly, though, Foles efficiently marched Philadelphia down the field for a go-ahead touchdown in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. That’s the kind of drive champions are made of, and Foles really responded when he had to.

The Running Game Never Got Going

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    The Philadelphia Eagles never quite got their ground game with McCoy going. McCoy carried the football 21 times for 77 yards, and he scored a touchdown. He added four receptions for 15 yards out of the backfield.

    He had to fight for his yards, and he was playing a tough defense in New Orleans that rated fourth in total yards and points allowed.

    Still, that’s just 3.7 yards per carry, and it’s not the All-Pro game Eagles fans have grown to expect from McCoy. It’s far below his season averages, and he’s now at just 3.8 yards per carry in two career playoff games as a full-time back.

DeSean Jackson Couldn’t Do Anything Until Keenan Lewis Got Hurt

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    For the game, DeSean Jackson finished with three catches for 53 yards, which isn’t an awful day by any standard. But it took an injury to top New Orleans Saints cover corner Keenan Lewis for Jackson to even become a factor in the game.

    Lewis really took Jackson out of the contest, rendering the Philadelphia Eagles’ Pro Bowl receiver ineffective for the first three quarters. It wasn’t until Lewis got hurt and had to leave the game that Jackson was able to take advantage of corner Corey White.

    The Eagles need better production from their best playmaking receiver, and give credit to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan for neutralizing Jackson and essentially removing him from the game. Without McCoy and Jackson having their best nights, the Eagles really struggled to score points.

The Defense Made More Plays Early on Than Late

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    In the first half, the Philadelphia Eagles really rattled quarterback Drew Brees. He threw two early interceptions, with linebacker DeMeco Ryans and cornerback Bradley Fletcher coming up with the huge plays. And Jimmy Graham finished with just three receptions for 44 yards, with no catches after halftime.

    But Brees really got his rhythm going later, even with running back Pierre Thomas out. Brees finished with 250 passing yards on 8.3 yards per attempt, although it was the ground game that moved the chains the most. The Eagles struggled to stop the Saints on third downs, allowing New Orleans to convert over 50 percent of its third-down opportunities.

    Mark Ingram ran the ball 18 times for 97 yards and a score. Khiry Robinson added eight rushes for 45 yards, Darren Sproles ran four times for 29 yards and the New Orleans Saints finished with 185 rushing yards on 36 carries. That’s 5.1 yards per carry.

    Since 2000, there have been 23 teams to rush for at least 185 yards in a playoff game, and 21 of them won the game. The Eagles couldn’t stop the Saints on the final drive, as New Orleans was able to run the clock out and kick a game-winning field goal.

The Eagles Made Some Inexcusable Blunders

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    A handful of plays really hurt the Philadelphia Eagles. Henery’s missed 48-yard field goal (and the decision by Foles to take the sack) certainly didn’t help, with the Eagles losing by two points. It’s time for the team to bring in some serious kicking competition for Henery, who hasn’t proved to be a clutch kicker in his short tenure thus far with the team.

    Riley Cooper’s dropped pass on a key third down was as awful of a drop as you’ll ever see in your life. This was a play that will assuredly haunt Cooper for months to come, and it’s a play he would make in his sleep 999 times out of 1,000 plays.

    And Cary Williams was called for a costly horse-collar penalty late in the fourth quarter that helped set up the New Orleans Saints’ game-winning field goal. All of those mistakes really hurt an Eagles team that battled all game against a superior team but ultimately couldn’t come away with a victory.