What Went Wrong for the Eagles Against New Orleans? An All-22 Breakdown

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 7, 2014

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 29:   Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on after their 24 to 22 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The drought continues. The Philadelphia Eagles haven't won a playoff game in half a decade, going 0-for-4 since the divisional playoffs in 2008. They came damn close to breaking out of that losing streak Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field but fell short when Shayne Graham hit a 32-yard field goal with no time left on the clock to give the New Orleans Saints a two-point victory. 

How did it come to that in a game in which the Eagles won the turnover battle 2-0? Let's dig into the coaches tape. 


First big chance foiled...by Foles

The Eagles forced two punts and a turnover on New Orleans' first three drives and had a chance to take control of the game when their final drive of the first quarter reached the Saints' 15-yard line. But then everything went to hell. 

It started when the Saints linebackers didn't bite on a screen to the weak side from Nick Foles to tight end Brent Celek. Foles probably should have seen that said pass wasn't going to end well and should have thrown it away, but he appeared to panic and released anyway. 

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On the very next play, Foles had to know at this point to either throw to DeSean Jackson (circled) or get out of the tackle box and throw it away.

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But he spent a ridiculous six seconds in the pocket before giving up an 11-yard loss on an unacceptable sack. 

They lost 19 yards on back-to-back plays and missed the field goal. How valuable were those three points? Well, the Eagles lost by two. 

Foles' lack of an internal clock and poor decision-making skills cost Philly three points. 


Riley's drop was a back-breaker

The Eagles went three-and-out to start the third quarter before letting the Saints drive down the field to take the lead. And then, when they had a chance to take the momentum back on third down, Riley Cooper dropped one of the most important passes of his life. 

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Safe to say he had 20 yards ahead of him after that catch.

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It would have been a 30ish-yard gain, setting the the Eagles up in New Orleans territory. Instead, they had to punt. The Saints responded by scoring again to take a 13-point lead. If that drop doesn't happen, the Eagles very likely win this game. 

And the worst part is that Cooper was so steady during the regular season, dropping only four passes on 81 targets, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 


Why all the three-and-outs?

I mentioned that the Eagles went three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, and that Cooper drop was obviously also part of a three-and-out. But the Eagles actually went three-and-out four times, which absolutely kills your defense, especially when you move as quickly as this offense does. 

The first three-and-out came on their second offensive series of the first quarter, and it had nothing to do with the play calls. They gave it to LeSean McCoy for three yards on first down, but the drive was blown up on 2nd-and-7 when they went back to their workhorse back. 

In this case, the Saints left six in the box and were very well positioned to stuff McCoy. 

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You can see that Celek is pulling over to the left side of the line in order to open up a hole right of Jason Peters. The problem is that Peters loses his man quickly, and Celek makes a somewhat odd decision to block that guy rather than who we assume was his original assignment. 

The unblocked defender (circled but hidden by the SkyCam) forces McCoy to cut back...right into Cameron Jordan. Jordan didn't need to be blocked initially, because of the direction of the run, but once McCoy was forced to improvise, things got sticky. 

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Unfortunately, had McCoy dove forward, they would have gotten back to the line of scrimmage to create a third-and-manageable. But instead, he tried to get creative, and it cost the Eagles four yards. Third-and-11 isn't easy for anyone. 

On their second three-and-out, which took place in the second quarter, McCoy could manage only one yard on first down. In that case, the Eagles offensive line was just beaten up by the Saints defensive front. Look at the penetration Jordan manages to get against Celek and Lane Johnson on the sweep to the right:

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They'd still end up with a manageable 3rd-and-3 after a six-yard completion on second down, but Celek couldn't haul in a Foles throw into tight coverage. 

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We're nitpicking, because it wasn't a bad pass, but McCoy might have been a slightly better option there in the right flat.

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Foles' decision-making once again cost the Eagles on their three-and-out to start the third quarter. On 2nd-and-4, he was a little late recognizing how much pressure he was facing and took an intentional grounding penalty. However, he was extremely short on time, so the pass protection deserves the blame. This was destined to be a sack:

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You could probably make the argument that Peters should have picked up the nearest blitzer, Curtis Lofton, but his mistake might have been assuming left guard Evan Mathis could get a piece of Lofton. Instead, he stayed outside, and Lofton had a free shot along with Junior Galette on the other side.

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That hole was also nearly impossible to get out of on third down. And then, on their fourth three-and-out, there was the Cooper drop. 


No big holes for Shady

As we've illustrated, McCoy had nowhere to go for much of the night. His longest run was just 11 yards, but it's hard to pin that on him. Center Jason Kelce did not play a particularly good game, and the line was generally manhandled by the Saints' front seven. 

Kelce has to hold his blocks longer than this: 

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Credit is owed to the Saints for exhibiting tremendous gap discipline throughout the night, though. They were just always there. The big holes we've seen throughout the year in Philly just didn't exist. Two examples:

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We knew it would be tough for the Eagles to win if McCoy averaged only 3.7 yards per carry.


And what's with all the short kicks?

Three Saints offensive drives that came off of kickoffs started at or beyond the 25-yard line because Alex Henery couldn't get it deep into the end zone. 

The first two were inconvenient but not too costly.

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But the third was a back-breaker, giving Darren Sproles an edge and forcing Cary Williams to take a 15-yard penalty in order to prevent a huge return.

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If that's a touchback, there's a decent chance the Eagles win. 


Defensive front gets dominated

I don't know what happened to Bennie Logan, Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton, but that line was rocked consistently by the New Orleans offensive line. The Saints didn't have top back Pierre Thomas, but Mark Ingram found plenty of holes, and Drew Brees made 3rd-and-short plays look easy.

Here's Brees converting three separate first downs, including two back-breakers in the final minutes, just by crawling behind an offensive line that is plowing forward:

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The Eagles simply underestimated the Saints running game from the very start. This is the blocking Ingram benefited from on a 17-yard run to start the game:

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Two plays later, nobody can get off their blocks on this six-yard gain:

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Later, an 18-yard gain thanks to some more dominant blocking:

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And the icing on the cake, coming in the form of a 13-yard run from Khiry Robinson (who?) on 2nd-and-11 on the final drive of the game. How confident do Sean Payton and Co. have to be in their offensive line to make that call?

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Who would have imagined that the Eagles would intercept Brees twice, winning the turnover battle 2-0, while also holding top Saints weapon Jimmy Graham to only 44 yards on three catches but still lose this game? 

"That's on me," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said after the game, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. "I made the calls for the passing game, to make sure we keep the big plays off of us. I could've called more of a run-heavy defensive game."

So what went wrong? They were outcoached, outmuscled and outsmarted. To everyone's surprise, this game was won in the trenches. The Eagles had a chance to overcome those lapses along the offensive and defensive line, especially with New Orleans turning it over twice, but sloppy mistakes on offense and special teams also cost them.

They looked like they lacked experience in big games. They didn't grind, and they didn't rise up when the moment demanded it. They deserved to lose this game. But as a result, they might be more prepared next time around.