Bring on the Seahawks: Eagles Run All over Cowboys, Take Sole Possession of First in NFC East

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had an easy day against the Dallas Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had an easy day against the Dallas Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick.

For all the talk of a new and improved Dallas Cowboys squad with the running of DeMarco Murray, the Philadelphia Eagles reminded Tony Romo and Co. that the Birds are still defending champions of the NFC East until someone knocks them off.

The way things looked in this game today, it could be awhile before someone takes the crown from them.

The Eagles dominated the Cowboys in every facet of the game in a 33-10 Thanksgiving Day rout at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex. The 9-3 Birds took sole possession of first place in the NFC East with the next Seattle Seahawks coming to Lincoln Financial Field in about 10 days.

Running back LeSean McCoy looked like the guy who led the NFL in rushing last season. He juked and blasted his way through a porous Dallas defense for 159 yards and one touchdown. McCoy’s 38-yard touchdown ended the competitive portion of the game by the end of third quarter. For the game, the Eagles rushed for 256 yards on the ground.

“I knew we were going to run the ball today, that was the game plan,” McCoy said. “We put it on the big guys up front and put it on their shoulders to give the backs some space to run. … I think as a team, as a unit we worked hard in the running game today. We kept pushing and kept pushing and some big ones broke out for us.”

McCoy and the other Eagles running backs were able to run through because of the offensive line of center Jason Kelce, left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Evan Mathis, right guard Andrew Gardner, and right tackle Lane Johnson dominated the Dallas front seven.

“I thought it was the best they’ve played this year,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “We’ve had a lot of different lineups in there through the course of the season and two games with this group. I thought they did a really good job and they set the tone for the day for us.”

The Birds fast-paced offense jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and was never really threatened in this game at any point.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez managed the game well and finished the game with zero turnovers.He was an efficient 20-of-29 passing for 217 yards with one touchdown.

To be honest, Sanchez did a little more than just manage the game. He made plays when needed to play in the passing game, hitting Jordan Matthews for a 27-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

“I think he’s getting more comfortable,” Kelly said. “He missed an entire year of football. There’s no substitution for playing. He played well in the preseason, but then sat until the Houston game.

“I think he’s starting to recognize the looks he’s getting, sometimes getting it to a second and third receiver, keeping things alive and we got him out of the pocket a few times. I thought he threw the ball on the run real well. …I thought he did a good job with decision-making.”

Sanchez didn’t look bad running a few a read-option plays as well. He gained 28 yards on seven carries and scored the game’s first touchdown on the Eagles first drive of the game.

Meanwhile, the Eagles defense simply shutdown Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher and held him to a season-low 73 yards rushing. They also roughed up Romo, sacking him four times and picking off two of his passes. They held him without a touchdown pass for the first time in 38 games.

The Birds held the Cowboys to 267 yards of total offense.

“We knew coming into the game, we had to get after them, hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em often as I said earlier in the week,” said defensive end Fletcher Cox, who had four tackle including two for a loss and one sack.

Things aren’t getting any easier for the Eagles when they come back because they have another tough game against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, who haven’t allowed a touchdown in their last two games.

It’s On Now: Eagles Push for the Playoffs Starts in Dallas

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles back-up quarterback Mark Sanchez  will lead the team's run to the playoffs.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles back-up quarterback Mark Sanchez will lead the team’s run to the playoffs. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With five games left in the regular season, the Eagles (8-3) have arrived at the point of their season that will determine where they will be in January.

The Birds Thanksgiving Day tilt with the NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium will be their first test of their run to the playoffs. The Eagles will face the Cowboys in two of their next three games with the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks sandwiched in between.

The Birds and  Cowboys come into Thursday’s game tied for first-place in the NFC East. Dallas (8-3) is coming off a huge come-from-behind road win over the New York Giants.

LeSean McCoy scores a second quarter touchdown with in the Eagles win over the Tennessee Titans.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy scores a second quarter touchdown with in the Eagles win over the Tennessee Titans. Photo by Webster Riddick.

“We really have to go in this week focus really focused,” said running back LeSean McCoy, who gained 130 on 21 carries and one touchdown in Sunday’s win . “It’s a short week, it’s a big game, Thanksgiving is coming up and it’s a division game at that. So I think you add all those things up, it’s a must win type of game.”

After that gauntlet of tough games, the Eagles will close out the season with two road games against Washington (3-8) and the New York Giants (3-8). While those two teams aren’t necessarily setting the world on fire with their records, divisional matchups are never easy and never taken for granted.

Even though players and coaches like to tell you they are not looking beyond what’s in front of them, they also recognize that every game from this point forward will have some sort of postseason implication—whether it’s for a division title or a wildcard berth.

“Every week is a one-game season and we take it like that,” said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins. “But really the games start to count a little bit more as you get to December and the end of November. Usually they have implications on the division and playoff positioning.

“If you don’t want to look at the big picture, you still take it week by week, your preparation from a physical and mental has to be ramped up as the season gets on. As your body gets weary, you have to fool yourselves and turn it up even more.”

The Birds managed to bounce back from a horrific loss to the Green Bay Packers by coming away with an easy  43-24 win over the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

While it wasn’t necessarily an artistic masterpiece over an overmatched team, the Eagles will take a win to stay in first place after the way they were shellacked by the Packers last week at Lambeau Field.

“It was a buzz saw situation that we ran into, but we understood that this week that we couldn’t afford to lose this one,” said Eagles cornerback Cary Williams. “It was a bounce-back game and a must-win game for us.”

The Eagles playoff hopes will depend upon how well quarterback Mark Sanchez plays down the stretch. In the win over Tennessee, Sanchez 30-of-46 passes for 307 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

In his last three games as the Eagles starting quarterback, Sanchez has eight turnovers. With the Eagles season riding on his shoulders, Sanchez has to avoid mistakes if the Birds win the division. That was something he talked about after the win over the Titans.

“If you squander too many opportunities, you might miss out on the playoffs,” Sanchez said. “For anybody to be successful, we have to take care of the football. We can’t be on the wrong page and I can’t miss the ball down the field to Zach (Ertz).”

Running Game and Sanchez to Lead Eagles Charge in Season’s Second Half

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Shady McCoy had a big game against the Houston Texans. He, along with Chris Polk and Darren Sproles, will be a key to the Birds push for the playoffs. Photo by Webster Riddick

Shady McCoy had a big game against the Houston Texans. He, along with Chris Polk and Darren Sproles, will be a key to the Birds push for the playoffs. Photo by Webster Riddick

PHILADELPHIA—Now that we know that Nick Foles is going to be on the shelf for six to eight weeks with a broken collarbone, Eagles running game and quarterback Mark Sanchez will have to carry the team’s drive to the playoffs in the second half of the season.

The Eagles (6-2) open the second-half of the season with a Monday Night contest against the Carolina Panthers.

In Sunday’s win over the Houston Texans, the Eagles ground attack, which has been inconsistent throughout the season, came up huge.

For starters, LeSean McCoy gained 117 yards on 23 carries. As a team, the Eagles amassed 190 yards on the ground including an additional 50 by back-up running back Chris Polk, who also scored a touchdown.

If there was an indication of how dominant the Birds ground game was last Sunday, it was late in the third quarter when the Birds drove 70 yards on four running plays to take a 24-14 lead they would never relinquish. They simply wore down Houston’s defense.

“Just got tired. I mean, we wore them down. That defense is a good defense,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy after Sunday’s win. “The special players that they have on that defense they kind of play off of just talent. We just played smash mouth. Just ran at them.”

The Eagles ran at the Texans with McCoy, Polk and the always-dangerous Darren Sproles, which gives them a three-headed monster from the running back position.

“(Chris) Polk is a whole different runner. He’s a pounder. He’s a get-up-in-there, power type of runner, plus he can hit the outside zone also, ” said Eagles left tackle Jason Peters. “(Darren) Sproles is so quick, he’s everything. Shady’s (LeSean McCoy) a dancer. You just have to wrap him up or he’ll break all the tackles. You get on a block, try to finish a block and you know something good is about to happen.”

Whether the Birds running game will be strong enough to carry to the postseason will depend upon whether or not Matt Tobin can successfully fill in for Todd Herremans, who is out for the season with a torn biceps injury.

“We’re winning. That means we’ve got depth. Bench has got to step in. When one goes down, the next goes up. We’ve got depth at the offensive line. You just keep rolling when someone goes down,”  Peters said after Sunday’s win over Houston.

The good news for the Birds is that Evan Mathis will be back in the Eagles starting lineup after missing most of the season with a sprained knee. Moving forward, the Eagles will have four of the five starters on the offensive line from last season.

Mark Sanchez will have the Eagles to the postseason with the injury to starting quarterback Nick Foles.  Photo by CBS.com

Mark Sanchez will have the Eagles to the postseason with the injury to starting quarterback Nick Foles. Photo by CBS.com

With Foles out of the lineup a rejuvenated Sanchez will have a chance to show that he can still be a starting quarterback in the NFL whether it’s here with the Eagles or somewhere else. Sanchez had a solid preseason the Eagles. For him, the remainder of the season will be his audition reel.

“I feel comfortable with everything we’ve been doing. I’ve gotten plenty of reps in over OTAs and camps, stuff like that, so I’ll be ready to go,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “I’m thrilled about the opportunity, and I’m excited about moving forward with this team.”

Last Sunday against the Texans, Sanchez completed 15-of-22 passes for two touchdowns and two interceptions. Head coach Chip Kelly said he’s confident in Sanchez moving forward because of the way he played in the preseason and his day-to-day approach during the regular season.

“I feel great about Mark. We felt great about him all along,” Kelly said earlier this week. “One of the things we wanted to do — I always said we needed two quarterbacks and had a chance to get him in here. I thought he’s done a great job in our system. I thought he played outstanding in the preseason and showed no rust or anything when he got in there against Houston (Sunday).”

Maclin Showing He’s a More Versatile Receiver Than DeSean Jackson

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Jeremy Maclin has been the big home run hitter among the Eagles receivers. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Jeremy Maclin has been the big home run hitter among the Eagles receivers. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Amid the wreckage that was the Eagles 24-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, there was the outstanding performance by wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

Lost in all the talk of safety Nate Allen getting burned on Carson Palmer’s game-winning 75-yard touchdown pass to John Brown, Maclin caught 12 passes for a career-high 187 yards and two touchdowns.

Even bigger than his numbers was the versatility that Maclin showed as a receiver on the passes he caught from quarterback Nick Foles. Maclin caught passes across the middle, on corner routes, screen passes and on deep routes.

“He’s a legitimate deep threat and he played a hell of a game for us (Sunday),” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said.

To his credit, Maclin was more concerned about his team being on the short-end of a heartbreaking loss than his own individual performance.

“I’ve never been a stat guy… Today was just one of those days where my number was called. The win would be so much sweeter,” Maclin said.

The two touchdowns Maclin scored should tell you that he is more than a one-trick pony as a wide receiver. On his first score, Maclin used his speed on a flanker screen that enabled him to score on a 21-yard touchdown pass. Late in the third quarter, the former Missouri star caught a 54-yard bomb for a score.

“Mac did a great job of keeping his route on and really just beating them with speed. I just wanted to get the ball out there and let him come down with it. He had a great game,” Foles said.

Maclin leads the team in receptions with 39 and receiving yards with 632 (ninth in the NFL)and six touchdowns. He is averaging 16 yards per catch.

Kelly said he’s not surprised by Maclin’s performance so far this season. He said he was looking for him to do this last season before he injured his knee during training camp and was out for the year.

“I was so disappointed for Jeremy a year ago when he got hurt because I thought in terms of what we do, what a real outstanding player he could be in this system, and we’re starting to continue to see that,” Kelly said. “But I think he’s a difficult one on one matchup. He’s got good size, he’s got good speed.”
For those Eagles fans still whining over the loss of DeSean Jackson, now playing for Washington, you need to be happy with what you have at the receiver position with Maclin because it’s not just about stretching defenses with his speed, he is a better route-runner and is not shy about going across the middle.

“I think (Maclin) can stretch it from a vertical standpoint, but he can also run after the catch. I think he proved that not only early here in his career, but he proved that in college,” Kelly said. “We used him a little bit as a punt returner [and he] had a good punt return for us. We’re just starting to get to know him a little bit better than some of the other guys that have been here for a year.”

While Jackson’s speed did a good job of stretching opposing defenses last season, he was basically a one-trick pony who is not as good a route runner as Maclin and not as versatile. You’re not going to see Jackson, who leads the NFL in yards per catch, running across the middle to get passes.

Maclin also showed he had some heart in Sunday’s game. After a collision with Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Maclin was nursing a bloody ear and had to go through the concussion protocols before he was allowed back in the game.

Throughout Sunday’s game, Maclin was all over the place hustling and making plays for his team. On one play after an incomplete pass he came barreling through the Arizona sideline knocking down the Gatorade table and getting doused with the beverage.

I don’t think Maclin’s speed is as explosive as Jackson’s, but I think Maclin so far this season is proving that he can do more than just go long. He can do it all. With all the weapons in the Eagles arsenal on offense, Maclin is slowly but steadily becoming the Eagles go-to guy in the passing game.

The Boys are Back in Town: Dallas Is Hot, But Can They Keep it Going?

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing.

PHILADELPHIA—Like it or not, love them or hate them, the Dallas Cowboys (5-1) are among the league’s best teams and no doubt one of the NFL’s biggest surprises so far in the 2014 season. Much to the chagrin of Eagles fans, the Cowboys are tied with the Birds for first place in the NFC East and for the league’s best record.

Last Sunday, the Cowboys raised more than a few eyebrows with a stunning road upset of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Not only did Dallas escape with a 30-23 win, they did it by rolling 401 yards of offense against one of the league’s most physical defenses.

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo likes the balance on offense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Much-maligned Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo likes the balance on offense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The reason for the Cowboys success so far this season was best exemplified in the win over Seattle when they ran the ball more than they passed it. Dallas has shown a tremendous amount of balance on offense so far this season and that’s taken some of the workload off quarterback Tony Romo.

“The best thing that we’ve done as an organization is we’ve very purposely tried to take the burden off our quarterback,” said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett during his Monday after-game press conference. “At different times in his career in Tony’s career, he’s had a lot of burden on him—we haven’t played good defense, we haven’t been great on the offensive line, we haven’t run the ball well.”

The Cowboys rushing attack gained 162 yards against the Seahawks with 115 coming from running back DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher. As a team, the Cowboys are averaging 160 yards per game, which also leads the league.

That’s thanks to the outstanding performance by the Dallas offensive line which was so good against the Seahawks that left tackle Tryon Smith garnered NFL Offensive Player of the Week honors. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound tackle helped to open holes for Dallas runners and allowed just one sack of Romo.

Murray, who has 785 yards rushing, is the Cowboys closer late in the game. He scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the game through a tough Seattle defense.

With the Cowboys running game chewing up yardage, Romo has been more efficient in the passing game. Since tossing three interceptions in the season-opener against the San Francisco 49ers, Romo has completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,229 yard, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.

When they do pass the ball, Romo has been effectively getting the ball out to Dez Bryant, Terrence Williams, who leads the team in touchdown receptions, and Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten. He also has better protection because teams have to respect the run.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the performance of a Cowboys defense that all the experts said would be the worst in the league. Granted, they’re not the second-coming of those great Cowboys defenses of the 1970s or the 1985 Chicago Bears, but they’re getting the job done.

They are 21st in total defense (12th against the pass and 18th against run) and eighth in scoring defense, a vast improvement from last season.

“We really emphasized the importance of team defense,” Garrett said. “I just think everybody does—gap discipline, tackling, coverage responsibility, doing your job, playing with the right spirit and mentality. I think we’ve done a lot of those things. We’re a work in progress on defense and offense throughout our football team.”

In their latest NFL power rankings, ESPN elevated the Cowboys to No.3 behind the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. The challenge for the Cowboys is not to get ahead of themselves or get caught up in the hype of their own headlines.

“It’s such a long season,” Romo said. “When you win you enjoy it that night and move on to the next game. When you lose, you’re disappointed that night, you move on to the next game. You find that if you keep doing that over and over again, you give yourself the best chance to succeed. That approach has been there all season.”

The Cowboys have a home game against a New York Giants squad smarting from an embarrassing shutout loss to the Eagles. The G-men will no doubt be fired up to redeem themselves.

“I know they’re coming to play,” Bryant said. “We know it’s going to be a battle and we’re going to come out there and put it on the line.”

Contrary to owner Jerry Jones belief that the team should smell the roses and enjoy the win over Seattle, Bryant said his teammates are doing no such thing, especially considering the team’s failures in December over the last couple of years.

“Aw, man nobody’s smelling the roses,” Bryant said. “Man we all know in this locker room that we haven’t done nothing, we haven’t achieved nothing. It’s just a 5-1 record. We have to continue to play that we playing the way we’ve been playing …Hoping that we come out on top on Sunday.”

BUC-king Trends: The Numbers Behind Tampa’s Unlikely Upset of Pittsburgh

By Barry Federovitch
For the Chris Murray Report

Tampa's Vincent Jackson catches the winning touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Glennon in a 27-24 win over the Steelers.

Tampa’s Vincent Jackson catches the winning touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Glennon in a 27-24 win over the Steelers.

When it comes to upsets, you will be hard pressed to find one historically more unlikely this season than Sunday’s Tampa Bay win over Pittsburgh.

Think that’s an overstatement?

Consider: the Steelers’ highest winning percentage against any franchise in the league before Sunday? .889 against the Bucs. Before the 27-24 shocker, the Bucs had not beaten the Steelers in 16 years (a 16-3 defensive struggle in Tampa late in the 1998 season). The Bucs were 1-8 all-time against the Steelers and were 0-3 in Pittsburgh.

A small sample size for sure. But Steelers-Bucs was the definition of a one-sided rivalry; late in 1976, when the expansion Bucs were arguably the worst team of all-time, they faced the Steel Curtain defense in Pittsburgh at the peak of its powers … And the results were predictable. Pittsburgh won 42-0 in a game that easily could have been 70-0. In the two games in Pittsburgh that followed, the Bucs not only didn’t win, but failed to score a touchdown, getting outscored 79-15 before Sunday.

Talk about putrid. Five field goals in 12 quarters in Pittsburgh. An average of 198 yards total offense in those three games or barely more than half the 350 the Bucs put up Sunday.

Had the Steelers known any of this they could be forgiven for being overconfident, particularly when they still had the lead in the fourth quarter. With Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator at home, the Steelers were 65-0 when leading in the fourth quarter before Mike Glennon’s five-yard touchdown toss to a diving Vincent Jackson with seven seconds left.

This not only gave the Bucs the most points they have ever scored in a game against the Steelers, but marked only the third time they ever managed to score more than 16 against them.

Fox producers were so sure that the Bucs wouldn’t win that with 1:35 to go they took a page out of NBC prematurely congratulating the Boston Red Sox for winning the 1986 World Series over the New York Mets; Fox flashed the graphic that NFL teams that start 3-1 make the playoffs 65 percent of the time and had Steelers 3-1 in bold underneath the stat.

Talk about a kiss of death.

In the bigger picture what will this mean? Maybe more for the Steelers than the Bucs, who must travel to New Orleans in Week Five. But if you’re Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith, could you ask for a more dramatic turnaround in 10 days following the humiliating 56-14 demolition at Atlanta?

When all three NFC South teams also lost on Sunday, it marked the first time in 106 games, going back to Game 10 of the 2007 season when the Bucs won and gained a game on all three division rivals. That’s pre-Greg Schiano, pre-Raheem Morris, going back to Jon Gruden’s next-to-last season in Tampa.

Since no one in the division owns a winning record, the Bucs, who entered Sunday with a minus-50 point differential, are back to within a game of first place and can move into a tie for the top spot with a win and losses by injury-riddled Carolina and Atlanta.

Not that the Bucs have had much of a chance to gain ground on anyone of late before Sunday, they were 11-34 over their previous 45 games. That’s not just a little slump; it’s the Bucs’ worst 45-game stretch since the Ray Perkins-Leeman Bennett days more than a quarter century ago.

And the Steelers against NFC South opponents? The polar opposite.

Fresh off a romp over the defending division champion Panthers, Pittsburgh was 32-11-1 all-time against the four NFC South teams. The majority of those 44 games weren’t scoring shootouts either; only seven times did teams that are now part of the NFC South score as many as 27 points in a game … And only twice ever in Pittsburgh (in a history that goes back to 1966).

One-game aberration? Fluke or change in longstanding trend? We will leave that for another day.

But to the Bucs’ delight and Steelers’ dismay, Sunday’s game turned history on its ear.

Injury-Riddled Offensive Line Catches up to Birds in Loss to Niners

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—Looking from afar at the score of the Eagles 26-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, you might think it was a close exciting game by two dynamic offenses.

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry in 2014 after leading the NFL in rushing in 2013. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry in 2014 after leading the NFL in rushing in 2013. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Instead, the Eagles portion of the final score hid the lack of production of an offense that produced zero points, crossed midfield just once, committed four turnovers and could not run or throw the football.

If wasn’t for a blocked punt for a touchdown, an 82-yard punt return by Darren Sproles and an interception for a touchdown by safety Malcolm Jenkins, it would have been a 26-0 49ers shutout.

The Eagles came into the game missing three offensive linemen due to injury and suspension and they were exposed by a 49ers defense that put pressure on quarterback Nick Foles, who had problems finding his receivers. He was sacked just once, but most of the day avoiding rushers.

When you have a patchwork offensive line, what happened on Sunday is inevitable and the Eagles lost this game in the trenches and they could not get anything going throughout the game.

After passing for over 300 yards in his first three games, Foles was 21-of-43 for 195 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Meanwhile, the struggles of the Eagles running game continued as LeSean McCoy gained just 17 yards on 10 carries.

For the game, the Eagles had just 213 yards of offense after averaging over 400 in their first three games. Coming into the next to the last drive of the game, the Eagles had not crossed midfield and had just 127 yards of offense.

Incredibly, for all those struggles on offense, the Eagles still had a chance to win the game.

When the Birds finally crossed fifty, they moved the ball to the 49ers one-yard line with two-minutes left after a five-yard run by McCoy from the six. The Eagles were one yard from pulling out a win. They had two downs to get one yard.

Questionable Play Calling on the Goal Line

You would think Chip Kelly would have called at least one running play in that sequence, especially with three time outs. With the way the running game was going, Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur had no confidence in letting McCoy getting the ball here.

If you saw the television replay on the third and goal play, the 49ers linebackers were about two or three yards behind the defensive line and looked like they were playing to defend the pass.

A more experienced quarterback sees that and calls a running play or maybe Kelly and his offensive coordinator see this and signals the quarterback to call a running back.

If the Birds coaches didn’t see it, FOX color analyst Troy Aikman saw it and pointed out how far the linebackers were away from the line during the replay of Foles incomplete pass to tight end Brent Celek and said the Eagles should have considered running the ball there.

Even if the Birds didn’t get in the end zone running the ball in that situation, the threat to run on fourth down might have had the 49ers creeping their linebackers and safeties close to the line. Instead, the Niners, knowing the Eagles were going to pass, kept their linebackers and defensive backs covering the end zone.

Those two errant passes yielded nothing and they turned the ball over on downs. After the 49ers were forced to punt, the Eagles had another chance to win the game.

Unfortunately, the Eagles couldn’t get beyond their own 31 and on fourth and 24, Foles threw his second interception to end the game.

Last year, the Eagles had a healthy offensive lineman and they were among the league’s best rushing teams. This season that’s not the case with guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce on the injured list and Lane Johnson out due to suspension.

The good news for the Birds is that they get Johnson back at the right tackle position this week. But will it help the Birds to get better in the trenches to open holes for McCoy and to enable Foles to find open receivers downfield?

With the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys starting to play well, the Eagles need to figure out a way for that line to get better.

Are the Eagles better off without DeSean Jackson? After three games…Yes

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Jeremy Maclin has been the big home run hitter among the Eagles receivers. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Jeremy Maclin has been the big home run hitter among the Eagles receivers. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—When the Eagles released DeSean Jackson last season, the big concern was could the Birds replace Jackson’s production (82 receptions, 1,332 yards, and nine TDs) and his ability to stretch the field?

So far, the Eagles are 3-0 and the passing game, even with the slow starts, really hasn’t missed a beat without the speedy Jackson, now playing for Washington. The Birds air game ranks second in the NFL.

To be honest, I don’t think the Eagles really miss Jackson as good as he was last season. Chip Kelly’s offense gives everybody a chance to contribute and has the defense having to pick their poison.

“It’s all by design in terms of how people decided to defend us and obviously they packed the front and tried to take away (LeSean) McCoy and (Washington) did real good job of that, hats off to them,” Kelly said. “But if you’re going to do that, then our wideouts have to step up and play and I thought all those guys really did a good job of that (Sunday).”

Quarterback Nick Foles is averaging 326 yards passing per game and has six touchdown passes. Three of those touchdowns have gone to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The former Missouri star leads the team in receptions (16), touchdowns (3) and yards per catch (18.5).

Though he’s not as fast as Jackson, Maclin is a more versatile wideout. He is catching passes running across the middle, on screen passes and on the deep ball. He has scored touchdowns in all three games. By the way, Maclin is no slowpoke and he does run 4.4 40-yard dash.

“Mac is doing a great job every time he’s out there,” Foles said.

In Sunday’s win over Washington, Maclin caught eight passes for 154 yards and one touchdown. He would have had two if not for an illegal block in the back by center Jason Kelce on a screen pass. Kelly said he’s not surprised by Maclin’s performance.

“He’s a big time receiver and that’s what we knew all along,” Kelly said. “We feel like we’re talented at the wide out spot.”

Eagles rookie Jordan Matthews had a big game against Washington last Sunday. The former Vanderbilt star caught two touchdown passes. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles rookie Jordan Matthews had a big game against Washington last Sunday. The former Vanderbilt star caught two touchdown passes. Photo by Webster Riddick.

And so far, Kelly is not wrong about the talent the Eagles have at the wide receiver position.

Rookie Jordan Matthews had a breakout performance against Washington. He caught eight passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores came inside the red zone thanks to his tall 6-3 frame.

Having tall wide receivers like Matthews and Riley Cooper to maneuver the red zone is something the Birds haven’t had in quite some time.

For the first two weeks of the season, the game-breaker in the Eagles’ offense has been Darren Sproles. If it wasn’t for his explosive plays in both running game, the passing game and on special teams, the Birds might be 1-2 instead of 3-0.

Washington was well aware of both Sproles and LeSean McCoy managed to keep them under wraps. In fact, Washington’s defense forced a fumble from Sproles. The problem was they couldn’t stop the rest of the Eagles offense.

All of these things bring us back to Foles, who put on a gutsy performance against Washington. After surviving some tough starts, the former Arizona star has found a way to put the Eagles in the win column.

Foles’ best moment in the season thus far came in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Washington. With 10:07 left in the game, Foles, who leads the NFL in passing yardage, threw a pass that was ruled an interception by Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland.

As Foles moved to forward to anticipate a run by Breeland, he took a hard hit from Washington defensive lineman Chris Baker and wound up on the ground writhing in pain. The hard block on Foles caused a huge melee along the sideline and resulted in the ejection of Baker and Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peters.

Meanwhile, the interception was overturned and Foles recovered to lead the Eagles on an eight play, 76-yard drive that would culminate in a 27-yard touchdown pass to Maclin that put the Eagles ahead for good.

What makes Foles play even more remarkable is that he’s had to play behind a patchwork offensive line with injuries to Evan Mathis, Allen Barbre and Kelce to go along with the suspension of second-year starter Lane Johnson.

“I said it before about him and I knew it because when I played against him in college, he’s going to stand in there, he’s a tough sucker. He got hit a lot (Sunday),” Kelly said.

The NFL Has Little to No Respect For Women

By Barry Federovitch
For The Chris Murray Report

NFL Commissioner Roger Gooddell has been under fire for how the league has handled domestic violence incidents.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been under fire for how the league has handled domestic violence incidents.

Is there a North American pro sports league more disrespectful to women than the NFL?

At a time of year when the continent’s most popular league would love for you to be focused on fantasy stats and jersey sales and what game you will be attending next, rarely has there ever been a worse series of events in terms of public relations, in particular towards women.

Commissioner Roger Goodell either saw or should have seen the contents of the Ray Rice elevator assault.

Adrian Peterson, another player without any previous track record of violence, turned himself into police after video evidence suggested he beat one of his seven children with a switch. Once one of the game’s most admired figures, he is now a pariah.

Pam Oliver has been roaming the sidelines for FOX sports, but was removed from the No.1 broadcast team for a younger Erin Andrews.

Pam Oliver has been roaming the sidelines for FOX sports, but was removed from the No.1 broadcast team for a younger Erin Andrews.

Before all this came down was the demotion of 19-year sideline reporter Pam Oliver, one of the most respected journalists in the business, for the younger Erin Andrews. And let’s not forget the offseason lawsuit by Raiders cheerleaders that resulted in a $1.25 million settlement in back pay.

All very different situations and yet all, on some level, degrading to at least one demographic of women.

The ugly flip side is what these transgressions say about large portions of men in our sporting society. As Hannah Storm, a mother of three girls, suggested last week, are so many willing to compartmentalize their emotions and look the other way when spouse abuse and child abuse is concerned?

Ageism is another issue on another level.

We see sideline reporters about five minutes a game and listen to them for 10. As men are we so pathetic that we have to have the prettier face (if that’s what you consider Andrews) for those few minutes while discarding someone who has been a credible news source for almost two decades?

This is no slight on Andrews, who had done a lot to prove her worth as a poised reporter in recent seasons. But what does it say about us when a 50-something year old black woman (who looks like she’s 35), who is not only a pioneer, but one of the best in her field, is so easily dismissed? And is the offense more sexist or racist?

The cumulative evidence right up to Goodell’s press conference Friday which answered nothing, is disturbing.

In a league so eager to punish players for dunking the ball over the goal post or for not having their jersey tucked in, there’s a whole other set of rules (and not appealing ones) when it comes to women. The term ‘zero tolerance’ has become a punch line, too often more machismo than substance, just a shadow of what should be a firm message for the demographic that makes up 45 percent of the league’s fan base.

Will it get better and when?

That the Vikings deactivated Peterson and Panthers did likewise with Greg Hardy are reactionary moves. As the NFL waits for the winds of anger to blow over, new cases, like that of Jonathan Dwyer, come to the forefront and old wounds are re-opened.

Like the winds of change, those winds are turning too slowly with too many negative messages recently for healing, if not learning, to begin.

For a league so eager to protect its shield that is the worst possible outcome, not only in its ignorance, but in that it has to be pressured to protect so large a segment of its fanbase and workforce.

Federovitch is a former sports reporter and editor with the Trenton Times.

Dropping the Ball: There Are No Good Guys in the Ray Rice Domestic Abuse Saga

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Janay and Ray Rice's press conference to explain spousal abuse incident in New Jersey.

Janay and Ray Rice’s press conference to explain spousal abuse incident in New Jersey.

PHILADELPHIA—As I observe the reaction to running back Ray Rice’s release from the Baltimore Ravens and indefinite suspension by the NFL , I’m left with the feeling that there are no heroes and nothing but villains in this sad drama.

The thing that brought about Rice’s termination from the Ravens was the video from that “paragon” of journalistic integrity—TMZ– that shows the former Rutgers star hitting his then fiancée Janay Palmer with a left hook that knocked her into a rail on the elevator and onto the floor unconscious. Rice then coldly drags an unconscious Palmer out of the elevator and shows no concern about her well-being.

I don’t care what the circumstances are. No man should ever hit a woman at all and definitely not with the kind of force that Rice used. You just can’t do that. He probably should have been arrested for felony assault.

I hope that Rice is undergoing some serious counseling and he should be thankful that he doesn’t have to behind bars, thanks to a pretrial intervention program. Rice’s record will be expunged after a year.

While I don’t think he should be out of the game forever, Rice should have been suspended beyond the two games suspension he was given. He should have been suspended anywhere from eight games to a year, similar to what New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick got for dog fighting.

If and when he ever gets back into the league, Rice should be made to speak to young men about the evils of domestic violence and make a contribution to help shelters that house battered women. He should want to do that himself.

Actually, the most aggrieved victim in this whole thing is Janay Palmer, who wound up “apologizing” for being a part of this incident as if she did something wrong. I don’t care what she did or said, she didn’t deserve to be hit. The worse thing we do in this society when it comes to domestic violence and rape is to blame the victim. That has to stop.

But there are a lot of things that bother me about this incident beyond Rice hitting his girlfriend and it involves all the people who are now distancing themselves from the now former Ravens star.

For one thing, didn’t the NFL have access to the full video? Didn’t NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell see that Palmer was out cold as Rice dragged her out like an overstuffed trash bag? How could he have given Rice just a two-game suspension after seeing even a little bit of that tape?
As they say in social media, I’m SMDH….(Shaking my damn head.)

You would think with all the resources the NFL has to investigate incidents like this that they would have found this video before TMZ. Atlantic City casinos have cameras everywhere. That the League and law enforcement officials somehow missed or overlooked this is simply astounding.

The outrage at Goodell and the NFL is justifiable because players had gotten longer suspensions to guys smoking marijuana and taking fertility drugs. For a lot of women, the slap on the wrist that Rice initially received spoke volumes about the NFL and its attitude toward domestic violence.Many said that it showed that hurting a dog would get you in more trouble than hurting a woman.

The outrage from women groups and bad PR for a league trying to appeal female sports fans forced Goodell to apply stricter penalties to players who commit acts of domestic violence.

Now with the latest video, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely and the Ravens gave him his unconditional release. But don’t think it was all about the Ravens or the league’s concern for women and domestic violence. The spin machine that is the NFL cares about one thing: “Protect the shield.”

I contend that Goodell, the league and the Ravens knew about this video and looked the other way. When it came out, both the NFL and the Ravens went into spin mode, cutting ties with Rice in order to cover their own asses in the face of mounting public criticism.

I am not surprised the NFL was in denial about its handling of domestic violence among its players. Remember this is the same league that was in deep denial about effects of concussions on its former and current players and had to be dragged, kicking and screaming to face this reality.

As for TMZ Sports releasing the video on the first week of the NFL season, Bleep you, too because there was nothing virtuous or heroic about the release of this video, especially from a media outlet that has the journalistic integrity of a plagiarist.

I wonder who TMZ paid off to get a copy of the video?

All TMZ Sports did was exploit human suffering to get higher ratings. They don’t give a rat’s ass about domestic violence unless it’s celebrities and they can get it on video. Spare me your fake outrage, too as you sip on your vanilla latte while stalking athletes and movie stars.