With or Without Romo, Eagles Get Ready for Showdown Against Dallas

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may not play in Sunday's because of a back injury. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may not play in Sunday’s because of a back injury. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With the very distinct possibility that the Dallas Cowboys  will be without starting quarterback Tony Romo because of a back injury, it is easy for Eagles fans to think their squad will be a shoe-in  to win Sunday night’s game for the NFC East crown.

That’s not how the Eagles players and coaches are looking at it. For starters, they lost to the Cowboys 17-3 at home on Oct. 20.

If anything else, the Birds 48-30 road loss to a Minnesota Vikings squad playing without its starting quarterback and running back is a reminder to the Birds that Romo’s possible absence is no guarantee they will walk out of Cowboys Stadium with a win.

With a division title on the line, the Eagles players are saying than ill afford to take anybody lightly at this juncture of the season.

“This is the National Football League, man, you can’t overlook any team,” said Eagles cornerback Cary Williams. “Any given Sunday, I have been saying that week in and week out. As far as I’m concerned, it’s nameless, faceless individuals, we just have to go out there and get the job done. We have to play with intensity from the start. If we do that, we’re a force to be reckoned with.”

If Romo is not playing on Sunday, veteran backup quarterback Kyle Orton, who has 69 starts under his belt, will be the starting signal caller for the Cowboys. While Dallas will miss Romo’s ability to run and extend plays in the pass pocket, they still have running back DeMarco Murray, wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.

“If anything, we’re more heightened, more aware of what’s going on,” said Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.  “They’re going to run the ball more if that’s their plan. Kyle Orton is a capable guy. It’s not like it’s some practice squad guy they called up to run the show. He’s a starter in this league, he’s made plays and won games in this league. We’re not taking anything lightly by any means.”

Meanwhile in Dallas, ESPN.com reported that Romo received an epidural injection in his back to relieve the pain and reduce the inflammation on the herniated disc in his back. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has been saying that Romo is day-to-day.

With Romo possibly on the shelf, the Eagles will no doubt being seeing heavy doses of Murray, who scored the winning touchdown last Sunday against Washington. So far this season, Murray has gained 1,073 yards with nine touchdowns and is averaging over five yards per carry. If he gets it going in the running game, Orton will have some opportunities on play-action to get the ball to Bryant and Witten.

“We’re not going to underestimate him, we’re going prepare for him like he’s a Pro Bowl running back,” said defensive end Cedric Thornton. “From watching the last game, we know that they want to run it a little bit more than the previous game. Our offensive line is one of the best in the NFL and they’re going prepare us and have us ready to go on Sunday night.”

Defensive coordinator Billy Davis said he figured the Cowboys were going to run the football more in this game whether it’s Romo or Orton behind the center.

“One of the things we emphasize is the offensive scheme, we don’t think it will change that greatly,” Davis said.  “No matter which quarterback we get, we’re prepared for both.”

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles said he is praying for Romo’s health and expects to see a fired-up Cowboys squad who will rally behind Romo and Orton.

“I know that Dallas is going to rally for (Romo),” Foles said. “In situations like that, teams are resilient and they’re going to be ready to go. It’s important for me to have a great week of preparation to put my team in a position where I can execute the plays.”

Bring on the Cowboys: Eagles Ready for Big D Showdown After Stomping the Bears

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

LeSean McCoy scores two touchdowns in win over the Bears. Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy scores two touchdowns in win over the Bears. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—It’s official, the Eagles 2013 season will come down to a nationally-televised Sunday evening contest in Dallas.

It’s win or your season is over.

“It’s going to be the biggest show on earth and it’s going to be a circus down there like always and we’re going to treat them like every other team,” said Eagles linebacker Trent Cole.

Actually next week’s matchup was decided before the Birds put a king-sized 54-11 butt-whuppin’ on the Chicago Bears in their final regular-game at Lincoln Financial Field when the Cowboys got a last-second win over the Washington Redskins.

Suffice it to say, the Birds are now in playoff mode.

“Playoffs just start a week early for both teams,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “If you win, you get an opportunity to keep playing. You lose, you’re going home.”

Though the game was meaningless to them, a fired-up Eagles squad made quick work of a Bears squad who blew an opportunity to clinch the NFC North. The Birds played like a team with its season on the line.

“Very simply, we’re from Philadelphia and we fight. That’s it,” Kelly said. “If there’s a game on, we’re playing, end of story. All this stuff about backing in and not worry about things, I have no idea. There’s so many different scenarios. It could have been a tie. What if there’s a tie when we go to play Dallas next week and then we give a game away the last week?

“If we’re going to line up and kick off, you tell us what time to show up and we’ll be there.”

The Eagles jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter on a one yard by LeSean McCoy and pair of Nick Foles touchdown passes to wide receiver Riley Cooper and tight end Brent Celek.

In the second quarter, the Birds added a 49-yard field goal by Alex Henery. The Bears got on the board with time running out in the half on a 50-yard field by Robbie Gould.

The Birds ended the competitive portion of the game early in the third quarter on a safety forced by defensive end Cedric Thornton, who tackled Bears running back Matt Forte in the end zone. After the free kick, the Eagles drove 67 yards in six plays to McCoy’s second one-yard touchdown run.

That’s when Eagles fans starting chanting, “Dallas Sucks” and “We want Dallas.”

Speaking of Shady, the Eagles put the ball in McCoy’s hands early and often after giving him only eight carries against Minnesota last week. He gained 133 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns.  McCoy is 37 yards away from Wilbert Montgomery’s club record for yard rushing in a single-season.

“Shady said early in the week that he wanted to put the offense on his back,” said Eagles center Jason Kelce.  “I think that everybody saw on film that this was a team that can give up some big plays on the ground, so it’s exciting to see such a crucial player in your offense to be that enthusiastic about taking over a game.”

For the game, the Eagles rushed for 289 yards. Along with McCoy’s rushing totals, back running back Bryce Brown gained 115 yards, including a 65-yard run for a touchdown.

Defensively, the Eagles dominated Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, sacking him five times. Leading the Birds charge was linebacker Cole who had the pleasure of putting Cutler to the turf three times.

“Trent was lights out tonight and that’s what Trent is capable of doing,” said Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “He’s capable of taking over games, dominating the offensive tackles, getting to the quarterback. That’s what he’s capable of doing.”

The Eagles also forced two turnovers including a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown by nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin.




The Quarterback Hunter: Trent Cole Comes up for Big Eagles in Win Over Chicago

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

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Trent Cole (58) sacked Jay Cutler three times in the Eagles win over the Bears. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Trent Cole (58) sacked Jay Cutler three times in the Eagles win over the Bears. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—One of Trent Cole’s favorite pastimes, whether it’s on or off the field is hunting.  Off the field, it’s usually a deer running through the woods within the periscope of Cole’s shotgun.

On the field, Cole has always had a passion for hunting down quarterbacks and putting them to the turf.  In the Eagles 54-11 blowout of the Chicago Bears at Lincoln Financial Field, Coles hounded Bears quarterback Jay Cutler as if he were a Lion stalking its prey.

“He doesn’t know what he means to this team,” said Eagles inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. “He just goes out there and he just plays his heart out. I don’t think he realizes the type of energy and the type  of charge he gives the offense when he makes those big time plays on third down.

“When we see him make a play, here’s a guy still doing what he’s doing, raising the bar on every play. He just goes, man. …He’s a big part of this team.”

Cole had three of the Eagles five sacks on including one on the game’s third play that forced an early Bears punt. After the game, Cole’s teammates said he set the tone for the defense with his aggressiveness.

“Trent was lights out tonight and that’s what Trent is capable of doing,” said Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “He’s capable of taking over games, dominating the offensive tackles, getting to the quarterback. That’s what he’s capable of doing.

“We just had to put him into situations where he is able to rush the passer and showcase his talents.”

Cole said he likes to be the catalyst of the defense and to make things happen to get the team going.

“As a team player, I want to go out there and make an impact and do whatever I have to make an impact on this team,” said Cole after Sunday’s game.

With the new coaching staff and the Eagles 3-4 defense, Cole had to make the difficult transition from being a defensive end in a three-point stance to a stand-up outside linebacker, something that wasn’t all that easy for him.

“I kept a great attitude about it. That transition from eight years as a defensive end and now transitioning into a linebacker in my ninth year is kind of hard, you got to suck it up,” Cole said. “I told myself that I was going to be great at this position. I kept a good attitude about it and listened to the coaches and talked to some of my teammates about how to play outside linebacker.

“Things are going good for me, I’m just going to keep improving and doing what I can.”

So far this season, Cole has eight sacks from the linebacker spot, not bad for a guy who hasn’t played the linebacker position during his professional career.

“It’s a tough transition when you ask a guy who has been rushing for 10 years to drop back and cover zones and things like that. That’s a big chance,” Ryans said. “That’s a big change. He’s an unselfish player and he does whatever we need him to do for our team to win.”

Eagles Defense Shuts the Door on Washington’s Comeback Hopes

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Brandon Boykin's four-quarter interception of Robert Griffith III preserves the Eagles 24-16 win over Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Brandon Boykin’s four-quarter interception of Robert Griffith III preserves the Eagles 24-16 win over Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The Eagles 24-16 win over the Washington Redskins Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field was more of a stark contrast to where this team was last season going into a bye-week.

Back in 2012, the last game the Eagles played before their bye-week was a heartbreaking loss to the Detroit Lions who came back from a 10-point deficit in the last five minutes in regulation to win the game in overtime.

After the Eagles jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the third quarter on a one-yard run by LeSean McCoy, the Redskins made things interesting in the fourth period on a couple of Robert Griffin III touchdown passes and a pair of two-point conversions. With the offense unable to move the football in the final stanza, the Eagles defense needed to come up with one final stand to hold off the surging Redskins.

Brandon Boykin's interception in the end zone was the exclamation point to a huge win for the Birds. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Brandon Boykin’s interception in the end zone was the exclamation point to a huge win for the Birds. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Washington drove from its own four-yard line down to the Eagles 18 with 40 seconds left. It looked like it was going to be another example of the Birds defense blowing a big lead in the fourth quarter.

But Eagles nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin saved the day with a drive-killing interception in the end zone that helped to preserve the win for the 6-5 Birds, who will head into the bye-week in sole possession of first-place in the NFC East. It was the Birds first win at home since Sept. 30, 2012 when they beat New York Giants on a late field goal.

“Everybody knew that someone had to step up and make it,” said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “There was no sense that we were going to let them get into the end zone. Everybody had that type of attitude that we were going to make a stop.”

In all honesty, the Eagles win over the Redskins was the type of game they would have lost last season.  To their credit, they found a way to pull off a huge victory when it looked like they were about to fall apart.

“Really, how are you going to react when things don’t go exactly the way you planned?” asked Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “That’s what I think I’m most proud of today, is how they reacted when it didn’t go our way, when they faced a bit of adversity, to kind of dig down deep and make a play when we had to make a play. That was a big sign for this team.”

Boykin, who remembers all too well how the Eagles defense had trouble closing out games last season, said the coaching staff under current defensive coordinator Billy Davis has done a good job of preparing them for late-game situations.

“It’s no panic, it’s not anything new to us. We practice this, so when you’re in a game situation, you treat it like practice,” Boykin said.

The Eagles also played well on defense in the other three quarters as well. For the sixth straight week, the Eagles have not allowed a team to score more than 21 points in a game.  The Birds sacked RGIII four times including his fumble in the red zone after a hard hit by linebacker Connor Barwin.  Linebacker Trent Cole also had a pair of sacks for the Eagles as well.

“They did a good job coming out in the beginning of the game and shutting down a lot of stuff that we were trying to do,” Griffin III said. “They were there where they needed to be; they were taking away the routes we were trying to run. That’s disheartening, but we have to make sure we come up with something to counteract that.”

Davis said his defense has progressed well since the first game of the season and especially since the loss to the Denver Broncos on Sept. 29.

“We know at the end when it gets all pressure-packed that you have to back to your fundamentals and your technique and your training,” Davis said. “This is what separates you.”

The Eagles scored their points on offense on a pair touchdown runs by LeSean McCoy and a four-yard run by quarterback Nick Foles. Alex Henery had a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter.

Eagles Are Getting Better on Defense

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been the anchor of an improving defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been the anchor of an improving defense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles’ linebacker Mychal Kendricks was a rookie when the Eagles struggled through last year’s 4-12 season in which the defense blew games late in the fourth quarter or just got outright blown off the field. Quarterbacks like Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Washington’s Robert Griffin III had field days carving up the Birds defense.

Through it all, Kendricks said the veterans kept telling him this wasn’t always going to be the case and that better days had to be around the corner.

“Some of the veterans told me ‘this is not the league, we’re supposed to be winning and having fun,” Kendrick recalled. “You’re supposed to win something. I just felt that morale was at an all-time low …This year I think this is what the league is supposed to be about.”

That’s because the Eagles defense has been a much better place than it was last year. Since a 52-20 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Eagles defense has not allowed a team to score more than 21 points. While they are not going to remind anyone just yet of the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, they have been a team that seems to get better with each game and they’re a lot better off than they were last season.

“Everybody is comfortable with what they’re doing,” said Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.”Everybody knows their role; everybody knows where they’re supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be doing it. Guys are flying around and having fun playing the game. That’s the difference.”

Ryans came up big against Green Bay with 11 solo tackles (13 overall), including two for a loss of yardage and he also had an interception. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Ryans is doing a good job of quarterbacking the defense.

“DeMeco is the leader of our defense and he’s having an outstanding Pro Bowl year and we couldn’t be happier with everything DeMeco is doing for us,” Davis said. “He gets us in the best defense possible, and as the season has gone on we as a staff have gotten more and more comfortable in his ability to put us in good situations, and he has, and from there he’s done a great job playing the middle linebacker position, between tackle to tackle, he is a force. Whether it’s crossing routes he’s knocking out or his inside run game that he’s tackling.  He had one of the best form tackles I’ve seen in a long time last week.”

In the Eagles 27-13 win over the Green Bay Packers, the defense came up with another big effort. They held the Packers to under 100 yards rushing and they forced two interceptions. The Birds managed to do it despite injuries to Kendricks and safety Earl Wolff. Najee Goode, who nearly had a pick-six and cornerback Roc Carmichael also played well for the Eagles.

The Birds secondary, which got burned for the big play quite often last season, has done a better job of limiting the big play and they’ve done a good job of tackling. Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin, who leads the team with three interceptions, said the loud music played during practice has helped the secondary do a better job of communicating with each other.

“I think what helps that is the music. That’s huge for us because the defensive backs have to over-communicate so when we get in the game it’s automatic. We’ve been working on that since whenever OTAs starting, so it’s second nature now,” Boykin said. “You have to focus on the play while other stuff is going on around you. When you get in a real environment, it’s easy.”

On the defensive line, the Birds got a solid effort from defensive tackle Vinny Curry, who seems to be getting better every time he’s on the field. Against the Packers, he had three tackles and had the lone Eagles sack in the game. Head coach Chip Kelly said Curry is getting better with each game.

“I think he’s getting better at just overall run defense,” Kelly said. “But in the run game itself, you know, I think Vinny is starting to get better and better.  It was his best game against the run this week.”

The Eagles defense has just 20 sacks in 10 games, but Davis said his squad has done a good job in putting pressure on the quarterback and making them uncomfortable in the pocket.

“Even though the sack numbers aren’t as high as we would like, but there’s pressures, there’s batted balls, there’s errant throws sometimes, just a matter of keeping the quarterback uncomfortable, and that ball that looks ugly was a bad pass had a lot to do with a throwing lane being clogged up or an arm up in the face or not having a clean lane to see in,” Davis said.

Birds Defense Plays Well in Loss to Dallas

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun


Eagles cornerback Cary Williams reaches out to stop Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles cornerback Cary Williams reaches out to stop Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The Eagles defense did something to the Dallas Cowboys offense that the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins couldn’t do in the last two weeks.

They held Tony Romo and the Cowboys high-powered offense to under 20 points. That was the good news for the Birds defense. Of course, the bad news was that the offense provided little to no help and could only come away with a field goal in the Eagles 17-3 loss to Dallas at Lincoln Financial Field.

“All we know was that we had a game plan and we were going to execute that plan to the best of our ability and we did,” said defensive tackle Vinny Curry, who sacked Romo in the second quarter.

The Birds put pressure on Romo, sacking him twice and intercepting him twice. They held him to 69.2-passer rating.  He completed 28-of-47 passes for passes 317 yards with one touchdown pass.

The Eagles defense knew that players like wide receiver Dez Bryant, who had eight catches for 110 yards and no touchdowns, were going to put up numbers. They also figured that tight end Jason Witten was going to work the middle of the field. The Cowboys tight end caught four passes for 48 yards.

“I thought our guys did a nice job,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis. “(Dallas’) strength is their pass receivers and their quarterback. I thought our guys took a big step. They didn’t stop them, but it’s a very potent offense. They can put 45 on you real easy.

“I thought the pressure was better. I thought the coverage was tight. I thought I was going to give more doubles to Dez Bryant, but I didn’t have to. The corners did a nice job of handling them.”

The defense limited the Cowboy to a pair of touchdowns. That should have been enough for the Eagles to come out of the game with a win. But the offense didn’t do their part and it wasted what was probably the Eagles best defensive performance of the year.

“Anytime our defense plays that well we should win,” said Eagles center Jason Kelce.

“If you ask me before any game if our defense holds anybody to 17 points, we’re going to win or lose, I’ll tell you we’re going to win.”

In the fourth quarter, the Eagles defense put the offense in position to make the game close thanks to an interception by middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. With the Bird trailing 10-0 and the Cowboy looking to add more, the defense pressured Romo into throwing the pick.

“(The defense) was talking about getting some momentum and getting a turnover, and I was fortunate enough to come down with it,” said Ryans, who had one of the two sacks of Romo. “I was looking forward to it giving us some momentum and flipping it to our side.”

Unfortunately, the Eagles offense could only muster a field goal.  On the Cowboys next possession, Romo led them on a 10-play, 72-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard TD pass to Terrance Williams.

When your offense is not helping you even the best defense is going to give up a score late in the game. It is akin to a pitcher in baseball having a good outing without run support.

The only solace the Eagles defense can take from this game is that they are getting better as a unit. For three straight weeks they have not allowed a team to score more than 21 points in a game.

“Guys know what they can and can’t do and you see how good we’re getting,” Ryans said. “Even though this was a solid outing, we still have some things to work on.”

Soul Searching: Eagles Have to Take a Long Look At Themselves During Bye Week

Eagles Safety Nate Allen (29) is in hot pursuit of Detroit Lions wide receiver Stefan Logan in Sunday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles Blow 10-point lead in overtime Loss to Detroit

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The Eagles 26-23 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday was a reflection of everything that has bothered this team since the start of the season.  All of this team’s shortcomings certainly came to fruition in a game they had no business losing.

With five-minutes, 18 seconds left in the game, the Eagles had a 23-13 lead after a 70-yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin. It looked like the Eagles were on their way to victory.

“Honestly, I know our football team and I know how good we are,” Vick said. “After the touchdown to Maclin, I thought it was a great opportunity and a great position for us to be in to win the game.  Before I knew it, we were in a fight. It’s tough.”

But after slowing down Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the Lions offense throughout much of the game, the defense allowed the Lions to score on their final three possessions—the last 10 in regulation and the final three in overtime on a 45-yard game-winning field goal by Jason Hanson.

“This is pretty bad,” said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. “It was a big game for us having lost last week and then heading to a bye week. Our schedule only gets tougher from here, so this was a big loss. This one really hurts.”

The biggest criticism of the Eagles defense this season was their inability to put pressure on the quarterback and get a sack when they need it. Against a struggling Lions offense that’s had it own issues with consistency, the Birds defense came up small when it mattered most late in the game.

“It stings because it’s the second week in a row that we didn’t get it done in the fourth quarter,” said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “That is our time to go out and shut people out. We didn’t get it done.”

But you can’t just blame this loss on the defense’s collapse. Some of the Birds other failings came to the forefront today as well. Vick committed three turnovers—two interceptions and a fumble on a bad snap that wasn’t his fault.

“I’m just going to continue to work on ball security as much as I can,” Vick said. “Limit the interceptions, limit the fumbles and I just try to keep this football team ahead on the scoreboard.”

For the game, Vick passed 311 yards with two touchdowns for 28-of-46 passing. But even with the turnovers, the Birds quarterback played well enough in the second half and put the Eagles in position to win.

The Eagles offensive line gave up a pair of big sacks in overtime to the Lions defensive line and the running game never found a rhythm throughout the game outside of a few runs by Vick. This time it wasn’t because of the play-calling. It was because Detroit’s defensive line simply outplayed the Eagles offensive line.

Perhaps the biggest play of the game was made by the Lions front four. The Eagles, leading 23-20 with 2:41 left, faced a third and four from their own 18. Vick attempted to launch a pass to a wide-open Maclin on a crossing route, but the ball was tipped at the line by Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh.

“Jeremy Maclin would be still running downfield,” Vick said.

The Eagles will enter the bye-week with a 3-3 record and some soul searching as they try to figure out a way to stop beating themselves as much as their opponents are beating them. If the Eagles are going to be a serious playoff contender, they have to cut down the mistakes on offense and get off to a better start.

“You have to show how good you are,” said wide receiver Jason Avant. “I don’t care how many players you have on a piece paper. That means nothing in this league. It’s about playing the game every day. If we don’t step up and play our best football, we’re going to get beat.”

Defensively, they have to figure out ways to get sacks even when offenses are max protecting in the front line. They also have to figure out a way to force turnovers.

“We need them,” Ryans said. “We need the sacks and turnovers. If we want to control the game and give our offense a short field, we need more of those.”