Tag Archives: Nick Foles

NFC Championship: A Matter of Luck For Two Snakebitten Franchises and Cities Starving for a Title.

20 Jan
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Can the Eagles rely on Nick Foles to take them to the Super Bowl? The Birds will take on the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo By Webster Riddick.

This weekend’s NFC Championship matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings pits two hard luck franchises against each other.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Sunday’s NFC Championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field will be a matchup of two franchises that have lost six Super Bowls in total and have had more than their share of post-season disappointments.

From 2001 to 2008, the Eagles went to five NFC title games, losing four of them. When the team did win the NFC Championship in the 2004 season, they went on to lose to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings haven’t won a NFC title game since the 1976 season, where they lost to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI. Since then, they’ve lost four title games, three of which were lost in the final minute or in overtime.

(In other words, they know exactly how the New Orleans Saints, whom they defeated on Sunday on a fluke play with seconds left in the game, feel…)

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Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum looking to lead his team to a win over the Eagles.

Since neither team has won the Super Bowl—the Eagles won a pre-Super Bowl NFL Championship in 1960—something has to give, right? The football gods are going to reward one of these long suffering fan bases with a trip to the Super Bowl and another chance to win an elusive championship.

But now that we’ve talked about all that history, let’s talk about the game itself.

Neither of the quarterbacks participating in Sunday’s game is going to make anyone forget former Eagles great Donovan McNabb, Vikings Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton or even Vikings short-termer Brett Favre. But Nick Foles and Minnesota’s Case Keenum, two guys who didn’t distinguish themselves as part of the Los Angeles or St. Louis Rams squads in the early Oughts, have managed to get their teams to the conference final despite pronouncements to the contrary.

Foles is coming off a solid performance in the win over the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round in which he completed 23-of-30 passes for 246 yards with no touchdown passes, but also no interceptions.  He was efficient and kept the Eagles offense moving at key stretches, mixing passes to tight-end Zach Ertz, and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor with screens to running backs Jay Ajayi and   Corey Clement and smash mouth running from running back LeGarrette Blunt.

That’s something the Eagles will have to do against a Vikings defense that ranks at the top of the NFL.

“The quick, short passing game obviously can help, the running game can help,” said head coach Doug Pederson. “Somewhere in there, if you can take a shot, you take a shot and whether you hit, like first play of the game, if you hit it or not, that kind of gets your blood flowing a little bit. And sometimes even tempo, hurry-up, no-huddle offense can get your quarterback into that kind of rhythm.”

It also helps that the Eagles running game, while not great, moved the ball well enough to keep the Falcons defense off balance. The Eagles as a group rushed for 96 yards including a couple of 10-yard plus runs on jet sweeps by Agholor.  Ajayi also averaged close to four yards per carry.

It kept the Eagles from being one-dimensional, Ertz, the tight end, said.

“Yeah, I thought we were really good on first and second down in the second half of that game last week,” he said “We kind had the RPOs (run pass options) early on first down that put us in those positions to be successful. I thought Doug [Pederson] a really good job. One of the things that stood out is that we never got in those third-and-really long situations, third-and-11-plus situations where you have to have the running back and the tight-end chip. You never want to be in those situations and we kind of stayed out of those, so that was definitely huge for us.”

Meanwhile, the Eagles defense is not taking Keenum and the Vikings offense lightly. This is an offense coming off the high of the “Minneapolis Miracle”, when Keenum hit Stefon Diggs on a 61-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left to defeat the New Orleans Saints.

Keenum, who was the NFL’s 12th rated passer, has been efficient. In the game against the Saints, Keenum was 25-of-40 for 318 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

But the Eagles defense is no slouch—they are the fourth ranked defense in the league and are first against the run.  The Vikings running game ranked seventh during the regular season despite the loss of rookie Dalvin Cook. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon are averaging close to four yards per carry.

Defensive end Brandon Graham recognizes this and says the defense does as well.

“Oh, yeah, you can’t take nobody lightly and I think Case does a good job as far as moving in the pocket, being able to extend plays with his legs and you know just being able to trust himself going out there,” he said. “You know, going out there, making plays because he’s got the receivers. He’s got the running game that’s been helping him take a lot of pressure off of him.”

The Eagles, who managed to become the Number One seed despite a slate of injuries that includes MVP-candidate quarterback Carson Wentz, are once again the underdog despite this being a home game.

So expect the return of the Dog Masks. And a shoulder chip you can see from space.

“The disrespect continues,” said Eagles Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. “For us to be the No 1 seed and to have this championship run through the Linc, what more do you want? At the end of the day, respect is not given, we gotta go out and take it like we’ve been doing all year. I think we’ll go out and dominate.”

The NFC Championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings will be played on Sunday night at 6:40 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia. Tickets are sold out, but if you want to catch the game, it’ll be on Fox-29, beginning with the Fox NFL-Sunday pregame show at 6 p.m.

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NFC Divisional Playoffs: “Underdog” Top-Seeded Birds ready for Atlanta

12 Jan
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The Eagles will need a huge effort from running back Jay Ajayi (36) to keep the pressure off quarterback Nick Foles for Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report.

Despite being the number one seed with a 13-3 record, the Philadelphia Eagles are a two-point underdog to the sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons in their NFC Divisional Playoff game on Saturday.EaglesFalconsPlayoffLogo

This perception, based mainly on the belief that next to no one believes that the team has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning with quarterback Nick Foles at the helm, has fans (and a few players) smarting a little.

The disrespect is real, and the Birds have had enough of it.

“It’s surprising … But we ain’t worried about underdog, overdog; none of the that,” Eagles defensive tackle Tim Jernigan. “It comes down to us versus them. You can’t shake it. You can’t look at it any other way.”

Added Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery: “I’m done talking about it. I don’t care nothing about Vegas and underdogs.”

Despite their denials to the contrary, the Birds are motivated by the apparent disrespect.

“They can all pick them if they want to, but at the end of the day, we know what we got here,” said running back Jay Ajayi. “Our mindset is we all we got. We’re all we got, we’re all we need.”

The team’s protestations notwithstanding, the perception of the Birds as a shaky number one seed comes from the fact that Foles hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence.

Foles struggled against the Oakland Raiders in week 16, completing just 50 percent of passes and threw one interception. He also didn’t look sharp In an abbreviated performance against the Dallas Cowboys, going 4-of-11 for 39 yards and one interception.

But Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said he and the rest of the offense has confidence in Foles ability to lead them against a Falcons defense that was ranked ninth against the run and 12th against the pass.

Pederson wants Foles to be himself, he said.

“My message to Nick is: Listen, we have a great opportunity.  Let’s go be Nick. Let’s go play. Let’s go execute the offense,” Pederson said at his press conference on Tuesday. “[My message] to the team is the same thing: We have a great opportunity. Back’s against the wall. Let’s come out swinging and see what happens.”

Pederson is hoping to find the Foles who completed 24-of-38 passes and threw four touchdown passes against the New York Giants in a week 15 win.  Now if the Foles that threw 27 touchdown passes against four interceptions back in 2013, they really could make a strong run to the Super Bowl.

It’s not like the former Arizona star doesn’t have playoff experience. In the Eagles’ 26-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints back in 2013, Foles completed 69 percent of his passes and threw two touchdown passes and left the game with the lead before Saints quarterback Drew Brees drove his team to the game-winning field goal.

Meanwhile, Foles said having the last two weeks of practice has helped him to regain his focus and belief that he can lead this team to victory over Atlanta.

“I haven’t executed as well as I wanted to in the last couple of weeks,” Foles said. “Having this time to self-scout, go through practice and everything, you realize that you just go out there and play. Maybe I wasn’t do that as much in those games. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes, the hardest things are the simple things. Basically, get out of your own head and play the game you know how to play.”

What’s going to help Foles stay on his feet and have time to find receivers downfield is consistency in the running game.  The Eagles might have an advantage with Ajayi. When Ajayi was with the Miami Dolphins back in week five, he rushed for 130 yards on 26 carries. He averaged five yards per carry.

The Eagles also have Pro Bowl offensive lineman in Brandon Brooks and right tackle Lane Johnson to open up holes for Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement.

For the Birds to win this game, they have to establish a consistent running game against Falcons defense that’s going to have eight men in the box.

“We’re going to need our room (running backs) to produce. It’s been that way all year,” Ajayi said. “When we’re successful, the running back room is successful because we’re helping to keep the tempo of the game, keep the defense off the field, making big plays. That’s not going to change. All of us are going to be counted to make big plays.”

The Eagles and Falcons take the field at Lincoln Financial at 4:35 pm on Saturday.

 

Eagles Believe They are Close to Being an Elite Team, but Face Challenges in 2015

1 Jan

 

LeSean McCoy  is open to have his contracted to keep him on the Eagles..  Photo by Webster Riddick.

LeSean McCoy is open to have his contract restructured to keep him on the Eagles.. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Despite having a 10-6 record that would have easily won a weak NFC South, the Eagles missed the playoffs and are left with the feeling of what could have been if they could have only gotten out of the way of themselves.

“We’re right there,” said running back Darren Sproles. “When you get to December, you have to win in December. Even with the turnovers we were right there.”

On offense, the Eagles committed a league-leading 36 turnovers-including a combined 27 by both Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez. Those self-imposed mistakes are among the reasons the Birds are home for the postsesason.

“Coming off last year, we knew we had a good team, we started off 9-3 and to lose the way we did at the end of the season is very uncharacteristic of us,” said tight end Zach Ertz. “Usually, we get stronger as the season progresses, but we can’t put any of the onus on anybody but on ourselves.”

While cleaning out their lockers Monday, several Eagles players said despite missing the playoffs in 2014, they are close to being one of the elite teams in the NFL.

“It’s encouraging because we got 10 wins and we really beat ourselves all year,” said safety Malcolm Jenkins. “But the thing yet to be corrected for next year is can we stop beating ourselves. …That’s one thing we’ve got to stop this offseason. Once we learn two things-If we can keep the ball in front of us on defense and not turn the ball over that much on offense, we can go from a 10-win team to an elite team.”

On the defensive end, you could make the argument that the Eagles front-seven had a pretty goodseason. The Birds were tied for second in the NFL in sacks with Connor Barwin leading the way with 14.5 sacks.

The downside to that was the Eagles were next to last in the league in passing yardage yielded. Opposing teams passed for 4,238 yards against a suspect secondary. In the three-game losing streak that took the Birds out of the playoff, they gave up too many big plays in the passing game.

“There were no breakdowns, it’s just matchups and not winning those matchups,” Jenkins said. “You’ve got receivers that are at the top of their game and at an elite level. It’s hard to win those matchups on every down. A lot of those times we’ve had help over the top. We can’t double team every play and so when they had those opportunities they took advantage of it and we didn’t win.”

The weakness in the Eagles defense was their secondary. In that critical three-game losing streak, the difference in the game came down to giving up big plays in the passing game.

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who gave up plays of 25 yards or more in losses to Washington and Dallas, will be a free agent and so will safety Nate Allen. Don’t look for the Eagles to go out of their way to bring those guys back.

On offense, it has been widely speculated the Eagles aren’t necessarily happy with Foles has a franchise quarterback even though he’s 14-4 as a starter under head coach Chip Kelly. Foles critics point to his 10 interceptions and his struggles during the eight games he played in before he broke his left collarbone.

There has also been talk the Eagles might draft another quarterback or somehow move up to get Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston.

As far as Foles is concerned, he said he’s the Eagles starting quarterback until Kelly or the organization tells him otherwise. Neither Kelly nor owner Jeffrey Lurie would say whether they were committed to him as the starter for next year.

“I expect to be the guy to lead them and win games,” Foles said. “It’s tough sitting on the sideline when you want to be out there. …It’s coming from my heart. That’s where I really expect to be and I’m going to work as hard as I can to be the best Nick Foles possible.”

The Eagles are also looking re-sign free agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin,who had the best year of his career in 2014. He caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdown passes.

The Birds also have to figure out a way to keep running back LeSean McCoy, who is due to make $9.75 million. The team could save $7.55 million under the salary cap if they release McCoy, who said he was open to restructuring his contract.

Meanwhile, Kelly said he wants to keep both Maclin and McCoy because they are important to his offense, but he also knows that he has to take the business of the game into consideration.

“Yeah, I’m in charge of the roster in terms of who our 53 are so I have to weigh in on that,” Kelly said. “But I also know there are other factors, salary cap money and the numbers and all those other things.”

Eagles Shortcomings Bite Them in Critical Stretch of the Season

27 Dec

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. He has82 catches and 10 touchdown passes. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—When you’re in the playoffs or making a run for the postseason during the latter stages of the regular season, the loss that ultimately ends your season often exposes the weakness or weaknesses that’s bothered you all season.

That was definitely the case with the Eagles who will be spending January watching the playoffs on TV with the rest of us thanks to last Saturday’s loss to Washington and the Dallas Cowboys win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Dallas wins the NFC East while the Eagles, who will close out the 2014 season on the road against the New York Giants, will be spending the offseason trying to figure out what went wrong.

The Eagles season came down to losses in their last three games and was reflective of the shortcomings that all knew were there, but were hoping they can somehow overcome. In the end, they couldn’t get out of the way themselves enough when it counted.

Even before Nick Foles season-ending injury, the Eagles struggled for consistency at the quarterback position. After Foles tossed 27 touchdown passes against two interceptions last season, he was inconsistent in the eight games he started. He had 13 touchdown passes and 13 turnovers 10 interceptions and three fumbles.

At times, Foles has held the ball too long and made pump fakes that gave opposing defensive that extra split second to make a play on the ball.

Sanchez, too, was a turnover machine in the seven games he started this season with 13. Eagles’ quarterbacks have committed a combined 26 turnovers including 20 interceptions. The Birds lead the league in turnovers with 35 and are 25th in the NFL in takeaway-giveaway ratio at minus-eight.

When your quarterbacks are committing nearly 75 percent of your team’s turnovers, you are not going to be a playoff team or if you do get to the playoffs, you’re not going to be there very long.
In the three-game losing streak that ultimately bounced them out of the playoffs, the Eagles committed eight turnovers.

In defense of Eagles quarterbacks, especially Foles, the offensive line had its share of injuries early in the season and had problems protecting the quarterback. Center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis have missed time due to injury. Veteran guard Todd Heremanns is currently on the injured reserve list.

All that said, some Eagles fans are beginning to doubt their faith in Foles as the starting quarterback and are hoping the team can move up in the NFL dream so they can draft Oregon star Marcus Mariota or Florida State’s Jameis Winston.

While Mariota and Winston would fit Chip Kelly’s offense quite well, I don’t think it’s going to happen because I don’t think the Eagles are interested in giving up the kitchen sink or the entire front office’s first born to get either one of those guys.

For now, they are invested in Foles and the Eagles certainly have justification for doing so. Foles has done quite well in Kelly’s tenure as head coach.

“Yeah I think we know what we have in Nick,” said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “And we’ve seen a guy that I think, by last count, he’s 14-4 as a starter. So that’s really how you judge a quarterback.”

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the back end of the Eagles defense. Some of those guys can and should be replaced.

Since the departures of Brian Dawkins, Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, the Eagles secondary haven’t quite put the fear of God into the hearts and minds of opposing receivers.

At the cornerback position, the Birds are very average at best and just plain awful or worse at times. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher, a decent player, has been the weak link in the secondary for the last two weeks. He has been burned for three touchdowns and has given up at least four plays of 25 yards or more.

In Fletcher’s defense, he was going one-on-one against Dez Bryant and the speedy former Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson. Some safety help would have been nice. At the same time, the secondary has been a weakness masked by the solid play of the Eagles front seven. The Birds are second in the NFL in sacks with 49.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said the Eagles defense has improved since he took over last year, but the deep ball has been an Achilles Heel.

“In a lot of categories, yes and in a very important one, the deep pass, the vertical ball, the plus 20-yard passes, we’re not,” Davis said. “I’ve got to get that fixed.”

Ya think.

The Eagles aren’t a bad football team now, but in order for the team to go forward and really be a contender they’re going to make some personnel changes on the defensive side of the ball.

In the wake of the Eagles not making the playoffs, fans and a few local media people are questioning the release of former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, whose ability to stretch the defense made the Birds offense one of the most dangerous in the NFL last season.

Some observers are saying if Jackson was with the Eagles along with Jeremy Maclin, rookie Jordan Matthews, and Riley Cooper—the Birds offense would be even more dangerous. Running back LeSean McCoy, who is fourth in the league in rushing, would have even more yards on the ground.

While you might have a legitimate argument on one level, it may not have mattered if Jackson was there given the struggles of the quarterbacks with turnovers and the injuries to the offensive line.

If you’re still mad about the Jackson trade, consider the following:

Coming into Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Giants, Maclin has 82 receptions for 1,269 yards and 10 touchdowns. McCoy has 1,220 yards rushing—not as good as last year, but he’s still in the league’s top five.

Darren Sproles had more touchdown passes than Jackson with eight and gave defenses more than something to think about. If not for New York Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, Matthews might be in the NFL Rookie-of-the-Year conversation-he caught 59 passes for 767 yards and seven touchdowns.

What really bothers fans about the Jackson release was that the Eagles got nothing of equal value or better on either side of the ball. That was the real tragedy of letting go of your best receiver.

During this offseason, the Eagles have to get better if they want to be in the postseason in 2015.

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

28 Oct

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.

NFC East More Competitive Than Anticipated

10 Oct

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

Both LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles have struggled so far in 2014. Photo By Webster Riddick.

Both LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles have struggled so far in 2014. Photo By Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—When we looked at the NFC East before the 2014 season, all the sports pundits (myself included) and experts said it would be among the NFL’s weakest divisions and it was given that the Eagles were going to win the division easily.

Five games into the season, it’s starting to look like the NFC East race is going to be a lot more competitive than what we thought and it’s definitely not the worst division in the NFL.

On Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles (4-1) will take on a resurgent New York Giants (3-2) squad that’s won three straight after losing their first two games.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys are the hottest team in the division with four straight wins after losing their season-opener to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Eagles are at the top of the division despite a struggling offense that’s missing center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis. The Birds are winning despite the fact that quarterback Nick Foles hasn’t played as well this year as he did last year.

So far, Foles is having an up and down year. He has eight touchdown passes and he’s averaging 276 yards per game. But he has nine turnovers-five interceptions and four fumbles. Foles has also had some bad starts in games and he has missed open receivers.

“There’s been times when he’s had to get the ball in a little quicker manner than we’d like,” said Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “There are times where he’s had some bad footing. I’d go to one area of the game (against the Rams) where we missed what appeared to be an easy throw to Jordan Matthews, then he followed it up by ripping a seam ball to Mac (Jeremy Maclin) on the next play.”

The Birds running game has not been the explosive force that it was last season. McCoy has yet to rush/ for over 100 yards in five games this season. He’s averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and just one touchdown. He had his best game of the season in

Sunday’s win over the St. Louis Rams when he gained 81 yards rushing on 24 carries
Running back Darren Sproles has provided a spark for the Eagles—both catching the football, running the ball and on special teams. Two of the Eagles wins have been sparked big plays by Sproles.

The Eagles special teams have been a big factor in the team’s wins. The Birds have produced four special teams touchdowns—a kickoff return by Chris Polk and a punt return by Sproles. They’ve also had two blocked punts for touchdown. Rookie placekicker Cody Parkey is 10-for-11 in field goals including two from beyond 50 yards.

While the Eagles defense rank 29th in the NFL in total defense, they have forced turnovers-two have turned into scores. But they are missing linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who has a sore calf and DeMeco Ryans who has a groin injury, but had limited participation in practice on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the New York Giants will come into Sunday’s game against the Birds on a roll. Thanks to the performance of Eli Manning, who’s starting to get the hang of offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense.

After struggling in losses to the Detroit Lions and the Arizona Cardinals, Manning has tossed eight touchdown passes against one interception in wins over the Houston Texans, Washington and the Atlanta Falcons. His quarterback rating has been above 100 in each of the last three games. He completed 70 percent of his passes against the Falcons.

Eli Manning has had a passer rating 100 or better in three straight Giants wins.

Eli Manning has had a passer rating 100 or better in three straight Giants wins.

Manning also has a variety of receivers including Victor Cruz, who leads the team in receiving yards. Grambling State alum Larry Donnell is having a breakout year at the tight end position and leads the team in receptions (25) and receiving touchdowns with four.

The Giants can also run the football as well. Rashad Jennings leads the team in rushing with 396 yards on the ground and is averaging 4.4. yards per game. Those numbers make him fourth in the NFL in rushing. Jennings will probably miss Sunday’s games against the Eagles because of an MCL sprain.

Rookie Andre Williams will start in his place against the Eagles. The former Boston College star and Heisman Trophy finalist has 131 yards rushing and two touchdowns so far this season.

Defensively, New York ranks 11th in the NFL against the run, but 27th against the pass. Despite that stat, the Giants secondary leads the league in interceptions.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has 670 yards rushing.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has 670 yards rushing.

Meanwhile in Dallas, the Cowboys are even on a bigger roll than the Giants, with four straight wins thanks to a powerful rushing attack led by DeMarco Murray, who leads the NFL in rushing with 670 yards.

With the exception of last Sunday’s overtime win over the Houston Texans when the Cowboys have run the ball more than they pass, they’ve won games including a big 38-17 a New Orleans Saints squad that blew them out last year.

Because Murray is chewing up yards on the ground, Romo can get the ball out to players Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. The Cowboys are going to make plays in the passing game, but they don’t have to do it on every down and put all the burden of winning on Romo.

The success of the running game has also made it easier for the Cowboys’s 24th ranked defense that everyone said would be the worse in the NFL. It’s still not the best in the world, but it’s not as bad as we thought.

While we still have a long way to go, the NFC East is going to be a dogfight again and there’s always a strong possibility that Washington (1-4) could run off a few wins before it’s said and done.

It’s not going to be a cakewalk for anybody and it’s going to be a dogfight that could go down to the wire.

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

30 Sep

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.