It's time for the Dallas Cowboys to make their annual visit to the
gates of Hell Philadelphia Eagles. Our hated, bitter enemy division rival (OK, I'll stop that now) is coming off a bye week, so I went back to their week 6 game against the Washington Redskins to do my weekly review of the Cowboys' next opponent.
One word of caution: In the Washington game, the Eagles were missing LT Jason Peters and DE Trent Cole, both Pro Bowl players. Both are expected to play this Sunday according to our friends at BGN (wow, I managed to say "friends at BGN" with a straight face). With the news Dave put up about everyone for Dallas except Felix Jones (suddenly not a big problem) being healthy, this is going to definitely be first string against first string. However, what I saw in the video against Washington may not always reflect what we will see with Peters and Cole back in the lineup.
The score of the game, 20-13, does not reveal how the Eagles actually dominated the Redskins in most phases of the game, particularly in the first half. After an initial three-and-out, Philadelphia scored on four consecutive drives, with the two touchdown drives being particularly impressive at 82 and 72 yards respectively. They also went 69 and 41 yards for field goals. Washington stiffened a bit in the second half and kept the Eagles off the board. Similarly, Washington only had three first downs in the first half that didn't come off a penalty, and they were all on the drive to get a field goal just before halftime.
It all starts with Michael Vick. The challenge in defending him is that he can beat you throwing the ball or tucking it and running. He has been banged around already this season, and like Tony Romo he is probably glad the bye week was early this season. According to Brian Billick, who was the color commentator for the game, the Eagles were using plays that protected Vick, rolling him out and putting him in shotgun a lot so he had more time to avoid the rush. Still, he went out for a couple of plays in the third quarter when he tried to make a first down and got tackled hard. The play was called back on a holding call, so the effort was wasted. And then Vince Young came in and promptly threw an interception for his first pass attempt. Vick was back in on the next Eagles possession.
The danger Vick presents running can be seen on the next series at about the 5:45 point in the third quarter. The Eagles are in shotgun facing a 3rd and 10 at their own 29. Washington rushes five (Redskins run a 3-4, DL and both OLB came after him). Brian Orakpo lets himself get pushed outside and past Vick, and Stephen Bowen gets ridden to the ground just in front of Vick, which opens up a huge running lane to the left. He takes off that direction, and no one is going to catch him until the secondary pushes him out of bounds 31 yards later.
Washington does contain him on a play shortly after that. At the 1:29 point, still 3rd quarter, the Eagles have just intercepted Rex Grossman and have a 2nd and 5 at about their own 36. Vick starts under center this time and takes a seven step drop. The Eagles are trying to set up a screen to the right side, but Washington gets a good push out of their linemen, forcing LeSean McCoy to have to take a wider swing to try and get into position for the pass. This disrupts the timing of the play, giving Oshiomogho Atogwe time to come in on Vick. He plays Vick intelligently, making sure Vick can't go left and get outside the rush, knowing that reinforcements are coming from Vick's right. Vick is hemmed in and goes down. I am not sure from looking at the video if Atogwe was running a delayed blitz or spying on Vick, although it looked like spying from the timing.
When the ball actually gets thrown, the Eagles have dangerous weapons. Jeremy Maclin was the main deep threat this game, but DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, and Jason Avant all contributed. The Redskins seemed to adjust at halftime, mainly by getting more pressure in the backfield, but the coverage also seemed to tighten up. Vick was not extremely accurate, only going 18/31 and averaging a pedestrian 7.6 yards per throw. The big question is how much of this was attributable to the Eagles having to use a jumbled offensive line with Peters out. Dallas is going to have to rush well while not losing lane discipline. If they can manage that, they can limit the damage. Covering the receivers is also a challenge, but the surprisingly competent play Dallas is getting out of the secondary should be up to the task.
LeSean McCoy had a very effective game running the ball, getting 126 yards on the designed rushing plays. The team was noticeably left-handed rushing. I only saw three or four plays where McCoy started to the right, while the other 24 or so attempts were evenly split between the middle and the left side (there were a couple of plays he got met in the backfield and I could not be sure where the play was intended to go). The majority of runs were out of a single back set, and they did try a direct snap to McCoy a couple of times. They must really like it, because Andy Reid called it a second time after the first one sailed over everyone's head and Vick had to scramble back to his own goal line, pick the ball up, and throw it away to salvage the situation. They then got bailed out on a helmet-to-helmet roughing the passer call which eventually led to a touchdown after a long drive. McCoy had a couple of good runs late after the Redskins had pulled to within seven, making sure the Eagles could run out the clock.
One thing that may have contributed to the success was that Washington put extra people in the box and left the middle of the field almost unmanned for most of the plays in an attempt to get more pressure on Vick by having extra rushers. It didn't pan out so well.
Check this stat out. 1st half time of possession: Eagles 21:38, Redskins 8:22. The Eagles were all over Sexy Rexy, and would eventually force him to the bench after four interceptions, ushering in the John Beck era in Washington. The announcers made a point of checking that Rex was not hurt, just no longer effective.
The foundation for the defensive performance was that they shut down the run from the beginning. Washington only got 42 yards total on the ground, and gave up on rushing early, only attempting to run the ball 14 times in the entire game. It was a combination of good defense, some penalties early on that put Washington in a hole, and an injury to Kory Lichtensteiger that forced Washington to shuffle it's O line early in the game. With the Redskins becoming one dimensional, the Eagles were able to bring pressure and then profit with the interceptions mentioned above.
The Eagles run a 4-3 and use the wide 9 formation which spreads the defensive alignment out to try to stop the run and put speed rushers out on the edges (go here for a good explanation over at Windy City Gridiron). Although there has been a lot of criticism in Philadelphia about whether going to it was a good idea, it was effective against the 'Skins.
Part of their success may be attributed to how they used a player that you may have heard of before if you were here in preseason. Nnamdi Asomugha was lined up wide, in the slot, and occasionally over the middle. And he had a play early on that was influential. On Washington's second possession, they were down by seven and had the ball on about their own 32, 3rd and 3. Rex was shotgun and he threw a pass to Chris Cooley in the left flat. The pass hung Cooley out a bit to a charging Nnamdi, who came in and hammered Cooley just short of the sticks. It was the only pass Cooley caught all day, as his index finger was shattered, leading to him being placed on IR this week. I have seen comments that Nnamdi and other secondary players for the Eagles don't tackle well, but this was a wicked and totally legal hit. And safety Kurt Coleman feasted on Grossman, getting three picks on the day. Rex never looked comfortable. Beck actually looked better and drove the team for its only touchdown, but it was a too little, too late situation.
One of Coleman's picks was very timely. I mentioned how VY came in and threw a pick on his only pass of the day. It gave Washington the ball at the Eagles 18, down 20-6, in the third quarter. Washington lost two yards on a run up the middle, and then Rex threw one of his interceptions to Coleman on a play where quarterback and receiver did not seem to be on the same page. It killed Washington's last chance to get back in the game in time to win.
Special Teams and Penalties
Philadelphia had zero kick and punt return yards. Zip. Nada. Nil. All the Redskins kickoffs were touchbacks and the punts were fair caught or not returned.
The Eagles did show a vulnerability on kickoff coverage, giving up 149 yards. The opening kick of the second half came out to the 40.
Penalties were a problem for both teams. I already mentioned how a roughing the passer call saved the Eagles and led to a touchdown. The Eagles got flagged eight times for 60 yards. They were, however, able to recover from most of them, with only a false start on the opening possession really killing things.
The team that played Washington did a good job, but Washington also put a hurt on themselves with their own mistakes. The Eagles that play the Cowboys this Sunday look to be in better shape than they were before the bye. I think that the Dallas D under Rob Ryan can handle Vick and company, and the emergence of DeMarco Murray along with the return of Montrae Holland will let the offense be effective.
But then I hate the Eagles.