It’s been an interesting week for Chip Kelly’s Eagles. The New York Giants built up to their NFC East showdown with Philadelphia by talking trash all week and literally stomping on the midfield Eagle logo right before the game. Chip Kelly lost a shoe and jumped on Jason Peters’ back. The Eagles released a silly cartoon of Eagles-linemen-ghosts haunting Eli Manning and giving him a wedgie, leading to even sillier complaints by the New York media about mean Eagles who encouraged bullying. And a drunk female Eagles fan stole a guy’s leg.
Oh yeah, there was a football game too. After the Giants symbolically stomped on the Eagles, the Eagles literally stomped back, shutting out New York 27-0, sacking Eli Manning and Ryan Nassib eight times, and destroying the Giants’ hopes of a return to greatness.
We’ve been wondering what the Eagles could do if they put together a complete game, four quarters with all three units contributing, and this was the answer: they’re dominating.
“Inside the NFL” created a beautiful segment with film of various Eagles’ players and coaches mic’ed up during the game. Seriously, stop reading this for a second and go watch it.
It starts with one of the best Chip-isms ever — “Culture wins football. Culture beats scheme, every time.” And the game bore it out. The Giants came in on a winning streak based on their new offensive scheme, featuring quick, short passes to keep Eli from getting rattled. Philadelphia came in working together, sacrificing ego for the team, shrugged off all of New York’s petty provocations, and beat the tar out of them.
(They had a pretty good scheme answer, too, with tight press coverage, lots of nickel and dime packages and a fierce pass rush to re-rattle the lesser Manning.)
They weren’t perfect — Nick Foles threw two stupid interceptions, one without appearing to even look in the direction of the receiver — but they were pretty damned close. The pass rush was incredible, adding three forced fumbles to the eight sacks.
There are a lot of professional pessimists among Eagles fans, and one of their main complaints all summer and into the first three games of this season was that the Eagles pass rush was terrible. I think that overstated the situation — the Birds seemed to lead the league in near-misses when pressuring the passer, and did well with batted balls — but there was no doubt that they had few sacks to show for it.
In 2013 they had only 37 sacks for the season, 20th in the league and only 6 better than #32 Jacksonville. Fans and writers wanted a big sack monster in the draft, but somehow Jadeveon Clowney was not still available at #22. Philadelphia took the best prospect remaining, but Marcus Smith II is more of a project with a high-upside than an immediate impact player.
Well, it turns out that they didn’t need another player. They needed to develop the ones they already had, and let everyone get more comfortable in the deceptive front scheme that Billy Davis favors. It’s built around having almost every defender capable of rushing or dropping into coverage, which should make it hard for offenses to design protection schemes.
The problem is that the Eagles had a lot of one-dimensional players, mostly penetrating rushers (think Brandon Graham, Trent Cole, and Vinny Curry) without much ability to cover. That ruins the whole point of the deception; offenses could just look at these players and know they were going to rush. Many thought Graham was sure to be traded or even cut as a result.
Not any more. All three of those players are vastly better at coverage after a year in the system, which lets Connor Barwin rush and the defensive backs blitz and makes Billy Davis’ scheme a reality. The Eagles now lead the league in forced fumbles and solo tackles, and are second in sacks with 19 (vs. Detroit’s 20). Barwin had three just by himself on Sunday.
Offensively, the recovering offensive line made all the difference, even if two starters remained out. This was the first time Philly has had the same lineup for two games in a row this year, and it showed. They opened holes for LeSean, who responded with 145 yards and jumped from 15th to fourth in the league in just one game. The running attack opened up the pass game, and special teams remained strong. Sproles had a 43-yard punt return, and it was the third game in a row with a blocked punt.
Now comes the bye week and a chance to heal and rest. It will be tough when they get back, starting with a game on the road in Arizona that I’ll be covering from the press box, with games against Green Bay, Carolina, Dallas and Seattle after that.
But this team is starting to look like one that could go deep into the playoffs and maybe even have a bye in the first round. Schemes can change, but their culture isn’t going anywhere.
Feature photo: Zach Ertz’ perfect touchdown pass, from video (courtesy of NFL.com)