“Beat Dallas” didn’t work out very well, despite Josh Huff’s epic 44 yard catch and run, and the Eagles need to draw an inside straight to make the playoffs — winning both remaining games, while Dallas loses at least one.
It could happen, since Dallas faces Indianapolis Sunday and the Cowboys’ star running back, DeMarco Murray, broke his hand during a long day of pummeling by Philadelphia’s tough rush defense. The Eagles face the dregs of their division, Washington on Saturday and the NY Giants after Christmas, but you can’t count on either as a guaranteed win.
Any division team is difficult to sweep, since teams know each other so well. Washington has a ton of talent, despite the colorful dysfunction that has coach Jay Gruden openly mocking various players on his squad. You’ll remember earlier in the year when he said that DeSean Jackson was not much use if less than 100%, since he’s “already a very terrible blocker.”
This year, Gruden has managed to ridicule (and bench) all three of his quarterbacks, starting with Kirk Cousins. Now that Colt McCoy has gone from being signed as a free agent 3rd stringer to starting to a season-ending injury, his coach is stuck with RGIII again. He might be dangerous if the Eagles’ pass rush doesn’t recover from its poor showing against Dallas. Some people speculate that Philadelphia might pick up Griffin from Washington’s recycling pile this summer, so it could even be a sort of long form tryout for Griffin.
So how does Gruden motivate his current QB? By insulting him, of course. A month ago, just before benching Griffin, Gruden said:
“His biggest thing, he’s been coddled for so long… Some adversity is striking hard at him now, and how he reacts to that off the field, his mental state of mind, how it affects his confidence, hopefully it’s not in a negative way.”
No, why would his confidence be hurt by those comments? Wait, there was more. Griffin’s still young, right? Second year quarterback?
“He’s auditioned long enough. Clock’s ticking. He’s got to play. We want Robert to excel, we really do. But the last two games, it hasn’t been very good, anywhere. … His footwork was below average. He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three, on a couple occasions, and that can’t happen. He stepped up when he didn’t have to step up, and he stepped into pressure. He read the wrong side of the field a couple times. So, from his basic performance, just critiquing Robert, it’s not even close to being good enough to what we expect from the quarterback position.”
And then he benched him four days later. Now with McCoy injured and Cousins — who lit up the Eagles in game three this year — even deeper in the doghouse, Gruden is stuck with him. So is he going to make nice? No. He told NFL.com that they have to make sure RGII never has to drop back and pass if they want to win.
“It’s important for us to have success on first and second down so we don’t have to drop back and throw it 30 times a game, have a lead so we don’t have to worry about it. [Otherwise] the drop-back reads, progressions have to be accomplished, and that’s something we’re fighting through right now.”
Maybe this is some kind of genius motivational reverse psychology, though Washington’s 3-11 records suggests not. What’s odd is that Griffin’s passing numbers aren’t that bad — 69.3% completion rate and 7.59 YPC, compared to only 65.6% and 8.14 YPC in his rookie of the year season.
So that’s good news for the Eagles, especially since Washington has given up the second most sacks in the NFL this year (nearly 4 a game with 53 total, compared to Philadelphia’s 25, and the Eagles are poised to feast). The bad news is that Philadelphia remains weak at both cornerback positions and one of two safeties, which won’t change this year. Dallas knew exactly how to exploit that with 3 TDs on the right side to Dez Bryant.
Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis was criticized for not doubling Bryant all game. (He did on half the passing downs.) The problem is, when they did double him, TE Jason Witten ran rampant. The veteran tight end converted three 3rd down plays on a single drive in the first quarter against Nate Allen and Malcolm Jenkins, forcing Davis to compensate. He could have switched Fletcher with another CB, but which one? Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll already have CB jobs in the nickel and dime packages, respectively. While they could play outside, Fletcher isn’t trained to cover their roles inside, and he’s not quick enough anyway.
The reality is that the Eagles still have major holes in their talent, especially at DB and ILB. That won’t change this year, no matter what clever decisions the coaches make.
Chip Kelly invites fans to expect miracles. He does things like taking the Oregon Ducks to the national championship game even after kicking the starting quarterback off the team — in his second year ever as head coach. Last year, he turned Nick Foles — a struggling rookie 3rd rounder — into a Hall of Fame quarterback.
But Kelly isn’t magic, and sometimes the results he gets are exactly what you’d expect. Foles regresses to the mean for a young 3rd round pick. A bad secondary gets abused by a very skilled QB and WR combo. A waived and much-mocked backup quarterback plays unevenly and can’t deliver in a big clutch game with everything on the line.
That’s normal. And I can live with normal. Washington, headed for its second 3-13 year in a row, shows how much worse than normal it can get. We’ve grown to expect miracles from Chip, and sometimes we just get normal football. The good news is that normal is his floor, and his ceiling is miracles.
Top photo by Matthew Staubmuller
Mark Saltveit’s newest book is “Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution” (Diversion Books, NY) has been recently released. He is the author of “The Tao of Chip Kelly” (2013) and writes on science, religion, wordplay and political scandals. He is also a standup comedian and the world palindrome champion.
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