Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Observations from Week 15 Loss Against Minnesota Vikings
The opportunity to win couldn’t have been more present: Not only was reigning MVP Adrian Peterson sidelined with an ankle injury, but backup Toby Gerhart was out as well. The Vikings’ always-cycling quarterback wheel landed on Matt Cassel for the day with Christian Ponder sidelined due to a concussion. Best of all, red-hot QB Nick Foles got a secondary that was decimated with injuries (and not playing very well when healthy).
So to see the Eagles go out and give up 48 points in a devastating loss against a vastly inferior opponent was incredibly disheartening. Philly held the ball for just 23 minutes and committed nine total penalties for 94 yards.
It brought back memories of the awful Tuesday night loss to the Vikings three years ago, one in which the defense had no answer for then-quarterback Joe Webb. In this one, no-name running back Matt Asiata reached the end zone three times in the win, snapping a five-game winning streak for Philly and an even longer streak of the defense playing well.
It’s not the way the Eagles anticipated this game turning out. The day can still be salvaged should Green Bay knock off Dallas, but it’s looking more and more likely that the season will come down to the Week 17 matchup against the rival Cowboys, with the winner hosting a home playoff game in January.
This Loss Is Not on Nick Foles
Nick Foles was definitely not on his game today, and he looked rattled for much of the contest. He took four sacks, and most of those sacks were definitely on him for holding onto the ball too long and locking onto his receivers.
His passes sailed, he overthrew receivers and his interception was a brutally thrown pass down the sideline that has to be made. He also was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty for a low block he threw on DeSean Jackson’s touchdown run. And he left a lot of yards out there on the field, even with a subpar performance from the offensive line.
But the loss can’t possibly be blamed on Foles. He led the Philadelphia Eagles to three touchdowns and three field goals. Thirty points should be enough to win any NFL game.
If the defense had simply duplicated any of the last nine games, that’s a solid 30-20 win. Foles threw for a career-high 428 yards while rushing for 41 more. He passed for three touchdowns to a single interception and converted 50 percent of the team’s third-down opportunities. Much of Foles’ yardage was in garbage time, but it says a lot about the QB that he can put up those numbers on an off day.
In fact, Foles was just the fifth quarterback in league history to throw for at least 425 yards and rush for 40 in the same game. He’s now at 26 total touchdowns to just two picks for the season, he’s threatening the single-season record for passer rating and he’s 7-2 in games in which he’s seen significant action.
The final two games will really show a lot about Foles. He’s bound to regress to the mean statistically, but if he keeps winning football games, no one will care. The key for Foles will be playing at a consistently high level, especially considering the Eagles need to win in both Week 16 and 17 to play in January.
The Secondary Can Return Their Paychecks to the Organization
Game film session won’t be fun for the Philadelphia Eagles defense. Against backup quarterback Matt Cassel and third-string running back Matt Asiata, the Eagles allowed 48 points and 455 total yards.
Cassel looked like a franchise quarterback, completing 26-of-35 passes for 382 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The only other QB to complete at least 74 percent of his throws and average at least 10.9 yards per attempt against Philly was Phil Simms back in 1984.
Cassel even ran three times for 19 yards and a touchdown, giving him three total scores and over 400 yards of offense. That’s a pretty good day for a backup quarterback. Cassel picked on the Eagles defense all day, whether it was Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher or the inexplicably awful Patrick Chung. Once Brandon Boykin got hurt, the Eagles didn’t have a chance. Then again, they weren’t doing very well when he was still in the game.
Philly’s front seven held Asiata to just 51 rushing yards on 30 carries, which is actually the second-lowest single-game total in NFL history for a back with at least 30 rush attempts. But Asiata found the end zone three times, and that was the end result. The Eagles were just the eighth team since 2000 to allow at least 370 passing yards and four rushing touchdowns in the same game.
The lack of a shutdown corner in the secondary really cost the team. Cary Williams has played surprisingly well in 2013, but his upcoming cap hits ($6.4 million in ’14, $8.1 million in ’15) suggest he may need to restructure to come back to the Eagles. What Billy Davis needs for his defense is a true shutdown cornerback who can lock on with the opponent’s No. 1 receiver and simply take him out of the game, as well as another pass-rushing specialist to get to the quarterback.
LeSean McCoy Needs to Be Given a Bigger Role
This game seemed like something out of the Andy Reid chapter.
Chip Kelly called 52 passing attempts to just 13 rushes. Take away Nick Foles’ five scrambles, and that’s 52 pass plays to just eight rushing plays, and this is with an All-Pro in LeSean McCoy in the backfield, a player leading the National Football League in rushing yards.
McCoy carried eight times for 38 yards, giving him a solid average of 4.8 yards per rush. That’s by far the fewest rushing attempts he’s ever gotten as a feature back. He did catch five passes for 68 yards, meaning he still totaled 106 yards on 13 touches.
But it’s perplexing why Kelly called so few rush attempts for McCoy. It’s not as if the carries went to Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. Those two players didn’t carry the football once. And McCoy rushed for a single-game franchise-record 217 yards last week, pretty much putting the team on his back in the fourth quarter.
Something Needs to Be Done About the Special Teams Coverage Unit
The Philadelphia Eagles spent the entire game avoiding lethal kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, and as a result, Patterson didn’t break any big returns. In fact, he didn’t return a single kick, with players like Chase Ford, Jarius Wright, Jerome Felton, and Joe Banyard fielding the short kicks.
But kicking ridiculously short to avoid Patterson’s returns isn’t a long-term solution for Philly. After seeing Jeremy Ross torch the coverage units last week, special teams coach Dave Fipp made sure that didn’t happen again. The problem though was that the average Minnesota drive following an Eagles score started at the 33-yard line.
Next week, the Eagles play the Chicago Bears and Devin Hester. Hester has been arguably the greatest return man in league history. So will the Eagles kick short all game again? At some point, the coverage units need to be competent enough to face a talented returner and still hold him without a big return.
The Season Finale at Dallas Is Looming Large
Even with their devastating loss today, the Philadelphia Eagles control their own fate. By winning next week against Chicago, the Eagles can enter the Week 17 showdown with Dallas at a 9-6 record and looking to win the NFC East title.
These two teams certainly have a history of meeting in the final game; after all, Philly spanked Dallas 44-6 in 2008, then choked away a 24-0 game the next season (and lost in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs the following week to end the Donovan McNabb era).
This game will be far and above the most important game of both Chip Kelly and Nick Foles’ careers. Foles has played tremendous football off the bench in 2013, but he can’t possibly escape the criticism as a lame duck against the Cowboys until he beats them.
Likewise, Kelly has put Philly in an improbable position to bounce back from a 4-12 season and win the division, but dwindling away a title after its recent success would leave a sour taste in Eagles’ fans mouths heading into the offseason.