ONCE again the Eagles are back at the head of the division, and please don’t start with how “unsexy” the division is. Your car isn’t a Rolls Royce, but you still love it and fuss over it, right? Well in that same spirit, this division may not be the NFC West, but we’re gonna drive this motherfucker ’til the wheels fall off.
Yes, yes, I know! That’s not to say that the East is ours free and clear. We still have one more payment to make on it. And it’s due next week.
Despite all the missing weapons, QB Carson Wentz (31/40 – 77.5% – 319 – 1 – 0) led his team to (what right now is) the signature game of his career. That’s not to say that he was without help. For the second week in a row, rookie RB Miles Sanders (20 – 79 – 3.9 – 1 – 0 / 5 – 77 – 15.4 – 0) put up 150+ yards from scrimmage.
Stepping up for TE Zach Ertz (4 – 28 – 7.0 – 0) who injured his ribs early on, was TE Dallas Goedert (9 – 91 – 10.1 – 1). Geodert hit pay dirt with a 6 yard dart from Wentz. Don’t look now, but WR Greg Ward (4 – 71 – 17.7 – 0) may be trying to coax Wentz into throwing the ball down the stripe a little more, after breaking off a 38 yard gain for his QB. Even rookie WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside (2 – 39 – 19.5 – 0) made a declaration of sorts, by opening the game with a 27 yard grab, and catching both balls thrown to him.
Defensively, the stat line for MLB Nigel Bradham (2 – 0 – 0 – 0) doesn’t tell how instrumental he was in rendering Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (13 – 47 – 3.6 – 0 – 0 / 7 – 37 – 5.2 – 0) ineffectual for the day. The same can be said for DT Fletcher Cox (3 – 0 – 0 – 1). It’s a shame that the fumble he forced, didn’t turn into points.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until it happens. DE Vinny Curry (2 – 1.0 – 0 – 0) needs to be brought back in 2020.
DE Josh Sweat (2 – 1.0 – 0 – 0) is justifying the coaches patience with him, and is starting to look like the steal he was drafted to be. (Though he has a tendency to flirt with neutral zone infractions. Crown of your helmet Josh!) DT Anthony Rush (1 – 0 – 0 – 0) gives us a physical presence inside that makes it hard for a run game to get traction. I thought I saw him make a Tackle For Loss, but the (generous) spotting of the ball made it a run for no gain. In fact, Bradham (1), Curry (1) and Sweat (2) all had TFL’s. Just what we needed against this team.
Much maligned CB Sidney Jones (1 – 0 – 0 – 0), made yet another excellent play on the ball, in a critical fourth down situation. In fact, the play he made was potentially what saved the game, and possibly the season. He still tackles like a young Deion Sanders, but if he can get his confidence back up, we may have a guy that we can trade out of the conference. (Tackling is too important to risk keeping him.)
I hear you asking, “What about all the stuff that stats don’t reveal?” Well, that’s the reason for these “Four Things” articles. To introduce an idea of what needs addressing BEFORE the game, so that fans have to honestly answer questions about those things, AFTER the game. This helps to get us, and keep us, all on the same page.
So, of the Four Things we were looking for in this last game, what exactly did we see?
1) Keep Bradham clean: Our D-Line not only kept Bradham from having to fight off offensive linemen, they made plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage! This was the deluxe version of what we needed here. (DONE)
2) Force them into their base defense: Apparently the Eagles coaches and I see things very similarly. According to a Next Gen stat that was put up on the television screen, deep into the 4th quarter, the Eagles had run 2TE formations, 56% of the game. That forced the Cowboys to play newcomer OLB Malcolm Smith (2 – 0 – 0 – 0) clearly more than they wanted to. So much so that at one point you could see that he was visibly winded. This allowed us to victimize him several times. Good show! (DONE)
3) Gut the middle: The idea was to keep them in their base, and make their LB’s play chase all day long. If they’re chasing, they aren’t dictating the action or making big plays. So we made them chase TE’s, and we forced them to follow Sanders all around the formation. We also threw 6 passes to RB Boston Scott (3 – 12 – 4.0 – 0 – 0 / 6 – 7 – 1.1) and he caught all of them. Almost all of them were routes towards the sideline to force LB’s into lateral coverage, or pull a Nickel out of position. We even ran Wentz a couple times on designed runs. Worked like a charm, and the Cowboys stayed off-balance all game. (DONE)
4) Don’t over-commit vs the run: Since the front seven played well enough on it’s own, there wasn’t much call for that. We showed some heavy fronts, but they never really brought the house aside from short yardage moments. We did a lot of “threaten and bail”, which forced Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (25/44 – 56.8% – 265 – 0 – 0) to read our coverages more often than film study would have suggested was necessary. We didn’t over-commit to the run, and made it harder for him to throw the ball against us. (DONE)
For the third time this year, we nailed a perfect 4 of 4 for the week, boosting our season tally to 34 of 60 (.566). Next week we can clinch the NFC East and a home playoff game with a win vs the giants. That game by the way, has been FLEXED from 1:00 pm to 4:25 pm.
On The Whole:
We’ve been a team in need of consistency for weeks now. Recently our QB play has gotten more stable and creative. Carson was moved around a lot today. Bootlegs, called QB runs, split out wide… Everything except QB Sneaks. (Weird, right?)
Play at RB has become more dynamic recently. I said after the Miami game that Sanders reminded me of Brian Westbrook. Weeks later, I stand by that. He is effective both with, and without the ball in his hands.
Lots of people want to draw a comparison between he and LeSean McCoy, probably due to body type. However, young McCoy was a more dangerous natural runner, but needed the football to make plays. Sanders is a much scarier draw out-wide, than McCoy ever was.
And then there’s situational football. As you could see on Sanders “Take a Knee 2.0” today, for him making the play isn’t always about what you do as a runner. He gave up a TD in exchange for sealing a win.
Defensively we need to decide on who we are. If we’re going to be a team that doesn’t rush 5, we need to scheme more rushes or packages that actually get hands the QB more. For two years I’ve been saying that we don’t cover long enough for the rush to get home. That wasn’t true today.
If we’re going to affect games, dictate action and cause turnovers, we need our Defense to be more sudden. Our plodding pass rush of the last month has to improve if we intend to make any noise in January.