Nick Foles left the field with the lead… and this time the defense finished the job.
Boy, was that some harrowing shit. And I think Julio Jones probably should have caught that 4th down pass… but he didn’t. And now we’re talking about the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field.
The big takeaway from this one is really easy; the Eagles were FAR from perfect and still found a way to get it done. If you told me earlier this week that they would miss an extra point and finish with a -2 turnover differential, I would have chalked it up as a loss, no doubt. But they really buckled down and overcame a sloppy start, with Jay Ajayi recovering from his early fumble (and Doug Pederson giving him the opportunity to do so). The defense played lights out all night long, holding the Falcons to just 10 points, all of which were scored off two turnovers.
The Birds did well in auxiliary areas to win this game. They won the possession battle, 32 to 28 minutes. They put together extended scoring drives of 14, 12, and 14 plays. The defense held Atlanta to a 4-13 (30.7%) third down conversation rate, well down from their league-leading 44.7% regular season number. Jones got his yards (101 on nine grabs), but didn’t find the end zone. All three units finished with just 4 penalties for 24 yards. And they even had some balls bounce their way, not the fumble on the punt, but the disallowed Mohamed Sanu catch, the Nick Foles fumble recovery, and the ridiculous completion that came off a Falcon safety’s knee, just like they drew it up.
And if you watched any post-game stuff on NBCSN or the NFL Network, you now understand that this team felt totally disrespected by the home dog designation they were given. In my experience, coaches and players say they don’t care about what the media or public says or does, but that’s rarely true, especially when they’re being written off. Clearly, they were motivated by the nationwide diss.
More importantly than anything I just wrote, I think the biggest positive is that you’re going into the NFC CHAMPIONSHIP game with this guy feeling a lot more confident about himself:
1. Nick Foles
His first five passes featured two interference calls and one horrendous sack. Later, he missed a wide-open Trey Burton on a 3rd and 5 and bumbled a handoff to LeGarrette Blount. He looked out of sorts early and I thought we were in for the same crapola that we witnessed against the Raiders and Cowboys.
But full credit to Nick “the franchise,” who moved the Birds down the field three times on sustained scoring drives. He finished 23-30 for 246 yards, and while he didn’t throw a touchdown pass, he didn’t turn it over either. Foles got Jake Elliott into position several times for scores, including a key sideline toss for Alshon Jeffery that allowed the Birds to snag a field goal just before halftime and take some momentum into the locker room.
On the 11-play, 2nd-half drive, Foles was 5 for 7 with a Jay Ajayi drop and a botched screen that he smartly threw into the ground. That was, by far, the best rhythm we’ve seen Foles in since he took over for Carson Wentz about a month ago. Doug Pederson called four runs and seven pass plays on the drive, trusting Foles to move the ball down the field, which he did with ease.
After the game, Foles was asked if he had anything to say to his doubters, to which he replied, “Honestly, I don’t need to.”
Someone, I’m not sure who, asked him a follow-up: “Why do you feel like you don’t need to say anything to them?”
“Because it doesn’t matter. They are doing their job, but it doesn’t affect how I play or what I believe. And ya’ll asked me last week, ‘am I confident in myself?’ Well, I am confident in myself because I know how hard we work and I know that we believe in one another in that locker room. So there is no need to waste my time to say anything about it because we went out there and played great team football. We played Philadelphia Eagle football tonight and that’s the most important thing. I don’t need to say anything else to anyone.”
I like it. That’s about as much as you’re gonna get from Nick, who is one of the most boring quotes of all time. But he can be the most boring quote of all time if he plays like he did last night. Carson Wentz is the same way.
2. The third drive
It was a thing of beauty. 14 plays, 86 yards, 6:44 on the clock.
They started with three straight runs for Ajayi, all coming from the shotgun. I wonder if it was designed that way to get clean exchanges with the running back and allow him to secure to the ball early. Whatever the case, it worked nicely.
On the fourth play, they gashed Atlanta with a nine-yard screen. From there, it was run/pass/pass/run/pass, leading to this beautiful play call for Nelson Agholor:
— ISE Football (@ISEFootball) January 14, 2018
Fake the toss, inside counter? Yes please.
Here’s Doug on that play:
“It’s a play we’ve actually had in our arsenal. We’ve had it up in game plans before this season. We just never got to it. We were in the right situation, I believe it was a third down when we called it and it was just the right time. We had been running the same play with our running backs, the exact same play with [RB] Jay [Ajayi] and [RB] LeGarrette [Blount] earlier in the game. This was just an opportunity for Nelly [Nelson Agholor] to put in his hands with [T] Lane [Johnson] as a puller and just executed extremely well.”
I don’t know about the red zone play calling, but they went pass/run/run from there, botching a hand off with some erroneous execution and thankfully jumping on the loose ball. On 4th down, they into the end zone on a stretch run with Blount.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was balanced, rhythmic, and featured a clutch third and fourth down conversion. That’s the type of stuff that wins you playoff games.
3. Running horizontally
That fourth down call was, ironically, an outside zone run play.
If you read any of these takeaway stories this year, I wrote a lot about how Blount just didn’t have a lot of success with these east/west designs, since he was more of a downhill runner and less of a horizontal gap-finder. He just had trouble turning upfield and hitting smaller holes.
And he wasn’t amazing on the TD run, where the real key was a fucking killer block thrown by Trey Burton of all people, who was lined up as a fullback. The Eagles went I-formation, stacked the line, and ran off tackle to the weaker side:
After 14 plays on the drive, the Eagles finally punch it into the endzone. pic.twitter.com/tJnPBaLitS
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) January 13, 2018
If Burton doesn’t take out LaRoy Reynolds on this play, Blount doesn’t get in:
They’ve had basically no success running that play this season, but got into the end zone with it last night.
We mentioned how Nick Foles did a bunch of run/pass option in Chip Kelly’s system. And Doug Pederson was smart to use it to get his QB into a rhythm, especially in the second half.
It was around 5:45 in the third quarter and the Eagles were down 10-9, backed up inside their own 10-yard line. After a short run to start the drive, Pederson called two straight RPO plays, and Foles nailed Jeffery twice in a row to move the chains and open up the field:
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Foles is comfortable in the same RPO looks that Wentz was, so lean on that going forward.
5. Getting some help
Shout out to Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who really helped the Birds on the final drive.
Well, I mean, he did get the Falcons all the way down the field, but his red zone calls left a lot to be desired. An incomplete shovel pass? That was an Andy Reid call. And then they split a fullback out to wide receiver?
You knew they were going to go to Julio Jones on the final play, which is what everyone should do, but they could have had four shots at Jones instead of three.
Bucky sums it up:
I don't know about that series of play-calls with the game on the line. A 50/50 fade, a shovel pass, a slant and a scramble "alley-oop"… A season full of preparation for that? #ATLvsPHI
— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) January 14, 2018
6. The defense
Really, what more is there to say?
I mentioned earlier that all 10 points were allowed off turnovers.
The defense also:
- held the Falcons scoreless on five straight drives to end the game (4 punts, turnover on downs)
- shut out Atlanta in the second half
- held Devonta Freeman to 7 rushing yards on 10 carries (Coleman had 10 for 79)
- kept Julio Jones out of the end zone
- limited Mohamed Sanu to one big play (a 24 yard gain)
- had 3 sacks, 8 tackles for loss, and 11 QB hits
And when it sometimes felt like the pass rush wasn’t getting to Matt Ryan, they would break through in key situations, getting a big sack on a third and five and getting another to end the third quarter.
The only teams to do a better job against the Falcons offense this year were the Patriots and Vikings.
7. Home field advantage
If you were at the game, give yourself a roaring round of applause. The crowd noise was phenomenal, at least from what I heard on television. And it didn’t sound like the fans were being mopey motherfuckers after the first fumble or the second fumble. They were in it 100%.
That manifested itself at least twice in situations that actually affected the game. On the second Falcons’ drive, they were attempting to convert on a 4th and 2, but took a delay of game penalty due to some confusion at the line. The resulting pass was incomplete, and they ended up gaining net yards from that punt, but the crowd made that happen.
They also forced a timeout in the second half when Matt Ryan had trouble communicating with partially deaf teammate Derrick Coleman, which was pointed out on the broadcast.
8. Doug’s worst call?
Mentioned it earlier, but I think the red zone calls on that amazing 3rd drive left a bit to be desired. That outside zone with Blount could have been disastrous.
I also don’t know why Jay Ajayi didn’t get a single snap on the 4th drive. I think that’s more on Duce Staley’s rotation.
I also didn’t get the decision to run the Jay Train at 3rd and 4 on the first drive of the second half. Felt like a spot to throw it there.
(If you’re wondering why I’m talking about Doug’s “worst calls” after a huge win, it’s because I do this entry every week, it’s a recurring thing)
9. Doug’s best call?
Going for it on 4th and goal during drive three.
Throwing the challenge flag on the Sanu catch.
The 12-play and 14-play scoring drives.
Finding a way to get Nick Foles into an RPO-infused rhythm.
Committing to Jay Ajayi even after the shitty fumble.
Calling a game a balanced run/pass game.
So on, and so forth.
Say it with me now, Doug Pederson, “NFL Coach of the Year.”
10. Dress down Saturday
Admittedly, I couldn’t hear much of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, since my uncles were yelling at the TV for most of the game, but I got a kick out of their attire:
— Steve Moore (@Smoore1117) January 13, 2018
Also, I can’t get enough of Jeff Lurie throwing down in the Eagles locker room:
JEFFREY LURIE A LEGEND FOR THIS pic.twitter.com/UmPSkusfDK
— drew (@Dcorrigan50) January 14, 2018
Be sure to join us this week as we preview the Eagles’ matchup against the Saints or Vikings.
Reporting live from Gilbertsville, Montgomery County, I’m Kevin Kinkead for Crossing Broad.