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Eagles Week 9: Even Manning Can’t Stop Post-Bye Success

November 8, 2010

Coming into the game against the Colts, there were two historical trends on the line for the Eagles.  The first was their performance in the post-bye week game under Andy Reid, in which they were 11-0.  The second was their performance against Peyton Manning who they were 0-3 against, and were essentially ripped to shreds in each game.

As it turns out, the post-bye magic won out, as the Eagles held on for a 26-24 victory. 

For this game, the Eagles schedule was in their favor.  They were coming off their bye, while the Colts had a short week after a Monday night win over the Texans.  That scheduling quirk might have been a factor in the Eagles getting off to a fast start.

LeSean McCoy ripped off a 62 yard run on the Eagles first play.  That would not be a harbinger of big things to come for McCoy though, as he was mostly shut down after that play.  Regardless, the run set up a TD pass to DeSean Jackson and the Eagles had an early lead. 

On the Colts’ next possession, Asante Samuel intercepted Manning, and returned the ball to the 9 yard line, and the Eagles had a chance to take a commanding early lead.  Unfortunately, they had to settle for a field goal and a 10 point lead.

The Eagles certainly had some troubles in the red zone in this game, as on three different occassions, they to kick short field goals.  And even in the fourth quarter, when they finally scored a touchdown on a Michael Vick quarterback sneak, it seemed like a monumental effort.

Coming into the game, the biggest question was the defense, which had been torched by the Titans in their last game.  Despite the Colts missing several key offensive players, there were concerned that Manning would be able to carve them apart. 

After a slow start, the Colts offense had their way with the Eagles in the second quarter.  They kept attacking with wide reciever screens (always a good plan of attack against the Eagles) and the Colts surged to a 17-16 halftime lead.

After halftime, the defense seemed to make some adjustments, and kept the Colts’ offense in check.  The Eagles looked to have the game in hand after a Manning fumble.  Unfortunately, a very questionable roughing the passer call on DE Trent Cole kept the Colts’ hopes alive and they were able to score a late touchdown to cut the deficit to 2 points.  On the Colts’ last drive, Samuel picked off Manning again to seal the victory.

The highlights

– Returning from injury, both QB Michael Vick and WR DeSean Jackson had strong games.  Vick made plays with his arm – the 58 yard pass to Jackson was as nice a throw as you’ll see – and his legs, as he picked up some key first downs while scrambling.  Jackson had 109 yards and a touchdown in his first game after suffering a concussion.

– The defense did an admirable job against Manning.  They confused him with varying coverages, sacked him three times, and intercepted him twice.  Even more impressively, they made some good adjustments after the Colts had some success in the second quarter.

– Special teams was a strength, as Jorrick Calvin had a nice kick return, David Akers made four field goals, and more importantly, they didn’t give up any long returns.  On the downside, punter Sav Rocca didn’t have a great game, as he had a couple of short punts.

The lowlights

– Matched against a strong Colts’ pass rush, the Eagles offensive line didn’t have a great day.  There was little room to run, Vick faced a lot of pressure, and their offense was limited because they needed to keep extra blockers in to help.

– As in just about every game this season, penalties were a huge issue, and almost cost them the game.  Of course, a couple of the penalties were questionable:

– The hit on Austin Collie actually looked to be legal.  Collie had possession of the ball, had turned his body, and really wasn’t “defenseless” anymore.  Plus, the initial hit by Quintin Mikell was shoulder to shoulder, with no helmet contact.  Collie then unfortunately, was knocked into Kurt Coleman’s helmet, but Coleman had no control over that.

I understand that with the recent emphasis on concussions and player safety, that the refs are going to err on the side of caution.  And people can talk all they want about making the game safer.  But ultimately, the game of football involves large, fast men hitting each other.  People are going to get hurt, and there’s only so much that can be done about it.

– The second questionable penalty came when Trent Cole’s hand slapped against Peyton Manning’s helmet.  Once again, I understand wanting to cut down on blows to the head.  But was this really a blow to the head?  The worst part was that the call almost cost the Eagles the game.

Bad Andy Reid Coaching Move of the Week

I think it’s gotten to the point that when Reid challenges a play, the officials have already half decided that Reid must be wrong.  His first challenge on an Austin Collie completion actually looked good, but the officials didn’t seem to agree.

In the fourth quarter, WR Jason Avant took a pass and stretched for the end zone, and it looked like he might have nicked the goal line with the ball.  The refs ruled him short, Reid challenged, and the ruling on the field stood.

Using a challenge in this situation is defensable.  Any time the play might result in a score, you can make a case for challenging the call.  And it was very close.  Also, knowing Reid, he might have called a timeout there to set up the next play.  If you’re going to call a timeout there, you might as well challenge the ruling.

But there are a few reasons why I wouldn’t have challenged there:

1. Using a team’s second challenge with most of the 4th quarter remaining is always dangerous, as the team will then have to rely on the accuracy of the officials until the two-minute warning.  Also, it’s never good to lose a timeout in a close game.

2. If you lose the challenge, it puts even more of a burden on the team to score the touchdown, as they’ll have wasted a challenge, a timeout, and only gotten a field goal or worse out of the deal.

3. I know you can never take a touchdown for granted, but when you’ve got Michael Vick as your quarterback in a 1st and goal from the one-inch line, you have to feel pretty comfortable about your ability to score.  As we saw, it is very difficult for an opponent to stop Vick from gaining just one yard on a scramble.  Sure, it was tough, but he eventually got it done.

The McNabb Report

Donovan McNabb and the Redskins had a bye, but that didn’t mean it was an uneventful week.  Coming off of his benching against the Lions, there has been talk that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan isn’t a fan of McNabb, and had suggested pulling him earlier in the season.

Apparently, Shanahan feels that McNabb’s skills do not fit his offensive scheme, and that his accumulative injuries have reduced his effectiveness.  It’s definitely not a good sign for McNabb that Shanahan feels that Rex Grossman is a better option to lead the offense.

I’ll chime in on head coach Mike Shanahan’s claims that (depending on the day) McNabb either couldn’t mentally handle the two-minute offense, or didn’t have the cardiovascular stamina to run it.

Like most Eagles fans, I can pretty much agree with either of those claims.  For most of his career, McNabb has never been a great two-minute or comeback quarterback.  (To an extent, this is a bit overrated.  Many times, a QB only needs to make a comeback because he played poorly up until that point.  Jake Plummer was known as a great comeback QB, but that was mostly because the three interceptions he threw earlier put the team in a hole)

I’ve seen too many McNabb-led drives in the “hurry-up” offense where the team seems to take forever to get set up.  It might have been due to Andy Reid’s deliberate style, or McNabb’s slow processing, (or really after ten years together, those probably became the same thing), but the Eagles never seemed to move with much urgency. 

 Plus, McNabb’s decision making in these situations was never that great.  He didn’t seem to realize that with the time running out, a four yard dump-off pass to a running back in the middle of the field might not be the best option, and that throwing the ball away could save valuable time.

As for his “cardiovascular conditioning,” most Eagles fans will think back to the Super Bowl and just nod their heads.

Elsewhere in the NFL

– The Giants have made a case for being the best team in the NFC, if not the NFL.  The Seahawks had been playing very well at home, but the Giants went in and scored at will.  The Eagles will face them twice in the second half of the season, and the NFC East could very well come down to the outcome of those two matchups.

– The Cowboys continued their freefall, dropping to 1-7 after a blowout loss to the Packers.  I sadly get the feeling that the Eagles will be facing the Cowboys at the wrong time.  Right now, the team seems hopeless.  But by the time the Eagles play them, they may have a new coach, and QB Tony Romo will be back, and the team may have rebounded itself into a spoiler mode.  On the other hand, the team seems to have no heart, and there’s a chance that they will have completely given up.

Eagles Next Opponent

The Eagles will travel to Maryland and face McNabb and the Redskins on Monday night.  In 2008, Reid benched McNabb against the Ravens.  His next game was a prime time game against the Cardinals, and he had a huge game, throwing four TD passes.  The Eagles have to hope that McNabb doesn’t respond in a similar fashion.

Final Analysis

The Eagles hit the halfway point of the season at 5-3.  While that puts them on a good path for a playoff spot, their fate will be determined in the second half of the season when they have five NFC East games.

And while it’s nice to beat a quality opponent like the Colts, next week’s divisional matchup against the Redskins is much more crucial to their season.

Still, this is a very positive way to end the first half, and the Eagles should now have confidence that they can play with, and beat any team in the NFL.

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