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Fan-Demonium: Late-Season Redemption

Posted Dec 28, 2011

Fan-Demonium

The Eagles gave us all a nice gift on Christmas Eve with the win over Dallas.  It was fun to watch the Cowboys struggle all game long while the Eagles clicked and played a pretty good game.  That win was the third in a row for the Eagles.  Unfortunately, the win falls into the category of too little, too late.  Still, beating Dallas is always a good thing. 

One criticism from some people is that the Eagles barely faced key starters Tony Romo and Felix Jones.  That is true, but let's examine the point.  Romo was knocked out of the game.  He wanted to come back in, but the shots of his hand on the sideline made it look like a baseball glove.  Had he returned, there is no telling if he would have been effective at all.  Plus, it isn't like the pass rushers weren't going to hit him again.  Jones was pulled from the game when it became clear that the outcome wouldn't affect the race for the division title. 

Do you remember last year when the Eagles faced Dallas on the last Sunday of the season?  The Eagles had already clinched the NFC East title so most of the starters sat out the entire game.  The Cowboys had Stephen McGee at quarterback, but the rest of the team was starters.  That game was far different from what you saw on Saturday.  The Eagles backups outplayed the Cowboys starters for most of the game and led 13-7 late.  Jason Witten caught a late touchdown pass to give Dallas a 14-13 lead, but that was a hollow victory.  Their starters should have easily won that game, but they struggled. 

When the Eagles were faced with playing against some backups, they didn't play down to the competition at all.  The Eagles dominated the game on Saturday, outgaining Dallas 386 to 238 in total yards.  Anyone who watched the game could clearly see the Eagles were the superior team.  They did what they were supposed to do. 

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He was a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award and is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com

I was broken-hearted that the Eagles didn't secure the shutout.  They led Dallas 20-0 late in the game.  The Eagles kept Dallas from scoring and got the ball back.  The offense went three-and-out and Dallas was able to deflect the punt, putting themselves in good field position.  They scored a touchdown with 12 seconds left in the game.  Oh, the misery.  I've desperately wanted a shutout for years and years.  The last one was a 24-0 win over the Giants in December of 1996.  That seems like a million years ago. 

One of the things that makes me happy about the three-game winning streak is that the Eagles are getting contributions from a lot of different players.  Riley Cooper delivered the big play on the opening drive when he made an acrobatic catch downfield.  That led to the first touchdown.  The other touchdown was set up by a catch and run from Jason Avant

I think it is also great that some players who struggled early in the year are now finding their groove.  Casey Matthews wasn't ready to start back in September, but has proven to be a good nickel linebacker.  Keenan Clayton was inactive not all that long ago, but now is a valuable cover linebacker.  Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suddenly looks like a star cornerback.  The guy who struggled in the slot is long gone.  Phillip Hunt was a non-factor early in the year.  He's playing good football now.  He didn't have a sack against Dallas, but drew a key holding call that helped to stall a drive and was disruptive on several other plays.  Nate Allen is a player who's come under heavy criticism (which I disagree with).  He had three tackles and broke up a couple of passes on Saturday. 

You've all heard the old saying that "you're either part of the problem or part of the solution."  There were a lot of reasons the Eagles started 1-4 and played so poorly.  There have been some personnel changes, but mostly it was the players and coaches working together to find a way to turn things around.  The young guys could have hung their heads and gotten frustrated with the situation.  They didn't.  They worked hard and found a way to contribute.  The players decided to be part of the solution. 

Andy Reid and his staff are old school coaches in the sense that if you don't practice well, you won't play.  Players are also expected to perform well on special teams.  Akeem Jordan did well in kick coverage and that helped him to get back into the starting lineup.  Clayton started to shine on special teams and that got him a role on defense.  Matthews used special teams and practice to get his role.  Hunt is a player the coaches noticed in practice.  That led to him getting snaps.  These players aren't just getting on the field.  They are contributing in games, in wins. 

The Eagles really got the best of Dallas in both games by controlling the line of scrimmage.  The Cowboys spent a top 10 pick on right tackle Tyron Smith.  That was a good pick.  Smith has great potential.  On Saturday he was beaten by Hunt on a pass play and that drew a yellow flag.  Smith was beaten on a third-and-short running play by Cullen Jenkins, who stuffed the back for minimal gain if any.  The Cowboys spent a lot of money in the off-season to keep Doug Free at left tackle.  He struggled with Trent Cole all game long.  Cole had seven tackles, a sack and a tackle-for-loss.  Cole was credited with three quarterback hits.  Backup right end Darryl Tapp also had a tackle-for-loss and quarterback hit.  When Dallas gets that kind of play from their two best blockers, you know things are not going well. 

The Dallas defensive line was better than that, but still not great.  Mike Vick had plenty of time to sit in the pocket and scan the field.  There was a pass play late in the first half when Vick had five seconds with no rusher near him.  That gave me nightmare flashbacks to 2003 when the Eagles tried to rush the passer with N.D. Kalu and Marco Coleman.  Forget “The Exorcist,” that's true horror. 

Speaking of players who have "redeemed" themselves, rookie Danny Watkins has settled in nicely at right guard.  His pass blocking is still a work in progress, but Watkins is showing people why he was so highly rated by many prior to the draft.  Watkins wasn't ready for the move to guard or life in the NFL back in August, but he never quit working.  I think you also have to give a lot of credit to line coach Howard Mudd for spending a lot of time with Watkins and getting him to improve so much in the middle of a season. 

Kicker Alex Henery is another guy who has improved greatly during the season.  He missed a pair of easy field goals in a one-point loss to the Niners.  That game could end up being the difference between the Eagles making the playoffs and sitting at home.  There were other games that also cost the Eagles, but that one especially hurts.  The Eagles led 23-3 and lost 24-23.  Henery had a pair of chip shot field goals that he missed.  Bobby April worked with Henery on his fundamentals and that has paid off.  Henery hit from 43 and 51 yards out in Dallas.  He is now 22-of-25 on the season.  His kickoffs are going deep on a regular basis.  You are now seeing why the Eagles spent a fourth-round pick on this guy. 

This season has been a disappointment.  There is no sugar-coating that.  I am encouraged by the fact that the players never quit and so many young players worked through their struggles to now be part of the winning streak and greatly improved play. There is a final game left this year, but the 2012 season can't get here fast enough.

For more dead-on analysis from Tommy Lawlor, check out the Fan-Demonium archive.

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