EAGLES LOOK TO GET OFFENSE BACK ON TRACK AGAINST DALLAS, ALSHON NEEDS A LITTLE LOVE TOO
The way people reacted, one might think last week’s 19-10 win over the Oakland Raiders Christmas night at frigid Lincoln Financial Field was the worst loss of the season.
The Eagles clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs and, despite the loss of League MVP candidate Carson Wentz for the year to a torn ACL are still looked in many national pundits circles as a favorite to at least play in the NFC title game.
Since the end of the third quarter against the Rams in Los Angeles on December 10, Nick Foles has been under center and hasn’t lost.
He rallied the Eagles on two scoring drives in the fourth quarter against the Rams – both resulted field goals – to help the Birds come from behind and win 43-35. The victory clinched the NFC East title.
Against the Giants the following week, Foles threw four touchdown passes to lead the Eagles to a tougher-than-it-should-have-been 34-29 win over the New York Football Giants. That decision clinched a first round bye in the playoffs.
While the defense played poorly against the Rams and Giants, many Eagles fans felt the Birds defense was just going through a late season faze and would be fine. They were right.
All anyone cared about was how would Foles do running the offense in place of Wentz.
Eagles fans wanted to know if the dream of a Super Bowl still alive? Based on his first two outings, Eagles Nation became believers again or at least optimistic their team could still pull this off.
But the Oakland game cast a shadow of doubt over those dreams when Foles and the Eagles offense threw out a clunker of a game that went down to the wire with Jake Elliott booting a 48-yard field goal with 22 seconds left in the game. Derek Barnett scored on an Oakland fumble after time had run out.
Foles was 19 of 38 for just 163 yards, one touchdown pass and one interception. He was sacked twice.
The rushing attacked was just as bad. The Birds only rushed 21 times for a team total of 78 yards. Jay Ajayi carried 14 times for 52 yards.
But the worst stat of the night went to Alshon Jeffery: Zero catches, two targets.
At his Thursday press conference Foles talked about Jeffery and what he plans to do this week against
the Cowboys and about the passing game in general.
“I think the big thing is on first and second down, it’s really important to get completions, stay inside the chains,” Foles said. “I think we went to a lot of second-and-long, third-and-long, and that puts you in a tough position. Second-and-seven, that’s better than second-and-10. It’s little things like that where it’s all correctable. Obviously be aggressive down field, but if it’s not there, get it to the check down right away.”
It took several weeks into the season before Wentz really started to connect with Jeffery. Wents and now Foles had to realize that regardless of the coverage and how tight it may be Jeffery feels he is always open….and based on the results…it’s true.
“Alshon is a dynamic receiver that can make a lot of plays,” Foles said. “I definitely need to target him more. Spreading the ball around is important but so is making sure I get Alshon opportunities to make plays. He has the ability when he is covered or even double covered to make plays.
“The big thing is that looking back,” Foles continued. “I noticed it’s hard to cover Alshon. Even when he is covered he is not covered. That’s something that I will move forward with.”
Jeffery didn’t seem too upset when asked about the comments made by Foles.
“Whatever he said, I’m down with it,” Jeffery said Thursday. “No matter what he says I’m still going to come out and play. Whether I’m covered or not, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to play my game, he’s got to come out and play his game. That’s all that really matters.”
Jeffery said he believe there is chemistry there.
“We’ve got some chemistry from the game and from practice,” Jefferey said. “It was just one of those games where the coverage dictated what happens. I still feel confident…we’re good.”
The running game? Offensive coordinator Frank Reich was asked about a decline in production, it looks like the running game hasn’t been as effective, as productive the last four games or so than earlier in the season. From his standpoint, what does he see?
“I see that in the run game there are still a lot of positive signs,” Reich said. “It tends to come and go in waves. We’re still extremely confident in the schemes and the players and getting it done. Feel like we’ve made good progress. Always trying to find new ways and creative ways to put players in position [to succeed], and that’s our job as coaches and we’ll continue to do that.
Does Reich feel like he or head coach Doug Pederson got away from running the ball maybe a little too early on Monday night?
“I just think generally speaking we were a little bit out of sync and a little bit out of rhythm on offense,” Reich said. “We were struggling to make first downs. When you struggle on third down, it’s hard to get into a rhythm, and that was the big problem the other day.”
Going back to Jeffery, Reich was asked what he was going to do to get Jeffery more involved this week against the Cowboys and going forward.
“I think it really comes back to being better on third down,” Reich said. “Not that we can’t find other ways to get him the ball on first and second down. I own that. We own that. Let’s get Alshon the football. And I think as drives go, when you’re making first downs and moving the ball down the field, when we’re at our best, that’s what we do. We possess the ball. We lead the NFL in time of possession for two straight years, and because we know how to make first downs, we know how to stay on the field. When that doesn’t happen, you just get out of sync. The ball doesn’t get distributed in the same way. For us, it comes down to being good on third down, being good in the red zone, just to get more opportunities to spread the ball around.”
Rookie wide receiver Mack Hollins has a message for all those who complained about the Oakland win and that everyone should focus on one fact.
“We won by more than one point,” Hollins said. “And that’s all that matters.”
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii