Quarterback problems leave Eagles at a loss

Posted: October 29, 2013

CHIP KELLY didn't need to look at the tape yesterday to come up with an answer to the barrage of what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-your-offense questions at his postgame news conference.

It's the quarterbacks, stupid.

"When you're unsettled at quarterback, it's real difficult," he said after his zoom-zoom-zoom offense cough-cough-coughed for the second straight week in an ugly, 15-7 loss to the Giants.

"You better have a quarterback. Right now, we're unstable at the quarterback spot and we are not playing well at the quarterback spot. And we lost our last two games because of it."

Actually, Kelly has three quarterbacks - concussed Nick Foles, hamstrung Michael Vick and inexperienced Matt Barkley. But none of them is playing worth a damn.

In the last two games, they've combined for no touchdown passes, six turnovers, a .536 completion percentage and a 41.7 passer rating.

That sound you heard was the Eagles' scouting staff running to catch planes to Eugene, Ore., and College Station, Texas, and other college locales of projected first-round quarterbacks.

"If we can't execute what we need to execute, just getting the ball on people when guys are getting open and giving them a chance to make plays, then I think it becomes a real difficult deal," Kelly said.

"When you're running the Eagles' offense or anybody else's offense in the NFL, if you have instability at the quarterback spot . . . we have to figure things out as a coaching staff to make sure we score enough points the way our defense is going right now."

In their first six games, the Eagles' offense was one of the most prolific in the league. Had its problems in the red zone but still averaged 449.8 yards and 27.6 points per game.

But in the last two games, they have scored a total of 10 points and have failed to score an offensive touchdown. The last time they failed to score an offensive TD in two straight games was the second and third games of the Andy Reid era in 1999.

"I didn't think that would ever happen, but it did," right guard Todd Herremans said. "And we've got to figure out what's going on and go from there.

"I thought we had plays that would work. We just didn't deliver. The offense got shut out the whole game pretty much. Poor play on our part. The defense played well. Special teams played well. We've got to pick up our side of ball and score some points."

"It's definitely frustrating," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "We have to figure it out. It's something that we're not doing. We've got to figure it out whatever it is.

"Last week, we didn't play well enough to execute in certain situations. Today, we had an opportunity in the red zone and squandered it by turning it over. We're just not making plays at the right time. Not putting ourselves in position to win."

The squandered opportunity in the red zone was an ugly fumble by Barkley on the Eagles' final possession of the first half. After replacing the reinjured Vick, the rookie completed six of seven passes to take the Eagles from their own 20 to the Giants' 2.

Kelly called a naked bootleg to the left in which Barkley had two throwing options - wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end Brent Celek. If neither was open, he was supposed to throw the ball away. He was getting ready to do that when cornerback Terrell Thomas knocked the ball loose from behind and linebacker Jacquian Williams recovered it. End of scoring threat.

The Eagles would have six more possessions in the game, but never got closer to the end zone than the Giants' 26.

While Kelly is right about unreliable quarterback play, it doesn't help explain why the Eagles also haven't been able to run the ball for three of the last four games.

They have one of the league's premier running backs - LeSean McCoy - and they have an offensive line that was supposed to be one of the best in the league this season.

Yet, in two games, against the Giants in the last month, McCoy has been held to 94 yards on 35 carries, including 48 on 15 carries yesterday. In last week's 17-3 loss to the Cowboys, McCoy had just 55 yards on 18 carries.

"Teams know we want to run the ball," he said. "I've got to get going somehow. We need to get back to being that explosive offense we were the first six games."

In the first four games of the season, McCoy rushed for 468 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. In the last four, he's averaging 3.4. The inside zone read play that produced much of those 468 yards in Weeks 1-4 has been mostly a dead end lately.

"They had a pretty good game plan overall," left guard Evan Mathis said of the Giants. "They did a good job of adjusting on the fly this time. "It was different than the first game against them. We noticed quickly that they were playing our zone runs a little differently. Then when we adjusted and some stuff started working, they started a couple of more different things. They adjusted well. It was a good game by them."

After being held to 7 yards on six first-half carries, McCoy found some running room in the third quarter, picking up 41 yards on nine carries, most of it on a 12-play drive in which the Eagles made it as far as the Giants' 26.

Then, McCoy was stopped for a 1-yard loss and Barkley was sacked and Kelly made a curious decision to go for it on fourth-and-10 rather than have Alex Henery try a 50-yard field goal against the wind. Barkley's pass to Avant was incomplete.

"We've got to help him out," McCoy said of Barkley. "He's a rookie. It takes time to develop. I think he's going to be a good quarterback. But we've got to help him out. I've got to get it going. It starts with me. I've got to make better decisions, which I'm not. If we can get the run game started, the passing yards and play-action and things like that will come off the run."

In the first game against the Eagles in Week 4, the Giants played mostly man coverage and did some stunting up front with their defensive tackles to take away the inside zone read.

Yesterday, they played more zone against Barkley but didn't do much stunting to stop McCoy. Brought a safety down in the box most of the time and just played good gap-control football.

"You have to maintain the discipline of your gap control," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "You have to stay put because [McCoy] can bring the ball back at any time. You have to initially, whether it's the read option or whether it's just the dive, you have to take that away initially. We've had guys in position and they've been able to maintain position."

"It's not a good feeling when you run 10 plays in the first quarter and it's three-and-out, three-and-out and maybe something like four-and-out," Mathis said.

"Our defense and special teams are playing great right now. And it's kind of embarrassing that we're not able to put points up on the board. We're going to go back to the drawing board, watch the film, do everything we can to get this thing turned around. Get it fixed and start putting the yardage and the points back up."

Maybe by then, Kelly also will have figured out a way to get his QBs to play a little better.

DID YOU NOTICE?

* The apparent miscommunication between Mike Vick and tight end Brent Celek on Vick’s first-quarter interception.

* DeSean Jackson was back deep on the Giants’ first punt, precipitating a 30-yard kick out of bounds by Steve Weatherford. Jackson also was the deep man on a Weatherford punt in the third quarter. That one traveled 68 yards and went over Jackson’s head. When he tried to field it, it went off his hands and out of bounds at the Philadelphia 3.

* The excellent catch by Hakeem Nicks on a back-shoulder fade pass from Eli Manning for a 22-yard completion on the Giants’ second possession. He was well covered on the play by Bradley Fletcher.

* The two good plays by Cary Williams on the Giants’ drive after Vick’s first-quarter interception. He beat a block by Victor Cruz on a bubble screen and dropped Hakeem Nicks for no gain. On the next play, he hung with Nicks on a deep ball in the end zone, forcing a third-and-10 incompletion and forcing the Giants to settle for a field goal.

* The Eagles got rookie tight end Zach Ertz matched up against Giants backup linebacker Jacquian Williams on a third-down play in the second quarter, and Williams knocked the pass away.

* DeSean Jackson made a costly mistake in the third quarter when he got greedy and forfeited what would have been an important first down on a crossing route. He had the first down, but then weaved back looking for more yardage and was tackled a yard short of the first down. The Eagles were forced to punt.

* The nice back-to-back plays in the third quarter by linebacker Connor Barwin. He forced an intentional grounding by getting pressure on Eli Manning. On the next play, he batted away a Manning pass.

* The Eagles put Bryce Brown in the game on a pair of plays in third quarter when they were backed up against their own goal line. He lost 5 yards on a badly executed read option on one of those plays.

BY THE NUMBERS

* LeSean McCoy has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in the last 14 quarters. He has just 10 rushing first downs, four double-digit-yard runs and eight runs for losses in his last 65 carries.

* Eagles quarterbacks have six turnovers in the last five quarters.

* Michael Vick has a 61.7 passer rating in his last four starts. He's completed just 39 of 80 attempts (48.7 percent) for 585 yards,

one touchdown and three interceptions in those four games.

* Eagles quarterbacks collectively in the last six games have a 74.4 passer rating and a .553 completion percentage. They've averaged just 6.9 yards per attempt and have seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

* The Eagles' defense has held

opponents to 18.3 points and 356.8 yards per game the last four games. That's considerably better than the 27.5 and 446.8 they allowed in their first four games.

* The Eagles have held their last four opponents to 21 points or fewer. The last time they did that was Weeks 10-13 of the 2011 season. The only other team in the league that has held its last four opponents to 21 points or fewer is the Chiefs.

* In four games against NFC East opponents - two against the Giants and one against the Redskins and Cowboys - the Eagles have held their quarterbacks to a 70.4 passer rating. NFC East quarterbacks have thrown five touchdown passes and seven interceptions against the Eagles in those four games.

* Mike Vick and Matt Barkley were a combined 3-for-7 for 16 yards, an interception and a sack on third down yesterday. None of those three completions produced a first down.

* Opposing tight ends have 40 catches for 489 yards against the Eagles in the first eight games, but no touchdowns.

* The Eagles have given up just 15 double-digit-yard runs this season, only 12 by running backs. None of those 15 runs has been longer than 24 yards. The Giants' longest run yesterday was 9 yards.

* The Eagles have turned the ball over three times in eight games on their first possession this season. They have scored just once on their first possession.

* The Eagles have forced 26 punts in the last four games. They forced only 11 in the first four games.


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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