Birds win the ground war

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER DeMeco Ryans (left) celebrates with Brandon Boykin after an interception in the third quarter.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER DeMeco Ryans (left) celebrates with Brandon Boykin after an interception in the third quarter.
Posted: November 12, 2013

GREEN BAY - For the Eagles, yesterday was going to be about two things. It was going to be about running the football and it was going to be about stopping the run.

Even though they never were going to be on the field at the same time, this game was about LeSean McCoy vs. Eddie Lacy.

This was the NFL rushing leader vs. the league's hottest young back.

When it was over, the Eagles had won the all-important running-back battle and, not coincidentally, the war, 27-13.

McCoy, who had failed to rush for more than 55 yards in four of the Eagles' last five games, exploded for his third 150-yard rushing game of the season against a Packers defense that entered the game ranked fourth in the league against the run.

McCoy finished with 155 yards on 25 carries. He had four double-digit-yard runs, including 20- and 30-yarders. He had seven rushing first downs, his second most of the season.

"It's one thing for a guy to be confident running the ball," McCoy said. "But it's another when the guys up front want to run the ball even more than you do. It says a lot about them, the way they played today.

"I had more lanes today. And a lot more one-on-one opportunities. I was to the second level so fast today. I was just hitting it. The guys up front got it done. In a big way. It was so obvious today. And it felt good to see it again."

As important as it was for the Eagles to get their ground game going again as they head into the season's homestretch, it was even more important to shut down the Packers'.

The Packers already were playing on one leg with the heart and soul of their offense, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, out for 4 to 6 weeks with a fractured collarbone.

To beat the Eagles, they had to be able to run the ball. They knew it. The Eagles knew it.

"We felt going in that with Aaron being out, they were going to try and establish the run," coach Chip Kelly said.

"We were all-in to stopping the run game," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.

Lacy, the Packers' 5-11, 230-pound rookie, rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown the week before against the Bears. He had rushed for 545 yards in the previous five games, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

When he opened the game with 11- and 6-yard gains on back-to-back carries, it looked like the Eagles' run defense had finally met its match. Especially when inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks was injured on the 11-yard gain.

But Davis' defense buckled down after that, holding Lacy to 56 yards on 22 carries the rest of the day.

Backup Najee Goode replaced Kendricks and the Eagles held Lacy to 3 yards or fewer on 15 of his final 22 carries.

Lacy's backup, James Starks, who had three 20-plus-yard touchdown runs in the previous four games, didn't fare any better, gaining just 5 yards on four carries.

"That was our focus," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who had a team-high 13 combined tackles. "We knew they had to run the ball. Having their backup quarterback [Seneca Wallace] in, and then having him go down and the third quarterback [Scott Tolzien] come in, we knew the run game would be even more prevalent.

"[Lacy] is definitely a tough back to stop. But I'm proud of the way our guys played the run game today."

The Eagles not only lost Kendricks, but rookie safety Earl Wolff, who had been playing so well, also went out with a knee injury in the first half. He was replaced by Patrick Chung, who had missed much of the last month-and-a-half with a shoulder injury. Two Mack Trucks like Lacy and Starks aren't what you want to have coming at you when you've got a healing shoulder.

"You knew he was going to hit some," Davis said of Lacy. "He's such a big, strong man. You know he's going to get some. But our guys, we've got a tough run defense now. Our guys go after it and take a lot of pride in their run game.

"Our guys did a great job rolling through there, playing techniques and fitting together and getting off blocks and tackling."

The Eagles are getting superb play from their rotating front line, particularly Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and rookie Bennie Logan, who have been protecting their linebackers and allowing them to make plays.

"That's what drives our defense," Ryans said. "The way those guys play up front, that sets the tempo for our defense. Without those guys, I can't make the plays I make. The back-end guys can't make the plays they make.

"Moving forward, we want to continue to build on what we did today. [Green Bay was] a good running team, [had] two good backs, a good offensive line. Next week, Washington has a good running game, also. So we need to build off what we did today and get better next week."

They also need McCoy to continue to be as productive as he was yesterday. He jumped off to a fast start this season, averaging 6.0 yards per carry in the first four games. But in the next five games, his yards-per-carry average nosedived to 3.4.

But yesterday, McCoy was on fire again, and his offensive line, even after losing left tackle Jason Peters early in the game with a quad injury, controlled the line of scrimmage against the Packers' big front.

"Al came in and he played well," McCoy said, referring to Peters' replacement, Allen Barbre. "Today, I thought the offensive line actually controlled the line of scrimmage. I think the backs we have here, in a humbling way, you give us one-on-one opportunities with a linebacker or d-end or safety, nine times out of 10 we're going to make them miss."

There was some speculation that Nick Foles' seven-touchdown performance last week against the Raiders might force the Packers to focus less on stopping McCoy and the run game and more on stopping the Eagles' air game.

But schematically, they didn't do much differently than the Raiders. Played press man coverage. Dropped a safety in the box a lot. McCoy and his line just executed better.

"To tell you the truth, they played us very similarly to the Giants," center Jason Kelce said. "A lot of press coverage man-to-man. They were trying to run the 'backers downhill to stop the inside zone play.

"We did a good job of creating holes for [McCoy]. We did a good job of getting to some of our outside plays. When they're trying to run downhill fast, sometimes you get the outside plays because it's tough for those 'backers to scrape over top."

Said right guard Todd Herremans: "We knew we were going to have to move them off the ball and get some good combo blocks to get on the 'backers and get the run game going. I thought the play-calling was really good today. We kept them guessing as to whether we were going to run or pass."


* DeSean Jackson lined up in the backfield on the Eagles’ first offensive play.

* The Eagles split right tackle Lane Johnson wide to the right on the second play, a bubble screen to Jackson that gained just 1 yard.

* The one negative in Riley Cooper’s performance yesterday was a costly drop on second-and-13 on the Eagles’ first possession. He was wide open in the middle of the field on the play. Nick Foles’ throw wasn’t perfect, but it should have been caught.

* The tackling by the Eagles wasn’t as good as it has been the last several games. Too many missed tackles, particularly in the secondary.

* Najee Goode had a penetration that resulted in a 1-yard loss by Eddie Lacy shortly after he replaced injured Mychal Kendricks.

* Jason Peters’ quad injury late in the first quarter came on a play in which he gave up a sack to Packers rookie defensive end Datone Jones.

* Eddie Lacy didn’t carry the ball at all on the Packers’ last 20 plays of the first half.

* The Eagles’ failure to challenge Jarrett Boykin’s 36-yard catch early in the second quarter. Replays clearly showed that Boykin’s hand touched the ground out of bounds before he got his second foot down in-bounds. Chip Kelly said after the game that no one upstairs urged him to challenge the completion.

* The Eagles used a three-tight-end set on a second-and-goal at the 7-yard line late in the second quarter. It was only the third time this season they have used a three-tight-end set.

* Nick Foles did a nice job of extending the play on his 25-yard, third-and-9 completion to Riley Cooper in the second quarter by stepping up and then moving to his right out of the pocket.

* The awful-looking naked bootleg by Foles on a first down at the Packer 10-yard line late in the second quarter. It was reminiscent of his touchdown run against the Bucs last year, only the Packers defended it much better. He gained just 3 yards on the play.

* It appeared that safety Patrick Chung blew the coverage on Scott Tolzien’s 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Bostick late in the third quarter.


* The Eagles have scored just two times on their first possession this season.

* Five of Riley Cooper’s last seven receptions have been for touchdowns, including two more yesterday.

* In 17 quarters with Nick Foles at quarterback, Cooper has been targeted 21 times and has 15 catches for 393 yards and 6 touchdowns. His numbers in 19 quarters with Mike Vick: 19 targets, 8 catches, 91 yards and 1 touchdown.

* With three touchdowns yesterday, Nick Foles now has thrown 16 this season without an interception. The only player in NFL history who has thrown more touchdown passes to open a season without throwing a pick is Peyton Manning, who threw 20 this season. Cleveland’s Milt Plum also opened a season with 16 TDs and no interceptions in 1960.

* Foles hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 173 pass attempts dating back to last season. He has just two in his last 359 attempts and five in 401 career attempts. That’s a 1.2 percent interception rate.

* DeSean Jackson has caught touchdown passes in back-to-back games and has at least one in six of 10 games this season. In his previous 35 starts, he had just eight TD catches.

* Brandon Boykin’s 76-yard interception return was the longest by an Eagle since Sheldon Brown’s 83-yard return on Dec. 6, 2009, against the Falcons.

* With his interception against the Packers, DeMeco Ryans became the first Eagles linebacker to record two interceptions and two sacks in a season since Jeremiah Trotter did it back in 2001.

* The Eagles held the Packers without a touchdown on four red-zone opportunities. The defense has allowed just two touchdowns in its last 10 red-zone challenges.

* Brandon Bostick’s 22-yard, third-quarter touchdown catch was the first TD catch by a tight end against the Eagles this season.

* In their last seven games, the Eagles’ defense has held opponents to a .565 third-down completion percentage. The Packers completed just 7 of 14 passes on third down.

* The Eagles were 0-for-4 in the red zone, though that included their end-of-the-game possession. Foles attempted just two passes in the red zone. Both were incompletions. For the season, he is 12-for-17 for 93 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions inside the 20.

On Twitter: @Pdomo


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