How Eagles' d-back ignited their offense

Posted: December 10, 2013

THE GAME WAS getting away from them. That seemed clear. The ground was already a half-foot deep in snow and the stuff just kept coming, and Jeremy Ross had just returned a long punt a long way back for a touchdown, Eagles vainly swatting at him as he maneuvered like a snowmobile 58 yards down the field to give the Detroit Lions a 14-0 lead.

It might as well have been 41-0, the way it looked out there, the way the weather was working and the way the Eagles' offense was not. Yes, there was a sliver of hope just before the half, the home team moving from its 11 to the Detroit 10 before stalling. But the Eagles had just failed to even get a first down in their second possession of the third quarter, attempting three straight runs in the stuff, reluctant even on a third-and-5 to put the ball in the air after a few disastrous attempts in the first half, including the interception that led to Detroit's first score.

As the Eagles sent out their punt team, cornerback Cary Williams spotted Chip Kelly a few yards in front of him, talking to DeSean Jackson.

He ran to him. He interrupted.

"Coach," Kelly recalled him saying, "this is what you need to do . . . "

Williams told him to start running posts, even if the coverage was there. He was out there, chasing around the likes of Calvin Johnson, and he discovered the hard way, via a 33-yard completion, that most of the training for his position had been rendered useless by the snow.

"You're used to practicing the specific moves, the backpedals, it's all on even ground," Williams said. "But when you raise the ground up 6, 7 inches, it was difficult to turn and get your movements. And then, on top of that, if you did turn well it was hard to get that foot in the ground because you were sliding.

"So I told coach, let's go with the post and fades even. Because guys can't turn and run in these conditions."

History will record that on a day when 8 inches of snow unexpectedly landed on Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles amassed 478 yards of offense en route to a 34-20, come-from-behind victory. Obscured in those numbers is how futile their offense looked for more of the game than not, and how Williams' advice and Riley Cooper's execution of that advice on the ensuing drive flipped all of that upside down.

Cooper's 44-yard catch on the ensuing drive, running across the field as Detroit's secondary slipped its way in pursuit, triggered the switch in momentum that led to, pun intended, a landslide of points.

"We hit Riley on it and it was almost like that got us going, got our confidence back a little bit," Kelly said. "And then we got it rolling from there."

The Eagles scored on that possession and scored on the possession after that and the one after that and . . . even a 98-yard kickoff return by Ross couldn't stop the momentum. It was hardly a matter of passing: After gaining 6 yards in the first quarter and 51 in the first half, LeSean McCoy set an Eagles rushing record with 217 yards; and Chris Polk busted one for a touchdown, too. Foles went deep a few more times, drew a roughing call with one of them. But Cooper's catch was the Eagles' largest completion of the day.

And, as Kelly said, their biggest play.

"I really didn't expect him to listen," Williams said. "But I'm glad he did."

When he was first hired, those who worked with him in Oregon or in New Hampshire mentioned specifically that taking counsel from others was an attribute. Maybe this was a first from a defensive back - Kelly didn't say whether this was the first time a defensive back helped him with his offense - but the anecdote is just one more example that he is more than the one-trick pony with a gimmicky, easily solved offense as his NFL detractors continue to characterize him.

The Eagles won yesterday because the coach took advice from one of his players, and they won, perhaps, because his sports-science approach left his team as the stronger one plodding through the 8 inches of snow that covered the Lincoln Financial Field as the game wore on and on. Lest we forget, it was Cooper and Williams who were literally at each other's throats following the wideout's racist rant last summer, a situation that could have easily fractured a team under a first-year coach.

Instead, there was Williams at his locker, lauding Cooper for pulling down the ball amid the elements. And when it was over, Kelly was the one who relayed the Williams anecdote, made a point of running to him when the game ended and thanking him for the insight.

"I guess you can say it was a great call," Williams said. "But it was great that a head coach had that confidence in someone who has nothing to do with offense."


On Twitter: @samdonnellon

philly.com/SamDonnellon

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