Eagles' win a victory for sports science?

Posted: December 11, 2013

THE SNOW got deeper Sunday and the Eagles seemed to get stronger. The Detroit Lions, impenetrable defensively and able to do everything but score offensively through nearly three-quarters of the game, suddenly seemed frozen in place.

It was an amazing turnaround.

"This front seven for the Detroit Lions is just starting to take this game over," said Fox play-by-play voice Kevin Burkhardt, with 6 minutes left in the third quarter, and Detroit leading 14-0.

Ah, not so much, Kevin.

As the Eagles rebounded from that 14-0 deficit to a 34-20 victory, it was hard not to wonder if this wasn't Chip Kelly's "sports science" emphasis at work, especially when over-30 linemen Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans and Jason Peters started pushing around Detroit's younger, star-studded defensive line.

But how, exactly?

Kelly won't let his sports science coordinator, Shaun Huls, talk to reporters. Kelly also won't talk in more than very general terms about what the Eagles do in this area, not wanting to lose a possible edge over other teams. Players, when interviewed, also stick to the broad outlines - eating healthier, getting more sleep, and so on.

"Our players have taken care of themselves and really understand what we're trying to get accomplished, and I think it showed," Kelly said yesterday. Kelly said it wasn't necessarily that they are fresher in December than other teams - "I think it showed earlier in the year, too . . . I believe we're fresh when we go play games on Sundays."

Asked specifically about Mathis, Herremans and Peters, Kelly said: "I think one of the things about those three guys is, they take care of themselves, and they did before I got here, too, so it's not like it was a revolution for those guys."

Asked if some of the effect could be psychological - players expect to feel fresher, so they do - Kelly pretty much avoided the question, saying he doesn't talk to players about that sort of thing.

DEVELOPING STORY LINES

*  Calvin Johnson caught one pass in the second half, none in the fourth quarter.

* Chip Kelly made a good point yesterday about the punt- and kickoff-return touchdowns the Eagles gave up, that there were some issues, but the big thing was that the snow negated the speed of the Birds’ coverage teams.

* DeSean Jackson’s 65 catches are a career high, and his 1,080 yards are 76 yards short of his best, achieved in 2009. He is one short of his career high in receiving touchdowns, with eight.

* Rewatching the game, interesting sequence on the final play of the third quarter. The Lions’ Stephen Tulloch grabbed Riley Cooper well into the secondary, with no flag. Then Nick Foles’ pass sailed right through Tulloch’s hands, touching both, to Cooper for a 25-yard catch. Karma?

* The Eagles got Elias Sports to research it, and it turns out, this was the first time an NFL team has scored as many as 34 points without an extra point or a field goal.

* LeSean McCoy needs 207 rushing yards over the final three games — 69 yards per game — to match Wilbert Montgomery’s franchise record of 1,512, set in 1979. Before he ran for 217 yards Sunday, I said McCoy had an outside shot. He’s now looking at more of a layup.

* The Eagles reportedly spoke to Ed Hochuli’s crew during warmups about the Detroit d-line jumping the snap count. The Lions were whistled for three neutral-zone infractions and an encroachment.

WHO KNEW?

* You could not gain your initial first down until nearly 6 minutes had passed in the second quarter, but then could get 22 more of them before the end of the game? The Eagles managed one first down in 21 minutes, then 22 in 39.

* You could complete four of 13 passes for 35 yards and an interception through 2 quarters, then go 7-for-9 for 144 and a touchdown in the final quarter-and-a-half? We were seeing the Dallas-game version of Nick Foles, and then suddenly we weren’t.

* You could fumble the snap from center five times, losing 21 yards, ultimately giving the ball away to end what could have been a game-tying drive in the fourth quarter? The fifth fumble, the one where the snap caught Matthew Stafford by surprise, Stafford unwisely tried to pick the ball up instead of falling on it. The Lions, down 28-20, were working on first-and-10 from the Eagles’ 24. Mychal Kendricks flopped on the ball. Five plays later, Chris Polk was making it 34-20.

OBSCURE STAT

The Eagles became the first team in NFL history with three touchdown runs of 30-plus yards in a quarter.

EXTRA POINT

Riley Cooper was the embodiment of that resilience Chip Kelly talked about, both Sunday and yesterday.

Cooper, who grew up in Florida and played his college football there, looked lost in Sunday’s snowfall, until he made an amazing 44-yard catch with less than 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

“It was almost like that kind of got us going, got our confidence back a little bit, and then we got rolling there,” Kelly said after the game.

Before that play, Cooper had one catch, for 5 yards, despite having been targeted six times. Near the end of the first half, he’d seen Nick Foles’ well-thrown fourth-down pass bounce off his face in the back of the end zone.

But after the 44-yard catch set up Foles’ touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson, Cooper started the next Eagles drive with a 25-yard catch, three plays before LeSean McCoy’s 40-yard touchdown run. And after the Eagles' next touchdown, on a 57-yard McCoy run, Cooper made a tumbling snag of the two-point conversion pass, giving the Eagles the lead for good, at 22-20.

“We just kept going at them,” Cooper said afterward. “In a game like this, it isn’t going to be perfect. There are going to be drops. There are going to be bad throws. There are going to be missed assignments...We just kept going and going.”

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