NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- DeMarco Murray is having the season LeSean McCoy was dreaming about during training camp. Murray, not McCoy, is leading the NFL in rushing. Murray, not McCoy, is on pace to make a run at 2,000 yards for the season. Murray, not McCoy, has benefited from a consistent (and healthy) offensive line.

When the Eagles play the Dallas Cowboys Thursday, they hope to derail Murray's push for 2,000 yards. Doing that, they believe, will give them a chance to beat the Cowboys and take the lead in the NFC East race.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Steve Flynn/USA TODAY SportsDeMarco Murray, not LeSean McCoy, leads the NFL in rushing this season.
"It's going to be a great challenge for us," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "This is the top rusher in the NFL and they're committed to the run, so we know we have a big challenge of stopping the run game this week. And I think as the season's progressed, we've got better and better, especially the inside run. It's tough to run inside on us. "

The Cowboys rely on stretch running plays, with Murray running behind linemen and looking for a cutback lane to break a big run. It is a style of running that the Eagles have encountered several times this season, and have had some success against.

"The stretch is their No. 1 play," Eagles linebacker Casey Matthews said. "They've got counters, so we have to have our eyes right this week. Getting penetration is big, and being sound in your gaps. It's a one-cut run. That's where they get the big yards.

"DeMarco, when he gets in the open field and is able to hit the hole, that's when he's at his best. If you can get him to stop his feet and change direction, that's where you can shut him down."

The Eagles'3-4 defense has been very good against the run this season. Part of that is a side-effect of the Eagles' pass defense, which is ranked 30th in the NFL in terms of yardage allowed. If teams can throw the ball easily enough against you, there isn't much reason to run the ball.

You'd think the Cowboys would be delighted to let Tony Romo chuck the ball to Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and his other weapons. But Dallas has been much more committed to its running game this season, which is why Murray has rushed for 100 yards or more in 10 of 11 games.

"If you shut down the run, it shortens the playbook," Matthews said.

"Any offense's balance is always harder," Davis said. "When you got a one dimensional team, whether it's all run or all pass, at least schematically when you're calling a game, it's easier to just say, OK, this is what we'll do and this is what we'll stop. Those teams that commit to the run on first and second down almost always put themselves in that third-and-four or less, which makes it difficult. So the balance, the tact that they have now is a big part of why they're winning."

San Francisco's Frank Gore is the only back to top 100 yards against the Eagles this season. Green Bay's Eddie Lacy carried the ball just 10 times, but averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Other than that, the Eagles have been pretty solid against the run.

"The San Francisco game, we had issues on the edge," Davis said, "but really have kind of cleaned that up. That'll be challenged this week, because they are an edge rushing team. We're looking forward to the challenge and we'll see how we stack up."

Last year, Murray didn't play in the first game against the Eagles. In Dallas in December, he carried the ball 17 times for 48 yards. The Eagles will happily take those numbers Thursday.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' coaching staff couldn't watch the Dallas Cowboys play the New York Giants Sunday night. They were too busy preparing for the Cowboys.

On Monday morning, the coach's film from the Sunday night game arrived. That's when Chip Kelly and his staff watched the Cowboys' come-from-behind victory. That win sealed the deal: The Cowboys and Eagles will both be 8-3 when they meet Thursday afternoon in Dallas.

"We've got it all planned out," Kelly said of the quick turnaround. "We just came back here [the NovaCare Complex] right after the game and just started game planning on all three phases for Dallas. We didn't get the coach's copy until early this morning. But we had to get most of our plan in place last night. It was a late night, but whenever you play a Thursday game, immediately after the [previous] game it's going to be a late night."

Kelly had the players in for a short practice session Monday. There was little exertion. More time was spent on the mental part of preparing for the Cowboys. The team will practice Tuesday as it normally does on Thursdays before a Sunday game. On Wednesday, the Eagles will have a short practice analogous to the normal Friday sessions.

The team will fly to Dallas later Wednesday.

"It's just what you've got to do," Kelly said. "I don't think we look at it as exhausting. We're excited about playing Dallas. You have just got to be ready to go. One thing we don't worry about is what we don't control and we don't have any control over the schedule. We've got a plan in place. We got our plan in last night as a staff before we went to bed. Players were here this morning, excited about the opportunity; we've got a big game. It's a division game. And then both teams have the same amount of time, so it's not like anybody has an advantage over it."

Quarterback Mark Sanchez was at the facility Sunday night, as well, getting a head start on his own preparations.

"Just going over the last game," Sanchez said. "Getting a good feel for their personnel. You've got to get all your situations down: red zone, third down, backed up, two-minute, short yardage, all that kind of stuff. There's plenty of stuff to do. Things looked good today in practice. We'll gear up for another one [Tuesday] and embrace the week here and get ready for Dallas."

Other players went home and watched that Cowboys-Giants game. They didn't have to wait for the game film to come in on Monday morning.
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles safety Earl Wolff had surgery on his right knee, ending an unsettled stretch for the second-year player.

Wolff first injured his knee last season in Green Bay. He tried to give it time to heal on its own but hasn't been quite right since. During the preseason, Wolff lost a competition for a starting safety spot to Nate Allen.

Wolff started one game this season, at Houston. He played the entire game but was inactive the next week. Although he didn’t turn up on the Eagles’ injury report, Wolff’s knee was still bothering him. Last week, the Eagles decided to place him on season-ending injured reserve. Wolff had the knee examined by Dr. James Andrews, who wound up performing what Wolff called “mini-microfracture surgery” on the knee.

“It was like a couple little spots” where cartilage was damaged in the knee, Wolff said. “There was a little bit of wear and tear due to me being on it every day during camp. He went in there and saw what he saw. So he went ahead and did [the procedure] because he felt I would recover the best from that.”

Wolff said the knee felt better at the end of last season than it felt at times this season.

“I had my good days and my bad days,” Wolff said. “I was hoping it would get better. I felt like I wasn’t the player I was before. At the end of the day, I guess this was the best bet. We got a second opinion and it ended up getting done.”

Wolff said his procedure wasn’t as “severe” as typical microfracture surgery, which involves making small cuts in the bone to create new cartilage.

“Most microfractures keep you out for a really long time,” Wolff said. “I asked the doc and he said I would be full speed by the end of April or beginning of May. He said if he wouldn’t have done this, I might have healed the same way. But he felt like this was the best thing.”

Wolff, a fifth-round pick last year out of North Carolina State, was asked if he still thought he was in the Eagles’ plans after two injury-marred seasons.

“Yes, I do,” Wolff said. “I’ll be as explosive as I was before. I’m just staying positive. Just knowing what I can do, when I’m healthy -- it is frustrating, but it’s all in God’s plan.”
PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Eagles have stayed relatively healthy this season. When they’ve had injuries, though, they have tended to be clustered at particular positions -- offensive linemen and inside linebackers, especially.

Acho
With three days to prepare for the Dallas Cowboys' balanced offense, the Eagles aren’t sure whether they’ll have linebacker Emmanuel Acho for Thursday's game. One-half of the platoon that replaced DeMeco Ryans, Acho left Sunday’s game against Tennessee with a groin injury. His absence would force Casey Matthews, the other half of the platoon, to play more or force first-round pick Marcus Smith into action.

“We’re going to see where Acho is,” eagles coach Chip Kelly said Monday. “We’ll go through today. Don’t write Acho off as dead yet. He’s going to go out there and see what he can do. We’ll figure it out as we get going.”

Kelly said recently that Smith has to show more in practice in order to get on the field.

“I meant that in terms of was he going to play over Acho or Casey,” Kelly said. “Now with one guy down, every guy just moves up the ladder. I’m confident in him.”

Mychal Kendricks plays one inside linebacker spot. Acho and Matthews were rotating at the other spot.

“Casey is just kind of a steady Eddie in there,” Kelly said. “He can get the front set and does a real good job on first and second down. When we get to dime (package), he comes out. I think Casey’s been consistent. Casey’s ready to play football for us.”

The Eagles lost reserve linebacker Najee Goode to a torn pectoral muscle in Week 1. Kendricks injured his calf the next week and missed four games. Reserve linebacker Travis Long tore his ACL during training camp.

Acho and Matthews filled in for Kendricks in a similar platoon. When Ryans tore his Achilles tendon in Houston, the coaches decided to move Smith from outside to inside linebacker. Smith has seldom played, although he was on the field late in the Tennessee game after Acho went down. Smith was not credited with a tackle.
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles defense has been riding a dangerous see-saw for the past few weeks. It was way up against the Carolina Panthers, then way down last week in Green Bay. It bounced back for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, winning 43-24, and that was fine.

But on Thursday, the Eagles will face Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys offense. Another swing toward the way it played in Green Bay would be disastrous.

[+] EnlargeConnor Barwin
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsThe Eagles were able to get good pressure on Zach Mettenberger, who was sacked twice by Connor Barwin, without blitzing.
“They forgot about [Green Bay] real quick,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “These are pros and we have a great group of veteran leadership and it’s the NFL, the life of the NFL. You can destroy someone, you can be destroyed, it can be close -- every game is a game in and of itself and sometimes it’s just not your day.”

Against Tennessee rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger, the Eagles were able to get good pressure without blitzing.

“I barely pressured,” Davis said. “It was all four-man rush and the ball wasn’t coming out as quick (as in Green Bay). Their patterns were more vertically oriented, so it took more time to get going, whereas a week ago they were just the go routes. These were vertical-concept routes and our four-man rush did a nice job.”

Outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Trent Cole each sacked Mettenberger twice. Defensive end Fletcher Cox got the Eagles’ fifth sack. They were all part of that four-man rush Davis was talking about.

“We just felt like our four could get after their front five,” Barwin said. “We did a great job communicating up front and then just winning our one-on-ones, across the board. We just kind of refocused and got back to being who we are. We look at ourselves as a group up front. If Trent gets a sack, I feel like I’m getting a sack. If Fletcher gets a sack, we all feel like we got a sack.”

Barwin has 12.5 sacks this season, his career high. There are still five more games to add to that total, two of them against the Cowboys. That means playing against an offense more like Green Bay’s, in terms of weapons, than Tennessee’s.

“When you watch the (Green Bay) film, we just made mistakes,” Barwin said. “It wasn’t like we played our brand of football or played our best football. We went against one of the best quarterbacks and we gave them some plays. We felt like we gave them way too much. You see what happens when you make mistakes. Last week was a great lesson for us.”

They applied that lesson against the Titans Sunday. On Thursday, in Dallas, it will be a whole lot tougher.
PHILADELPHIA – Josh Huff ran right past it.

The feeling that his rookie season was slipping away from him in disappointment? The mistakes that had led to intercepted passes and an opponent’s punt return for touchdown? Huff ran right past them, along with all 11 Tennessee Titans trying to cover the opening kickoff Sunday.

“It definitely boosts confidence,” Huff said after the Eagles’ 43-24 victory over the Titans. “Just to know that I can make those plays on this level and that my teammates have faith in me to continue to make those plays. Even if I mess up, those guys still have faith in me.”

[+] EnlargeJosh Huff
AP Photo/Michael PerezRookie Josh Huff gave a stiff-arm to the Titans and a jolt to the Eagles.
Huff decided to take the ball out of the end zone instead of kneeling down 7 yards deep for a touchback. He broke through the first wave of Titans at about the 10-yard line, cut to his right and was on his way.

The third-round wide receiver used to be a running back, and that served him well on his way to the end zone. Huff was able to stiff-arm a pair of Titans, giving himself room to run.

“Going back to little league and high school and college, and me being a former running back, that’s always in my repertoire,” Huff said. “Just being able to use that extra hand to get a defender off. I was able to do that.”

Last Sunday in Green Bay, Huff was playing gunner on the Eagles’ punt team. He slowed down in front of Packers return man Micah Hyde. Hyde blew past him on the way to a 75-yard touchdown return. That play prompted Huff to talk about how poorly he felt his rookie season was going. The former Oregon star was used to being a playmaker, and he wasn’t feeling much like one in the NFL so far.

“Josh has just got to stop beating himself up,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “I think maybe the good part about him is he has high expectations for himself, but I know we’re not as down on him as I think sometimes he expresses that he is.”

Huff’s 107-yard return was the longest play in Eagles history. It broke the record of 105 yards for a kickoff return set by Timmy Brown in 1961. It was also the first touchdown return of an opening kickoff for the Eagles since 2001.

“We talk about starting fast,” Kelly said, “but I don’t think you can get a faster start than that. Both teams are excited; they’re ready to go. They’ve got a game plan in: 'Let’s execute it, let’s go play.’ And then you take the opening kickoff. I think that’s got to take a little wind out of your sails if you’re the opponent.”

And it added some wind to the Eagles’ sails.

“Special teams putting points up before we even touch the field – it’s going to be a good day,” LeSean McCoy said.

It was Huff’s only kick return of the game. The Eagles use Chris Polk on certain calls and Huff on others. From then on, Polk got the call. Huff was OK with that. He’d already made his point.
videoPHILADELPHIA -- Remember the Titans. Actually, come to think of it, forget them and that 43-24 victory over them as quickly as possible.

That is the task for the Philadelphia Eagles, who were answering questions about Thursday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys within minutes of the final gun Sunday. The only things worth discussing in their win over the Tennessee Titans were the lessons that might apply to their NFC East showdown in Dallas.

Unfortunately for the Eagles and their fans, the lessons appeared to be mostly repeats from the rest of the season to date. The Eagles were able to beat a losing team, something they’ve done consistently this year. The Cowboys are not a losing team. Their profile is much closer to that of Green Bay, Arizona and San Francisco -- the three NFC teams that have beaten the Eagles this season.

“We understood after the performance that we had in Green Bay, we had to make a statement,” Eagles cornerback Cary Williams said. “We understood that we had to right the ship, this was a must-win situation this week.”

The Eagles got the must-win. But it’s hard to say they made any kind of definitive statement against Tennessee.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez threw two more interceptions, which seems to be his custom. The Eagles bogged down in the red zone four out of seven times they got there. Rookie kicker Cody Parkey, who made five of six field goal attempts, was the only Eagle who enjoyed that aspect of the game.

On defense, the Eagles gave up more of the X plays (plays of 20 yards or more) that have plagued them all season. They gave up 17 points to rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger and the Titans’ offense in the second quarter. It was one thing to be carved up by Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. It was another to be taken apart by Mettenberger.

“They did have some X plays,” Eagles linebacker Trent Cole said. “Those are plays that you can’t have. We’ve got to work on that. We’ve got this time coming up going into the Dallas game, and we’ve got to work on it. If we can remove those X plays, we’d have a great team.”

Those big plays have been coming down like rain since Week 1 against Jacksonville. Now the Eagles need to acquire an umbrella in the three days before they play the Cowboys. The Eagles lead the league in turnovers. Now they have three days to break their quarterback of the habit of throwing two passes to the guys in the other uniforms.

“To be a good team -- and our record shows we’re a good team, but to be better -- I think the turnovers, from everybody, [have to stop],” running back LeSean McCoy said. “We can’t drive the ball, make plays and then have the turnovers. I think Coach has been stressing that since day one. He’s really been focusing in on that lately.”

That is the kind of thing a coach would notice. But the truth is, Sanchez threw two interceptions in his first appearance after Nick Foles was injured. Sanchez went a whole game against Carolina without an interception, but he threw two in Green Bay and two more against the Titans. Before he took over, Foles threw 10 picks in eight games.

“You can’t have those late in the year,” Sanchez said. “It’s just a frustrating thing.”

Altogether, the Eagles have turned the ball over a league-leading 27 times. They did not fumble against the Titans, so perhaps Kelly made some progress against turnovers.

To beat Dallas, it is going to take a better performance all around. To be sure, there were some elements of this game that the Eagles can build on.

“This was a huge win at home,” Sanchez said. “An awesome job by special teams and an awesome job by our defense. The running game got going and that was big for us. We got LeSean running a little bit and the offensive line played great. There are a lot of good things to take away from this thing and we have to turn around fast.”

It’s harsh to dwell on the negatives after a win, but this season was never about that big matchup against the Tennessee Titans. It was going to come down to the two games against Dallas in 17 days. The first of those games is coming up Thursday, and it’s hard to gauge just where the Eagles stand.

They have scored 30 points or more in seven of 11 games. They have topped 40 points in two of their past three games. In between, though, they gave up 53 (while scoring just 20) to the Packers.

The Cowboys, with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, much more closely resemble what the Eagles ran into in Green Bay than what they ran over Sunday. Remember the Titans? There isn’t much point in that.

“We’re in the third quarter and people are screaming about the Dallas game while this game is still going on,” Sanchez said. “I know it’s a big-time rivalry. We’ll take the win and be happy with it, but we have to get better.”

Exactly.
PHILADELPHIA -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Philadelphia Eagles' 43-24 victory over Tennessee:

Jones
Kelly
Peeking ahead: Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and some of his staff came to the NovaCare Complex on Saturday to start planning for Thursday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. That’s less a case of looking past the Tennessee Titans than it is making up for a deficit of preparation time. The coaches returned to the facility Sunday night and will install game plans for the Dallas game on Monday. “We’ll put our game plan together for Dallas and we’ll start training tomorrow,” Kelly said.

Sunny Shady: Running back LeSean McCoy was dancing in the end zone after his 2-yard touchdown run. McCoy, who has been frustrated throughout this season, ran 21 times for 130 yards against the Titans. He was back to his normal, cheerful self. “We just stuck to it,” McCoy said of the running game. “If the run game’s not going, I’ll take the blame. Whatever.”

Required viewing: Kelly said he hoped his players would be going home while the coaches were working on a game plan Sunday night. With the Dallas Cowboys playing the New York Giants on Sunday night, it sounded like most players would be tuning in to that NFC East matchup. “Oh, yeah,” linebacker Trent Cole said when asked if he would watch it. “I think all of the guys will be watching it. I know I certainly will.”

Next man up: Eagles first-round pick Marcus Smith has not played much in his rookie season. He may be pressed into action on Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys. Inside linebacker Emmanuel Acho, part of the platoon that replaced defensive captain DeMeco Ryans, left the game with a groin injury. Will Smith be ready? “He’ll have to be,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Absolutely,” Smith said.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
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PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 43-24 win over the Tennessee Titans at Lincoln Financial Field.

What it means. The Eagles (8-3) will remain atop the NFC East standings entering their Thanksgiving Day date with the Dallas Cowboys, avoiding a potential trap against the Titans (2-9). This was not a pretty game by most measures, but the Eagles were still able to hang 40 points on the scoreboard. It started with rookie Josh Huff's 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Except for a lapse in the second quarter, when the Titans scored 17 points and put together two long drives, the Eagles' defense played miles better than it did in Green Bay last week. The offense had problems -- two more interceptions for Mark Sanchez, poor play in the red zone -- but was good enough. For Tennessee, at least. The Eagles went 4-0 against the AFC South this season and have won 10 in a row at the Linc.

Stock Watch. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy's stock bottomed out after the Green Bay game. McCoy stomped away from his weekly media session after someone asked if he was still the same player who led the NFL in rushing last season. In other words, McCoy needed a game like this. The Titans were gashed for more than 200 yards by Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell last week. McCoy had 100 by halftime Sunday, and finished with 130. He was on the sideline for the fourth quarter.

Many happy returns. Huff's score was the 10th return touchdown of the season for the Eagles. That total includes two kickoff returns, two punt returns, two interception returns, two blocked punt returns and two fumble recoveries. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other team since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to have 10 return touchdowns in its first 11 games was the 1976 Denver Broncos. Those extra touchdowns help explain how the Eagles have managed to score 30 points or more seven times in 11 games.

Game ball. The easy handoff would be to McCoy, but let's remember that it takes five offensive linemen plus tight ends and wide receivers to make the running game go. So let's give this game ball to outside linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin. They combined for four sacks of Zach Mettenberger, three of them in the second half, when the Eagles took control of the game.

What's next. The next three-game stretch has highlighted the Eagles' 2014 calendar since the day the NFL announced the schedule. The Eagles play in Dallas on Thursday, then host Seattle and Dallas on consecutive Sundays. There was a time we all thought the defending champion Seahawks would be the toughest opponent of the season and those Cowboys games might not be that enthralling. Now? The Eagles are locked in a battle with the Cowboys for NFC East dominance. Those two games in 17 days will go a long way toward deciding the title.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles play the Tennessee Titans, AFC South strangers with a 2-8 record, on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. About 96 hours after that game ends, the ball will be kicked off for the Eagles’ Thanksgiving Day matchup with their ancient rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.

It certainly looks like the kind of scheduling quirk that could lead a 7-3 Eagles team to overlook the Titans and sneak a glance ahead to Dallas. To Eagles coach Chip Kelly, though, there is no danger.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY Sports"I think everybody knows in this league, everybody can beat anybody on any given day," Chip Kelly said in dismissing trap games.
“No. 1, I don't believe in trap games,” Kelly said Thursday. “I think everybody knows in this league, everybody can beat anybody on any given day. There are a million examples of it, and I think it doesn't help anybody if you're looking (past) one team to go to the next game. The great thing about our league is you only have to play one game a week, so our focus and attention is on the one game we have this week.”

That sounds good, and that may be the way Kelly would like his players to behave. But it was just 11 months ago that the Eagles were traveling to Minneapolis to play the Minnesota Vikings. The Eagles had won five games in a row to move into first place in the NFC East. The Vikings were 3-9-1 and would be playing without running back Adrian Peterson, who had a foot injury.

Trap game?

Trap game. The Eagles got crushed, 48-30. Running back Matt Asiata, whose name you do not recognize from your fantasy league draft this year, ran for three touchdowns. The game was an aberration, as the Eagles rebounded by defeating Chicago and Dallas in their final two games of the season.

The day after the Minnesota loss, Kelly was asked about how it could happen.

“I think you should go into every game with the same mentality whether it's people from the outside that consider you the favorite or don't consider you the favorite,” Kelly said. “I think if you're paying attention to that type of stuff, you're not focusing in on what you can control. The message I give and the message I've always lived with is worry about what you can control.

“You don't control what other people's opinions are. If you are, you're going to be a yo-yo up, yo-yo down guy depending on how people tell you what they think going into the game. I think your preparation should be the same. Your mindset should be the same. Sometimes it's easier said than done. It's not an easy thing to get accomplished, but I think that's ultimately the way you should get it done.”

Kelly will get more help from the Green Bay game than from the Titans on that front. A 53-20 loss should keep the players focused on the task at hand. As for the Dallas game, it will mean much more if the Eagles can win Sunday against Tennessee and be in a position to get a leg up on the Cowboys in the NFC East race.

Lose to the Titans, and the Eagles could be chasing the Cowboys the rest of the season.

Talk about a trap.
PHILADELPHIA -- For a game-and-three-quarters, Mark Sanchez was golden. His first action as the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback had gone about as smoothly as possible, and Sanchez was riding high.

Then came the Eagles’ 53-20 defeat in Green Bay. Sanchez was hardly to blame for that comprehensive beating. But he did throw two interceptions, one that Julius Peppers returned for a touchdown, and was charged with two lost fumbles. It was Sanchez’s first taste of the kind of disappointment that he’d grown accustomed to as a New York Jet.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
AP Photo/Michael PerezAfter a strong couple of games, Mark Sanchez made several costly turnovers in the Eagles' loss to the Packers.
That makes Sunday’s game against Tennessee Sanchez’s first opportunity to show some resilience, to bounce back and demonstrate the ability to right the ship.

“You’re always competing against yourself and trying to be better, and to be the best version of yourself for your teammates,” Sanchez said Thursday. “That’s really where the competitive side comes in. More than anything, you want to win. That’s really our goal each week. This is a really fun job when you’re winning. So we’ll just try to keep winning.”

Eagles coach Chip Kelly said he thinks Sanchez has “done a good job. He's played a lot of quarterback in this league. He's been very successful in what he's done, and I thought he played really well against Green Bay. He made a really bad decision on the pass where Peppers dropped into coverage, but besides that I thought he did a really good job.”

The interceptions were troubling, because Sanchez turned the ball over a lot during his tenure in New York. He threw two interceptions in Houston after replacing the injured Nick Foles. He did not throw any in the Eagles’ 45-21 victory over Carolina the next week. So Sunday’s four-turnover performance was a return to a not especially good form.

“The second interception to [Jeremy] Maclin, I’m kind of throwing off my back foot,” Sanchez said.”It’s kind of a desperation situation, but did we really need it? We’re in four-down territory anyway. We’re thinking we have to get this third down, but we’re in four-down territory, anyway. So even if I throw it in the stands or take a sack, we’re coming back and trying to convert on fourth down, anyway.”

Sanchez was being pressured from his right by Peppers. Instead of stepping up to his left and taking a fresh look at Maclin, Sanchez rushed the throw. So he didn’t see cornerback Tramon Williams knock Maclin down. At worst, he could have thrown the ball out of bounds there.

Thing is, the Eagles would have lost that game whether Sanchez handed Peppers a touchdown or made one rushed, ill-advised throw to Williams. The Packers jumped to too big of a lead for the rest of the game to mean that much. So Sanchez can write the mistakes off as hard lessons and come back Sunday with a clean slate.

“There’s good and bad,” Sanchez said, citing his successful throws to Jordan Matthews and Jeremy Maclin. “You correct the bad and reinforce the good.”

Titans vs. Eagles preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
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When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia TV: CBS

The Philadelphia Eagles are bouncing back from a 53-20 trouncing in Green Bay last week. They need to regain their sense of confidence as they enter the part of their schedule that will determine whether they are contenders or pretenders.

The Tennessee Titans are coming off a tough Monday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are a team still trying to find a new identity under coach Ken Whisenhunt.

The two teams meet Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. NFL Nation reporters Paul Kuharsky, who covers the Titans, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, discussed the matchup.

Phil Sheridan: The Eagles led the NFL in rushing last season but are now down in the middle of the pack. They've been trying to get their running game back to a high level all season. After the Titans allowed 206 rushing yards to the Steelers Monday night, is there anything they can do to stop LeSean McCoy after a short week?

Paul Kuharsky: Well, the first time they were that bad against the run, allowing Dallas 220 yards in Week 2, they rebounded and fared much better in Cincinnati (116). But several good backs have fared very well against them -- DeMarco Murray, Arian Foster and Le'Veon Bell chief among them. The combination of players and scheme isn't particularly good at this stage at holding ground games down.

I think if McCoy is McCoy and Darren Sproles is Darren Sproles, the Titans could easily yield plays to each. Bell clobbered them inside the tackles, and I see the Eagles have sent nearly 62 percent of their rushes that way. They'd be wise to make the Titans prove they've fixed the issue.

Have the Eagles been able to maintain the pace of their offense and the big edge in plays that Chip Kelly covets? How much have things changed with Mark Sanchez at the controls?

Sheridan: The Eagles have run 24 more plays than their opponents this season (748 to 724). But that number is a little misleading. The Eagles have had a few games with Kelly's ideal of a significant advantage in the number of offensive plays run: They ran 92 to Arizona's 70 and 83 to Houston's 60, for example. Meanwhile, Carolina ran 82 plays to the Eagles' 62 and San Francisco had an 83-60 advantage.

So it's hard to draw many conclusions. They lost in Arizona, where they ran more plays, and in San Francisco, where they ran fewer. They won against Houston and Carolina, despite the difference in plays in those games.

The Eagles' running game has not been as consistent this season, which has hurt their ability to control the ball and pound out first downs when needed. And they have turned the ball over 25 times, which means 25 possessions have ended prematurely. In general, the Eagles have been trying to work their way back to the kind of offense they had last season.

Sanchez hasn't changed things as much as you might think -- or the Eagles might have hoped. Like Nick Foles, he turns the ball over quite a bit. While he was very good against Carolina, he was just OK against Houston and Green Bay. The Eagles are hoping to see Sanchez get into a good rhythm against the Titans this week.

Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said that Zach Mettenberger seems remarkably aware and in command for a rookie quarterback. Considering he threw a pick-six on the first attempt of Monday night's game against the Steelers and then played pretty well, is maturity a notable trait of Mettenberger's? Do you see him developing into a winning quarterback?

Kuharsky: I think he has a chance. It's a real small body of work, and on such a bad team any sign of hope can get looked at disproportionately. But he's shown week-to-week improvement. A rookie having success against a Dick LeBeau defense is rare, and Mettenberger really rebounded from that first pass to have a solid night. Two weeks ago in Baltimore, he held the ball too long too often and was sacked five times. Against the Steelers he and the protection were better, and he didn't get sacked at all. He's completely willing to stand in against the rush and make throws as people close around him. Chaos doesn't fluster him much, and that's a good sign for an immobile guy drafted to stand tall in the pocket and deliver. Pair that with his big arm and it's certainly intriguing. He's got six games left in this nine-game audition.

McCoy's production is way off from what he did last season. How much of that's been him, how much of it's been defenses and how much is it hurting the Eagles?

Sheridan: It is definitely hurting the Eagles. It seems like a long time ago now that McCoy was talking in training camp about rushing for 2,000 yards this season. We didn't even laugh at the idea, although it seems ridiculous now.

The first problem was the rash of injuries along the offensive line. That group stayed healthy all of last season, which had a lot to do with McCoy's success. It has been slowly returning to health, but still hasn't gotten its mojo back yet. Starting to wonder whether it will, at least this season.

Also, it turns out that if you lead the league in something, the league notices. Yes, opposing defenses are doing things differently against the Eagles this year. One trend: The Eagles keep encountering defensive strategies that their opponent hasn't shown on film in any previous game. Some of that is simply defensive coordinators prepping for the Eagles' no-huddle offense, which doesn't allow for much substitution or adjustment. Some of it is to stop McCoy. Either way, the Eagles have had to constantly adjust their approach because they've game planned for an entirely different look.

When they do focus on the run, the target is the inside zone blocking schemes the Eagles had so much success with last season. Second-level defenders keep appearing in the holes just as McCoy starts toward them. Since the Eagles' most mobile linemen, Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis, have just returned from injuries and are still rounding into shape, those defenders are not getting blocked this season.

A year ago, the Eagles were the team switching to a 3-4 defense after years in a 4-3. So it's not surprising to see the Titans near the bottom of the NFL against the run. They are ninth against the pass, though, which is pretty respectable. Is there something they're doing especially well, or is it a case of teams running the ball so well they don't have to throw that much against Tennessee?

Kuharsky: Well, some of those big run games we discussed have made it so opponents haven't needed to throw so much, yes. That's a factor. They have blitzed more and more, and more effectively. And while they have question marks in the secondary, they've played OK there. Jason McCourty has tracked top receivers and fared pretty well. Even when a guy like Antonio Brown was making a lot of catches to convert third downs, McCourty was right there a lot of the time. I expect he will spend time on Jeremy Maclin.

The other starting corner, Blidi Wren-Wilson, is making progress but is beatable and probably will be targeted. The Titans have been bouncing between base and dime, without a lot of nickel, so it will be interesting to see what grouping the Eagles prefer to get on the field when they can control it.

The Titans fare pretty well at avoiding big plays -- and some of the big ones they've allowed this season have been short or mid-range catches they've allowed to turn into big plays with missed tackles or bad angles. Opponents have connected on just 15 passes in the air 20 yards or more. That seems like a pretty good number considering their people in defense.

What is Season 2 of the 3-4 looking like in Philadelphia? Connor Barwin has 10.5 sacks. A week after sorting through LeBeau's defense, what will the Titans see Davis dial up?

Sheridan: The defense has, for the most part, been much more sound and more versatile in Year 2 under Davis -- example, they have a dime package this season, which they did not have during the 2013 season. Let's pretend that farce in Green Bay never happened, for the sake of our discussion here. I mean, it did happen, but it seemed like a perfect storm of a deeply misbegotten game plan and some very poor play by the Eagles.

Before that, the Eagles' defenders had finally gotten the hang of two-gapping, making them fairly sound against the run all season. And they have had some games where they've been excellent at generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Throw in some turnovers and it's as disruptive and effective as the Eagles defense has looked in almost a decade.

The Eagles have faced Kirk Cousins and Austin Davis this season, so they have seen a couple of young quarterbacks. They try to disguise their coverages and bring pressure from unexpected places in order to take advantage of the inexperience. I'm sure they'll attempt to do that with Mettenberger. Then again, the Eagles had their most significant defensive success against Cam Newton and Eli Manning, so maybe Mettenberger has the edge here.
PHILADELPHIA -- LeSean McCoy has drawn the spotlight by proclaiming himself the best running back in the NFL, dissing Adrian Peterson and declaring a goal of 2,000 rushing yards this season.

McCoy
 That spotlight doesn’t switch itself off when things aren’t going so well. McCoy has as many games below 25 yards rushing (two) as he has games above 100 yards. He is averaging 3.7 yards per carry, 1.4 yards below his 5.1-yard average last season. After leading the NFL in rushing yards in 2013, McCoy is sixth in 2014 -- respectable but no threat to the 2,000-yard barrier.

So it wasn’t a big surprise when McCoy lashed out at reporters this week. Indeed, McCoy lashed out partly because the reporters asking him questions know that he is prone to such outbursts. It’s not that they dangle bait and see if he’ll bite, exactly, but it’s close.

"I'm not even going to address 'am I the same player?'" McCoy said. "That's for you all to figure out. Are you crazy? I am the same player. I'm not going to sit here and play that game, like, 'Am I the same player?'"

One reason for McCoy’s quick trigger: His contract guarantees him just $1 million of his 2015 salary of $9.75 million. He will count $11.9 million against the salary cap. Considering the Eagles released Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson last winter, it may have crossed McCoy’s mind that no one is secure here. Coach Chip Kelly seems to have a genuine affection for McCoy -- which was not the case with Jackson -- but affection doesn’t overrule logic. Being the key to a league-leading running game provides better security than the coach’s affection.

Earlier in the season, McCoy chafed at the ongoing questions about what was wrong with the Eagles’ running game. Injuries along the offensive line were part of the picture. So was the way defenses were approaching the Eagles’ zone blocking schemes. Several teams came out in defensive looks that the Eagles had not seen them play on game film.

McCoy had two rough games against Washington (19 carries, 22 yards) and San Francisco (10 for 17). Then he had four consecutive games above 80 yards, including those two games above 100 yards. With the offensive line returning to good health, it seemed like the problems were over.

And then McCoy ran for just 19 yards on 12 carries in a win over Carolina. In Green Bay Sunday, he amassed 88 yards on 23 carries in a 53-20 loss.

So the questions began again. McCoy heard them. Clearly, he didn’t like them.
PHILADELPHIA – Andrew Gardner has moved a lot, from city to city as well as along the offensive line.

A left tackle at Georgia Tech, Gardner was a sixth-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2009. He has been with the Dolphins, Ravens, Vikings, Bengals and Texans. He has played both tackle spots and both guard positions.

Gardner
So it’s not odd to find him playing right guard for the Philadelphia Eagles. If Matt Tobin is unable to play Sunday after sustaining a concussion in Green Bay last weekend, Gardner is in line to start in his spot. Gardner took all the first-team practice reps Wednesday.

“I’ve been the backup at every spot but center here, basically the whole season,” Gardner said. “People keep asking me where I’m the most comfortable. And it comes down to where I’ve practiced the most, most recently. So today, I am most comfortable at right guard.”

Earlier in the season, Gardner started two games at right tackle. Lane Johnson was still serving his four-game PED suspension, and Allen Barbre had been lost for the season with an ankle injury.

“That was nice – what was it, Week 2 and 3 – where, 'You’re going to play right tackle,’" Gardner said. “But that’s not my job right now. My job is to do what I’m asked when I’m asked to do it. As of right now, that’s play right guard. We’ll see what it is on Sunday.”

Gardner would be playing alongside Johnson, the man he replaced earlier in the season. Johnson spent last season, his rookie year, working alongside Todd Herremans. This year, he has played with Herremans, Tobin and Gardner at different times.

“I feel fine with Tobin and Gardner there,” Johnson said. “As long as we communicate well and we’re on the same page, everything should be all right.”

Tennessee, the Eagles’ opponent on Sunday, is an aggressive blitzing team. That makes communication and cooperation among the offensive linemen extremely important. A breakdown could get Mark Sanchez crushed on any given play.

“Communication is always key, especially for O-line play,” Gardner said. “You’ve just got to listen to the center, listen to the quarterback, know where you’re going. As long as you’re all on the same page, things will turn out right. We have a good group dynamic. There’s a lot of cohesion, even from the ones and the twos. There’s a pretty good comfort level with everybody in the [meeting] room.”
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' quest for cohesion on their offensive line may not be possible this week.

Tobin
Matt Tobin, who has replaced Todd Herremans at right guard, sustained a concussion late in Sunday’s loss in Green Bay, according to Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Tobin did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday as he goes through the NFL concussion protocol.

If Tobin is able to play, it would allow the Eagles to start the same five linemen at the same positions for the third week in a row. That would be only the second time they’ve been able to do that all season. If not, either Andrew Gardner or Dennis Kelly would start at right guard.

“Andrew is real versatile,” Chip Kelly said. “He’s a guard/tackle for us. He’s played both positions for us. When he’s been in there, he’s done a good job for us. He’s a veteran. He’s been in the league for a while. He has a good amount of experience that I think he can draw on. Dennis is a guard for us. He’s done a good job for us. He’s battling in there.”

David Molk and Julian Vandervelde, who are primarily centers, can also play guard in a pinch.

The Eagles were unhappy with their line’s play in Green Bay Sunday. They were hoping to get more solid play as the group remained intact and spent more time playing together. Last season, when all five linemen started all 16 games, they developed excellent chemistry together. This year, that has not been possible.

Left guard Evan Mathis injured his left knee in the season opener and missed seven games. Dennis Kelly started two of those games, while Tobin filled in and started the next five. Jason Kelce suffered a sports hernia tear in the third game of the season and missed four games.

Herremans tore his left biceps in Arizona four weeks ago. He played the next week at Houston but opted for surgery and has missed the last two games. Herremans started one game, at San Francisco, at right tackle. Dennis Kelly started at right guard in that game.

Left tackle Jason Peters is the only lineman who has started all 10 games. The Eagles have had four starters at right tackle. Lane Johnson, last year’s first-round pick, was suspended for the first four games for a PED violation but has started all six games since his return.

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