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Jordan Raanan, XFINITY Sports NFL Columnist/Bleeding Green Nation Contributor
The numbers speak for themselves. The Eagles called 46 passing plays and 17 runs. Andy Reid tried to explain the lunacy with this:
"We thought that we could throw the ball and do a better job in that area." He added that in hindsight, the Eagles could have run the ball more. Duh. And the Titanic could have avoided that iceberg too.
Passing 73 percent of the time is crazy, especially when the Eagles single best player is their running back. It really is impossible to justify such a disparity. Even Andy doesn't really try. And to make matters worse, the Cardinals weren't blitzing Michael Vick like crazy as it appeared at first glance. After breaking down the game, it's apparent Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton had a strong game plan that fooled the Eagles quarterback and offensive line (namely center Dallas Reynolds in his first career start) repeatedly.
Even though the Cardinals were hitting Vick early and often, they weren't necessarily blitzing. Arizona varied its fronts by bringing cornerbacks off the edge, safeties off the edge and down the gut, and linebackers from every possible angle. They dropped linebackers into coverage on some plays, defensive ends into coverage on some plays, even nose tackles into coverage on others. Basically the Cards made it look like they were blitzing on just about every play in the first half, but rarely were they ever sending more than four men after Vick. They were just bringing one or two of those four men from non-traditional pass rushing positions.
Of the 26 called pass plays in the first half, Arizona sent more than four rushers seven times. Three of those were the final three goal-line plays to end the half. So basically, they blitzed on just four of the first 23 pass plays.
Vick vs. Blitz (First Half): 3-of-6 for 73 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 fumble
The Eagles actually had three nice pass plays (Celek for 34, Johnson for 26 and Avant for 13) off the blitz in the first half. Then there was the fumble that was returned for the touchdown.
After the fumble and the halftime break it got ugly with Arizona holding a big lead and facing no significant threat of the run. The Cards turned up the pressure. They blitzed on 10 of 21 pass plays in the second half.
Vick vs. Blitz (Second Half): 2-of-9 for 33 yards, 3 throwaways, 1 grounding, 1 sack
Arizona deserves credit for their varied game plan that successfully confused the Eagles. The Eagles also deserved blame for failing to recognize the blitzes. The question is where exactly to place the blame. Some of it has to go on Vick for not recognizing the blitzers pre-snap, and not just on the sack/fumble for a touchdown that ended the game. He didn't do a good job throughout the game.
Reynolds' job also entails calling the line assignments before the snap. He failed in that regard in his first career start. The Eagles blockers (running back LeSean McCoy included) appeared clueless on who to block way too often. It led to their offensive demise. The Eagles did not score a touchdown for the first time since their 24-0 loss to the Cowboys in Week 17 of the 2009 season.
Arizona's game plan offensively was equally brilliant. They moved Larry Fitzgerald (9 catches, 114 yards, 1 TD) all over the field. They had him in the backfield, in motion, in the slot and bunched in three receiver sets. That created favorable matchups as the Eagles mostly kept their cornerbacks locked in their comfort spots. Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo used more zone than in previous games and did not lock cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Nnamdi Asomugha on Fitzgerald. The game plan against Fitzgerald didn't work.
Here who Fitz was lined up opposite on pass plays:
DRC: 8 times
Nnamdi: 8 times
Boykin: 6 times
Hughes 4 times
Ryans: 1 time
Kendricks: 3 times
Other Notable Observations:
- Reynolds and new left tackle Demetress Bell each struggled badly throughout their first start. Neither were able to get out and make blocks on any of the three screens the Eagles called or were strong pass blocking. Bell was beat off the edge a handful of times and was beat twice with inside moves. Reynolds had trouble with Calais Campbell in the middle throughout the game. To be fair, Bell struggled with Campbell when he moved outside as well. It was hard to evaluate either Bell or Reynolds in the run game because, well, there really wasn't much of a run game.
- The Eagles screen game was a mess without center Jason Kelce. They ran three screens for a total of one yard.
- McCoy had one of his worst games as a blocker. Usually reliable, McCoy went to the wrong side on the costly sack/fumble and could have been called for a holding in the end zone in the second half. On the very next play after holding in the end zone, Shady missed his block on a blitzer on the play that DeSean Jackson stopped midway through his route as he pleaded for a pass interference call. Overall, McCoy had a handful of poor or missed blocks in the contest.
- Brandon Graham and Darryl Tapp were as good watching the second time as they appeared at first. Both were in the backfield consistently when they were on the field. Tapp played 28 snaps (45%) and Graham 17 (27%). Expect more snaps for them going forward.
- On the play before the end of the first half fumble Vick totally missed a wide open Clay Harbor in the end zone. Vick locked in on his primary target Jackson and never looked at his second option in the middle of the field as his pocket collapsed.
- The timeout before the first play of the second quarter was called by Reid. As Vick called an audible at the line of scrimmage it appeared Reid didn't like the look of the play against the defensive formation as the play clock dwindled. You can see Reid signaling time out to the official right as the ball was snapped.
- Castillo varied his fronts on third downs with Jason Babin and Trent Cole often standing in a pseudo-linebacker position. Cole earned a piece of a sack with an inside rush from that formation and Babin took down the quarterback once as he looped outside after starting as a standup linebacker.