1) STUFFING THE RUN.
For the third week in a row, the defensive line was dominant in shutting down a very good running back. The consistency is as impressive as the tackling. Imagine this line with an improved secondary next year - more sacks, some INTs. They have the makings of a top 5 NFL defense.
Of course as soon as I wrote those words down, Alfred Morris ripped off a 28 yard TD, with nearly every single Eagles missing a tackle. So it wasn't perfect. But that was the exception for the night.
2) CHIP REMEMBERED HIS TIGHT ENDS.
Zach Ertz caught short passes on two of the first 3 plays, a franchise TE record 15 catches for 115 yards, and a key TD on that long drive early in the fourth quarter. That's a great way to work around Sanchez' limitations, and and an important tool the Eagles need going forward.
20 of Eagles' 45 plays in first half were run with "12'' personnel (1RB, 2TE). Since Wk. 6, haven't used "12'' more than 25 times in a game.— Paul Domowitch (@pdomo) December 20, 2014
Riley Cooper had a good game too, which makes sense since he's basically been a tight end who lines up out wide this year. His blocking was crucial to long runs by Shady and Sproles, he caught a touchdown on a slant just short of the goal line, and two catches on a crucial fourth quarter drive.
3) 3RD DOWN DEFENSE.
The Eagles did a good job of getting stops on 3rd down, for once. Washington converted only 2 of 9, without a single 3rd and long. (The Eagles actually made a few of those, and let me tell you, it's much better to give than receive.) Philly, meanwhile, converted 9 of 16.
Now for the bad news -- Washington only had 9 third down conversions because they moved the sticks on so many first and second downs. The Eagles were also flagged three times on third down plays, including an incredibly weak roughing the passer call on Brandon Graham. That call, and a personal foul on Carey Williams, were unrelated to the effective defense on those plays.
4) SANCHEZ RUNS!
Sanchez has shown a nearly pathological reluctance to run in every game except the Thanksgiving Day game against Dallas (where he promptly scored a touchdown on a keeper). This makes a joke out of the read option, since the defense had no need to stay honest against QB runs.
Saturday, Sanchez chose keepers, scrambled and even picked up three on a designed run for a total of 22 yards. It was beautiful, and not coincidentally Philadelphia's offense opened up.
5) SANCHEZ THROWS!
No one's accusing him of having a monster arm yet, but Mark Sanchez threw, often, hard and accurately. He also threw long (by his short standards), completing passes of 18, 18, 22, 22 and 26 yards, along with four 16-yarders. QB coach Musgrave has clearly been working on Sanchez' mechanics, as he didn't sail any while throwing a couple into the dirt at receivers' feet. He even nearly got through a game without an interception, until rookie Bashaud Breeland pulled one out of the dirt with 1:31 left in the fourth.
It only took the Eagles 3:18 to give up the ball leading to a score. The strip sack was more Lane Johnson's fault for completely whiffing on the block more than Sanchez', but the QB should have moved up too. And the interception with 91 seconds left swung the game, stopping an impressive Eagles drive and setting up Washington for the winning field goal.
2) BRADLEY FLETCHER.
On Washington's 51-yard first quarter bomb, DeSean was so wide open that he fell down and got back up again before Fletcher could even tap him. Again in the third, Griffin basically shut his eyes and hucked it for a long gain at Fletch's expense. I'm not a huge DeSean Jackson fan, but give him credit, he does have a knack for running under fairly wild long balls.
Luckily, the Eagles have other defenders in the secondary. When Washington tried a third huck, Nate Allen came over to snag a crucial fourth quarter interception.
And save some hate for Carey WIlliams, too. His missed tackle of Pierre Garcon gave Washington a crucial fifteen extra yards as they fought for field goal position in the final 90 seconds.
3) OFFENSIVE LINE FAILURES.
Philadelphia faced a horrible rash of injuries in the first half of this year, but the starters have all been back for several games -- except for Todd Herremans, considered the weakest link on one of the NFL's best lines. And yet the OL continues to be a problem. Run blocking was solid, allowing LeSean McCoy to get off for one of his best games of the year, but pass protection was poor.
Lane Johnson completely whiffed on Kerrigan (
Meriweather, h/t ), allowing him to strip sack Sanchez (not Foles, good catch @cynphl9) early, and was called for blatant holding in the second quarter. Jason Peters gave up two sacks and two penalties, adding to his team-leading total of 13.
4) PARKEY CRUMBLES.
After an extraordinary rookie season, Cody Parkey fell apart Saturday, missing two easy field goals wide right. He could barely reach the endzone on kickoffs, managing just 65, 66, 57 and 72 yards. That suggests he might not be as healed up from his injury as he claimed before the game, but that doesn't explain his sudden drift rightward.
Thankfully, he was able to make amends by tying the game with a 4th quarter chip shot. You could see how he babied the kick, but whatever. It worked. He even tackled Andre Roberts on the ensuing kickoff to stop a 35-yard runback.
You can argue about bad calls or not, especially on three very questionable roughing the passer calls in the red zone, but penalties absolutely killed Philadelphia in this game. The numbers say it all: 13 for 102 yards, vs. 2 for 10 yards.
So that's a wrap on the Birds' playoff chances. Next week, they play the Giants for pride, and begin the task of filling obvious talent gaps on this team.