Jon Gruden put it best when he said that this game was basically a pre-season game. The Eagles fans did not show up and fill the stands like they normally do, which is especially odd seeing as how this was a Monday Night Football game. On offense, the Eagles were playing with only four of their original eleven starters from opening day. This is no excuse for why they lost the game. In fact, their offense was arguably much better than it has been for a majority of the season. The Eagles ran the football, and they ran it a lot. Bryce Brown racked up 179 yards in his first start, plus two touchdowns (one of them of 65 yards). He did fumble twice but that was not what costed the Eagles this game. What did was the Brandon Boykin fumble on special teams and their defense.
Before getting into how badly the Eagles defense is, it is appropriate to give credit where credit is due. Cam Newton played one of the best games of his career throwing for 305 yards and two touchdowns, plus he ran it in for two more scores against a defense that had only allowed three rushing touchdowns on the year. Louis Murphy made an outstanding grab on a 56 yard pitch and catch at the beginning of the third quarter. Brandon LaFell and Ben Hartstock each had two long receiving touchdowns via seam route patterns and some busted coverage. Ah yes, busted coverage… what a perfect transition to this next topic. Remember when Nnamdi Asomugha intercepted Matthew Stafford in Week 6? Well it might seem like ancient history by now since that was indeed over a month ago. This was the last time the Eagles defense created a turnover. If there is one reason why the Eagles have not won more than three games this year it is because their defense has only made seven turnovers all year (which is dead last in the NFL) and they are not pressuring the quarterback. That is a recipe for disaster. Not to mention the fact that they cannot make a stop when they need to the most. They also embarrassed themselves with three neutral-zone/offside penalties on a drive where they needed to hold the Panthers to a field goal.
This was an ugly loss for the Eagles. At this point in the season both of these teams were fighting for pride Monday night. The Eagles are torn by injuries but it is the defense that is their downfall. Earlier this year when the offense was struggling, their defense was bailing them out in the end. Now they have lost a step and are getting walked all over by anybody who plays with them. Things will get worse when they play the Dallas Cowboys next week who will need this game. The Panthers and Ron Rivera can take a heavy sigh of relief after this nice team win. Their defense was not all that bad and their offense was phenomenal.
If there was ever a time for the Eagles’ defense to get right, it would be in this game against the Panthers. Despite playing poorly against the run, the Eagles have only let up three scores on the ground all year (which is in the top three in the league). The Panthers are not running the ball very well at all, so Philly may be able to send an extra guy back on pass coverage and play a lot of man-to-man coverage. This could force Cam Newton to make some tight and precise throws, which he has not proven he can do so far this year. While this all sounds fine and dandy, the Eagles will be without their two best players on offense in Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy (each is out with a concussion). It will be up to Nick Foles to be smart with the ball and Bryce Brown to run hard with it. Brown has been impressive in his limited action this season. Now with a game all to himself he will get a chance to show Eagles fans exactly what he is made out of. Chris Polk should get some playing time as well in this game. Look for a big game out of each tight end in Brent Celek and Greg Olsen; each should find the end zone in what will be a close game. Close games have been the Panthers’ worst nightmare this year and the Eagles have benefited three times from games that were decided by less than a field goal. The Eagles will get back to winning by a slim margin, this time by three.
Philadelphia 24, Carolina 21
Why does it seem like every time these two teams square off the Packers are playing their worst ball of the year and the Giants are playing their best. With all due respect to the Giants and what they did on defense in this game, there is no way the Packers were playing Packer football on offense Sunday night. Their offensive line has been reshuffled and had problems all night against the front four of New York. T.J. Lang was beat more than a handful of times to the outside by Osi Umenyiora and the rest of the line was hardly able to contain the pass rush, forcing Rodgers to roll out of the pocket and scramble around to make plays. Osi had his breakout performance of the year with a sack and a forced fumble plus a ton of quarterback hurries. The bottom line is that the Giants’ pass rush played its best game of the year while the Packers’ o-line played one of its worst.
Give a lot of credit to Perry Fewell; every time the Packers seemed to come up with a solution to block the Giants’ front-four he sent guys from the secondary on a blitz, and they came charging through the hole and hurried Aaron Rodgers. Antrel Rolle was sniffing the line of scrimmage the entire game and was able to do so with the return of Kenny Phillips, who played well. On offense the Giants dominated because they could run the ball. Yes, Eli Manning had a nice game but part of New York’s problem on offense was the fact that they could not run the ball. The key for Kevin Gilbride is to run the ball enough to make the defense respect that option, and when they do creep forward a little bit they will have their shots in behind the front-seven. The Packers were not loading the box at all in this game. Eli Manning audibled to run plays since the Packers had a light box. There were times when they had only five guys up by the line of scrimmage. This would make for an easy run since they had five offensive linemen and a fullback to block for the running back. As stated before, this game was a combination of the Giants having a great game-plan after their BYE week and the Packers playing poorly upfront.
Will the Giants be able to keep things rolling next Monday night against the Redskins? If they are able to win in the nation’s capitol then they can basically pencil themselves in as NFC East divisional champions. The Packers relinquished first place in the NFC North back to the Bears who picked apart Minnesota. Green Bay will head home to take on those same Vikings in a must-win game for them as a franchise. If they drop that game, the Vikings would actually tie them in the standings and take second place on account of a tie. Things should get very interesting in the NFC next week. There is good football to be played!
Aldon and Justin Smith can certainly wreak a game. They did not have quite the impact that they did last Monday night against Chicago, but the two of them split a sack and earned an individual one giving them each 1.5 for the game. That only begins to tell the story of this game. While most thought that it would be the 49ers offense that controlled the game, it turned out to be their defense that moderated the tempo. Drew Brees was protected well in the first half, but that protection broke down in the second half and he went down five times. Ahmad Brooks had a wail of a game with a pick six, a sack and a half, plus four tackles. Patrick Willis did a tremendous job at covering Jimmy Graham in the slot and at the line of scrimmage. Graham only caught four balls for 33 yards. Also, coverage in the secondary did a great job against the vertical attack. A couple of plays hit home for Brees and the Saints, but most of the time when the Saints went deep it was well covered. The 49ers also got a pick-six out of Donte Whitner.
The 49ers really controlled this game from the opening drive when they forced a three and out on New Orleans. They lead for a majority of the game and were throwing the ball a little bit more than they had been when Alex Smith was in at quarterback. What really killed the Saints was when they were up 14-7 Drew Brees threw an interception and it was returned for a touchdown right before the half. This is after they had just intercepted Kaepernick (for the first time in his career) and had a chance to get points and make the game 17-7 or even 21-7. Instead the game was tied at 14 at the half and then the 49ers came out and scored a touchdown quickly to begin the third quarter. Also in the fourth quarter San Francisco put together a brilliant 16 play, 9 and a half minute drive that covered nearly 90 yards. It ended in a field goal, but the damage had been down to the clock, making a comeback very hard for Brees and nearly impossible against Vic Fangio’s stout defense.
The Saints defense was able to hold the opponent to under 400 yards for the first time this season. The 49ers were content with eating up clock in the second half and that costed them the opportunity to get more yards. The yards do not really matter though because a win is all Jim Hargaugh could have asked for, and winning in New Orleans is a nice feather in his cap. The Saints will need to brush the dirt of their bodies in a hurry because they travel north to Atlanta to take on the Falcons on Thursday night. If they cannot win this game then their season will crumble at their feet.
If Ray Rice ever makes it into the football Hall of Fame, this will be the game that will be shown in some sort of video package. He basically put the team on his back and helped bring the Ravens their eighth win of the season. On a 4th and 29, he picked up 30 yards and set the Ravens up for the game-tying FG. He ran for 97 yards and caught eight passes for 67 yards. He did not get a touchdown, but this was one of the best games by a running back who was barred out of the end zone in recent memory. The Chargers got the proverbial fork stuck in them with this loss. After the miraculous 30 yard reception it was almost a forgone conclusion that the Ravens would win the game. With listening to the end of the game, one could gather that the Chargers squandered this game away because of their inability to move the ball in the second half. They jumped out to a 10-0 lead and then scored only 3 points for the remaining 46 minutes. The Ravens are still in line for the first round BYE with a win here. Their victory over the Patriots earlier in the season could prove to be a huge one for Baltimore. They will head home to take on the Steelers next week. Ben Roethlisberger should be back for that game, and if the Ravens can win then they might be able to coast into the postseason. This was a potential trap game for them and they escaped with their heads in tact. This bodes well for them as the season progresses into December.
The St Louis Rams surpass the Arizona Cardinals in the standings with a big win in the desert. The Cardinals have not won a single game since Kevin Kolb went down in Week 6. Ryan Lindley does not provide an answer at quarterback either; he threw three picks and no touchdowns. Beanie Wells provided the two touchdowns in his return to action. Rookie Janoris Jenkins returned two interceptions for touchdowns and Sam Bradford threw 37 yard touchdown passes to Chris Givens and Lance Kendricks. Steven Jackson ran well in this game- he picked up 139 yards which is nice to see because he is one of the hardest workers in the league. Now that the Cardinals are in the basement of the NFC West they need to think about who will be available for them to draft next year. Ever since Kurt Warner retired they have had a problem at quarterback. At first Kevin Kolb looked like he was a liability, and now he appears to be their best option. If he is not the answer then they will need to draft a quarterback that will fit into their system, unless they are willing to really single one of the three QBs they have out and work with them this off-season. For the Rams, they are on the rise with Jeff Fisher as the head coach. They stand at 4-6-1 and are in no way a threat of making the playoffs but who knows what the future holds. They have their quarterback for now. If Arizona can’t find theirs then they may turn out to be NFC West bottom-feeders until they do.
This was a game that each team needed in order to help their cause for a wild card spot. There is no question that the Dolphins needed this victory more though because if they did not get it then their season would most likely have been over. The Seahawks did not win this game since they could not run the ball. This is the most run-oriented team in the NFL this season and most of their victories come on a strong performance from Marshawn Lynch. The Dolphins got their run defense going in this game, allowing only 96 yards on 27 attempts (which is 3.5 yards per carry). Ryan Tannehill did not play particularly well, nor did he need to with the fantastic effort from Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. They each combined (with the other players on the team) for 189 yards rushing. That is the reason why the Dolphins won this game. The Seahawks are a type of team that the Dolphins were built to beat anyways. Their strength is running the ball while the Dolphins’ strength is stopping the run. The ‘Hawks don’t typically involve themselves in shootouts. They play a lot of close games and Miami is good at pulling out close victories in defensive battles. Seattle is in no immediate danger right now since they still hold the #6 seed for the playoffs. Three of their next five games are being played at home (all three against divisional opponents). Next week they head out to Chicago to play a game with the Bears. This will be pretty important for both teams and could mean a lot down the stretch.