In Nick Foles’ first start of the season, the Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) improved to .500 with a 31-20 over the reeling Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5). Despite seeming porous at times, the Birds defense made plays when it had to and the offense put more than enough points on the board to secure a much-needed win.
Here are some of the players who stood out, both positively and negatively, for the Eagles against the Bucs.
Balled: Nick Foles
A lot NFL players have talent, but some never get the chance to showcase it because of injuries/qualified starters ahead of them. In fact, if it weren’t for a Drew Bledsoe sheared blood vessel in Week 2 of the 2001 season, the league might have never gotten to see quarterback Tom Brady put together his Hall of Fame career, with 2 MVPs, 8 Pro Bowl appearances, and 3 Super Bowl championships. Now, don’t think I’m comparing Nick Foles to Brady. They’re not even in the same universe. Their situations, however, are relatively similar. Foles was relegated to the backup spot after Michael Vick’s stellar preseason, but after Vick pulled his hamstring last week against the Giants, Foles has led the team to two straight wins.
Although many “experts” predicted that Foles would not find success in the Eagles up-tempo, read-option offense because of his immobility, he has flourished in Chip Kelly’s system. Today, he completed 22-of-31 passes for 296 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He also added a rushing touchdown, on a read-option play no less. He’s shown that he is willing to spread the ball around more (4 different players had at least six targets), he can throw the deep ball (47- and 36-yard touchdown passes), and he can operate in the red zone (4-for-6 in the last two games).
Last week, Chip Kelly said that Vick would be starter when healthy, but Foles has made it much more difficult to go away from the hot hand.
Stalled: Cary Williams
When the Eagles announced the signing of Cary Williams this offseason, I was really excited. The Eagles were getting a physical, veteran cornerback that had started on the reigning Super Bowl champions, the type of player the secondary lacked in 2012. Eagles fans have been severely disappointed.
Williams continued his string of poor play today, with Vincent Jackson catching 9 balls for 114 yards and two touchdowns. While the first TD was Nate Allen’s fault, Williams got beat 1-on-1 on a fade route in the end zone later in the second quarter. He hasn’t been the No. 1 cornerback the team signed him to be, allowing red zone TDs to Rueben Randle, Demaryius Thomas (x2), Eddie Royal, and now V-Jax. Williams was brought in to be a physical, man specialist, but that’s where he’s struggled the most. He needs to start asserting himself more at the line of scrimmage so he can limit the number of times he gives up first downs on underneath routes and the amount of times he gets burned in the red zone.
Balled: Bradley Fletcher
On the other hand, Bradley Fletcher has emerged as the Eagles’ top corner. After an impressive performance last week, where he limited Victor Cruz, one of the league’s most explosive wideouts, Fletcher put the lockdown on Tiquan Underwood, who caught zero balls on 4 targets. In the second half, the Bucs moved Timothy Wright to the outside, and he had some success, but overall Fletcher had a great game with three passes defended and an interception.
Fletcher was in the right position all game long, including several plays where he got inside position and then reacted perfectly to the ball, either forcing the receiver to drop it or batting the ball away himself. On the interception, Fletcher ran a better slant route than Underwood and caught the Glennon pass right in his midsection. If he continues to play like this, one has to wonder whether he’ll start getting the tougher assignment week in and week out.
Stalled: Damaris Johnson
Before the season started, I predicted that Damaris Johnson would have a breakout year, both at wide receiver and as a returner. Time for me to eat some crow, as he’s been dismal in both regards. While he’s been okay as a kick returner (26 yards per return), a lot of his runs have come from six or seven yards deep in the end zone, thus putting his offense in poor positions. Today, he took a ball from 9 yards deep and thus only made it out to the 15. His decision-making on kick returns has been suspect. On punt returns, he’s been even worse, averaging 8.6 yards per return with one muffed punt and zero returns longer than 21 yards.
As a wide receiver, he’s been downright awful. Damaris caught his first pass of the season today, for a measly 8 yards. While he doesn’t see the field in that role very often, he’s failed to make the most of his opportunities.
Balled: Riley Cooper
I predicted in my Eagles-Bucs Xs and Os that Cooper would break out this week with Foles under center, and boy was I right, catching four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. On his 47-yard touchdown, he just outran his defender and then made more an effort to catch the ball at the goal line.
Michael Vick rarely looked Cooper’s way over the first four weeks, and as a result he caught only eight balls for 93 yards. While many blamed Cooper’s route-running, there were definitely times when Vick tucked the ball and tried to use his legs rather than wait the extra second and hit an open Cooper in stride. Today, Foles showed that Cooper does have a spot in this offense. He looked energized and a bit faster today, creating separation with both his size and speed and putting up a gaudy stat line.
Stalled: Trent Cole
The Eagles’ pass rush looked awful for much of the game, generating little pressure against a rookie QB who, if exposed to more midnight green earlier in his progressions, might have folded like a tent. Instead, the Eagles struggled to shed blocks all game, especially outside linebacker Trent Cole.
When the Eagles made the switch to a base 3-4 defense, they brought in Connor Barwin to play the SAM and make up for Cole’s inability to cover tight ends. Instead, Barwin has had to make up for Cole’s nability to generate pressure, with three sacks to Cole’s zero. Today, Cole was stood up on play after play by right tackle Demar Dotson, recording only one tackle and zero QB hits. If the Eagles want to start racking up those “drive killers” we commonly refer to as sacks, Cole will need to step up his game or ride the bench in favor of Brandon Graham.