When things go wrong, coaches receive a lot of the blame. So it’s only fair that when things go right, they get some of the credit.
The Eagles had an outstanding game plan Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Offense, defense and special teams all played well, which is why the Eagles jumped out to a 21-point lead in the first half en route to a 31-17 triumph.
In my preview of Sunday’s game, I identified four potential problem areas against the Falcons: stopping the run, limiting tight end Tony Gonzalez, King Dunlap’s pass protection at left tackle, and finding ways to get the ball to the dangerous DeSean Jackson. The Eagles (4-2) found ways to address all four of those areas.
Jackson had caught just four passes from quarterback Kevin Kolb all season. Those four receptions produced a grand total of 37 yards. But on the Eagles’ second offensive play Sunday, Kolb handed off to Jackson on an end around, and the speedy receiver dashed 31 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
Jackson caught a 15-yard pass on the Eagles’ next possession. Then he caught a beautifully thrown pass down the middle for a 34-yard touchdown. With the game barely eight minutes old, Jackson, whose day was cut short by a concussion during the second quarter (see the next note), had two touchdowns.
But the offense wasn’t all about Jackson. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a masterful job of keeping the Falcons off-balance. The Falcons never seemed to know where the attack was coming from, and the credit for that belongs to Mornhinweg.
The Eagles also did a good job of limiting the exposure of Dunlap, starting in place of the injured Jason Peters. They started out the game with quick passes and unexpected runs, which prevented the Falcons from applying all-out pressure on Kolb. But Dunlap deserves credit for doing a fine job when asked to block one-on-one.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott kept pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan all day. The plan seemed to be to force Ryan to make a quick decision, then have the cornerbacks aggressively pursue the ball after it was thrown.
The Eagles applied pressure to Ryan without sacrificing run defense. The Falcons never broke a long run, and they found inside yards difficult to acquire.
Finally, the much-maligned special teams did a good job in coverage. There weren’t any particularly long kickoff or punt returns. That helped the Eagles achieve excellent field position, especially during the first half.
Kudos to Mornhinweg, McDermott and special teams coordinator Bobby April. And let’s add a pat on the back to the big man himself, Andy Reid.
SCARY MOMENT: Jackson was knocked out of the game by an extremely violent collision early in the second quarter. Kolb, under pressure, floated a pass that Jackson caught running from the right side of the field to the left. After he caught the ball, Jackson was leveled by Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson.
The vicious hit drew a 15-yard penalty, but yardage was the least of everyone’s concerns. Both Robinson and Jackson remained on the ground for several minutes. Eventually, both players got up and were helped off the field.
After the game, Reid said that Jackson suffered a concussion.
QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY? Kolb continued to make a case to regain the starting job he lost to Michael Vick. Kolb completed 23 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns, while throwing just one interception.
When asked about the quarterback situation, Reid did not respond with his usual “Michael is our starter” comment. First, he described himself as a “happy guy” to have the dilemma of choosing between two good quarterbacks. Then he said, “I’ll make the right decision there” without saying what that decision would be.
Only when reporters continued to press the issue did Reid say of Vick, “Yeah, he’s the starting quarterback.”
PICKING UP THE SLACK: With Jackson sidelined, Jeremy Maclin stepped up and had the best game of his young career. Maclin caught seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
The 83-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline with 6:11 remaining in the third quarter – coming off a fake end around – seemed to re-energize the Eagles and reverse the momentum the Falcons had garnered with a touchdown at the end of the first half and a long drive that produced a field goal early in the second half.
MOMENTUM SWING: If the Eagles had lost this game, many people would have pointed to Jackson’s injury and an interception at the end of the first half as the plays that changed the tide.
The Eagles were ahead, 21-0, and driving in Atlanta territory for another score when Kolb’s pass to Brent Celek was deflected twice before ending up in the arms of defensive back William Moore. Moore returned the ball into Eagles territory and, to make matters worse, an additional 15 yards was tacked onto the end of the play when Kolb tackled him using the outlawed “horse collar” technique.
The Falcons offense took over at the 31-yard line with 52 seconds remaining in the first half. With 14 seconds left, Ryan hit Gonzalez for a 1-yard score, cutting their deficit to 21-7. That momentum carried over into the second half – until Maclin’s 83-yard touchdown reception took some of the wind out of the Falcons’ sails.
KING COLE: Defensive end Trent Cole had a terrific game, sacking Ryan twice and also playing well against the run. Cole knocked the ball out of Ryan’s grasp with 2:44 remaining, causing a fumble that was recovered by the Eagles, extinguishing any hopes the Falcons had of a miraculous comeback.
There was some doubt as to whether Ryan’s arm was moving forward when the ball was knocked loose, making it an incompletion rather than a fumble, but the Falcons had used all of their timeouts, so they could not challenge the call.
BLEEDING GREEN AND RED: With the outcome no longer in doubt after the fumble recovery with 2:44 remaining, the fans at Lincoln Financial Field broke out in a loud “Let’s Go Phillies!” chant.
NOT SO PRETTY IN PINK: After missing his first three field goal attempts – all wide left – kicker David Akers ditched the pink shoe commemorating breast cancer awareness month. He promptly made his final attempt.
Sunday was the first time during Akers’ outstanding career that he had missed three field goal attempts in one game.
QUICK STRIKE: The Eagles had two two-play touchdown drives, one on their first possession of the game and one in the third quarter. I guess we don’t have to worry about the Eagles’ big-play capability with Kolb at quarterback any longer.
REMEMBER THE TITANS: Up next for the Eagles are the Tennessee Titans. Not only are the Titans a solid team, but the game is in Tennessee. Furthermore, the game before the bye week, which the Titans game will be, has been a notoriously tough game for the Eagles under Reid.