Vick, Defense Shine In Eagles Victory Over Jags
By Lance Epstein
It was supposed to be the start of the Kevin Kolb Era in Philadelphia. There were supposed to be struggles and growing pains for a talented, but young Eagles offense. They were allegedly in a "transition year."
But after three weeks of the NFL season, all those views have gone out the window. The Philadelphia Eagles are sitting pretty at 2-1 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
On Sunday, the Eagles completely dismantled the lowly Jaguars for a 28-3 victory due to the magnificent play of quarterback Michael Vick.
In Vick's previous six quarters against the Lions and Packers he was exactly how head coach Andy Reid describe, "he was playing out of his mind." Still, the media questioned whether he could be a consistent pocket passer and play at high level. They even claimed he was only putting up the lofty numbers due to playing a porous Lions squad and a Packers team that never gameplanning for his skillsets.
However his performance on Sunday made a definitive statement that he was here to stay. In fact, he had one of his best performances of his career. Against the Jaguars, Vick was 17-for-31 for 291 yards, three touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown. For the third consecutive week, Vick eclipsed a QB rating over 100 as he finished with a 119.2 QB rating (best of his career).
More impressively, Vick has not turned the ball over or thrown an interception in 30 offensive possession or 89 passing attempts. That is amazing considering he had not started a game in nearly three season. Think about this for stat for a moment, elite quarterbacks Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have had multiple interceptions in a game already this season. Only Vick and (Colts QB) Peyton Manning are the only starting quarterbacks in the league not to have an interception.
Just as important, Vick has allowed both wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to once again become dangerous weapons in the offense. Over the past two weeks, Vick has found Jackson for two touchdowns of over 50 yards. Early in the first quarter, Vick got the offense rolling as he connected on a 61-yard touchdown pass to Jackson to give the Eagles the early 7-0 lead. By the end of the day, Jackson had his second consecutive 100-yard game as he amassed 153 yards on five receptions.
Additionally, Vick appears to have quite the chemistry and trust with Maclin. Vick found Maclin for scores of 45 yards and 16 yards. In 2.5 games with Vick under center, Maclin has four touchdowns, which matches his total from last season.
Besides getting his top two wide receivers involved, the offense is soaring inside the red zone. The Eagles have scored seven touchdowns in their last eight trips inside the red zone. Remember that during the preseason and the Donovan McNabb regime, the Eagles usually settled for David Akers field goals. Ultimately, their struggles cost them games from time-to-time.
Even though Vick's passing skills were on full display, it would not have been possible without the improvement in pass protection by the offensive line. During the first two weeks of the season, the Eagles offensive line was manhandled as they gave up six sacks in each of the first two games.
With the offensive line struggling, Reid decided to inject recently acquired guard Reggie Wells into the starting lineup for right guard Nick Cole. Without a doubt the offensive line still has many holes (allowed three sacks), but Vick had a good amount of time in the pocket to go through his progressions, read the defense and find receivers down the field.
Most analysts will point to the offense-- mainly Vick’s play-- as the key reason the Eagles dominated the Jaguars, but they would be overlooking the sensational job the defense did against Jags offense.
The defense limited the Jaguars to 184 total yards on offense, which is 187 yards less than their season average of 371.4 yards per game. They also held Garrard to 3.5 yards per passing attempt and a 43-percent completion percentage (13-30-105-0-1).
Entering the game, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and his defense were allowing 29.5 points per game. Today, the Eagles defense held their opponent to below 21 points for the first time since week 15 (last season) against the San Francisco 49ers.
A significant reason for the turn around of the defense was the return of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. Bradley and the rest of the linebackers played a major role in the Eagles eliminating the bowling ball known as Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew ran for 88 yards on 22 attempts, but he had only 2 receptions for one-yard. In the first two games of the season, running backs (Lions) Jahvid Best and (Packers) Brandon Jackson killed the Eagles defense with their ability to receive the ball out of the backfield.
Another key factor in holding the Jaguars to three points was the relentless pressure brought by the Eagles front four. Defensive end Trent Cole manhandled Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe and sacked Jaguars QB David Garrard twice. In addition, (DE) Juqua Parker registered his fourth sack of the season.
Nevertheless, it was two players that Eagles fans had given up for dead that made a huge impact. Defensive end Darryl Tapp finally made the impact that the Eagles envisioned when they acquired him this offseason from Seattle. The Eagles decided to active him for the first time all season and made the most of his opportunity. He had two tackles for loss and recorded his first sack as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
The other player that starred for the defense was no other than second round bust (DT) Trevor Laws. Throughout training camp, the coaching staff had been raving about Laws’ play, but he never showed up in game situations. On Sunday, Laws turned in his finest performance as an Eagle. He was constantly creating chaos in the backfield and had quite a stat line. He had a sack, two tackles for losses, two pass deflections and two QB hurries.
Of course there are some negatives coming out of the game for Vick and the offense. Vick completed just 55-percent of his passes. While it is a bit alarming, it was not all his fault. He had four or five passes hit wide receivers in the hands and the ball managed to find its way to the ground.
A couple more negatives coming out of the game are the Eagles forgetting about the running game and their inability to pick up first downs on third/fourth and short. The gameplan was obviously to attack the weakness of the Jaguars defense, which was their secondary. However, against the Redskins next week, they must get (RB) LeSean McCoy more involved. If they don't, the offensive line and Vick will have their hands full with Brian Orakpo and the very aggressive Redskins defense.
As for the short yardage problem, the Eagles find new and interesting ways to not get the first down. This season has been no different. In two of the first three games, the Eagles have turned the ball over on downs with third and fourth down with just inches to go. Whether it is bad playcalling or lack of execution, the Eagles fix the problem and pick first downs. Otherwise it will come back to haunt them down the road.
With the Jaguars game in the books, the real fun begins as the team turns their focus to the Washington Redskins. The circus will certainly be in town as former Eagle and current Redskins’ QB Donovan McNabb returns to Lincoln Financial Field.
The drama and storylines will be rich this week. It will be the franchise that no longer believed in the aging McNabb and his ability to lead the Eagles to the just out-of-his-reach Lombardi Trophy against the disgruntled former employee that feels disrespected by his old organization and its fan base after all the success he brought to the city of Philadelphia.
Nonetheless, the Eagles and their fans find themselves in a very familiar place, which is sitting all alone atop of the NFC East standings. But now, the real fun begins…