Philadelphia Eagles vs. New Orleans Saints – 2015 Week 5
Eagles 39 – Saints 17
Two teams at 1-3 facing off on a perfect autumn day in South Philly. The Eagles had not established any kind of consistent rushing attack and the Saints had been largely unable to stop the run. So, either the Birds were going to move the ball on the ground or it might never happen. New Orleans coach Sean Payton grew up in Newtown Square, PA and even served as a quarterbacks coach for the Eagles early in his career. Since leaving, he has been nothing less than a nemesis, as a coordinator for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys and as the man in charge of the Saints. So far this season, his team has not been very good. But, they still have Drew Brees. If the Eagles pass rush is as ineffective this week as it was last week in DC, Brees may just turn back the clock and light up the Linc.
Josh Huff took the opening kick at the 2-yard line and wove his way through a Black and Gold obstacle course to set up his offense near midfield. From their own 43, Sam Bradford completed a rhythm pass to Riley Cooper for seven yards and a short pass to DeMarco Murray for eight to move the chains. Successive short runs with Murray created a 3rd-and-7. Bradford’s pass for Jordan Matthews was behind the second year receiver, who reached back and juggled but dropped the ball. Coach Chip Kelly, clearly as tired of seeing punter Donnie Jones as his fans are, opted to go for it on 4th-and-7. Bradford looked down the right sideline to Cooper who was well covered and the Birds turned it over on downs.
Former Saint Malcolm Jenkins diagnosed a screen to C. J. Spiller, fought through a block and made the tackle for a 3-yard loss on first down. Mark Ingram got a handful back and created a 3rd-and-8. This was the third snap of the game, no one could say this defense was gassed because of the up-tempo offense. But, Brees had plenty of time to find an open TE Ben Watson for the first down. After an incomplete pass, Brees was sacked by Bennie Logan. On 3rd-and-17, Brees missed a well-covered Willie Snead. Brandon Fields’ punt was a touchback.
Bradford got it going with completions to Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. On first down, Murray was stuffed. Then, Bradford missed Ertz before connecting with Cooper for a first down. After a 12-yard pass to Ertz, Murray turned nothing into nine yards by breaking left and working around and through the New Orleans D. Josh Huff followed with a catch that took the Eagles into the Red Zone. On 1st-and-10 from the 12, Bradford had Cooper open in the end zone. But, his pass was underthrown and to the wrong shoulder which allowed Brandon Browner to use every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to make a diving interception.
Having halted an Eagle drive in the end zone, New Orleans looked to build some momentum. On first down, Brees went deep to Brandon Cooks. The pass into double coverage was incomplete. A flag was thrown and then picked up (get used to that phrase) after a conference of officials decided that there was no interference on the play. Eventually, the Saints found themselves in a 3rd-and-5. Again, a reasonably well-rested Eagles D failed to get off the field as Brees hit Snead for 21 yards. Ingram ran right for nine and again for 10 yards before a catch by Cooks moved the ball to the Eagles’ 10. On 2nd-and-goal, there was some confusion between Nolan Carroll and rookie Jordan Hicks that left Watson uncovered. Brees recognized the situation and quickly threw to his open TE in the flat. Watson made the catch, stepped around a diving Hicks and lumbered into the end zone for the score. Zach Hocker added the PAT. Saints 7, Eagles 0
Ryan Mathews saw his first action of the game with a four-yard catch, quality runs for seven and 16 yards and an impressive catch and run through several tackles for 13 yards along the near sideline. With offensive momentum building, Kelly went to Murray, the ballyhooed free agent who had yet to find his rhythm this season. Two consecutive plays to Murray gained very little and created another 3rd-and-long. A screen to Darren Sproles went for nine yards and a first down. Mathews ran left for six as the 1st quarter clock wound down to 0:00
Saints 7, Eagles 0
An incomplete pass to Nelson Agholor turned into a first down at the 10-yard line when Delvin Breaux was called for DPI. On the next play, we were all reminded of the league-mandated crackdown on rub plays and picks as Agholor was called for OPI. After a six yard catch by Mathews, Bradford compounded a questionable decision by throwing an inaccurate pass that Breaux intercepted. For the second time in the game, Bradford had marched his troops downfield only to give the ball away in the end zone.
To their credit, the defense responded positively. On 3rd down, E. J. Biggers got into a good position and made a play to get the defense off the field with a three-and-out. Then, as the Philly special teams yelled ‘POISON’, Fields’ short, wobbly punt bounded downfield and settled at the 19-yard line.
Bradford connected with Ertz for 13 to start the drive and then handed it to Murray, who went left for three yards. On 2nd-and-7, Murray went left again, exploding for 24 yards and coming within a shoestring tackle of taking it all the way. On the next play, Bradford hit a crossing Huff in stride as two Saints collided, the former Oregon Duck picked up a block downfield and raced in with the first receiving TD of his career. Caleb Sturgis was serenaded with a sarcastic cheer as he added the PAT. Eagles 7, Saints 7
Chris Maragos blasted Marcus Murphy at the 13-yard line on the ensuing kick return. This was followed by a solid 3-and-out by the defense and a Sproles fair catch that set up the Eagles at their own 31.
Sproles went right for four and left for five before Murray powered for three and a first down. Ertz made a fine catch on the next play for 21 yards and the Birds seemed to be rolling again at the Saints’ 36. But, after a screen to Murray lost two and the entire O-Line was called for a False Start, they were back in 3rd-and-long. Bradford scrambled to the right for a few yards and Kelly again opted to go for it on 4th Down. This time on 4th-and-9 a diving Cooper failed to make the play and appeared to injure his shoulder. To make matters worse, Agholor pulled up lame on the same play with a lower leg injury.
Khiry Robinson got things going with a 12-yard sprint to the right sideline. After a short Ingram run and an incompletion, it was 3rd down again. Once more, Brees victimized the Eagles D, finding Snead for 22 yards. Down seven and pushed inside their own 30, the Birds’ D muscled up. Ingram was stopped for a one yard loss by Logan. Fletcher Cox then sacked Brees for a loss of 10 and Jenkins busted up a screen to Spiller, driving New Orleans five yards further back. Facing 4th-and-2 from the 44, Payton asked Fields to pin Philly deep. He did and the ball was downed at the 7-yard line.
The Birds went into the Two Minute Warning facing a 3rd-and-4 at their own 13. Coming out of the break, Matthews appeared to have a first down after a 23-yard catch and run up the left side. It could have been more when the Saints were flagged for a Facemask at the end of the play. But, Matthews had been called for a spurious OPI as he broke the press coverage coming off the line. The two penalties washed the play and, on the second take, Bradford missed Sproles. Jones punt was augmented by a penalty on the return and New Orleans started from their own 28 with 1:33 to play in the half.
After an 11-yard catch by Marques Colston, Cox got loose and caught Brees for a sack that forced the ball loose. Hicks, who is developing a reputation for being in the right place at the right time, fell on the loose ball at the Saints 31. While the referees were conferring and checking the replay, a member of the Eagles’ coaching staff earned himself a 15-yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty. So, after the call on the field stood, the ball was moved back to the 46 and the Eagles’ offense took over with 1:12 on the clock.
After an 18-yard catch by Matthews, the offense showed little urgency as they burned more than :20 setting up for the next play, a seven yard pass, again to Matthews. At which point, they exercised their first time out with :30 remaining. Out of the break, Bradford threw three consecutive incompletions, the last of which drew a flag that was picked up after a ref huddle. Replay seemed to confirm that it should have been a DPI call. Philly settled for a Sturgis field goal from 39 yards to take the lead. Eagles 10, Saints 7
After a decent kick return, Payton and Brees opted to take a knee and end the half.
Eagles 10, Saints 7
On the first drive of the second half, a rested Eagles defense corps again found themselves in a position to make a play and get off the field on third down. Brees and Cooks had another idea as they hooked up on a 46-yard catch and run that took them to the Eagles’ 27. Once more, the Birds’ D created a 3rd-and-long and, once more, Brees made a play finding Colston for 17 yards down to the 10. Finally, Philly got a stop on 3rd-and-Goal at the 3-yard line and New Orleans settled for a Hocker field goal that tied the game. Eagles 10, Saints 10
The Eagles started their response with a 5-yard pass to Murray. The veteran back followed that with a run to the right for 10 and a run left for three. Two plays later, Bradford converted a 3rd-and-7 with a 9-yard throw to Matthews near midfield. After Sproles sprinted to the sideline for 14, Saints DE Cameron Jordan was called for Roughing the Passer, turning an incomplete pass to Cooper into another first down. Mathews ground out three yards on first down. Then, Huff took a short pass and impressively worked his way down to the 2-yard line. On the next play, Mathews plowed through two Saints defenders for the TD. Sturgis PAT was good. Eagles 17, Saints 10
Before Brees & Co. could mount any kind of reply, Cox struck again. For the second time, the Eagles lineman separated the ball from the veteran QB. This time, he leaped over the fallen Brees to make the recovery himself at the Saints 13.
Wasting no time, Bradford found Celek in the right corner of the end zone for a TD on a play that looked as easy as a 7-on-7 drill in shorts during a May OTA. Sturgis awakened the boo birds by missing the PAT. Eagles 23, Saints 10
The Saints managed only a first down before failing on 3rd-and-3 at their own 37. Fields’ punt was a dead shank that went only 13 yards and the Birds took over at midfield.
After a run, catch and run by Murray moved the chains, Bradford and Celek teamed up for a 23-yard play down to the 16. They didn’t get much further. But, Sturgis’ 29-yard field goal extended the lead. Eagles 26, Saints 10
Murphy returned the ensuing kick to the 27 and Ingram followed with a 17-yard rumble on the final play of the quarter.
Eagles 26, Saints 10
As the final quarter began, the Saints drive stalled and Fields punted to the Eagles’ 19.
For the third consecutive week, the Eagles had a 4th Quarter lead to protect. In the previous weeks, this had meant predictable and poorly executed running plays. Kelly went to the run again. But, with results as Mathews burst left for 11 and then a 33-yard flash of lightning into Saints’ territory. A short pass to Murray was augmented by a Facemask call and a Neutral Zone Infraction on the following play. A few plays later, Sturgis tacked on another field goal. Eagles 29, Saints 10
Needing to answer quickly, Brees hit Watson for nine yards then hurried his troops back into formation without a huddle. On 2nd-and-1, he found Snead streaking down the left sideline ahead of Carroll for 59 yards to the Eagles 12. The Saints day was encapsulated on the next play as Brees found TE Michael Hoomanawanui (that will be on the test) on a short pass. As the sixth-year man out of Illinois turned upfield, he was thumped by DeMeco Ryans and the ball popped free. Byron Maxwell recovered the fumble.
With all of the momentum rolling their way, the Eagles lined up at their own 17. Cooper got things started with a 14-yard catch. Murray followed with a 9-yard run that was boosted by another Facemask flag and a 13-yard catch and run, setting his team up at the Saints’ 35. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-10, Bradford appeared to be sacked for the first time in the game. But, Browner was flagged for an iffy Holding call that gave the Birds new life. They could only get seven yards closer before Sturgis booted his fourth field goal of the day. Eagles 32, Saints 10
Three scores down with just over four minutes to play, Brees looked to get the ball downfield. He settled for a 13-yard check down to Ingram on 1st down before looking for rookie Brandon Coleman down the numbers on the left side. Safety Walter Thurmond broke on the throw and picked it off. The former Seattle Seahawk who spent last year with the Giants wove his way through the Saints offense and carried the play down to the 4-yard line.
Clearly broken, the Saints offered little resistance as Murray strolled into the End Zone on the next play. Sturgis PAT was good. Eagles 39, Saints 10
Brees led his offense onto the field against mostly the second string of the Eagles defense. The Saints put together a 14-play, 80-yard drive that seemed at one point to be derailed by a Bryan Braman sack that cost them 11 yards. To their credit, New Orleans kept coming and scored on a pass to Cooks on the game’s final play. Hocker added the moot PAT. Eagles 39, Saints 17
Final: Eagles 39, Saints 17
This was almost exactly the game this team needed – a consistent offensive attack, an effective pass rush and decent special teams. It was far from perfect – Bradford is still missing too many throws, the defense allowed 8 of 16 third downs to be converted and allowed six plays of more than 20 yards, Sturgis looked better, but he missed another PAT and his kickoffs were far too returnable.
After the two Bradford INT’s cost them between six and 14 points, the D created 4 takeaways that the O translated into 20 points.
Murray got the touches he asked for (20 rushes for 83 yards, 7 catches for 37) and led a rushing attack that averaged better than five yards per carry.
Cox was snubbed for the Pro Bowl last year after announcing his presence to the league with a solid season. But, this performance (6 Tackles, 3 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles and a Recovery) should earn him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors and put him on the short list for this year’s Pro Bowl.
Take a look at what this defense is doing against the run (96.8 yards/game, 1 rushing TD allowed) and remember that they are still without Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso, arguably their two best linebackers.
Monday Night Football with the division-leading (3-2) New York football Giants. The once proud NFC East is a shell of its glorious former self. Besides going 0-4 against the Atlanta Falcons, they can boast only one team with a record above .500 and a mere three wins against teams with winning records. The Giants will arrive in Philadelphia with the memory of last year’s 27-0 embarrassment as motivation and carrying the momentum of a three-game win streak. The Eagles can pull even with the G-Men with a win and a loss would make them 2-4 (0-3 in the division). So, as they continue to climb out of the pit they dug for themselves, the Eagles are staring down the barrel of yet another game they can’t afford to lose.