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Eagles-Saints Playoff Postgame: Getting Run Out of the Playoffs
There were so many reasons why the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night in the first round of the NFL Playoffs.
The weather at Lincoln Financial Field was cold, but there was no wind to disrupt New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints offense. Alex Henery missed another field goal. LeSean McCoy only averaged 3.6 yards per carry. The Eagles special teams weren't so special. Specifically, they gave up a long kickoff return late in the fourth quarter and Cary Williams added insult to injury by getting flagged for a 15-yard horse-collar tackle penalty to give the Saints the ball at the Eagles' 48-yard line, trailing by only a point. The Eagles defense couldn't stop the Saints' rushing attack that was among the league's worst coming into the game. Riley Cooper dropped an easy catch on a third down when there was nobody near him and he would have run for at least another 30 yards. And DeSean Jackson came up extremely small, catching only 3 passes for 53 yards.
But I think the main reason that the Eagles lost to the Saints 26-24, on a last second Shayne Graham 32 yard field goal, was that Chip Kelly had another brain fart.
The Eagles finished the regular season as the No.1 rushing offense in the entire NFL. They had the most rushing attempts and the most yardage, while McCoy led the NFL with 1,607 yards rushing. Yet, Kelly only saw fit to give McCoy the football 21 times against a bad Saints run defense that was ranked 19th in the NFL. And neither Chris Polk nor Bryce Brown had a single carry in the game. Foles had one, so the Eagles ran the ball a whopping 22 times in the entire game. Why? I thought Kelly learned his lesson when he blew the Minnesota game by not running the football. I guess I was wrong.
I understand that the Saints were selling out to stop the run and it was working for them most of the game. They held McCoy to just 32 yards on 10 first half carries. But it wasn't as if the Eagles passing game was lighting it up. Nick Foles completed 23 of his 33 passes for only 195 yards and 2 touchdowns. That's not a bad night of work for the young signal-caller, but you got the feeling it should have been better. After all, he had all day in the pocket to find his receivers. One of the two sacks Foles took was after he stood in the pocket for at least 7 or 8 seconds. That's an eternity in the NFL. But his receivers just weren't getting open.
Kelly must have seen that and he should have leaned on his best player, McCoy. He did it most of the year and McCoy and the offensive line made it pay off as they had their best yards per carry average in the fourth quarters of games this season. They were able to wear down opposing defenses throughout the game and make them pay at the end. So why didn't Kelly follow his own proven formula? Frankly, I have no idea and the Eagles and their fans will have a long offseason to think about it.
I can't even fault the defense for this loss, since they actually held Brees to 20-for 30 passing for 250 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. I know Brees isn't a great quarterback on the road, but that's a nice night's work from the defense, especially the two turnovers. They even held the dangerous Jimmy Graham to 3 catches for 44 yards.
The problem with that is that defensive coordinator Billy Davis admitted that he was so focused on stopping Brees and the New Orleans passing attack, that he didn't pay enough attention to the Saints running game. The Saints ran the ball more than they passed it and did so effectively. 14 of their 26 first downs were on the ground and even when the Eagles knew the Saints were going to run, they couldn't stop them. It's even worse when you consider that the Saints didn't even have their leading rusher from the regular season, Pierre Thomas, who did not play due to injury. The Saints ran the ball 36 times for 195 yards, which is a healthy 5.1 yards per carry. That's exactly how you win games in cold weather when your quarterback maybe isn't haven't his best game. Saints coach Sean Payton obviously figured that one out. Maybe Kelly will learn that valuable lesson.
Why Did the Eagles Lose to the Saints?
I know it's not all Kelly's fault. All those examples that I gave of the things that went wrong for the Eagles in this game played a part in this season-ending loss. It's just that it didn't have to be this way.
The crowd did their part to disrupt Brees and the Saints offense. The crowd noise created two crucial false start penalties. I was there and can confirm that it was loud. It's just a shame Chipper couldn't hear me yelling for him to run the damn ball more often.
Now stories will be written about what a great season Kelly and the Eagles had and how the fans should consider themselves lucky to have even had a home playoff game after last season's abysmal 4-12 finish. That's all well and good, but I don't want to hear that crap now. Right now I want to be ticked off about the Eagles losing a playoff game that they should have won. I'll reflect on the season later.
The Eagles defense wasn't that good this season, but it was opportunistic. They gave up some yardage and some points on Saturday night, but they also came up with two more timely turnovers. Unfortunately, the offense didn't do enough to deliver a win. Ultimately, the players deserve a good deal of the blame for not performing, but Kelly wasn't calling the right plays to put his players in the best position to get the win. Since he did that most of the season, I found it truly shocking.
THIS is what it feels like to be an Eagles fan
Hopefully this is just the beginning of a long run of successful regular seasons and the playoff successes are right around the corner. But the Eagles were almost completely healthy all season and this was a golden opportunity to make a long playoff run. It didn't work out.
Ultimately, I think the Eagles should have won this game against a team that had never won a road playoff game before. But once again, an Eagles team broke a historical trend. Something tells me that wherever Rhonde Barber is, he's smiling. Dammit.