Eagles-Texans Postgame: Sanchez Wins Dirty
Well, I certainly was right when I referenced the old "House of Pain" game in my preview of the Philadelphia Eagles game in Houston against the Texans, because there were more injuries than you could keep track of in the Eagles 31-21 victory on Sunday.
The Texans didn't have LBs Jadeveon Clowney and Brian Cushing to start the game and lost both of their starting CBs, Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, in the 1st half. Then they lost RB Arian Foster in the third quarter.
Not to be outdone, the Eagles lost QB Nick Foles to a shoulder injury in the first quarter and lost LB DeMeco Ryans to a season-ending ACL injury in the third quarter. The Ryans injury is a huge blow to the defense, who will now have to play the rest of the season without their "quarterback". Meanwhile, the severity of Foles' shoulder injury was not immediately known, but if he is done for the season, I'm going on record right now as saying that the Eagles season will end with him.
Yes, I know Mark Sanchez came in and threw an incredible 52-yard completion to Jeremy Maclin on his first pass and ended his first drive in a regular season game since Dec. 2012 with a nice touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews, but he did not look good.
Sanchez finished 15-for-22 for 202 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. While that's not bad, the fact that the Texans dropped two other easy interceptions means that he could have finished with a very bad day that could have led to a heart-breaking loss. Luckily, somebody performed an exorcism on Eagles coach Chip Kelly to remove the spirit of Andy Reid from his body since last week, when he called a franchise record 63 pass plays.
This week, the Eagles had a much more balanced attack and it made all the difference in the world on a day when the starting QB went down. LeSean McCoy gained 117 yards on 23 carries (5.1 ypc) and Chris Polk chipped in with 8 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles actually had more running plays than passing plays (40-39, including QB scrambles and sacks), which is what they did when they were rolling last season.
As a matter of fact, the Eagles really took over the game early in the third quarter when they had a 4-play, 80 yard drive consisting of all runs. McCoy ran for 14 and 26 yards, before Polk finished it off with a 22-yard run and an 8-yard TD Run. That made a close game, 24-14 and the Eagles never looked back. Sorta.
The game was actually close early on because the Eagles simply couldn't stop turning the ball over. Their 21 turnovers lead the NFL this season and that's already more than they had all of last season.
Before he got hurt, Foles threw a perfect 59-yard TD pass to Maclin (6 rec., 158 yards, 2 TDs). But he also threw another inexplicably horrible interception, to finish 10-for-13 for 129 yards, with 1 TD and 1 INT. The interception was returned 51 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7. The ball throw was another example of Foles throwing off his back foot as Houston's J.J. Watt was in his face. And Watt was a wrecking ball all game long. Soon after the interception Foles was driven into the turf shoulder-first and was done for the day.
Sanchez's TD pass to Matthews put them up 14-7, but the Texans came right back with a 56-yard TD reception by Foster on a nice wheel route down the sideline. The Eagles were beating the Texans in every facet of the game, except turnovers, and that's why it was tied. The Eagles committed two turnovers in their first six drives of the game.
After Kelly decided to go for it on 4th and inches at the Houston 25 yard line, which McCoy converted on a run, they ended up with Cody Parkey's 12th field goal in a row and took a 17-14 lead into halftime. The Eagles had a 15-6 advantage in 1st downs and 268 - 135 advantage in total yards at the half, but only led by 3 points, thanks to the turnovers.
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Ryans got hurt in the second half on a play where he intercepted Houston QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (13-for-27, 203 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) at the Eagles 5 yard line and promptly fumbled the ball back to the Texans as he landed awkwardly and shredded his knee. DeAndre Hopkins scored on an 8-yard touchdown reception on the next play to cut the lead to 24-21. Then, the Eagles did something completely out of character.
The Eagles embarked on the longest drive (time-wise) of the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia and it ended up salting away the victory. The Eagles' 15-play, 80-yard drive took an astounding (by Kelly's standards) 8:01 off the clock. It ended with Maclin's second TD catch and included yet another instance of Kelly going for it on 4th and inches. With the Eagles at the Houston 4 yard line, Sanchez lined up under center (the first surprise) and handed it off to Polk (the second surprise) who picked up the first down. This being the Eagles, they had to throw in a false start penalty before getting the score, but at least they got it.
The Eagles finished the game 3-for-3 in the redzone, after coming into the game with the worst redzone efficiency in the NFL. They also doubled up the Texans in first downs, 30-to-15.
While the Eagles offense continued to shoot itself in the foot, the defense played another good game. With the exception of the long touchdown reception by Foster, who beat Connor Barwin with the Eagles blitzing, they did a good job. Of course, Fitzpatrick will never be confused with a good quarterback, but they did manage to hold the dangerous Andre Johnson to only 12 yards on 2 catches. They also kept Foster to only 56 yards on 15 carries, before he got hurt. They held the Texans to 300 total yards and sacked Fitzpatrick four times. All in all, a pretty good day for the Eagles defense.
Which injury will hurt the worst?
The injury to Ryans will really hurt the defense and if Foles misses significant time, I think it will be a fatal blow to the offense and the team's playoff chances. I know Sanchez led the team to the win, but that stat line is about what you can expect from Sanchez. That's who he is. He's a game manager, who is liable to give a game away with a few bad turnovers. He now has 69 career TDs and 71 career INTs during the regular season. That is not good.
The good news is that the running game looks like it is starting to hit on all cylinders. After averaging only 2.9 yards per carry in the first three games, McCoy has averaged 5.3 yards per carry over the last five games. Add in the quick return of Darren Sproles from his knee injury with Polk's straight-ahead running style and the Eagles should be able to go back to leaning on a dominant running game, like they did last season.
The Science of Mark Sanchez's Butt Fumble
This was a good win on the road over a decent team and the Eagles showed a lot of character in overcoming the injuries to the leaders on offense and defense, but they won't be so lucky against better teams. The Texans had a ton of injuries themselves and Fitzpatrick stinks. Four turnovers would have been fatal against a good team, so there is some major cause for concern going forward.
For now, the Eagles should just be thankful that they are 6-2 at the halfway mark of the season and are back in first place in the NFC East, thanks to the Dallas Cowboys' loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
There certainly was a lot of pain again in Houston's house during this game. Unfortunately, it came in the form of way too many injuries. Let's just hope that Foles' shoulder injury isn't serious because I don't think they Eagles could survive without him over the long haul.