Sorry World, The Eagles Are Headed To The NFC Championship
by Dave Gloeckner
First posted on www.4thandgo.com
The ground was shaking and the noise was deafening. Moments later, as the ball from Matt Ryan spiraled through the air and over the outstretched hands of Julio Jones, the stadium shook like never before. Hysteria broke out at the Linc making it echo the sounds of elation throughout the Delaware Valley. The Eagles won and the emotions of being doubted, of being predicted to lose, poured out like a newly sprung geyser. We were hugging our brothers, friends, neighbors, and people we just met. The squeezes were tight and smiles were wide. The true meaning of brotherly love on display. It’s just part of what makes our city, and people, so special. Just like these 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.
The game took on the shape and character that many thought we needed to employ in order to beat the Falcons. Low scoring and run oriented. But the fact of the matter is, that was just what it looked like on the surface and the roots of the game were much different. It was the coaching adjustment to use a conservative passing attack and the play of the defensive backs that helped seal this game. Coincidentally, those were the two areas everyone was most concerned about coming into the game.
If you would have told me the Eagles would lose the turnover battle by 2, and miss an extra point, I would have thought I was leaving the Linc with my head down and spirits removed. Coming into this weekend, since 2010, NFL teams that were -2 or worse in the turnover battle in the playoffs had a combined record of 6 and 32. Meaning there was a 16% chance to win the game with that poor of a differential. That’s what makes the performance by the coaching staff so impressive. They were able to keep their team level, stay the course themselves and not panic, after yielding 10 points on self-inflicted, momentum shifting turnovers.
As stated earlier, the areas which concerned everyone the most were stable forces that empowered the team to victory. First, looking at the offense Nick Foles was the unexpected star. And it wasn’t because he did anything great, he just did exactly what we needed and maybe a little more. Nick went 23 for 30 for 246 yards and finished with a passer rating of 100.1. Most importantly he didn’t turn the ball over. And as you dig deeper into his performance, it’s his 2nd half and 3rd down numbers which were paramount to the end result. Foles went 12 for 15 for 145 yards in the second half and was 5 for 7 for 70 yards on 3rd down. He converted four 3rd downs on passing plays, which is about 3 more than he had converted the past 2 games combined.
The running game, on the other hand, was effective, especially early. However, it became ineffective in the 2nd half, resulting in just 18 yards on 16 carries. This was primarily because the Falcons adjusted late in the first half and started putting DB’s in the box to the stop the run. And this is why Doug adjusted his game plan to counteract the Falcons aggressiveness. The WR’s had 4 catches in the first half but were able to grab 7 in the second half. With more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, the Eagles were able to stretch the field more than previously anticipated.
As for the defense, the goal line stand to win the game is the talk of the town. Combined with the stellar play of the front four, including All-Pro Fletcher Cox, the defense dominated. But it was the defensive backs that were most impressive to me. We expected the defensive front to dominate. However, the secondary was considered a weak link based on recent play. Added to that, they had one of their biggest challenges in going up against a dynamic set of receivers led by Julio Jones.
What ensued was critical as they were able to limit the Falcons to only 3 plays of 20 yards or more, with the longest being 24 yards (which was a short pass play but a missed tackle by Ronald Darby). Keeping everything in front of them and being physical off the line of scrimmage in order to disrupt Matt Ryan’s timing were key coaching strategies by DC Jim Schwartz. He also made in game adjustments as he issued a blitz happy package in the second half resulting in 2 crucial sacks and the biggest number of all, 0 points.
In the end, this is the way the Eagles have won all year. Together, collectively, and as a team. When they need a defensive stop, a field goal, or a winning offensive play, they always get it and Saturday was no different. It may have come from unexpected sources this week, but that’s why they wear the dog mask. It isn’t one player, it’s all 53 that make this team so good. There’s no quit in this team as they have the fight of a dog.
The last aspect of the game, and probably the least tangible but potentially most important, was the crowd and its effect on the game. There were articles written this week that said The Linc isn’t a home field advantage. This person used stats from the day it was opened, which have little translatable reasoning to how the crowd reacts to this particular team. From day one, we’ve been behind this Eagles squad and had an un-Philadelphia like patience with them. When the going got tough, no one panicked. And when we were needed, the crowd rose to the occasion. To think we, Eagles fans, and the Linc is not an advantage is an absolute joke. We showed what a united crowd looks like. And we blasted our voices so loudly that it made the stadium feel like it was becoming uprooted from its foundation. So stay in the cozy confines of the press box you pessimistic writer. You don’t feel the passion and pride we all have. And that’s fine because we don’t need you, we’ve got us. Just because you get paid to write about Philadelphia, you don’t know Philadelphia.
I’ve said it before and will continue to say it until the season ends. This is a special group of players that know how to win games. It’s something that’s we’re often jealous to see from other teams. But we finally have it here. And like the players, our fans are bonded tightly and proud. This is a magical ride and we are blessed to have it happen at the corner of Broad and Pattison. Watch out world, like it or not we are together and our eyes set on one prize. Super Bowl here we come.