How Did That Happen? San Diego Defeats Philadelphia
Well then. Last week, I wrote this:
Last week, I called the Jets upsetting the Buccaneers, and there are reasons to look for another upset pick here – the Eagles now being on film after a vanilla preseason, or the chance that the Chargers of the first half are the ‘real’ team, and can correct whatever happened at halftime. Recent history even supports the Chargers – they’ve won four of their last six against the Eagles.
There is such a thing as looking too deep into things, however, and the Eagles, at this point in time, just seem to have fewer holes up and down the line. While I’d love to go for two upsets in a row, sometimes you have to go with the hot hand. I’ll give the Chargers more credit than most, but that just means it ends up Eagles 21, Chargers 17.
Apparently, there are some limbs to go out on, as the Chargers marched into the Eagles’ home stadium and ended up squeaking out a much higher scoring victory – 33-30.
How on Earth did that happen?
Time of Possession
Philadelphia dominated Washington by controlling the football. In the first half alone, they ran 53 plays and held the ball for 20:20. You can’t score against them if you never have the ball. They actually upped their pace in the Chargers game – but couldn’t dominate the ball. They only ran 58 plays the entire game, and ended up finishing the game with less than 20 minutes of possession. That’s for the entire game – not even what they managed in the first half last week. Normally, you would think that this would be caused by the Chargers forcing the Eagles to go 3-and-out, but that’s not really the case here – they held the Eagles to 5-of-11 on third downs, but that’s not significantly worse than the 7-of-15 they managed last week. Rather, it was the offense that controlled the game.
The Chargers, on third down, went 10-for-15, compared to Washington’s 2-for-10. That means extending drives and keeping the Eagles no-huddle offense off the field. They had two drive of 11 plays or more, both ending up in the end zone and a throttling nine-minute drive at the end of the third quarter.
Eddie Royal ended up being their biggest weapon – yes, Eddie Royal. Last seen as a useful player in his rookie season back in 2008, Royal was able to slice-and-dice the Eagles defense to the tune of seven receptions for 90 yards and three touchdowns. When Malcom Floyd, who was having a big day of his own, went down with an injury at the beginning of the second half, Royal stepped up. In addition to the three touchdowns, he had a couple more key third-down conversions. When you have two of the most valuable receivers in a week, you’re going to do well.
To get two of the best receivers, though, you need to have a great day by your quarterback, and that’s precisely what Philip Rivers provided. One week after he and the Chargers suffered a fourth quarter meltdown against Houston, Rivers shined with the deep ball and against the blitz. ESPN reported that, in the fourth quarter, the Eagles blitzed five or more rushers on nine pass attempts – of which Rivers completed seven for a touchdown and, more importantly, no interceptions. His quarterback rating in the fourth quarter was 72.6 – as opposed to the horrid 0.02 he put up in week one. When the pressure was on, he rose to the challenge this week.
On passes more than 15 yards down the field, Rivers was 7-for-11 for 156 yards and a touchdown. This is arguably his most impressive game in two years and, honestly, with the available evidence, we have to point more towards the poor quality of the Eagles defense more than a sudden return to prime for Rivers. Philadelphia’s talent is just lopsided towards their offense, meaning that if you can play mistake-free football against their defense and keep them on the field, there’s room to control the flow of the game and keep Chip Kelly’s innovative offense planted firmly on the bench. Washington couldn’t do that and San Diego could – hence the different results.
With 7:13 left in the game, Michael Vick went around the left end and scored a go-ahead touchdown, giving the Eagles a 27-23 lead, and a 72 percent chance of winning, according to AdvancedNFLStats.com. However, after the play was over, DeSean Jackson was flagged for unnecessary roughness, moving the ensuing kickoff back, and allowing the Chargers to start the ensuing drive on the Philadelphia 39, where Rivers quickly went to work.
He went four-for-four on the drive, just keeping the plays in front of him – taking short little passes up the field. He hit Antonio Gates once, but his primary target was Royal, who just kept slipping into open spots in the Eagles defense. On the short field, it wasn’t long at all before the Chargers found themselves in the red zone, facing a first-and-ten from the 15.
Royal lined up in the slot yet again, and darted back to take a quick screen pass from Rivers, where pulling blocks by King Dunlap and Chad Rinehart opened a path for him to slip right down the middle, evading a tackle from Earl Wolff to score the go-ahead touchdown. Chargers 30, Eagles 27 – and the Eagles would never again lead.
Can the Eagles be upset again? They host the Chiefs on Thursday night and, in these short weeks, you usually favor the home team. However, a mistake-free offense devoted to keeping the other team off the field? That seems right up Alex Smith’s alley, and few teams have looked better than the Chiefs have this year. They’re entering Philly as three-point underdogs, but if they play within themselves and don’t turn the ball over, we could see another upset on Thursday. To avoid this, the Eagles might actually need to slow down their uber-fast offense, just to give their defense a breather every now and again. They know that’s their weak spot, but in a short week, you can’t make any significant schematic changes, so all they can do is try to get off the field quickly on defense. That’s easier said than done, but if they can go back to the form they showed in the first half against Washington, the Chiefs won’t stand a chance.