McMullen’s Quick Hits: Jets Cure Eagles’ Ills
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ (973espn.com) - The Jets learned a few lessons on Sunday, namely desperate teams are dangerous and trends are trends for a reason.
New York's other football team has never beaten Philadelphia in the regular season and couldn't accomplish the first in franchise history yet again despite the fact that Chip Kelly's team came in at 0-2 and looking like one of the worst teams in football while the Jets arrived in MetLife Stadium with a perceived, top-tier defense.
The Eagles outlasted the Jets, 24-17, moving to 10-0 all-time against New York in the regular season. Darren Sproles scored two touchdowns and set the tone with an 89-yard punt return touchdown early in the second quarter, while Ryan Mathews added a 23-yard score on a wheel route from Sam Bradford.
A few, simple tweaks by Kelly made all the difference in the world in the running game. The Eagles often hard-headed coach allowed Bradford to line up under center on occasion with gave the offensive line less space to deal with which enabled Mathews and Sproles, who each saw added duty in place of the injured DeMarco Murray, a better opportunity to read blocks.
On Philadelphia's second offensive play of the game, Mathews bounced off left tackle and scampered for 27 yards, nearly tripling Murray's output in the previous two games (11 yards on 21 carries). By the end of the first half, the Eagles had 86 yards rushing and a 24-7 advantage.
Issues still existed as Bradford, who finished 14-of-28 for just 118 yards, continued to be inaccurate at times, the play calling remained repetitive and there were a series of egregious drops. But, the renewed, at least competent, running game brought tempo back to Philadelphia's offense and that was enough to top an awfully "offensive" Jets team, playing without running back Chris Ivory (quadriceps), who was active but didn't play, and receiver Eric Decker (sprained knee).
Ryan Fitzpatrick did toss touchdown passes to Brandon Marshall and Jeremy Kerley for New York but the veteran signal caller was forced to throw it 58 times and was picked off on three occasions.
BEATING THEM AT THEIR OWN GAME
The Jets came in having generated an NFL-high 10 turnovers but lost the plus-minus battle in a big way Sunday, committing four and snaring just one takeway.
Philadelphia' offense is hardly hitting on all cylinders but aside from a Mathews fumble, it didn't make the game-changing type of mistakes that can kill you on the road.
"They were trying," Jets coach Todd Bowles said of his team. "You have to give Philly credit. We turned it over four times. They beat us at our own game."
CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK
One of the dirty little secrets in the NFL is there are not nearly as many in-game adjustments as people think but there can be drastic changes from week to week, at least with coaches who trust their players and are confident in running multiple schemes.
Kelly generally runs what he runs of offense and hired a defensive coordinator who does the same on that side of the ball, a policy that has not served the Eagles well through two weeks.
Much has been made of Kelly's penchant for going back to the same play again and again but sometimes it's the right thing to do. The Jets were lost trying to cover the wheel route out of the backfield and it would have worked for three consecutive big plays if not for bad drops by Mathews and Sproles. The meat in between the drop sandwich was a 23-yard TD reception by Mathews.
"We got beat that was the issue," Bowles said when asked about his team's troubles with the route. "They knew it was coming and they got beat. Sproles is a great player. (The Eagles) get paid money too."
In another positive development, instead of playing at a breakneck pace for 60 minutes, Kelly and Billy Davis acted more like traditional coaches who had a 24-7 halftime lead over an offensive-challenged bunch, milking the clock on offense and moving away from the preferred single-high safety look on defense in favor of more zone looks.
Things got a little hairy after Mathews' fumble in the fourth quarter but Brandon Bair's strong pass rush on the ensuing NYJ drive resulted in a Jordan Hicks' interception which essentially sealed things for the Eagles.
As crazy as it sounds, the talent the Jets had on defense actually served the Eagles well because Bowles does not feel his team needs to play a ton of cover-2 or cover-3 looks and the assumption that New York's strong front seven would whip the embattled Eagles offensive line without game planning the slanting, penetrating mentality that Dallas brought to the table served Kelly well.
Injuries led to a lot of newcomers getting increased playing time and most more than held their own. Up front Bair, who dressed for the first time this season was far more active than either Cedric Thornton (broken hand) or Taylor Hart (shoulder) have been, finishing with four tackles and three pass breakups. The same held true for Hicks, who excelled against Dallas last week when he entered and kept things going in North Jersey, accounting for a team-high 10 tackles and the INT.
Also, after Chris Maragos was forced to leave with a knee contusion, both EJ Biggers and Eric Rowe got some looks with the defense. The rookie was especially impressive on the outside and came down with his first NFL interception along with two PBUs.
On offense, the joke is an easy one, Murray has been inactive since leaving Dallas, a punch line developed because the NFL's reigning rushing king has amassed all of 11 yards on 21 carries during the Eagles' brutal 0-2 start.
Despite an ESPN report that said Murray would play the Eagles turned toward Mathews, who played sparingly as Murray's caddy through two weeks. He had his issues but Mathews' ability to generate positive yardage kept Philadelphia from getting behind the sticks early in series which resulted in first downs and the tempo Kelly craves, at least in the first half. Overall the former Chargers star finished with 108 yards on 25 totes.
SPROLES IS THE STAR
Forget the final score, the game was really decided in the second quarter when Jets punter Ryan Quigley outkicked his coverage and Sproles made him pay with a magical 89-yard TD return, the second-longest in franchise history.
Sproles made about five Jets miss while navigating the field as he put Philadelphia on top 10-0 against a team that needs to play with the lead to be successful.The 5-foot-6, 32-year-old also handled it 11 times from the backfield and added four receptions. The raw numbers weren't impressive outside of the return but the ultimate results were.
A win is nice and in the moribund NFC East, the Eagles are right back in the thick of things, a game behind injury-riddled Dallas after the Cowboys loss to Atlanta on Sunday with an awful Redskins team next on the docket and a Saints club which could be without Drew Brees in the hole.
The sky is no longer falling in Philly but there are still plenty of issues starting with the quarterback and the receivers. There was plenty of meat left on the bone by Bradford whose reputation as an accuracy-based QB is taking on some serious water. And when Bradford is on the mark, the Eagles' receivers have responded with far too many drops. That said, a win masks all sorts of deficiencies.
"They're a good defense," Bradford admitted. "I thought they matched up well with us today. I missed a few throws and I think we had a few drops. There were a couple of different things on a couple of different drives that set us back. I don't think there was anything major."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen