McMullen’s Quick Hits: Saints be Praised
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — The Eagles needed something to ignite what has been a lackluster offense and they got it Sunday in the form of Rob Ryan's laughably weak defensive unit.
Philadelphia cured most of its ills, at least for one week, piling up 519 yards of total offense en route to an easy 39-17 win over a 1-4 New Orleans team.
It could have been even worse for the Saints if not for Sam Bradford's failings in the red zone and Chip Kelly's lack of confidence in kicker Caleb Sturgis during the first half but those are discussions for another day because the tonic of winning has the Eagles right back in the mix of things in a poor NFC East at 2-3.
Bradford's numbers looked fine, as he finished 32-of-45 for 333 yards and two touchdowns but he also threw a pair of interceptions in the end zone, becoming the first NFL quarterback this season to be intercepted twice in the red zone in the same game.
"It wasn't like, 'ah, man, Sam's throwing INTs,'" Bradford said. "they weren't stopping us. I was stopping us."
Fletcher Cox recorded three sacks and two forced two fumbles, while Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray each rushed for touchdowns as the Eagles halted a three-game, home losing streak dating back to last season.
(Listen to John McMullen discuss the win over the Saints)
Drew Brees turned it over three times overall, leading to 17 points for Philadelphia.
"Look, you lose on Sundays in out league, it's a setback," Saints coach Sean Payton admitted. "(The Eagles) are a team we know pretty well in regards to what they do and what they do well and we weren't able to play well enough with too many mistakes in a bunch of different areas. We didn't do a good enough job coaching, obviuously, and executing."
The real turning point came in the third quarter when the Eagles pulled away over a 13-second span. After Mathews plunged in from two yards out, Cox got to Brees on New Orleans' next offensive play, forcing a fumble and recovering it himself at the Saints' 13-yard line. A busted coverage on the ensuing play left Brent Celek wide open in the end zone and Bradford found the tight end for the score.
Although Sturgis missed the extra point, the Eagles had a 23-10 advantage and New Orleans wilted from there.
"We understood that today was a must-win game," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We had two 1-3 teams coming in. (1-4) is going to be bad."
Both runners were successful against one of the NFL's worst defenses but Mathews continues to look like the tougher and more-gifted back despite touching the ball less.
Murray finished the day with 83 yards on 20 carries and one meaningless TD on his final tote of the afternoon. He also broke off a 24-yard run and added a team-high seven receptions for 37 yards.
Meanwhile, Mathews piled up 73 yards on just eight chances with a score, a line which included a 33-yard run through what might have been the biggest hole the embattled Eagles' offensive line has opened up all season. Mathews also caught in three times for an extra 23 yards.
Overall the Eagles running game was the best it's been all season with 186 yards on 34 carries. The success helped put the number of plays run where Kelly wants it (79) and also enabled the Eagles to win the time of possession battle for the first time in 2015, holding the football for 34:02.
HUFF-ING PAST AGHOLOR
Josh Huff was healthy and showed it from the opening kickoff, busting out on a 40-yard return.
The Oregon product also ended the contest with four catches for 78 yards with a 41-yard TD catch when two of the Saints' defensive backs decided to play Keystone Cops and run into each other.
"It definitely felt good," Huff said, "especially since we got the win. But it's over right now and we have to go back and analyze the film and get ready for next week."
Huff isn't Randy Moss but he sure looked like him when compared to rookie Nelson Agholor, who continued to struggle before leaving the game with an injury in the second quarter.
For the second straight week Agholor, who caught one pass for five yards, caused a TD to be called back, this time due to an offensive pass interference call.
Until the mental mistakes stop, it's probably a prudent idea to ride the hot hand, which is most certainly Huff after this week.
FLETCHER THE BEAST
Despite the yardage and point totals, the Eagles best football player on Sunday was Cox, who sacked Brees three times, forced two fumbles and recovered one of them himself.
"I'm going to give the credit to the back end today," a modest Cox said after the game. "All three of those sacks were coverage sacks. When the quarterback holds the football, it gives the rush time to get there."
In truth, Cox was a one-man wrecking crew against the undermanned New Orleans offensive line, which was missing starters Terron Armstead and Jahri Evans, and helped put the game away with the trifecta (sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery) midway through the third quarter.
"We needed (the win) bad," Cox admitted. "We knew what we had to do as an organization and just as players. We knew what we needed to do in terms of coming out and dominating and winning this game."
JORDAN THE BALL MAGNET
The other fumble recovery on a Cox sack and strip came from rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks, who continues to be a ball magnet since getting on the field due to the injuries to Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks.
Hicks nearly intercepted Brees at one point also and already has three FRs, an INT and a forced fumble in his first five games as a professional.
A MARCUS SIGHTING
Linebacker Marcus Smith, the Eagles' 2014 first-round draft pick, was active for just the second time in five games. In the Jets' game Smith dressed, but did not play a snap on defense. This time Smith actually got on the field and in the box score, assisting on one tackle and also being credited with a quarterback hurry.
Healthy inactives on Sunday included No. 3 quarterback Thad Lewis, rookie cornerback Denzel Rice, running back Kenjon Barner and guard/center Julian Vandervelde.
As expected starting tackles Jason Peters (quad) and Lane Johnson (knee) played through injuries and did it well, helping dominate a Saints front seven that lacks playmakers.
NO CONFIDENCE CALEB
On two occasions in the first half, Kelly went for it on 4th-and-long, instead kicking 50-plus yard field goals with Sturgis. Both fourth-down attempts failed and kept the Saints in the game longer.
Sturgis made all four of his field-goal attempts but three were virtual gimmees at under 30 yards and he did miss another PAT. His most difficult kick, a 41-yarder, came with the game out of reach with no pressure on Sturgis.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen