Some observations and notes after re-watching the Eagles' 23-21 win over the Bucs:
ON SECOND THOUGHT
As the Legend of Nick Foles grows – he apparently drew the game-winning play up in the dirt for Andy Reid – it's important to note that while he played splendidly and was sharp under pressure, his fourth start was not without its flaws.
That being said, Foles once again showed improvement over the previous week and in Sunday's 23-21 thriller over the Buccaneers took his biggest step yet.
What impressed most was how he moved in and out of the pocket when protection broke down and threw the ball on the run. Some of Foles' best passes actually came when he had to escape the pass rush and improvise on the run.
Two throws stood out: The 39-yard heave to wide receiver Jason Avant in the second quarter and the 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Clay Harbor that started the Eagles' comeback.
On the first, Foles had to step up in the pocket when both Buccaneers defensive ends got around the tackles. Luckily for the quarterback, the Eagles interior line held its blocks and Foles had room and eventually sidestepped to his right. He kept his eyes downfield and hit a wide open Avant down the sideline.
For the game, Foles was very good on third down, completing 10 of 15 passes for 170 yards and the touchdown to Harbor. On the throw to Harbor, the pocket collapsed and Foles once again dodged the pressure. It looked like he may have been able to run for the first down – or even score – but Foles fired a strike to Harbor in the back of the end zone just before he reached the line of scrimmage.
Foles' most important throw on the run was by design. He later explained that he asked Reid and Marty Mornhinweg for the play because he wanted his first read to be on the outside where there would be no obstruction to the passing lane.
Foles ran to his right after taking the snap in the shotgun and drilled a one-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin for the game-winner. He took 59 of 73 snaps from the shotgun. On last two drives of the game every play was from the shotgun except for one other and two spikes.
Foles played most of his college career from the shotgun. He'll likely need to work more of the drop into his repertoire. On throws of more than 20 yards, Foles completed 4 of 8 attempts for 92 yards. Not bad, but there were opportunities to hit a few big ones.
His worst moment came on the game-winning drive. The Eagles faced third down and five and Foles tried to hit Marvin McNutt. The pass was behind the receiver, though, and Tampa cornerback Anthony Gaitor had the ball drop out of his hands.
If Foles threw a game-ending interception there, it is certain that many would feel differently about rookie's future than they do today.
He did very well against the blitz. The Buccaneers sent extra pass rushers on 15 of his 60 drop backs and Foles completed 9 of 15 passes for 115 yards. Foles was sacked six times and hit 13 times, according to the stat sheet, but he kept getting up.
The Buccaneers' subpar pass defense aided Foles' cause, but he performed as well as one could expect playing behind a patchwork offensive line and with several other second stringers at skill positions.
REWIND THE TAPE
Upon closer examination, there was little Foles could do to avoid six sacks. On the first, he may have held onto the ball a smidgeon too long. Tampa defensive end Da'Quan Bowers got around King Dunlap and forced Foles up in the pocket. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy broke loose from center Dallas Reynolds and cleaned up the sack.
Two series later, Foles had no shot to escape defensive end Michael Bennett, who had gotten past guard Jake Scott. Defensive end Aaron Morgan created the initial pressure when he got past Dunlap. The Eagles left tackle was solely responsible for the third sack when former Eagle Daniel Te'o-Nesheim cruised past him from the end spot.
The line did its job against a four-man rush in the third quarter, but Foles stepped up and couldn't shake Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David, who dropped him for no gain.
Tampa's last sack came on the second play of the Eagles' game-winning drive. Foles had no chance when Bennett got around right tackle Dennis Kelly.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
1. Fletcher Cox was once again active and made some key stops at defensive tackle. He did struggle to break free whenever he was matched up against center Ted Larsen and when he saw the occasional double team. But it's probably fair to say at this point that Cox is the best rookie defensive tackle the Eagles have had since Corey Simon. In the second quarter, he read a screen pass to Tampa running back Doug Martin and dropped him for a six-yard loss. He recorded his fourth sack on the season just before the half when he ran a twist. Cox could do little as Martin ran by him for a four-yard touchdown run in the fourth because Larsen had contained him. He came back and stuffed Martin at the line on third down when the Birds held late in the fourth.
2. Clay Harbor did fine work stepping in for Brent Celek after he suffered a concussion on the first play from scrimmage. The tight end, who had trouble holding onto the ball in the spring, caught all six passes thrown his way for 52 yards and a touchdown. On his first catch, Harbor caught the ball shy of sticks but ran for the first down. He had his ups and downs as a blocker, but had a key block on a Bryce Brown 11-yard run and another on a screen to Maclin that the wide receiver took 24 yards.
3. The switch from strong-side linebacker to weak-side appeared to free up Mychal Kendricks on run downs. He still plays essentially the same role in the nickel, but he should have more opportunities to make plays now that he doesn't have to line up opposite a tight end as much. His best moments against the run didn't show up in the stat sheet. He blew up a second quarter Martin run that forced the running back into Vinny Curry's arms. He did the same for safety Colt Anderson in the fourth. Kendricks got his hand on the ball three times in pass protection and only allowed two catches for six yards on five targets. The rookie had his best game in months.
For the Eagles defense, there was before Damaris Johnson's muffed punt and after. The unit shut out Tampa for more than a half and held its offense to 119 yards on 36 plays (3.3 avg.). After Johnson's turnover which gave the Buccaneers the ball on the Eagles 5, the Birds defense allowed 21 points and 195 yards on 32 plays (6.1).
THIS AND THAT
-- Nnamdi Asomugha allowed five catches for 101 yards on seven targets.
-- The Eagles defensive line under new coach Tommy Brasher had some moments in the first half but did little after the break. Tampa seemed to neutralize the line's effectiveness once Martin got going on the ground.
-- Trent Cole played the most snaps among the defensive linemen but he was credited with only one tackle. He did have three hurries, however. Brasher didn't rotate his linemen as often as Jim Washburn did. The starters (Cole (53), Cox (50), Cullen Jenkins (50) and Brandon Graham (47)) played significantly more than the reserves (Cedric Thornton and Derek Landri (25), Curry (16), Darryl Tapp (15), Phillip Hunt (13).
-- Maclin probably got away with fumble on a wide receiver screen in the third quarter.
-- Bryce Brown's last carry came with 14:12 left in the fourth quarter. He picked up just two yards. Brown wasn't on the field for extended stretches late in the game as the Eagles went with Dion Lewis, possibly because they believe he's better in pass protection.