Who would have thought at the start of this season that this matchup would feature two teams still in search of their fifth victory of the year? Despite being given a two year contract extension in the offseason this would turn out to be the last game for Tony Sparano as a head coach. Even with the victory there is still doubt over the long term security of Andy Reid. It would have seemed improbable, to put it mildly, to envision either scenario but that’s the reality of the situation for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Miami Dolphins and the entire league.
The Eagles rode a hot ten minutes in the second quarter to victory as the Dolphins dropped only their second game in six after an 0-7 start. The Dolphins had an early edge in this game but after missing a long field goal with a one touchdown lead things started to unravel. By the time they had stopped the bleeding they were facing an insurmountable three score lead. The Dolphins wasted a strong defensive effort holding LeSean McCoy to just 38 yards rushing (1.4 yards per carry) and holding Michael Vick to just 208 yards passing with a 50% completion mark. The missed field goal was where the game turned so let’s take a look at some other key moments and pivotal performances that allowed the Eagles to escape with their fifth victory of the season and keep their hopes for a .500 season alive.
Philadelphia – Three Performances of Note
Defensive Line Dominates… Again
Three weeks removed from receiving the PFF Game Ball in their, at the time, huge win over the Giants in Week 11 the Eagles’ defensive line once again showed up with an utterly monstrous all around display with the dominance not limited to one or two players. Six of the Eagles’ eight man defensive line rotation graded above +3.0 for their overall grade with a noteworthy performance coming from Phillip Hunt (+4.1) putting in by far his best performance of his pro career. Hunt, a crossover star from the CFL, upstaged the last great CFL import on his home turf as his sack of JP Losman clinched the game. Trent Cole (+4.7) made six defensive stops, including three sacks. Jason Babin (+3.3) also tallied three sacks and Darryl Tapp (+4.5) added four pressures and a batted pass. Across the board the Dolphins just simply couldn’t cope with an inspired Eagles defensive front.
Offensive Line Struggles
The dominance wasn’t quite so complete for the Eagles offensive line though. Just after having been featured as the top ranked offensive line in Khaled Elsayed’s list last week, they had a down day considering their top notch season form. Jason Peters (-4.0) gave up a season high two sacks and was stymied on more than one occasion in run defense as he struggled to set and stretch the edge as has become so customary for the Eagles’ running game this season. In the middle of the line Jason Kelce (-3.4) had his worst game since Week 8 against Dallas, as he struggled with the bulk and aggression of Paul Soliai and Randy Starks. A good example of Kelce’s long day was when Starks stood up and shedded him with 8:13 left in the fourth to leave the Eagles in fourth and long.
Secondary Shows Signs of Life
Despite all of the investment and all of the talk prior to the season, the Eagles secondary has been a disappointment to put it mildly. However, this week in a favorable matchup they came through with a big game. The most familiar face in the secondary, Asante Samuel (+4.6) came through with the strongest game of the unit putting the cherry on top with a turnover at 10:52 in the second that set up an Eagles scoring drive. Add in Samuel nearly forcing a safety on Reggie Bush in the fourth and Nate Allen (+1.9) showing tremendous range to break up a pass intended for Brandon Marshall late in the fourth and you have one of the Eagles’ more rounded performances of the season in the defensive backfield. Continued showings like this will give fans hope that this unit is starting to gel ahead of what will surely be a pressure filled 2012 season for the Eagles.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Pressing the Edge
The Eagles like to run around the edge, which is no secret and we even highlighted one of their favorite plays in our analysis notebook just last week. They have mobile, technical blockers on the offensive line who know how to create creases by moving defenders sideways. They then use the speed of LeSean McCoy vertically when the defense is stretched. This week the Dolphins came out with a clear intent to not let the Eagles break the perimeter. On the 14 rushes that went off tackle or off end the Eagles averaged a meager 1.1 yards per carry and did not gain positive yardage on their seven rushes off right tackle or right end. The key to the Dolphins success here was their edge defenders, be they linebackers or defensive ends, driving Brent Celek and Jason Peters into the backfield. This cut off the flow of the Eagles’ running game and McCoy never looked comfortable in the backfield in this game. Karlos Dansby has a textbook play on how the Dolphins wrecked the Eagles’ run game 13:48 in the fourth as he stands up Celek stalling the rush to the left before chasing McCoy into the backfield to make the tackle for a five yard loss.
A Long Way Down
The Dolphins lost Jake Long after the seventh snap of yesterday’s game and from that point on their pass protection was doomed to failure. Even though he has not been at his best this season, Long is stout set of hands at left tackle. Without him though, Matt Moore and JP Losman were exposed to the blocking of Nate Garner (-8.1) subbing in at left tackle. Garner was simply outmatched against the speed and aggression of the Eagles’ wide-9 ends as he was put to the sword for three sacks and seven pressures. Garner was not alone as on the opposite side of the line Marc Colombo also surrendered three sacks for the first time this season. Colombo was also beaten for the safety which quieted any doubt as to the outcome of this game. Miami wasn’t the first team to be on the receiving end of a whipping from this Eagle defensive line, but none have been taken to task quite so emphatically.
His grade may tell the story of an average game but Jason Taylor (-1.1) showed that on limited snaps he still is capable of finishing plays. Both of his sacks came on third-and-thirteen plays as he came up late and snagged Michael Vick before he could escape the pocket. This kept Vick from exploiting the passing lanes on a vulnerable Dolphins secondary. Taylor also added another hit on Vick on a scramble in the fourth quarter. While his run defense was a complete non-factor here, Taylor showed that even in the final days of his career his veteran nose for the football still allows him to positively contribute in games.
– Karlos Dansby and Yeremiah Bell were the only Dolphins defenders to play every single snap this week.
– Casey Matthews played 49 snaps this week, his most since Week 2 against the Falcons. His results in this game (-3.1) were a reminder of why he was benched after starting the first three games of the season.
– The Eagles only blitzed JP Losman once in his 16 dropbacks, a pass he completed for 24 yards. All five of the sacks they got on Losman came from a base pass rush.
PFF Game Ball
It was in a losing effort but no single player was more important in shutting down LeSean McCoy than Karlos Dansby. He was aggressive on the edge to cut off outside runs and had a nose for the football inside, Dansby at his best in this game.
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