For this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we reached out to Zach Berman, Eagles beat writer for the Inquirer. Here are five questions we posed to Berman in advance of Sunday’s Vikings-Eagles game at the Metrodome.
1. Some were quick to write off head coach Chip Kelly’s offense, but the Eagles are now third in total offense. What has been the reason for his success transitioning from college?
ZB: The key has definitely been the stability at quarterback. In that rough patch they had, two games without scoring an offensive touchdown, during that span they played three quarterbacks. Two quarterbacks essentially got knocked out of games. When Nick Foles came in and played well to stabilize that position that was the key.
Also all the other pieces around the quarterback started working together and working well together, particularly the defense. In the last nine games, the defense has held the opponent to 21 points or fewer. That’s the only team in the league that’s done that.
2. Is the philosophy on defense similar to what Kelly did at Oregon?
ZB: That’d be fair to say. One of the similarities is the fact that it’s such a fast pace offense that the defense is on the field more than some other teams so some of those yardage statistics are higher (30th in total defensive averaging 398.3 yards a game, three yards fewer than the Vikings). But the number they care about is scoring defense and if you look at the last nine games, their scoring defense has been very good (13th in the NFL allowing 23.2 points a game). They’re a very opportunistic defense. They force turnovers. When Chip was at Oregon, they were very good at forcing turnovers, and it’s the same thing here.
3. Where has Foles improved the most over the last month?
ZB: The decision making. That directly ties into everything. He knows where to go with the ball, keeping the ball out of harm’s way. He seldom makes throws where you look at it and you say, “Why did he throw that?” The other thing is he’s running the ball more effectively than you would think. That’s important to note because teams can’t just key on [running back] LeSean McCoy on some of their read plays. They’re able to have Nick hold on to the ball and run for first downs. You saw that in the Green Bay especially when Nick was able to tuck the ball away and grab first downs. They’re not going to treat him like [quarterback] Michael Vick, nor should they, but they should at least keep an eye on him.
4. In his fifth season, McCoy is four yards away from his career high in rushing yards (currently at 1,309) with three games to play. What has led to his best season in the NFL this year?
ZB: He’s a dynamic player. You watch the way he runs and the moves he has, he’s a better downhill runner than he gets credit for. A lot of it is just his natural talent, but the other thing you need to look at is his offensive line. The offensive line, this is a group where three of those guys had season ending injuries last year (tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and guard Todd Herremans) and one is a rookie (tackle Lane Johnson). The continuity they’ve had is remarkable. They started all 13 games and aside for a few in-game injuries, they’ve all been on the field together. That’s been the key more than anything else.
5. The Eagles (8-5) hold a one game lead on the Cowboys (7-6) in the NFC East. How will this division play out three weeks from now?
ZB: I think their most realistic scenario [to make the playoffs] is through the division. I think after Dallas lost the other night, it’s looking much better. If they can beat Minnesota then the path looks a little better because worst case scenario at that point is you have a chance to clinch in Week 17 [against the Cowboys]. You don’t want to be in a situation where you lose to Minnesota, then you beat Chicago and you need to hope that Dallas is losing games.