It was all part of the plan.
The Eagles had been preaching all week about getting their tight ends more involved. On their first offensive possession, Nick Foles hit Brent Celek on a 3-yard completion. Three plays later, Foles rifled one into Zach Ertz for a 6-yard touchdown to set a 24-21 victory over Arizona into motion
Head coach Chip Kelly had devised a specific plan to attack the Cardinals in the one area their top-10 defense had struggled with. Arizona came into yesterday allowing 495 yards and seven touchdowns to opposing tight ends.
“I felt like we had good matchups with our tight ends on their linebackers,” said Foles, who finished 21-of-34 for 237 yards and three scores. “Their linebackers are very talented, but they’re bigger guys. They’re really good at stopping the run and they have a big D-line that really wants to generate pressure. I liked our match-ups on offense and it turned out pretty well.”
Foles targeted his tight ends 12 times and the duo of Ertz and Celek recorded nine receptions for 97 yards. Celek (four catches, 29 yards) found the end zone in the closing seconds of the second quarter, flying in easily from 1-yard out after catching it in stride on a shallow cross route.
“We [the tight ends] knew coming into the game that we were going to have to step up and play good,” Celek said. “We knew there was an opportunity and we had to take advantage of it. They were bringing a lot of guys down in the box, stopping our run … we were able to get behind them.”
Ertz (five catches, 68 yards) added a second score early in the third quarter.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to make every play when the ball’s thrown my way,” said Ertz. “Sometimes, early in the year, I’ve had a drop or two — I think one drop that they counted as a drop, and that was last week, but I think I’m getting kind of comfortable. The game is kind of slowing down and I’m able to make plays.”
Despite the win — the Eagles’ fourth straight — they refused to make it easy on themselves once again. The Cardinals scored 14 unanswered points to make it a field-goal game when Patrick Peterson intercepted a Foles pass.
But there was a yellow flag on the ground. The refs called it back due to defensive holding on Tyrann Mathieu.
“I think it was a good play,” Mathieu said. “I was just trying to be a good defensive back and was trying to get a good jam on him.”
“It was an interception, but they were holding,” Kelly said. “I thought it was the right call.”
Sometimes, it was hard to tell what was the right call as the officiating crew turned the Linc into their personal laundry room. They called it tight: 11 penalties, many on touchy holding calls. DeSean Jackson had a 54-yard touchdown return called back for holding.
“The officials let us play and the play was physical on both sides and the officials made the calls the way they saw it,” said Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd.
Many in the Eagles’ locker room smiled sheepishly and joked about calls going their way. Luck is never a bad thing in the NFL.
“Well, praise be to God. We got the win,” Jason Avant said.
“We can all improve,” Celek said. “The good thing is that we won, and that’s the most important thing.”
Still, behind all that good cheer, lies a persistent problem that needs to be solved. The Eagles’ offense has not played a dominant second half of football since beating the Packers three weeks ago. They haven’t scored in the fourth quarter since Oct. 27.
“I don’t know. That’s a good question,” said Kelly.
This time, it worked out. Kelly can table that question for now.
Next time, it might not. Either way, on to the next one.
The victory allowed the Eagles to keep pace with the Cowboys at 7-5 and stay atop the NFC East. They’ll host the Detroit Lions Sunday afternoon in a game that has all the makings of a Texas-style shootout.
“I told the team in the locker room, ‘It’s one down, one to go,’ and that’s our philosophy,” said Kelly. “We took care of business today. Our only focus right now is getting ready for the Lions and that’s it, because you’re not in a situation where there’s any comfort in terms of leads or anything like that.”