Sunday, September 15, 2013

Rivers shocks Eagles' system

By John McMullen

PHILADELPHIA - The 14-2 seasons are probably gone forever but 31-year-old Philip Rivers still has plenty of gas left in the tank.

As do two of San Diego other's veteran playmakers -- tight end Antonio Gates and edge pass rusher Dwight Freeney, a pair of 33-year-olds who have six All-Pro nods between them.

It was the elder statesman of the Chargers who proved to us all that Chip Kelly's Eagles
really didn't win the Super Bowl in Week 1.

A perfect storm formed over the nation's capital last Monday -- or to be factually accurate, southern Maryland -- as football's most innovative offensive mind made his NFL debut against a coach who would be more comfortable piloting the Jurassic Park football team.

Chargers rookie mentor Mike McCoy may not have the talent Mike Shanahan does in D.C. but he is at least receptive to new ideas and had his team ready for Kelly's basketball on turf mentality.

Well, ready enough to win.

Chip's crew still exploded for 511 yards of total offense during a 33-30 loss to San Diego but you know what trumps 511 yards? How about 538 yards and getting the ball last.

The Philadelphia team we all expected to see showed up at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday as the lightly-regarded Chargers came across the country to edge the Eagles on Nick Novak's 46-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining.

The Eagles offense remained dynamic but left a number of plays on the field while the defense -- especially the pass defense --  struggled mightily against Rivers and his favorite target,  Gates. Meanwhile, it was Freeney who set the tone for the San Diego defenders, who did just enough to keep Michel Vick uncomfortable in some key situations.

Rivers was 4-of-5 for 48 yards on the Chargers' final drive before Novak booted the go-ahead field goal to lift San Diego in the back-and-forth thriller.

Rivers, who threw for 419 yards overall on 36-of-47 passing, got the ball back after Birds kicker Alex Henery booted a game-tying field goal. He hit Gates for gains of 15 and 21 yards on the first two plays of the march before Danny Woodhead hauled in a critical six-yard reception to move the sticks on a 3rd-and-4 at the Philadelphia 37-yard line.

Novak split the uprights four plays later.

"You have to have the right mindset in game, you've got to believe and you've got to finish," McCoy said, alluding to his team's collapse against Houston on Kickoff Weekend. "Today we finished and that's why you win football games in this league."

The final line of defense for the Eagles -- safeties Patrick Chung, Nate Allen and rookie Earl Wolff -- was particularly bad and couldn't contain a receiving group which lost its biggest asset, Malcolm Floyd, to a scary looking DeMeco Ryans shot to the head early in the third quarter.

"The whole defense needs work," Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. "We have to get off the field and get our offense the ball."

Floyd, the one proven threat outside the numbers for San Diego, was taken off on a stretcher but was doing fine after the contest. In it, the lengthy wideout had tallied 102 yards receiving on five receptions in the first half so his absence figured to make things easier on Philadelphia.

Instead Rivers adjusted and went to more underneath stuff to both Gates as well as Woodhead. Gates finished with eight receptions on 10 targets for 124 yards while Woodhead has eight catches in nine targets for 37 yards and dropped the lone blemish on his daily record.

Meanwhile, when Rivers did look downfield Eddie Royal was usually there, snaring seven balls in eight targets for 90 yards and three TDs.

"He's definitely a shifty guy, a smaller shifty guy who can make some plays, make guys miss." Ryans said when discussing Royal. "I think we missed a couple tackles on him. We just can't have that stuff."

The Chargers' 539 total yards were the fifth-most ever against the Eagles and the most since the Broncos amassed 564 in 2005. Furthermore Philadelphia has allowed 768 total passing yards so far this season, the sixth worst total in league history over the first two weekends.

"That's a lot of yards," Chung said. "We just have to watch film to see where we can get better at and see where we messed up at. We played hard, I really feel like we played our hearts out. Hats off to them for a good game -- it came down to the wire, but know we just have to move on."

"I have to take my hat off to the Chargers and their game plan," Davis added. "When we did drop off (in coverage), Rivers held onto the ball and got some of those deeper routes in. The bigger plays, which we try to avoid came on three-man rushes. They out-executed us."

Out-executed or not Philadelphia left plenty on the table.

Vick, who threw for a career-high 428 yards, had the speedy DeSean Jackson open deep down the right side on three different occasions for what should have been TDs but the signal caller was off target on two of his throws and D-Jax dropped another before the two finally found the fourth time was a charm when Jackson got behind the San Diego defense for a 61-yard score late in the third quarter.

"You are not going to hit all of them," Vick said. "You are lucky if you hit one. We are professionals so we try and capitalize on those opportunities."

A pair of illegal formations also stunted drives in the first half for Philadelphia when rookie right tackle Lane Johnson, scared of the aging Freeney's speed rush, lined up too far off the line of scrimmage in an attempt to get a better angle.

"He got me on the outside spin move, Johnson said. "But other than that, he didn't spin much. He tried to bull rush me a bunch. But yeah, he's the real deal."

Of course San Diego also squandered opportunities, fumbling twice inside the 10-yard line in the first half.

So what did we learn?

The NFL is legislating defense out of the game and slowly morphing into a more grandiose version of Arena Football, at least when there are competent signal-callers on the field. Defensive football is now about getting a key stop in the right situation and in San Diego's case, it was when defensive lineman Jarius Wynn got loose and slammed Vick violently to the turf late in the fourth quarter.

The hit came inside the San Diego 20 with just over two minutes left in the contest and forced Vick to leave for one play, a 2nd-and-10 try from the 14 with 2:09 left.

"The referee said I had to come off," he said. "I was back up and standing, ready to play (but) the referee told me to come out."

Backup Nick Foles came on and lofted a fade pass into the arms of Jackson, a nice outcome except it came three yards outside the field of play.

No doubt groggy and behind the 8-ball on 3rd-and-10, Vick couldn't get anything done and the Eagles were forced to settle for a 32-yard Henery field goal to even things.

"I won't say I wasn't hurt," Vick continued "I wasn't 'hurt, hurt.' "If I am standing up I'm not hurt. I'm ready to go. I think that was unfortunate for my team but the referees are doing their jobs."

After the kickoff Rivers had 1:45 to work with.

And that meant game, set and match.

"We have been telling you since the day we got here , that (Rivers) was going to have a great year," McCoy said. "These are the types of games you expect great players to have. It's not a shock to our system at all what he did out there."

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