Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3
Apologies for going MIA for the last two weeks; the downside of being a litigator is unavoidable at times.
In one of my favorite scenes in a sports movie, Al Pacino’s Game of Inches speech perfectly encapsulates the difference between “winning and losing” in professional football:
The key moment for present purposes is delivered about halfway through the above clip, when Pacino’s vintage cadence and delivery are in full effect: “One half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half a second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game. Every minute. Every second. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know, when we add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the f*ing difference between winning and losing.”
Indeed, the NFL really is a game of inches where games turn on only a handful of plays. A good illustration of this point was the Eagles v Redskins game, which the Eagles lost 27-22. There were five plays that I zeroed in on that swung the outcome of this game in the Redskins favor.
Jordan Matthews TD Drop
The first and most obvious example is this drop from Jordan Matthews. The Eagles had their second consecutive drive in the redzone, and Carson Wentz placed a beautiful ball over two Redskins defenders where only Matthews could catch it. But, as we all know by now, Matthews didn’t drag his foot in time to make the catch.
Watching it in real time, I knew Matthews messed up. But it wasn’t until I turned on the tape to see just how egregious his mistake was. This screen shot is almost exactly when the ball enters Matthews hands. He has a good two feet within which he can drag his right foot to make the catch, but fails to get it done. NFL caliber receivers need to make this catch 99 out of 100 times. And that Matthews is our best receiver but was still unable to make this play tells you everything you need to know about the state of the Eagles receiving unit this year.
We all know what happened next: a miscue between Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz led to an interception in the end zone. On three trips inside the red zone in the first quarter, the Eagles came away with a whopping 6 points.
Zach Ertz block in the back negating Sproles’ TD
Early in the third quarter, the Eagles were up 13-7. On the Redskins opening drive to start the half, the Eagles much maligned defense forced a 3 & out thanks to a Fletcher Cox sack on third down.
The momentum swing in the Birds favor was given an emphatic exclamation point when Darren Sproles returned Tress Way’s punt 49 yards to the house, putting the Birds up 20-7….. Or so we thought.
Instead, the play was nullified by a block in the back penalty on Zach Ertz. The broadcast just showed the tail end of the play, which gave the impression that the refs made a ticky tack call at the most inopportune of times. But rewind the tape a few seconds earlier, and it’s easy to see why the penalty was called.
As you can see, the Redskins’ gunner had his back to Ertz the ENTIRE time, yet Ertz fully extended his arms for a two-handed shove. That’s the text-book definition of a block in the back. It’s unclear why Ertz thought he could get away with something so blatant. The Eagles ended up going three-and-out on the drive and punting, which led to…..
DeSean Jackson Mid-Route Adjustment on his 80-yard Touchdown
Yup. Two plays after this punt, Kirk Cousins hit DeSean Jackson for an 80-yard score. In a game that was decided by only 5 points, this 14-point swing, separated by only 6 plays, was especially influential. Jackson’s touchdown provided the Redskins with a lead that they would never relinquish.
Jackson made an adjustment mid-route to catch the football that was overlooked by the broadcast team. But watch it unfold in slow motion; you can see how Cousins throw was inaccurate. Jackson was running towards the center hash of the field but had to turn to his outside shoulder to make the grab.
Tracking the ball on deep routes is a subtle, yet difficult skill, and is one that Eagles receivers clearly lack (look no further than the interception Carson Wentz threw to Nelson Agholor that ended the Lions game). This play underscores the tight rope with which Wentz must walk on a weekly basis, as his receivers are simply not talented enough to bail him out on inaccurate throws like we see Jackson do here.
Brent Celek’s botched long-snap
The parade of horrors continued in the third quarter as the Eagles wasted a potential momentum saving, 6 minute, 49 yard drive by botching a 50-yard field goal attempt. Gone was the potential 16-14 lead after Brent Celek — who was filling in for the injured Jon Dorenbos — botched the long snap.
We can’t fault Celek here. He was filling in on the fly during a key moment in the game. But the broadcasters suggested that Celek was not afforded the opportunity to even practice long snapping once on the sideline before this play. That raises legitimate questions as to what the hell Doug Pederson was thinking. In a close game, every point matters. Armed with 3 timeouts, the Eagles unquestionably should have burned one to let Celek at least get a few practice snaps before rolling him out there during a critical period in the game. I thought Pederson had one of his better games of the season last week, but this was another rookie mistake from the head coach.
DeSean Jackson’s Toe-Tap
As if to rub salt further into the Eagles wounds, Jackson made an acrobatic catch on the very next drive that was instrumental in the Redskins scoring another touchdown. Faced with a 2nd & 10 at their own 46 yard line and clinging to a 1 point lead, Cousins hit Jackson on a 21-yard corner route, which Jackson hauled in thanks to some nifty footwork and body control.
It was almost as if Jackson was making these plays to remind the Eagles organization what could have been: “oh, your best receiver can’t do a routine toe-tap in the end zone? Allow me to show you how I can stop on a dime, adjust to an outside throw and get both feet in bounds in one fluid motion.” Punch me in the face.
If you need another reason to hate your life, here is a screen shot of Jackson poised at a 45-degree angle with both feet in bounds making the catch. I can only imagine what Wentz was thinking when he saw this play.
Four plays later, the Redskins scored a touchdown to go up 21-13. For those keeping track at home, the Eagles started the third quarter up 13-7, but thanks to a series of unfortunate events were down 21-13 just four drives later.
In all, these five plays gave the Redskins 14 points while taking 17 points off the board for the Birds. That’s a thirty-one point swing in a single game. As I mentioned on Twitter a few times: this game turned on the Redskins making plays when it mattered most, and the Eagles failing to do the same. In the infamous words of Al Pacino, those five plays contained the inches that added up and made the “f*ing difference between winning and losing.”