Week 14: Eagles vs Bengals Rewind

Sorry for the long delay, but as some of you know, the All-22 footage isn’t available until the Wednesday after the game.  So at the risk of bringing up the memory of a game most fans would like to forget, here is the All-22 breakdown, featuring notes on key figures and breakdowns of three big plays:


Overall – A better game then the score indicates, as I described in the post-game notes.  Key figures:

Nick Foles – Played a much better game then most are giving him credit for.  The interception was a terrible throw, but other than that he made good decisions.  Some will point to a couple throws at the end of the game that clearly weren’t high-percentage passes, and they’re correct, but I would argue that down 24 points with time running out is exactly the time to engage in higher risk plays.  Throwing an interception at that point doesn’t really decrease the odds of winning since they are so low to begin with.

He again showed good pocket mobility, though this game he didn’t make his progressions quite as well as he had been doing previously.  All-in-all another encouraging game despite what most are saying.  (That’s precisely why we just look at the tape rather than going off what we hear.)

Colt Anderson Colt played a better game than I gave him credit for.  In the post-game notes I mentioned the nice pass break-up but nothing else.  Colt made some nice plays in the run game (his strength) though he did have trouble bringing down the runner at the point of contact a few times (getting dragged a few yards).  A solid game, though, and certainly higher quality than we’ve seen from any of the safeties in a while.

Jamar Chaney – From now on Chaney will be referred to as either “The Invisible Man” or “Human Practice Sled”.  It is really amazing how he can play so much and yet have so little impact on the game.   The box score will tell you he had 7 total tackles (by far his highest of the year), but most of those came from him chasing down a man he should have stopped earlier.  By my count, he made just 1 positive play, bringing the runner down at the line of scrimmage. The best thing you can say about him is that he takes 1 blocker out of the play (which in fact is about the worst thing you can say about a LB).

Fletcher Cox/Brandon Graham – This was easy to see for most watching the game, but both of these players had a huge day.  If they can keep up this level of play, the Eagles have the potential for a great d-line.  Cox has already shown himself to be among the best pass-rushing DTs in the league, which is what the Eagles hoped for when they picked him.  Graham, however, has been a revelation (considering how low his stock was preseason).  In addition to the sacks, Graham played with a lot of energy on each play, including coming completely across the field once and bringing down a scrambling Dalton from behind on the opposite sideline.  Any fan looking for a reason to get excited has found it.

DRC –  DRC reminded everyone why he’s so well-known.  He was matched man-to-man against Green nearly the whole game, and held him relatively in check.  The TD fade is a tough one, DRC has to know that’s coming and find a way to stop it, but that’s easier said then done for any corner up against a receiver of that caliber.

Kendricks – Another young player to watch.  Kendricks had a tough game and was largely missing from the action.  He did have one pass defended, but was made to look foolish by Andy Dalton (on Dalton’s TD run).  Kendricks’ performance has definitely taken a hit outside of last week’s game.  Let’s hope he rebounds, otherwise the LB core is again pretty weak.

Now for some plays:

The Maclin Fake-Screen:

2nd and 3 at the PHI 38 yard line.  This is a great play not just because of how well it was drawn up and worked, but because the Eagles started setting this up the week before.  Remember all those WR screens they ran against Tampa?  Well they came out this game and early-on ran a couple, giving the Bengals plenty to recognize and key off.  Laying that groundwork paid off in this play, which ultimately led to a TD.

Here is the pre-snap look:  The Eagles come out trips-right with Riley Cooper on the opposite side (total of 4 WRs).  On this play, the Bengals are in a nickel defense, which means they only have 3 CBs on the field.  To account for the discrepancy, the Bengals’ safety takes responsibility for Maclin.

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Just after the snap, seen below, the Eagles are showing the WR screen.  Notice the safety covering Maclin has stepped up and crossed the 50.  To this point there is no real sign that it’s a fake, as Maclin could just be running to set up blocking position between his man and the receiver.

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Finally, we get the payoff picture.  At first glance it doesn’t look like much, the safety covering Maclin is still farther downfield.  What’s key though, as we can see from the above picture, is that at this moment Maclin is at full speed, whereas the safety covering him has just realized it’s a fake and is starting from a dead stop, giving him no chance of matching Maclin’s speed.

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A very well-drawn up play, but fairly simple.  The key was setting it up with actual screens both early this game and in the week before.  I know some people have mentioned Foles should have hit Maclin in stride (leading to a TD on this play), but I think Foles was really just trying to ensure a catch and got a bit conservative with his throw.

Play 2:  The Cooper TD

This play occurs shortly after the previous play.  Nick Foles hits Riley Cooper, who is wide-open at the goal line.  How did he get so open?  Below is the pre-snap.  The Eagles come out with 5 WRs and bunch 4 of them just off the line to the right side.  As you can see from the diagram, bunching 4 WRs (one is actually RB Lewis) together makes things very difficult for the defense.  If they are in man-coverage, the defenders are susceptible to “pick” plays or running into each other as they try to run with their man.  Zone coverage alleviates this problem, but means the defenders have to be communicating with each other perfectly, or else they may accidentally double-cover a WR and leave another open.  The second option (zone) is what appears to happen here.

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Riley Cooper is the WR lined up closest to the O-Line on the right side.  Pay close attention to his route.  See how it runs between the two defenders (shown as red circles)?  That ends up being the key to the play.  Of those two, the outside defender takes Dion Lewis, the Eagles WR furthest right in the above picture.  The inside defender actually disrupts Cooper’s route (seen below), forcing him towards the sideline.  However, this defender, after running with Cooper, sees Dion Lewis break back inside, therefore entering his zone.  He breaks off his coverage of Cooper and picks up Lewis.  The outside defender doesn’t get the message and also covers Lewis, leaving Cooper wide open on the goal line.

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Above, we can see Cooper being disrupted.  Lewis is about to break back towards the inside, which causes Cooper’s defender to leave him, sticking to his zone.  Below is the moment this happens.

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And here is the moment of the  pass.  Notice Cooper coming open and the two defenders covering Lewis.

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Bunching 4 WRs caused confusion in the defense and led to a very easy throw-and-catch for a TD.  It must also be noted that this play only succeeded because the O-Line gave it enough time to develop.

Play 3:  One for the defense.

Second Quarter, 1st and 20 at the 2 minute warning.  This is the fumble forced by Cullen Jenkins and recovered by Tapp.  There are two things that make this play interesting: it comes from the wide-9 alignment, and it involves Jenkins coming over top both the other DT (Cox) and DE (Cole), which means the DBs did a good job in coverage to give him time to do that.

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The key to the play, other than the coverage, is Cox and Cole’s ability to attack the center of the offensive line.  As I illustrated above and we can see below, the combined power of these players collapses the left side of the Bengal’s o-line, giving Jenkins the space he needs to come around.


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Above we can see Jenkins in motion and Cole setting the edge.  Below we can see Jenkins as he’s coming around the line.  Notice that the stunt action towards the center has drawn the Bengals’ LT to Cole, meaning there is nobody left to block Jenkins, whose original blocker  can be seen doing nothing in the picture below.

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Finally, the moment of the strip  Jenkins gets there just in time, as Dalton is about to release the ball (and fortunately just before his arm starts coming forwards.


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A big defensive play out of the wide-9, who knew?  In any case, this is the type of action the Eagles should be able to generate with Cox/Cole.  Both are great pass rushers (Cole not as much this year but he still has to be respected) and are used here to create space for Jenkins, leading to a turnover (something they haven’t created nearly enough this year.)  Let’s hope we see more plays like this in the next couple games.


Post-game notes: Eagles vs. Bengals

Brace yourselves, I’m about to say something ridiculous…

That was just about the best performance in a 34-13 loss possible, and Eagles fans should be relatively encouraged by much of what they saw.  Ignore the bullshit and remember that since the Eagles aren’t in the playoff hunt, the scoreboard doesn’t matter.

Is anyone really worried about Cedric Thornton’s ability to field a kick?  Didn’t think so.

I was at the game, so in essence I got to see the All-22 live (though seeing which players are in on tackles is difficult without the TV and replays.)  Following is a list of what does matter coming out of the game:

– Nick Foles.  Not a good game.  However, I warned you that this was likely going to be much worse than his last game.  Foles made one obviously bad throw which is a bit puzzling (and worrisome), but he also did a good job of moving in the pocket and not making high-risk throws.  If it hadn’t been for the turnovers by the rest of the team, Foles would be praised for his ability to “manage the game”.  He was accurate again, though he did not appear to have the same precision as last week.

The interception was interesting because it came on a play that is ostensibly a strength of his.  Every scouting report on Foles mentions a lack of mobility and a strong arm.  In reality, what we’ve seen in play is almost the reverse.  He’s definitely slow, but moves very well in the pocket and uses his head to account for his slow speed.  The arm strength, however, has not been shown as clearly.  We have seen flashes of it, but accuracy appears to be a problem when he is forced to drop a pass deep downfield over-top a WR.  This throw was a clear under-throw.  There is a chance that he under-threw it on purpose, assuming the WR would see it and be able to adjust while the DB wouldn’t.  It’s very unlikely, but a possibility for reconciling it with his supposed arm strength.  Regardless, this is something to keep a close eye on for the rest of the season.

– The Defense.  The defense played a fantastic game, which is remarkable in the face of 34 points allowed.  Let’s look at some stats:

249 total offensive yards for the Bengals.

Andy Dalton was 13 of 27 for just 127 yards (and two fumbles).

The Law Firm ran for 106 yards on 25 carries.  29 of those yards came on one rush.  Outside of that play the Eagles held him to 3.2 yards per carry.

The Eagles registered 6 sacks and 7 passes deflected.

As we can see from the box score (and from watching it if you were able to ignore the score), the defense played a great game.

– Cox/Graham.  I mentioned in the pre-game thoughts that this was a big opportunity for both of these players.   I think they got the message.  Though I’ll have to confirm it on the tape, this was clearly either the best game or close to it for Cox and Graham.  Both consistently drove their blockers backwards and repeatedly disrupted the Cincinnati offense.

Graham finished with 2.5 sacks, 3 QB hits, and a forced fumble.

Cox finished with 1.5 sacks and 2 QB hits.  His game was actually a lot stronger than those numbers suggest, as he was able to collapse the pocket and force Dalton to scramble, contributing heavily to the overall defensive numbers.

– Colt Anderson. Didn’t see too much of him (positive or negative), but because of how much I’ve talked about his poor coverage skills, I felt I had to give him props for breaking up what would have been a 1st half touchdown pass to A.J. Green.  That’s exactly what a safety should do, so I’m kind of congratulating him for doing his job, but it was nice to see nonetheless.

– Don’t jump off the Bryce Brown train just yet. The last two games have taken some of the luster off Brown, but don’t get too down on him.  The fumbles are a big problem, but one that can be fixed.  From what I’ve seen, the poor yardage is a result of terrible run-blocking rather than poor performances by Brown.  Jake Scott in particular looked like he had an awful game, but we’ll wait to confirm on the game rewind.

Pre-game notes: Eagles vs. Bengals

As we get ready for a Thursday night game, a few notes followed by what to watch for:

– Regarding Nick Foles, this game is flashing a pretty strong “REGRESSION” sign.  Each defense Foles has faced is ranked in the bottom third of the league for opposing QB Rating allowed.  Cincinnati isn’t great (ranking 15th and allowing an average rating of 84.7) but is significantly better than Tampa Bay (allowing an average rating of 92.4).  Don’t be surprised if Foles’ stat line looks much worse than last week.

– Barring a miraculous performance by the O-Line, Foles is going to face significant pressure and will take some hits tonight.  The Bengals lead the league in both sacks per game (3.2) and sack percentage (8.27%).  Tampa Bay averaged just 1.5 per game heading into last week and came away with 6.

– The Eagles DBs will face a stiff test with A.J. Green in town.  In my opinion, he and Calvin Johnson are the best WRs in the game right now.  It will be interesting to see how the Eagles cover him (expect A LOT of double-teams).  Look for the Eagles to do everything possible to prevent him from getting single coverage with a safety, as trusting Allen or Anderson 1-on-1 would likely be a disaster.  Theoretically, this should open things up for other Bengals underneath, as zone coverage will be a gamble (at least on Green’s side).  The Bengals should be able to use Green to pull coverage, opening up the space he vacates.

What to Watch For:

Can Foles avoid a turnover?  To date, he’s been pretty good at protecting the ball and not making high risk throws.  However, in the face of the toughest defense he has seen (and with a short week to prepare) he’s going to be under more pressure than he’s accustomed to.  If it’s tough to move the ball (as it should be), we’ll see if he starts pressing.  Last week he did not.

As a reminder, forget Foles’ stat line.  Watch for his ability to make progressions (watch his head when he drops back) and avoid high-risk throws.  Also, still looking for an accurate deep ball…

Short slants and RB-flats from the offense.  I’m a little surprised they haven’t tried to hit Brown through the air a few more times (though perhaps he can’t catch), but they’ll need a variety of check-downs and hot routes to take advantage against the pass rush.

Mychal Kendricks.  Last game he was shifted to WLB and played perhaps his best game of the year (certainly his best since the first month of the season).  On the weak-side, he can use his speed more effectively.  Specifically, watch him in coverage (mostly RBs out of the backfield and TEs coming across the formation) , as that’ll be a major responsibility of his if they keep him on that side.

Brandon Graham/Fletcher Cox.  Cincinnati has problems protecting Andy Dalton and ranks in the bottom third of the league in both sacks allowed per game and sack percentage allowed.  This should be an opportunity for both Graham and Cox to make an impact.  Ideally we’d see Trent Cole with a big game, but his play has slipped dramatically since last year.  Hard to tell what’s wrong; he just isn’t winning one-on-one battles like he used to (might be an undisclosed injury or just a decline in ability).

Play Action.  As I mentioned in the breakdown from the Bucs game, Tampa Bay didn’t run nearly as much PA as I expected them to given the Eagles problems  defending it.  The shift away from the Wide-9 should help fix that, but there wasn’t enough of it run last game to test that assumption.

Colt Anderson/Jamar Chaney. Chaney re-entered the starting line-up last game when Kendricks shifted to WLB.  Both Anderson and Chaney were terrible early this year when given playing time.  Neither was tested very much by the Bucs.  For Chaney, see how involved he is.  He has a bad habit of getting sucked up by the first blocker he encounters.  He isn’t quick enough to go around them, and hasn’t yet shown the strength or athleticism to get off them.

Colt Anderson has had serious issues in coverage.  Against the Bucs, his positive plays came exclusively against the run (and on blitzes rather than read-and-reacts).  I’m not expecting very much from either player, but if one of them can be at least serviceable (i.e. close to average) then it eliminates a big hole for the Eagles heading into next year.

Week 14: Eagles vs. Bucs

This week:

Notes from the game, with a focus on Nick Foles and the defense.

The Catch (and throw)

Foles to Avant Part 2 (Illustration of pocket awareness).

First, Nick Foles:

– Hello West-Coast Offense!  It seems like the Eagles have finally found a QB that is a perfect fit for the west-coast offense.  What you saw on Sunday was precisely how it is supposed to work, with many short (5 yd) routes and pinpoint throws substituting for a running game.  One of the strangest aspects of the Andy Reid era has been his insistence on running a west-coast scheme without finding the right QB for it.  Neither McNabb nor Vick were accurate enough.  In fact, the offense McNabb ran really wasn’t a true West-Coast scheme (Andy Reid just used that as cover for why he threw the ball so much), as it relied on deep throws and big plays.

-The Tampa Bay pass defense is the worst in the league.  However, Foles did exactly what a good QB should do against a terrible pass defense, and after reviewing the tape, this clearly was not a case of a terrible defense making a QB look good.

– Particularly encouraging: Foles finally showed he has the ability to make more than 1.5 progressions before hitting a check-down.  In fact, he often used his legs to buy time while keeping his eyes downfield and making all of his reads.  Perhaps more importantly, he was remarkably accurate when throwing on the run, which in any case is a good sign, but especially since the Eagles O-line didn’t do him any favors.

-For the most part, his decision making was strong, though he had a few ill-advised passes.

-Considering how bad the running game was (more on that in a moment), fans should be very encouraged that Foles was able to handle carrying the whole offense.

-One note of caution: we still did not see evidence of an ability to hit a deep ball.  He had several opportunities, but was not accurate in any of them (one could argue the left-sideline bomb to Riley Cooper was accurate since it he got his fingertips on it, but he would have had to lay out for it while keeping himself in bounds in very limited space).

Overall, though, I think this game definitely improved Foles’ value, regardless of the last second heroics (which have been a little overblown in my opinion).  He clearly knows how to use the pocket and seems extremely comfortable now that he has a few games under his belt.

The O-Line:

– The O-line was completely overpowered, especially when run-blocking.  Not a huge surprise, given the Bucs lead the league in rush defense, but this was definitely a step back for a unit that had improved modestly over the last couple games.

– While the Bucs did register 6 sacks, several were coverage sacks, and late in the game the O-Line did a good job of giving Foles both the time and space to make some plays (and he helped them by scrambling intelligently, stepping upfield rather than pulling a Vick special and rolling sideways into a DE).

The Defense:

– In the first game of the post-wide-9 era, the defense certainly appeared to improve greatly.  Don’t get too excited though, Josh Freeman played a terrible game and missed badly on some throws he should have completed.

– Though I think things like “effort” and “attitude” are usually over-valued by most commentators, the defense really did seem to be playing harder.  Whether that’s a direct result of Washburn being gone is unknown, but it was nice to see nevertheless.

– Among the most encouraging signs was the team’s tackling, as they did a very good job of bringing down receivers at first contact.  Doug Martin caused some problems, but nothing unexpected (he’s a very strong runner) and when he did break a tackle, the rest of the defense was there to prevent a breakaway.

– Though they only managed 2 sacks, the D-line was active all game and did a good job of disrupting the pocket for Freeman.  Would have liked to see some more direct pressure, but it was better than the stat line would suggest.

– The defense deflected 9 passes, suggesting strong coverage throughout (an in fact it was mostly strong).  Kendricks played a particularly active game, deflecting 3 balls and making a bigger impact than we have seen from him recently (he was shifted to WLB and seemed much more comfortable in that role).

– Nnamdi will likely not be on the team next year.  He struggled all game, and although it’d be nice to blame it on his injury and praise his toughness in coming back, this isn’t an isolated instance.  He hasn’t performed anywhere close to his paycheck all year, and I can’t see the Eagles holding on to what’s clearly a poor value proposition (if he’s willing to take a pay cut then perhaps there’s a deal to be made).

-I’m very puzzled by the game-plan for the Bucs.  The Eagles have been susceptible all year to PA and the Bucs didn’t run much of it, despite getting a lot of traction on the ground with Martin.  Also, Colt Anderson was not tested much in coverage, which as far as I’m concerned is a massive error by the Bucs coaches.

Now for some key plays:

Play 1 Avant’s Catch (really could be called Foles’ Throw):

– By now we’ve all seen the replay of Avant’s amazing one-handed grab, however, Foles’ throw on the play has been repeatedly overlooked.

3rd and 16 in the second quarter, this play led to a Henery field goal.  Below is the set-up. Although the Bucs line up with 3 down lineman and 3 LBs, this is essentially a Nickel D (with one rusher standing in an attempt to disguise the rush).  From this, the Bucs send a big blitz, overloaded the left side of the Eagles line.  Notice the MLB’s route, as he comes across the center to ensure the left side of the Eagles line is outmanned.  Also, the safety begins his rush presnap so his distance to the QB is not as great at he start of the play.  While this helps the Bucs get pressure, it also ensures that Avant has single coverage.

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Just after the snap, we can see the blitz in progress.  Notice the safety-blitz has created a lot of space on the left side of the field.  Avant’s corner takes inside position, knowing his team is blitzing from that side and ensuring that Avant can’t break to the middle (which would be vital if Foles rolls out away from the blitz).

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At the moment before the throw, Avant is just getting out of his break.   Harder to see is what Foles is dealing with.  The rush is successful, and Foles not only can’t step into the throw, but actually has a defender grabbing him when he releases the ball.  Also, note how deep the remaining safety is.  With 6 rushers (and one delayed when the LB realizes he has nobody to cover), the Bucs are forced to keep a defender very deep in an effort to prevent a touchdown if the rush doesn’t get home.

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Here is a good look at Foles the moment he throws the ball.  We’ve all seen the resulting catch, but take note of how impressive the throw is.  With a man on him and no space to step up, Foles throws a perfect ball 40 yards to Avant, putting it high enough to get over the CB (who remember is playing inside so is between Avant and Foles) while still giving Avant a chance to make the catch.

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In all, a great play by both Avant and Foles.

Foles to Avant Part 2:

1st and 10 in the 3rd quarter.  This led to Henery’s missed 31 yard field goal.

This play is a great example of Foles using the pocket to beat a blitz and complete a big play to Avant.  The Bucs line up with 5 men on the line (4 in 3 point stances, 1 standing up top).  Again, they bring a safety blitz around the end while rushing the MLB at the center.  In all, 6 men end up as pass rushers, with the end on the bottom of the screen falling back into coverage (though he ends up doing nothing).  Meanwhile, Avant is lined up in the slot, and despite getting tripped by the lineman who drops into coverage, he manages to get himself open across the middle, giving Foles the outlet he needs.

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Here is Foles at the depth of his drop.  Avant is just breaking and will gain separation in another moment.  However, the rush is closing in on Foles, particularly from the ends.  Notice the open space ahead of Foles, he is about to put it to good use.

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Below we can see Foles as he is about to step up in the pocket.  We can see the end closing in on him from the right, meaning if he doesn’t step up at this moment he’s taking a blind side sack.

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Here is the moment of the throw.  Foles has stepped up, giving himself just enough time to get the ball to Avant, who is now streaking across the middle of the field (though hard to see below, Foles is just ahead of the 50 yard line).

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In summary, a good example of Foles’ pocket awareness, which was strong the entire game.  Despite his lack of speed (see the amazingly slow TD run), Foles seems to understand how to use the mobility he has.  It’s nice to see a rookie with such awareness.

Additionally, the ball is delivered accurately, which allowed Avant to break the initial tackle and gain an additional 14 yards after the catch.

Post-Game Thoughts: Eagles vs. Bucs

Stoppable force beats movable object – Entering the game, the Bucs’ defense had 18 sacks in 12 games, or 1.5 per game.  Today they sacked Foles 6 times and hit him 13 times.  We’ll have to wait for the All-22 to see exactly what happened, but there were several egregious 1-on-1 losses by Eagles O-lineman.

Foles seizes opportunity – In what I predicted would be a showcase game for the rookie QB (see pre-game thoughts), he did not disappoint.  He made several very impressive throws while running, and more importantly, did not throw an interception against a defense that had a lot of them coming into the game.  However, in the next few days, I expect most commentators to gloss over the horrendous decision/throw he made on the final drive that should have been an easy interception and ended the game.  He was bailed out by the dropped ball, but that was a catastrophic mistake that he’ll need to avoid in the future.

Win the battle but lose the war? – While it’s certainly more fun to watch the Eagles win (especially in exciting last-play fashion), it is somewhat likely that the team will regret this win upon entering the offseason.  The win dropped (or raised) the Eagles from the #3 draft pick to #4.  According to the standard NFL Draft Pick Value Chart, that’s equivalent to a 2nd round pick.  It should be noted that the drop-off is less severe once outside the top 3 picks, but if the standings hold then that last second victory will cost the Eagles big.  (Would you trade a 2nd round pick for a meaningless win?)

Daniel Te’o Nesheim is still alive? – Apparently, and he had a sack and 2 QB hits.