Notes, Observations and Storylines from a Hard Fought Eagles Christmas Win

The Philadelphia Eagles (13-2) defeated the Oakland Raiders (6-9) on Christmas night by the final score of 19-10 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The Eagles offense struggled mightily, but the special teams and defense picked up the slack and the Eagles still were able to get the win. This win clinched the top seed in the NFC, meaning that the Eagles will have a decision to make on whether to rest most of their starters in next week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys (who got eliminated from playoff contention earlier in Week 16).

1. Eagles clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs 

Heading into tonight’s game against the Raiders, the Eagles needed to get a win to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Eagles, however ugly it was, got the win and therefore the road to the Super Bowl will go through Philadelphia. This was a much needed win for the Eagles, who have one of the NFL’s best home-field advantages due to the rabid Philadelphia fan base.

2. The offense struggled mightily against a below average Oakland defense

Heading into the Christmas night matchup with the Eagles, the Raiders defense was ranked 22nd in yards allowed per game (349.3), 23rd in passing yards allowed per game (238.6), 15th in rushing yards allowed per game (110.7) and 20th in points allowed per game (23.1). The Eagles are one of the league’s high flying offenses, although they are still getting acclimated to having Nick Foles as the quarterback instead of the injured Carson Wentz. Many fans and analysts alike thought that the Eagles would be able to blow the Raiders out of the water, but that wasn’t the case.

The Eagles were able to put up only 19 points (6 of which came on a defensive fumble return in the final seconds of the game) and 216 yards in the win. On a gusty, blustery, windy night in Philadelphia, the Eagles struggled to get the passing game going all throughout the game. Nick Foles totaled 138 passing yards and generally struggled throughout the game (more on him later). Specifically, the Eagles struggled on third down, going 1-14 on third downs as the offense struggled to get anything going throughout the game. Philadelphia also committed two turnovers in the win. The Eagles aren’t going to be able to win playoff games with the offense playing like it did today.

3. Sloppy offense is something that needs to be fixed before the playoffs

Sloppy. Sloppy. Sloppy. That’s the story of the Eagles’ offensive performance on Christmas night. 8 penalties for 60 yards, including a couple of holding penalties on Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson that brought back two good plays by the offense. The blocking for most of the night was good, Nick Foles had time to throw the ball, but the receivers weren’t able to get open against an average at best Oakland secondary. When Foles, who struggled throughout the night, decided to attempt to unleash the deep ball, Nelson Agholor dropped the pass (which was under thrown, but still very catchable). On a play in the fourth quarter, Foles threw a short pass to Zach Ertz. Ertz wasn’t able to haul in the pass and it was instead intercepted by Reggie Nelson. Jay Ajayi, at the end of a good run, fumbled the football due to trying to stiff arm a defender as he was wrapped up by a multitude of Raiders defenders. The Eagles can’t afford to make these kinds of mistakes when it comes playoff time.

4. Nick Foles’ struggles something Eagles fans should worry about?

Just one week after Nick Foles gained the confidence of Eagles fans with a four-touchdown performance in the win over the Giants, he lost that confidence with an ugly game in the win over the Raiders. Foles completed only 19 of his 38 passes for 163 yards, one TD and one interception. He failed to attack a weak Oakland pass defense, and he also showed a incomprehensible lack of mobility to move in or out of the pocket. Everyone knew that Foles wasn’t a mobile quarterback, but previously he had shown functional mobility. However, he passed up open runs that could have gotten first downs on multiple occasions. He, especially on a night where the offense was struggling to move the ball, needs to take advantage of these opportunities to extend drives when available.

So that brings the question of whether Eagles fans should still have faith in Foles. Foles, although he had an ugly game on Christmas night, still did what he had to do to get the win. He drove the offense into field goal range in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, which ultimately led to the win and clinching of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Also, Foles has had success throughout his career (excluding the year with Jeff Fisher as his head coach) and he should get more time before people start jumping off of the “Foles can lead the Eagles” bandwagon.

5. Jake Elliot hit another crucial, game-winning field goal

Jake Elliot, who took over the kicker position after Caleb Sturgis got hurt, continued his good season on Christmas night. Elliot hit the game-winning 48-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. He has hit 26 of 31 field goals so far this season, good for an 83.9 percent make rate. In a season full of pleasant surprises for the Eagles, Elliot has proven to be another one.

6. The defense needed to bounce back, and that is what they did

After a three game road trip that was full of bad defensive play for the Eagles, what was once the strong Eagles defense began to look like a weakness rather than a strength. However, the Eagles defense was able to bounce back on Christmas night against the Raiders. The Eagles gave up only 274 yards of offense while also forcing five turnovers. The turnovers, particularly, brought back the memories of the Eagles defense from earlier in the season. The Eagles forced three fumbles and intercepted Derek Carr twice. In key moments in the game, the Eagles defense came through. Ronald Darby was able to jump a route and intercept a pass late in the fourth quarter to help the Eagles secure the win. While the Raiders aren’t one of the league’s best offenses, they still have some solid weapons and the Eagles defense was able to stop them and hold them to only 10 points.

7. Where did the Eagles receivers disappear to?

The Philadelphia Eagles were at a lack of production in the passing game in their win over the Raiders. One of the reasons for this lack of production was that the Eagles’ receivers disappeared. The receivers totaled a terrible five catches for 40 yards. Alshon Jeffery failed to record a catch and was only targeted once. Nelson Agholor was targeted seven times but he only hauled in four of them for 35 yards. Torrey Smith was even worse, hauling in a meager one of five targets for five yards. The Eagles receivers basically produced nothing, and if this continues the team, specifically the offense, won’t be able to get very much going.

8. The weather did play a role in the game

20 degrees with 10-25 mile per hour winds. Those were the weather conditions during the Eagles Christmas night win over the Raiders. The winds played a major role in how the game went, resulting in a combined two missed field goals between the two teams. In addition to resulting in missed field goals, I do believe that the winds played a role in the lack of passing games for both teams. The Raiders struggled to pass the ball through the air (with the exception of when Jalen Mills got beat on a sluggo route for a big touchdown). The Eagles, while not only due to the wind, couldn’t get anything going in the deep passing game. A case can be made for the wind playing a role in causing a ball to be underthrown by Nick Foles in the second half. However, the weather can’t be used as an excuse for bad play, and the Eagles will certainly have to get used to playing in extreme weather conditions due to the fact that they have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and therefore will need to play in conditions similar to things on Christmas night.

9. Eagles defense proves to be clutch as they force turnovers and shut down the Raiders in the second half

The Eagles offense struggled mightily throughout the entire game, but specifically in the second half. In the second half, the Eagles offense totaled a terrible 27 yards and 6 points (excluding the defensive touchdown that occurred in the fourth quarter) in nine drives. The Eagles, in order to stay in the game, needed a tremendous effort from their defense, and that is exactly what they got. The Eagles defense picked up the slack by allowing 114 yards and 3 points in the second half while forcing five turnovers. This was extremely encouraging to see from a defensive unit that had struggled immensely over the past three games. With Nick Foles at the helm of the Philadelphia offense, the offense won’t be able to always put up flashy numbers like they did with Carson Wentz at quarterback. As a result, the Eagles might need excellent play from their defense, especially in clutch situations, if they are to win games come January.

10. Injuries

Defensive end Brandon Graham left the game with an ankle injury in the second half and didn’t return. Left guard Stefen Wisniewski missed his second straight game with an ankle injury.

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