After running 53 plays of offense in the first half, the Eagles ran just 24 in the second half. (USA Today Images)
LANDOVER, Md. -- For someone whose team had just won its first division road game in roughly 21 months, Todd Herremans hardly seemed tickled pink afterward.
“We need to be able to adjust to some things better in the second half,” the Eagles’ veteran right guard said late Monday night. “It’s kind of hard because it doesn’t really feel like we won, because the second half was so different from the first half.”
Maybe someone should remind Herremans that the Eagles won only four games last year, or that the 33 points his team hung on the Redskins at FedEx Field in the opener matched its most points scored in any game last year.
Or maybe the point is more valid, glossed over by Chip Kelly’s winning debut and the video game-like output from LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson.
The Eagles had complete control of the game at halftime, up 26-7, then extended the lead to 26 on McCoy’s 34-yard touchdown run five snaps into the third quarter. They had the Redskins against the ropes, sucking wind and incapable of slowing down Kelly’s high-powered offense.
So how’d it go from double-digit triumph to double takes on Washington’s last-gasp onside kick?
“There are a lot of mistakes we made,” Michael Vick said. “I think [in] the second half, we got a little bit sloppy, partially because we killed some clock. But I can’t take anything away from the Washington Redskins’ defense. They did a great job, but we can do a lot of things better.”
Kelly’s racecar offense, which soared in the first half at a near-historic rate, hit the skids in the second half. Causes for the slowdown were dictated by circumstance: With the game in hand, the Eagles downshifted in an attempt to run time off the clock.
But the drop-off in tempo, along with an adjustment by Washington and Jason Avant’s uncharacteristic fumble, helped the Redskins seize the momentum and put forth a furious rally in the game’s final 10 minutes.
“In the second half, besides that first drive, I don’t want to say we let up, but they started doing some things,” center Jason Kelce said. “And as a unit and as an offensive line we’ve got to be able to adjust better than that.”
Kelce said the Redskins crowded the box more, taking aim at the Eagles’ running game and forcing them into more passing scenarios.
A five-yard loss by Bryce Brown preceded a Lane Johnson false start in the third quarter that forced the Eagles to punt. On their next drive, Avant fumbled deep in Eagles territory, gift-wrapping another scoring opportunity.
“We have to finish a little bit better than we did,” tight end Brent Celek said. “We came out in the first half and played pretty well. We have to keep that going in the second half to put them away. You live, you learn. We will go back to watch film and correct our mistakes.”
Tempo also seemed to be an issue. After running plays once every 24 seconds in the first half, Kelly took his foot off the pedal. After going up 33-7, the Eagles ran plays about once every 35 seconds on their next drive, and once every 39 seconds on the next.
“We did switch it up in the third quarter after LeSean scored the touchdown, we changed our tempo,” Vick said. “We didn’t really get a chance to continue to press. I know there will be times, there will be games where we press for four quarters.”
Milking the clock is the smart tactic, but as Herremans noted, the Eagles can’t just go three-and-out whenever they reign in the pace.
“There’s no reason for us to be punting and everything,” he said. “We still need to be able to move the ball and get into the end zone as the game progresses.”
And since nearly every defensive coordinator in the league probably scribbled down notes on the Eagles’ offense as they observed the nationally televised showdown, it’s only normal to expect future opponents to come armed with some other slowdown tactics.
When it happens, the Eagles know they have to adjust better.
“I think we’ll see a few more guys coming up with cramps, regardless of whether those are real or not,” Kelce said. “I think that’s pretty much the only way they’re going to slow it down.”