Coming into their contest with the Oakland Raiders, the Philadelphia Eagles had only allowed six sacks the entire season. The Raiders helped double that figure in a matter of three hours on Sunday.
Raiders defenders blitzed McNabb and the Eagles, sacking the quarterback six times and hurrying him a dozen other times, on their way to a 13-9 upset victory at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The victory put a halt to a three-game losing streak and upped their record to 2-4 on the year.
“I think that makes the statement that we have good enough players, we have a good enough scheme,” said head coach Tom Cable in what may have been the most gruff he’s been this season.
“It’s a matter of whether we go out and fight to win. Today we fought to win. That’s what you take from it. I’m proud of it. They deserved to win. They beat a good team.”
They may have beat a good team, but the Eagles didn’t look much like the team many have projected for the playoffs this season. The Raiders held Brian Westbrook and the running game to only 67 yards on 14 carries and prevented them from reaching the end zone the entire day. The closest that the Eagles got to a touchdown was the 15 yard line of the Raiders, with 1:53 left in the second quarter.
During that series, the Eagles looked to have the Raiders’ defense on their heels when McNabb signaled for a timeout–without any timeouts remaining. The timeout attempt cost the Eagles five yards, but the following play resulted in a Richard Seymour sack that made it second and twenty and kept the clock running–forcing McNabb to spike the ball with 12 seconds remaining and bringing on the field goal unit.
“I think the theme for us this week, I think it was about the Oakland Raiders. It was about us,” said Seymour after the game. “Even the team that we were playing, it really wasn’t about them. It was about, if we took care of our responsibilities and play as a team and play with some energy, you know, with some intensity, then we could play with anyone. And that’s what happened today.”
Another reason for the defensive pressure that McNabb faced was the Raiders’ blitz–a tactic rarely used by the team. Seymour and Trevor Scott had two sacks each, Thomas Howard and Jay Richardson were credited with one apiece, and the secondary played in a cover-two while the linebackers or safeties went after McNabb.
“They did some stuff that they really didn’t show the last few games and we were surprised, but that is what practices are for,” said Philadelphia tackle Winston Justice.
“Some of our guys talked to the Eagles and they said that they hadn’t seen us pressure that much,” said linebacker Thomas Howard.
More impressive for the Raiders was that they were able to hold the Eagles’ offense to nine points without arguably their best player on the field. Nnamdi Asomugha had his eye poked on the third play of the game by fellow Cal alum DeSean Jackson.
“I came back in because I was trying to go with it,” said Asomugha. “We had the shield on because the light was killing my eye, so I went back in. I was on the field but I couldn’t see because it was really blurry. So, that was a waste of time, so I came back out.”
Cable said that Asomugha’s eye isn’t serious during his postgame press conference, but even if it prevents him from playing, the Raiders proved they could handle the job without him. The Raiders put a visor on the Pro Bowl corner’s helmet and gave him eye drops to numb the pain, but it only alleviated the pain for a few minutes–forcing the corner to watch with one eye on the sidelines.
After the game, the eye was still bothering him. “Oh, yeah. It’s killing me right now,” said Asomugha in the locker room.
The Raiders’ offense wasn’t explosive, but they weren’t bad like they’ve been for most of the year. The oft-criticized JaMarcus Russell had one of his better games as a pro, though it won’t look that impressive in the stat box. His stat line for the day was 17-28 for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, while being sacked twice.
Where Russell did his best work was when he had defenders in his face. Although the Eagles only sacked the third-year quarterback twice, they pressured him nearly every play he dropped back. Russell was able to avoid the rush, move in the pocket and make the throws he needed to make in order to keep his defense off the field.
“If you look at the last two weeks, he’s actually thrown the ball much, much better than prior to that,” said Cable. “So it was coming, it was actually coming.”
Whether Russell’s can duplicate his play from Sunday the rest of the season will be the topic of debate over the course of the week, but all that the third year starter cared about after the game was getting the win. “Whether it was the Eagles, or whoever, it was great to win. Period,” said Russell. “We’ll try to make it something we can move upon, gain something from it, build on it. Keep us going.”
The play of the game was an 86 yard passing touchdown to Zach Miller, but the star of the player didn’t receive a stat. On the play, Russell hit an open Miller near the right sideline who should have been tackled after gaining 20 yards. Louis Murphy was able to pancake the oncoming Eagles defender and then run down field thirty yards and block another Eagle in pursuit. That wasn’t enough for Murphy as he also had another finishing block at the three yard line.
“I ran a go route, I saw Zach catch the ball. Soon as I saw him catch the ball, I turned around, started getting up field to help him score,” said the rookie receiver. “I hit one safety, looked up field, saw him still running, so I tried to run up field more and make another block. He set me up perfect the way he maneuvered through the defense. It was a great run. Whatever I can do to help, I’m going to do.”
Next week, the Raiders will face the New York Jets, who are having their own quarterback performance issues. Rookie Mark Sanchez went 10-29 for 119 yards and threw five interceptions in a 16-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The main reason the Jets were even in the game was due to a combined 309 yards rushing by Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.