In an incredibly hostile, raucous environment at Soldier Field, it was the Eagles who earned the victory in an ever important win-or-go-home scenario against the Bears. Similarly (and oddly enough), the contest came down its final play, just as the Eagles first playoff game last season against Atlanta. This time around, it was seventh-round defensive tackle and now playoff hero Treyvon Hester who saved the Birds’ season with a clutch field goal block to end the game:
Hester’s refusal to lose and retire the dreams of a championship repeat is truly admirable and something Philly faithfuls won’t soon forget. Getting that kind of contribution from a backup defensive tackle that was only signed to the 53-man active roster in early October is just the latest example that the Eagles are the hungriest (and hottest) team in the NFL right now. Whether it’s notable stars such as Fletcher Cox or Alshon Jeffery or relatively unknown reserve players, the team simply makes plays when the stakes are at their highest.
Hester wasn’t the only unsung hero of Wild Card weekend, however, as a number of the Eagles’ position coaches deserve a ton of credit for the victory as well. The teachings and strategies implemented by offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, defensive backs coach Cory Undlin, and special teams coach Dave Fipp were instrumental in the nail-biting win against the Bears. Each coach merit’s their own segment of praise, so let’s start with longtime fixture Jeff Stoutland.
An offensive line coach since 1993, Stout has acquired quite the assortment of football knowledge over the years and flashed his extensive expertise in the primetime victory over Chicago. With a matchup against the oft-dominant Khalil Mack on the horizon, it was Stoutland who rallied his troops together and conjured up a gameplan to negate the Pro Bowl defensive end. Over the years, Stoutland has put an extreme emphasis on not allowing the opposing team’s most notable pass rusher to be the one to beat you, and that philosophy proved wise once again on Sunday. Mack, who finished the 2018 regular season with 12.5 sacks, recorded ZERO sacks and a meager two quarterback hits. Stoutland exhausted his entire arsenal to slow the perennial Pro Bowler, unleashing Lane Johnson, Jason Peters, and even Zach Ertz on Mack:
.@Eagles @ZERTZ_86 v @52Mack_ 1 on 1. For real! Can’t just be the most prolific pass catching tight end in the history of the @NFL and not be asked to block! #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/xEdwQAgrUZ
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 7, 2019
The game plan worked flawlessly as the line was able to keep Foles upright and afford him enough time to pick his spots against a tough Bears defense.
On the other side of the ball, knowledgeable coaching-instilled technique and strategy were also on display. This time, the mastermind behind the production was none other than defensive backs coach Cory Undlin. Since his hiring in 2015, the Eagles have seen a massive leap in performance from their defensive backs, especially the corners, and Sunday evening’s matchup was no different. Despite none of them being starters as recently as two months ago, Rasual Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Philly Sports Network founder Liam Jenkins’ favorite ‘Captain’ Cre’von LeBlanc performed at an incredibly high level for the majority of the contest. The feisty corners were able to limit the Bears aerial attack with sound technique and aggressive tackling, and deserve a ton of praise for their hand in the defensive victory.
Lastly, those tuned into the Wild Card matchup were once again reminded of the importance of special teams. With their backs against the wall and the fate of the game resting on the balance of a last-second field goal attempt by former Pro Bowl kicker Cody Parkey, it was Fipp who sent out his most trusted field goal unit. Special teams play has been a key component in several victories since Fipp’s arrival during the Chip Kelly era, but Treyvon Hester’s field goal block on Sunday may be the group’s most shining moment thus far. After getting his gigantic left hand on Parkey’s potential game-winning kick, Hester and the Eagles ran off the field as improbable underdog victors for the fourth-consecutive time in the Doug Pederson era.
Defense win championships and a good offense is the remedy to many a problem, but coaching is an integral part of football and proved it’s worth once again on Sunday. Without the contributions of coaches Stoutland, Undlin, and Fipp the Eagles season likely would have ended in Chicago. Fortunately for the Birds, their season lives on and the coaches get a chance to redeem themselves against the New Orleans Saints, a team that embarrassed each of their respective units in Week 11. With another playoff victory under their belt and a renewed shot at a championship repeat, I fully expect the aforementioned coaches to do everything in their power to ensure a different outcome at Mercedes-Benz Superdome this time around.
Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports