Position-by-position grading of the Eagles following their 54-11 win over the Bears on Sunday, focusing on one player at each spot:
Quarterback – A+
Nick Foles executed Chip Kelly’s offense flawlessly. Only one of his 25 pass attempts did not connect with an open receiver and it could be argued that Brent Celek dropped the lofted screen pass. The other incompleted passes were two that were thrown out of the back of the end zone to avoid sacks and one tossed into the ground at the foot of DeSean Jackson to avoid pressure.
Foles had several impressive throws, including a 5-yard bullet to Riley Cooper in the back of the end zone for a first quarter touchdown, a 27-yard pass to Zach Ertz as he bought time out of the pocket, a 16-yard strike to Cooper on third down and ten, a 10-yard out to Jackson on third down and seven and a 32-yard hookup with Cooper down the seam.
He threw a number of screen passes to LeSean McCoy that enabled the back to get a running start. He took two sacks, one in which he held the ball too long, but once again avoided turnovers. It was arguably Foles’ best game of the season, maybe even better than his seven-touchdown performance against the woeful Raiders.
Running back – A+
LeSean McCoy was brilliant once again, but Bryce Brown busted out for his biggest game of the season. The backup running back was held to one yard on his first three carries, but picked up 114 yards on his final six. Brown’s nine carries were his most since the season opener. Even when he wasn’t picking up big gains, he stayed north to south on his carries. Brown slipped through a crevice for 15 yards in the third, he slipped out a low tackle and rushed for 18 yards in the fourth and he capped the Eagles’ rout with a 65-yard touchdown run through a gaping hole on the right.
Wide receiver – A
Eagles wide receivers were relatively quiet, but mostly because Foles didn’t need to throw downfield much and because the run game was so effective. The downfield blocking, overall, was very good, though. And Riley Cooper had a nice catch for his touchdown and made his two other receptions in traffic.
Tight end – A
Brent Celek should be included in any praise the Eagles’ blockers receive for their run blocking. He was effective in sealing off the backside on a number of rushes. As a receiver, Celek caught three of four targets for 58 yards and a touchdown. He pulled in a low pass for 24 yards, ran a little inside-out route in which he sprung free for a 10-yard score after Ertz picked him man and he reached out for a 24-yard grab in the third. Celek fumbled after that last catch.
Line – A+
The Bears run defense entered the game ranked last in the NFL and they lived down to the ranking. But the Eagles offensive line was excellent in the run game and mostly in pass protection. Center Jason Kelce, left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Evan Mathis were dominating and all three should receive Pro Bowl consideration. But right guard Todd Herremans has come on strong after a slow start this season. He had another great run blocking game. He kicked out and blocked the safety on McCoy’s first carry for 19 yards. He had the key block on McCoy’s first one-yard touchdown run. He was effective on screens, but did have trouble when a linebacker sniffed out a third quarter pass to McCoy in the third.
Line – A
Eagles coaches credited Cedric Thornton with only two tackles, but one was a safety after he tripped up Matt Forte in the end zone and the other was a tackle of the Bears running back near the line. The end also had the initial pressure on Trent Cole’s second sack.
Outside linebackers – A
Trent Cole recorded three sacks in a game for the first time since Dec. 2011. He had all of three sacks last season. His first take down occurred on the Bears’ first drive when he ran over Forte en route to Jay Cutler. He rushed from a standup position and dove at cutler’s feet for the second sack when Thornton moved the quarterback. And Cole looped inside to get Cutler for a third time in the third. Against the run, Cole penetrated into the backfield and re-directed Forte for no gain in the first.
Inside linebackers – B+
Mychal Kendricks had a split-personality game. He was great as a pass rusher and against the run, but struggled in pass protection against tight end Martellus Bennett. Kendricks was targeted six times and allowed five catches for 57 yards. Bennett beat him downfield for a 30-yard catch. His first sack came when he shook off Forte. His second occurred after he turned the corner and ran down Cutler. Kendricks had another pressure and picked up two run stops.
Cornerbacks – A
Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher rebounded nicely from the Vikings game and Brandon Boykin shook off last week’s concussion and had an all around solid game. He was targeted five times and only allowed three catches for 27 yards. Boykin recorded his team-leading fifth interception on the season and returned it 54 yards for a score. He assisted on a downed punt inside the five.
Safeties – B+
Patrick Chung had his best game in some time. It wasn’t as much that he didn’t make visible mistakes, it was that he actually came up and made plays. He had solid coverage on Bennett when Cutler short hopped a throw. He teamed up with Williams to double Marshall on a deep throw. And he assisted against the run and came up to drop Forte in the fourth.
SPECIAL TEAMS – A
Alex Henery was effective with his high, directional kicks that landed in between the goal line and the 10. Henery also booted a 49-yard field goal. Fletcher’s forced fumble on Hester’s second return stuck a fork into the Bears.
REWIND THE TAPE
The Eagles’ first touchdown came on a play that was similar to the one they ran against the Cardinals when Zach Ertz caught a six-yard touchdown pass. Both scores came on the Eagles’ first possessions. On this play, the Eagles faced a third down and goal at the five-yard line. They lined up with three tight ends and a packed formation.
Brent Celek and James Casey were on the right of the line and Ertz lined up at the other end with Riley Cooper to his outside. All four receivers ran routes to the right as Nick Foles rolled out to his right after faking a handoff to LeSean McCoy. Bears linebacker Lance Briggs (55) and cornerback Tim Jennings (26) chased Celek as he ran a hook out into the flat. Casey ran a corner post and was covered by safety Tim Jennings (21).
Both Ertz and Cooper ran crossing routes, but Ertz looped outside Cooper, slowing Chris Conte. The Bears safety caught up to Cooper and had decent coverage, but Foles bided time and flicked a strike to his receiver just before defensive end Shea McClellin knocked him to the turf.
-- Nick Foles needs a perfect passer rating (158.3) against the Cowboys on Sunday to up his NFL-best rating from 118.8 to 122.6 and top Aaron Rodgers’ NFL record of 122.5 set in 2011.
-- The Eagles’ 418 points this season are third in team history and are just 21 points shy of the team record (439 in 2010). They Eagles have compiled 6,308 total net yards this season which is also second in team history (6,386 in 2011).
-- In the Eagles’ nine wins, they are plus-16 in turnover margin and minus-six in their six losses.
LOCKER ROOM LEFTOVERS
-- Love him or hate him, Cary Williams knows what it takes to win a Super Bowl.
Yeah, it’s OK to talk about the Eagles chances of winning a championship even though they’ve yet to clinch a playoff spot. But the Birds will need a ride a wave of momentum into the postseason.
Last season, the Ravens – Williams’ old team – lost four of its final five regular season games before limping into the postseason. But Baltimore’s defense got on a roll in January and beat the Colts, Broncos and Patriots before outlasting the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Williams’ new team will have to do it another way -- by peaking late in the season and carrying that success over into the postseason.
“I think we’re coming together,” Williams said. “All season we’ve progressively getting better. And that’s what you want each and every week.”
What Williams said he didn’t want was for the Eagles’ playoff chances to rest on the season finale in Dallas on Sunday. Asked if he was writing the script would he want it any other way, the Eagles cornerback said, “If I’m writing it, no.”
[BULLET]The Eagles are averaging a league-best 161.1 rushing yards a game, 19.4 yards more than the second-place Bills (142.5). The last time there was as much disparity between the top two rushing team was in 2006 when the Falcons (183.7) averaged 22.6 more yards than the Chargers (161.1).
The Eagles’ success on the ground this season has been nearly a weekly thing. On Sunday, they ran for 289 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries (8.2 average). The Bears’ run defense is last in the NFL, but they had Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs back from injury. Chip Kelly’s scheme and his play-calling have made some of the best run-stopping players look pedestrian this season.
“Briggs is one of the best backers in the league. That running performance had nothing to do with him being off. He’s still tough,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “But, really, linebackers, safeties – they’ve had trouble all year filling in the right gaps and that’s really what springs a lot of those four-, five-yard runs into these huge monstrous runs because nobody’s there.”
There are many differences between this year’s offense and the last two of the Andy Reid era. The scheme, of course, is most prominent. The Eagles are much healthier, but the personnel is different at only a few spots. But the biggest difference has been the lack of turnovers.
In 2011, when the offense was essentially healthy, the Eagles were fourth in the NFL in yards and eighth in points. And yet, with a subpar defense, that team finished 8-8 because the offense shot itself in the foot repeatedly with untimely giveaways. The Eagles were second-to-last in the league in turnovers with 38.
A year later, the offense didn’t have as much firepower and there were injuries across the board. But the unit still managed to rank 15th in total yards. The Eagles were 29th in points, though, and a lot of that again had to do with turnovers – a tied-for-the-league-worst 38.
Like two years ago, the Eagles offense is healthy and they are among the league leaders in both yards (second) and points (second). The primary reason, in the simplest of terms, is because of turnovers. The Eagles have had only 18 in 15 games and only four in their last seven games.
“That’s the number one thing offensively is do not turn the ball over, and we talk about it was a group, being a great ball security team,” Chip Kelly said. “And I think SIWs, self-inflicted wounds -- those are things that we can prevent.”
Only three teams have fewer giveaways this season.
You can point to many different factors in why the Eagles have been more protective of the football, but the common denominator has been the quarterback. In 2011, quarterbacks Michael Vick, Vince Young and Mike Kafka accounted for 29 of 38 turnovers. In 2012, Vick and Nick Foles had 23 of 37 turnovers.
This season, Vick, Foles and Matt Barkley have had 13 of 18 turnovers, but Foles has had only three in nine starts.
“The quarterback really values [not turning the ball over], understands it,” Kelly said.