Position-by-position grading of the Eagles following their 24-21 win over the Cardinals on Sunday, focusing on one player at each spot:
Quarterback – B+
The Cardinals entered the game blitzing opposing quarterbacks nearly 50 percent of the time and they didn’t alter the approach, sending extra pass rushers on 23 of Nick Foles’ 40 drops. Foles completed 8 of 19 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked five times against the blitz. Three of the sacks could have been pinned on the quarterback for holding the ball too long, but as Chip Kelly said, he thought that eating the ball in those situations might have been the right decision.
Foles was very good in the first half and in the first series of the third quarter. His adversity throwing the ball the rest of the way mirrored that of the Eagles. He completed just one of his final six throws. And he, of course, made a poor decision on the late Patrick Peterson interception that was called back by a hold.
But he did so many good things. In the second quarter, he picked up an “A” blitz and flipped a short pass to LeSean McCoy, who ran for 19 yards. He floated a pass to DeSean Jackson for 25 yards. He hit Riley Cooper for 16 yards on the Eagles’ bread-and-butter third down and long play that has the receiver on a comeback route. He connected with Zach Ertz for 16 yards in a tight window and then hit him in stride for a 24-yard touchdown several plays later.
And Foles once again avoided turnovers.
Running back – B
LeSean McCoy ran for 79 yards on 19 carries (4.2 avg.) against the NFL’s second-ranked run defense. The Cards had occasional success against the zone read when they were able to slide an extra defender to the side Foles was to carry out the fake. McCoy picked up a fourth down and two in the second quarter. He may have missed a lane on a first down carry in the fourth. He had a 35-yard carry cut to 19 yards when Jason Avant was called for blocking in the back. He maxed out yards as a receiver, catching five passes for 36 yards. He missed a block on the Cards’ first sack.
Wide receiver – B
DeSean Jackson took a screen pass 14 yards when he had blockers in the second. He beat Peterson for 25 yards on a wheel route out of the backfield. He was popped on a third quarter screen when Cooper missed his block. A 54-yard punt return for a touchdown was called back by a holding penalty presumably on Kurt Coleman. “In the kicking game, if someone goes to the ground,” Kelly said, “they’re going to throw the flag.”
Tight end – A
Eagles tight ends were targeted on Foles’ first four passes and overall on 12 of 34 attempts. Zach Ertz had the best game of his short career. He skipped his feet inbounds on the corner route six-yard touchdown. He stretched out for 22 yards later in the first. “We had dropped that earlier in the year,” Kelly said. He ran a crisp post route for a 24-yard score in the third. His blocking continued to improve.
Offensive line – B
Center Jason Kelce had some early run blocking struggles and right guard Todd Herreman had the occasional problem in pass protection, but the offensive line held its own against a strong front seven. Lane Johnson allowed a sack when Cardinals linebacker John Abraham slapped him aside in the second. But he didn’t allow another pressure. He kicked out Abraham on a nine-yard McCoy carry in the second. Darnell Dockett slipped inside him on a McCoy no-gainer.
Defensive line – B
Bennie Logan played 42 of 77 snaps (54.5 pct.), his highest percentage of plays this season. Eagles coaches credited him with four tackles, one hurry and he recovered a fumble. He stopped Rashard Mendenhall for a short rush in the first. He was right behind Brandon Graham after he recorded his first sack. He later forced Mendenhall outside for no gain.
Outside linebackers – B+
Trent Cole was as dominating as he’s been all season. He set the tone with a sack and forced fumble after he zoomed around Bradley Sowell. He victimized the tackle again with a fourth quarter sack. Eagles coaches credited him with eight tackles and three hurries.
Inside linebackers –B+
Mychal Kendricks was active after missing the last game with a knee injury. He notched four tackles on the Cardinals first seven plays from scrimmage. He stopped Mendenhall to start and ran down a receiver on a bubble screen. The coaches awarded him 10 solo stops. He forced a Carson Palmer incompletion with a hit. He had coverage on the running back out of the backfield on a sideline route.
Cornerbacks – B
Cary Williams had perhaps his best game of the season. Brandon Boykin was also sharp. Bradley Fletcher had issues, but made stops late, arguably aided by the officials. He wisely took advantage of how the refs were calling the game, though, and tied up Michael Floyd twice -- including on the final play of the Cards’ last possession. He took an unnecessary roughing penalty. He missed two short tackles on screens. He broke up two second quarter passes intended for Andre Roberts, who later caught a 17-yard pass in front of the corner.
Safeties – C-
Patrick Chung had a few forgetful moments. He took a bad angle on a Mendenhall 14-yard run. He rammed into Boykin and knocked him down on Larry Fitzgerald’s 43-yard touchdown grab. He whiffed on a 29-yard catch and run by Stepfan Taylor. A play later, he threw his body into Williams, who was breaking up a pass. Williams got up and appeared to yell at Chung.
SPECIAL TEAMS – A
Punter Donnie Jones (44.8-yard net) and the Eagles cover units were spectacular. The Eagles punt cover team entered Sunday’s game fifth in the NFL and allowed just one return of three yards.
REWIND THE TAPE
After a pass interference penalty gave the Eagles first and goal at the 1-yard line just before the half, Chip Kelly called for a pass play that had his receivers running crossing routes against the Cardinals’ man-to-man defense. The routes were designed to rub out defenders without illegal blocks downfield. Kelly has increasingly called for plays with similar routes because so many opposing coordinators have gone man against the Eagles.
On this play, receivers Jason Avant and Riley Cooper ran slants toward the middle of the end zone. Tight end Brent Celek slanted toward the middle from the opposite side and was likely Nick Foles’ No. 1 target. Cooper’s route was perfect. He didn’t run into safety Tyrann Mathieu, who was covering Celek, but he essentially blocked him out of the play. Celek had a clear path to the corner, Mathieu trailed him by two steps, and Foles flicked an easy pass to his tight end for the touchdown.
-- Their roles are different, but here is how often the Eagles’ leaders have recorded sacks per pass rush: Trent Cole (five sacks), one every 72.8 rush; Connor Barwin (four sacks), every 85.8; Vinny Curry (four sacks), every 40.5; DeMeco Ryans (three sacks) every 40.3; Brandon Graham (three sacks), every 42; Fletcher Cox (three sacks), every 149.7.
-- Donnie Jones leads all NFL punters with 23 punts without a return and ranks second with 29 punts downed inside the 20
-- Of the four rookie tight ends with the most yards receiving, Zach Ertz’ 13.0 yards per catch is tops. He is on pace to finish his first season with 35 receptions for 456 yards and four touchdowns.
LOCKER ROOM LEFTOVERS
-- Nate Allen’s rebound from a slow start this season has been one of the more unlikely stories this season.
“He’s one of the hardest workers in the building,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said of the Eagles’ 2010 second-round draft pick. “It means a lot to him. He’s highly motivated because he hasn’t had the success and everyone’s been on him for a couple of years here. Everybody wanted him to be Brian Dawkins. Now, I think, everyone’s letting him be Nate Allen.”
Allen recorded his first interception in two seasons on Sunday. His last pick came in the 2011 season finale against the Redskins and Allen said he knew exactly how long it had been.
“It felt good to get back on the board,” he said. “Just got to keep playing till I can get my hands on more.”
-- In the previous two seasons, the Eagles defense had difficulty maintaining leads. It eventually got defensive coordinator Juan Castillo fired after his unit failed to hold off the Lions – Sunday’s opponent – last October.
But while Chip Kelly’s offense has struggled putting away teams after large leads, Davis’ defense has been stout it late moments. The Eagles forced the Cardinals to go four and out, essentially clinching the game.
“I thought the defense really won the game,” wide receiver Jason Avant said Sunday. “To stop a team that was that high after scoring a couple of touchdowns. … To hold them to a four and out – that was a great job.”
The Eagles have a lot of new blood on defense and Connor Barwin said the players are relishing crunch time moments.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” he said. “I think some guys were comfortable out there. I know, for me, that’s the most exciting series of the game and I’m sure a lot of guys feel that way. I know the other guys love that – being out there with the game on the line.”
A day after Chip Kelly joked about the opening question of his post-game news conference being too negative following an Eagles victory, he wasn’t asked about his offense going belly up in the second half until the fourth question.
While the coach pointed to mistakes in execution and the Cardinals’ effectiveness in slowing the Eagles’ efforts to run out the clock, and said that it was an area in which the team needed to improve, Kelly seemed to throw his hands up at the preoccupation with not being able to close teams out.
“I’d like to every week be in that situation,” he said, “because that means we’re up.”
The Eagles won for the fourth straight time, but nit-picking will grow with intensity as the stakes rise. Kelly handles himself well at the podium and almost never shies away from answering difficult questions.
But there has been growing frustration over the questions about the quarterback situation. And Kelly didn’t seem to appreciate speculation over why he had receiver Brad Smith take a snap at quarterback after the Eagles had advanced to the Cardinals six-yard line behind Nick Foles.
Smith fumbled the snap and lost five yards and the Eagles eventually settled for a field goal.
“We thought we were going to have a successful play,” Kelly said. “I mean, [Smith] just dropped it. We weren’t taking the ball out of Nick’s hands. If we score on that, everybody says what a great play. If you don’t score, it’s, ‘What a stupid play.’ So what a stupid play.”
It wasn’t a stupid play. And it wasn’t even a stupid call. But it was a questionable call, considering Foles’ success inside the red zone, and that is why Kelly was asked about it.