Position-by-position grading of the Eagles following their 24-22 win over the Cowboys on Sunday, focusing on one player at each spot:
Quarterback – B
Nick Foles didn’t get much going through the air in the second half, but he had an excellent first half that answered any concerns that he may repeat his first-game performance against the Cowboys. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns before the break. After the half, Foles was pressured consistently and sacked three times. He fumbled once when he probably held onto the ball too long, but didn’t make any other major errors.
A few first half highlights: Foles made a strong throw for 17 yards to Zach Ertz, who ran an out pattern. He stood in the pocket and delivered to Ertz for 12 yards on third down later in the drive. He moved to his left in the second quarter to avoid pressure and hit DeSean Jackson for 20 yards. He squeezed a 17-yard pass to Jason Avant over the middle on third down. Foles connected with Brent Celek for 35 yards on a play similar to the one in which he hooked up with the tight end for a touchdown back in Week 5 against the Giants. A play later, he found Celek open underneath for a 14-yard touchdown.
Foles avoided several sacks when he threw at the feet on his receivers, but was called for grounding once. The penalty was questionable. He completed just 5 of 10 passes for 66 yards in the second half. He appeared to miss an open Jackson on a second and goal play in the third. He did toss a strike to Riley Cooper for 19 yards on the Eagles’ last touchdown-producing drive. Foles completed 8 of 9 passes for 128 yards and a score against the blitz.
Running back – B+
LeSean McCoy had a quiet 131 yards rushing, if that’s possible. He was very good, and made a number of shifty moves that padded his numbers, but he also failed to hit a few holes that were there for the taking. Perhaps the NFL’s rushing leader had just raised expectations so much after a career year.
McCoy picked up 16 yards on a split zone run in which he cut away from a defender in the second. He zoomed around the corner for 13 yards on sweep in the third. On the next play, he bumped outside and picked up another ten. On the Eagles’ final touchdown, he picked up two third down and ones. He iced the game with two totes for 11 yards and a first down.
Wide receiver – B
Jason Avant caught three passes for 45 yards and for the first time in his career didn’t finish the season with more receptions than the previous year. His final numbers: 38 catches for 445 yards and two touchdowns. Avant’s best grab was when he went up and pulled in a jump ball for 22 yards in the second. He injured his shoulder, but returned. Kelly singled out his run blocking.
Tight end – A-
Brent Celek and Zach Ertz combined for 68 catches for 971 yards and ten touchdowns on the season. They had six grabs for 114 yards and Celek’s 14-yard score on Sunday. James Casey didn’t have a catch or target, but played 28 snaps and was instrumental in the run game. He had a lead block on Bryce Brown’s six-yard touchdown in the fourth. Casey was beat in pass protection and Foles was sacked in the third.
Line – B-
The line didn’t play as poorly as it might have seemed considered the barrage of pressure Foles saw in the second half. Lane Johnson, who has made great strides in his rookie season, had his struggles, though. He was called for holding and brought back a McCoy 11-yard run in the first. He sealed a Cowboy on McCoy’s 20-yard rush later in the quarter. He missed defensive end Jarius Wynn, though, on the next play and McCoy was dropped for a one-yard loss. Johnson was beat by end George Selvie on an inside rush and Foles stepped into a sack.
Line – C
The Eagles’ front didn’t generate a lot of pressure on Kyle Orton, but the quarterback did a good job of getting the ball out quick and the pass defense didn’t do a good job of cutting off his receivers. Fletcher Cox, though, couldn’t seem to get off blocks. He rushed 40 times and wasn’t credited with a hurry. The end was the third linemen to be called for encroachment when he jumped in the third. A third and seven was trimmed to a third and a two and the Cowboys converted.
Outside linebackers – B
Trent Cole didn’t do much as a pass rusher, but he was involved a few run stops. Brandon Graham made a few plays with limited snaps. Connor Barwin came up with a tremendous stop on fourth down in the fourth when he rushed untouched and batted an Orton pass. He had an early run stop that held DeMarco Murray to a short gain. And he did a solid job in coverage of angling ball catchers out of bounds after two short catches.
Inside linebackers – B
Mychal Kendricks was either stupendous or poor. There didn’t seem to be any middle ground. Good thing for the Eagles, the great plays outnumbered the costly ones. The two first half turnovers – a forced fumble and an interception – have been dissected already. He was hot and cold covering Jason Witten. Kendricks did well running downhill to tackle the tight end on short, sideline passes. He had trouble keeping up with Witten on over-the-middle vertical routes. Witten, who is one of the best in the game, beat Kendricks for 11 yards, 19 yards on a slant and 34 yards on a seam route in the fourth.
Cornerbacks – B+
Despite the Cowboys’ 358 passing yards, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher didn’t get beat often. Slot corner Brandon Boykin had a few dubious moments in the early going, but finished strong. He broke up a short pass before the half. In the third, he assisted in a tackle for loss on a Murray carry. Boykin broke up a pass in the end zone for Dez Bryant. And he sealed the game with his interception. Orton basically threw the pass behind Miles Austin and into Boykin’s arms, but the corner jumped the route, too.
Safeties – C
Nate Allen made a few solid plays. Patrick Chung had problems in coverage once again. Witten caught an 11-yard pass in the second when singled up on the safety. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis may have been more to blame for Chung having to guard Dez Bryant in the slot in the fourth. The Eagles zero blitzed, Orton found the mismatch and hit Bryant. When Chung missed the tackle, the receiver ran 32 yards for a touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS – A
Donnie Jones’ had another clutch late-game punt when he booted a 56-yarder that was returned only seven yards. He finished with a 43.8 net on five punts. Alex Henery had three touchbacks on five kickoffs and split the uprights with a 47-yard field goal.
REWIND THE TAPE
Chip Kelly continues to find new ways to free up his playmakers often using DeSean Jackson or LeSean McCoy as decoys for one another. On the Eagles’ first touchdown against the Cowboys, Jackson motioned into the backfield and at the snap ran across the formation to his right. Nick Foles faked the handoff to the receiver as McCoy criss-crossed with Jackson and ran right. The play was designed to free up McCoy and other options against man-to-man defense.
With McCoy the first option, the defender the Eagles were trying to fake was linebacker Kyle Wilber. The Cowboys front and Wilber, who had McCoy as his responsibility, bit on the false handoff to Jackson. By the time Wilber recovered, McCoy was wide open on the flat and Foles flipped an easy pass to the running back, who waltzed into the end zone.
“Part of being a spread offense is you can spread the field, and he certainly warrants the attention that he’s getting,” Kelly said of Jackson. “He had a couple of big first downs for us on a couple shallow crossing routes. But the fact that they have to defend everybody is part of the premise of what we do offensively.”
-- While Nick Foles was sacked the third most (22.6 percent) among starting NFL quarterback when pressured, he didn’t toss one interception on 124 dropbacks. The next closest was the Chiefs’ Alex Smith with two interceptions when pressured on 202 drops.
-- The Eagles became the first NFL team since the 1991 Bills to lead the league in rushing while ranking last in time of possession (26:24). That Buffalo team eventually lost in the Super Bowl.
-- The Eagles averaged an NFL-best 5.05 yards rushing on first down. The Vikings were next at 4.95 yards.
LOCKER ROOM LEFTOVERS
-- For weeks, Chip Kelly has steered clear of any talk about the playoffs, saying that he and the team never discussed the postseason as a goal, or as they got closer to winning the NFC East, the chances of clinching a spot.
He just repeated the mantra he presented to his players when they first met in April at the beginning of spring workouts.
“April 1 Chip said to take care of business and then we’ll pick our heads up on Dec. 29 to see where we’re at,” guard Evan Mathis said. “After the game we picked our heads up and we’re division champs.”
After the Eagles beat the Cowboys and won the division, Kelly addressed his players in the locker room at AT&T Stadium and part of his message entailed having the team symbolically picking their heads up.
“After the game he re-emphasized that and we’re into the playoffs,” center Jason Kelce said. “But it doesn’t change from here on out. It’s still each week by each week.
-- LeSean McCoy had been honest about his initial doubts after the Eagles hired Kelly in January. The running back was loyal to former coach Andy Reid and had the same concerns many have had when a college coach without NFL experience makes the jump to the pros.
“Coming from college I didn’t know what to expect,” McCoy said. “I’d been around Coach Reid for so long. He’s been a guy that’s established, a winning coach. … I think after I talked to [Kelly] I was really optimistic about it because he was just amazing – the strategies of how he wanted to run the ball, the thought process behind how he wanted to get the ball in the playmakers’ hands.”
Who’s going to cover Jimmy Graham?
More than likely, the Eagles will use a combination of defenders to guard the best tight end in the NFL. For one, it’s nearly impossible to have one player cover a tight end for an entire game. It’s why the position can so often be used to exploit mismatches.
“We know the challenge with Jimmy Graham coming here,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said, “but I’m confident in Billy and our defensive staff will have a plan together for him.”
The Eagles’ numbers against tight ends heading into Sunday’s game against the Cowboys were solid. They had allowed only two passing touchdowns. But it’s not as if they faced a steady stream of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league.
When they have faced top-tier talent, they’ve mostly struggled. The Chargers’ Antonio Gates torched them for eight catches for 124 yards. Martellus Bennett was the only effective pass-catcher for the Bears a week ago and pulled in five passes for 85 yards.
The Cowboys’ Jason Witten was kept in check in the first meeting (four catches for 48 yards), but he bludgeoned the Eagles pass defense with 12 catches for 135 yards in Texas. Witten is very good, but Graham is playing on another level.
Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans have been most responsible for covering tight ends this season, as one would expect for 3-4 inside linebackers. Both have had their struggles. Kendricks has elite speed, but he sometimes loses tight ends after contact and isn’t as effective running backward. Ryans downfield capabilities have been lacking.
Witten caught five of six targets for 73 yards on Sunday when Kendricks was covering. He had two catches for 31 yards against Ryans. Witten also victimized Eagles safeties, catching three of three targets for 20 yards when Nate Allen was on him and one of two targets for 11 yards opposite Patrick Chung.
The Eagles may not have an answer for Graham, but some teams have been able to contain him. The trick is slowing the tight end and not letting the Saints’ other weapons beat them.