Position-by-position grading of the Eagles following their 34-20 win over the Lions on Sunday, focusing on one player at each spot:
Quarterback – B
It took 201 pass attempts before Nick Foles threw his first interception of the season. He air mailed his throw to Riley Cooper in the second quarter, but he wasn’t the only quarterback having problems with the weather. Foles was off target on a number of throws, but he had no other turnovers and effectively managed a game that needed a steady hand at the controls.
There were some strong, accurate throws, though. Foles hit DeSean Jackson for 17 yards on a sideline route in the second. He hit his receiver on a similar route on a big third down conversion for 12 yards in the third. A play later, he connected with Cooper deep for 44 yards. He threw it where only his receiver could get it. Foles ran 20 yards when he kept on the zone read in the fourth.
Cooper could have helped his quarterback by pulling in a few tough, but catchable passes, including a fourth down throw in the back corner of the end zone. Foles got a little lucky when he rolled out of pocket and threw a pass up for grabs that Jackson came back and caught for a 19 yard TD in the third.
Foles wasn’t blitzed once on 24 drops.
Running back – A+
LeSean McCoy set a franchise record with 217 rushing yards and Chip Kelly pointed out on Monday that he could have run for a 70-yard touchdown instead of picking up just 26 yards on a fourth down carry. Kelly was just pointing out how there’s always room for improvement, but McCoy was superb.
There were a few rushes where he tried to go lateral and couldn’t in the snow – losing five yards in the first and six yards in the third. But mostly, McCoy ran north to south on inside zone plays. The offensive line, of course, deserved credit for opening holes at the point of attack, but McCoy made moves in the open field that were singular. On a 40-yard touchdown dash he hurdled a tackler and slipped another. On the aforementioned 26-yard tote, he broke ankles on two Lions with cut-on-dime moves.
Wide receiver – A-
Riley Cooper was targeted nine times and caught three passes for 74 yards. His 44-yard grab in the third was another highlight-reel grab and got the offense moving. Cooper’s other big catch came later in the quarter when he pulled in a tipped pass and ran for 25 yards. Jackson was effective on the edges and Jason Avant had several key downfield blocks despite no targets.
Tight end – A
Brent Celek caught two passes for 29 yards including the game’s final one when he slid effectively ending the game rather than score. But it was his blocking, along with James Casey and Zach Ertz, which had the most impact. Celek had a backside block on a McCoy 14-yard run in the second. He got a piece of two Lions on a McCoy 7-yard later in the quarter. He had the lead block on Bryce Brown’s 17-yard rush in the fourth.
Offensive line – A+
The entire line had a great game, but Jason Kelce stood out. If the center makes the Pro Bowl – and there should be consideration – this could be the game that gets him the necessary votes. Kelce owned Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley for much of the day, often sealing him off on inside zone plays one-on-one. He blocked him on a Chris Polk nine-yard run in the second. He stood Fairley up on McCoy’s 57-yard touchdown burst in the fourth. He blew him off the line on Polk’s 38-yard score. Kelce and Foles had only one bad exchange when a shotgun snap zoomed through Foles’ hands in the second.
Defensive line – A
Kelly said Monday that he thought what the defensive line did was key to the game. And what did Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan do? They stuck with their base techniques and didn’t get pushed around, according to Kelly. The Louisiana-born Logan said Sunday was the first time he had even seen snow. He was stout against the run, recording three solo tackles. He forced a Lions running back into Connor Barwin’s arms for no gain in the second. He blocked a PAT in the fourth, becoming the first Eagles player to do so since Reggie White in 1988.
Outside linebackers – A-
Connor Barwin set the edge and notched five solo tackles against the run. He forced a fumble and recovered another. And he had one of the three hurries on the day for the Eagles defense.
Inside linebackers –B
Mychal Kendricks was active. He missed two tackles – Joique Bell slipped out of his arms in the first and he whiffed on Theo Riddick in the third – but it was hard to criticize any defender in slippery conditions. If Kendricks had a low moment in came in the first on a third down and long when he let Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew use his hands to get separation off the line. Pettigrew went for 23 yards. But he had strong plays against the pass, jumping in front of a throw and nearly picking it off, and hurrying quarterback Matt Stafford into an incompletion.
Cornerbacks – A
Cary Williams gave a 33-yard pass to Calvin Johnson on a post route in the second, but he only allowed two shorts passes when thrown at the rest of the way. Williams also broke up a third down pass in the second.
Safeties – B
Patrick Chung has been struggling, but he handled himself well in the snow. He was the first to make contact when Bell was dropped at the line in the first. He recovered a fumble. And he was only targeted once -- the pass falling incomplete.
SPECIAL TEAMS – D
Kelly said Jeremy Ross’ two return touchdowns were both related to the weather and execution. On the 58-yard punt return, Brad Smith missed the initial tackle chance and then it seemed as if players couldn’t change directions because of the surface. The 98-yard kick return, it looked like Roc Carmichael was out of his gap assignment.
REWIND THE TAPE
The inside zone read, Chip Kelly’s most used run play, was the Eagles’ most effective play on Sunday against the Lions. On LeSean McCoy’s 57-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, the blocking was nearly flawless – from the offensive line to tight end Brent Celek to wide receiver Jason Avant downfield.
Depending upon the numbers, the play is designed to put the running back in a one-on-one situation at the second level. At the snap, Nick Foles read the left defensive end (thus blocking him) and handed off to McCoy. Celek blocked the backside safety. Right tackle Lane Johnson and right guard Todd Herremans double teamed Ndamukong Suh and center Jason Kelce sealed off Nick Fairley, creating the inside running lane that McCoy zoomed through. Left guard Evan Mathis slipped before getting to the second level to block Stephen Tulloch, but the Lions linebacker overpursued and Mathis, from the ground, helped out against the powerful Suh.
When McCoy got to the second level, Avant flattened the safety. With nothing but white ahead of him, McCoy outraced the Lions secondary and waltzed into the end zone.
-- The Eagles’ starting offensive line has played 98 percent of snaps (4,431 of a possible 4,520) this season.
-- Eagles coaches have credited linebacker DeMeco Ryans with 113 solo tackles. No other defensive player has as many combined tackles. Mychal Kendricks is the next closest at 78, followed by Cedric Thornton with 55.
-- Riley Cooper ranks second in the NFL with 19.3 yards a catch behind only the Browns’ Josh Gordon (19.7).
LOCKER ROOM LEFTOVERS
-- Of all of the Eagles’ successful running plays, Jason Kelce’s favorite was Nick Foles’ 1-yard touchdown sneak in the fourth quarter. It was an important score expanding the Eagles’ lead to 28-20, but the center and a few of his mates were as demonstrative in celebration as they’ve ever been.
“Quarterback sneaks come down to nobody else but the offensive line,” Kelce said. “We haven’t had one of those called all year. Probably the majority of that is because I’m an undersized center.”
The line got tremendous push on the play. Kelce said offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland introduced a new way of blocking sneaks this offseason and he had been waiting months to use it.
“I’ve been excited to run that play all year,” Kelce said. “And to be able to score a touchdown with it was awesome.”
-- Chris Polk got four carries, more than he’s received all season in a game, and ran for 50 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown.
After the game, Polk said his increased load had something to do with the weather, rather than taking snaps away from Bryce Brown. But Chip Kelly suggested on Monday that the second-year running back’s practice performances of late have warranted more playing time.
“At every position, it’s an open competition, and you keep showing us that you deserve time on the field, then that’s what it’s all about,” Kelly said.
Is there such a thing as a “character” win?
Chip Kelly, who looks at every player, play or game on its own merit, would seem to be the type of coach that doesn’t believe in victories that measure the heart of a team. He’s analytical after all.
But Kelly also likes to point out the toughness of players such as Brent Celek, and he pointed out after the game that he knew his players weren’t the types to give up because they had too much invested in winning.
It’s difficult to disagree with him. The Eagles trailed, 14-0, more than halfway through the third quarter and their offense had done very little until that point. They battled back to tie the score, but then special teams allowed another touchdown and the Lions were back ahead, 20-14.
But Kelly’s troops didn’t quit and put on a fourth quarter for the ages, adding 21 points to the seven they had already scored. And Kelly, the perfectionist, didn’t drop the mic and act like his team had won another more than one game.
“I think that’s what happens sometimes when you have a big win … ‘We made a couple mistakes but don’t worry about it, we won the game.’ We’ve never been that way,” Kelly said Monday. “Winston Churchill said, ‘Problems in victory are more agreeable than problems in defeat, but no less difficult.’”
The victories get more difficult from here on out.