Position-by-position grading of the Eagles following their 31-20 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday:
Quarterback – Grade: A
Nick Foles’ first start of the season was as impressive upon a second viewing. There were a few shaky moments in the first half – he threw late to an open Zach Ertz on the opening drive, he didn’t pick up an unblocked pass rusher and was sacked, he missed Riley Cooper and Ertz on short passes underneath – but Foles was poised under steady fire before the break and near perfect in the second half.
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The Bucs were able to get into the backfield a number of times in the first half because the Eagles left a man unblocked on certain passes. Chip Kelly said Monday that changing protections pre-snap or Foles hitting the “hot” receiver could have been better ways to handle those rushes. Nevertheless, Foles did a decent job of avoiding sacks by throwing at the feet of a nearby receiver several times.
Overall, though, Foles fared well against the blitz. He completed 6 of 10 passes for 107 yards when Tampa sent extra rushers. Most his passes were of the dink-and-dunk kind. He connected on 18 of 22 throws for 184 yards on attempts under nine yards. Kelly said the Bucs’ zone was giving the Eagles space underneath, so they took it. Foles hit LeSean McCoy on 44- and 11-yard screens in the first half.
While he hardly threw intermediate-to-deep routes, Foles was equally as effective, completing 5 of 6 passes for 112 yards and three touchdowns on passes beyond ten yards. He made a strong 17-yard throw to Cooper on third down in the second quarter. He hit DeSean Jackson in the back of the end zone for 12 yards when the safety bit on a little pump fake. Foles threw a bull’s eye to Cooper for a 47-yard touchdown in the third. And he led Jackson nicely with a high-arching toss, standing in against pressure, for a 36-yard score in the fourth.
Foles has yet to turn the ball over since taking over for the injured Michael Vick late in the second quarter of last week’s game against the New York Giants.
Running back – B+
LeSean McCoy and the offensive line bounced back after a rough second half against the Giants and put to bed, at least for one week, concerns about the ground game suffering with Foles at quarterback. McCoy ran for 116 yards on 25 carries and leads the NFL – by 99 yards – with 630 yards rushing.
He made five Bucs miss tackles, including one on a 19-yard scamper up the middle in the third. His one big mistake was fumbling in the first when cornerback Darrelle Revis upended him. McCoy switched into a power tailback in the fourth as the Eagles ran down the clock. He gained 35 tough yards on nine carries as the Eagles drained 5-1/2 minutes on the drive in the fourth.
McCoy made an early imprint in the screen passing game. Bryce Brown gained 20 yards on four totes, but continues to instinctively kick it outside when the play might be better served with a run in between the tackles.
Wide receiver – A
For the first time this season all of the Eagles ball-catchers didn’t drop a single pass.
The receivers certainly did their part to stretch Tampa’s defense and make big plays. Riley Cooper put up the best numbers of his career, catching four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. His two long catches – the 47-yard score and a 44-yard catch-and-run in the fourth – were instrumental in the win. But his first quarter 12-yard catch was notable for the way he ran over a defender a picked up the first down.
After seeing mostly man-to-man defenses the previous three games, DeSean Jackson and Cooper both found holes in Tampa’s zones. After a handful of short passes and bubble screens, Jackson delivered two touchdown catches – the first time he’s had two in one game. He’s had two red zone scores in the last two games. Never a standout blocker, Jackson wasn’t effective at holding off Revis before he forced McCoy’s fumble.
Jason Avant finished with a quiet four catches for 21 yards. Damaris Johnson caught his first pass – an 8-yard grab in the first – of the season. Jeff Maehl had one reception for five yards.
Tight end – B
Kelly pointed out Monday that Brent Celek had a strong game blocking. With the Eagles often using an unbalanced line, especially in the fourth, Celek helped seal off the left side. He drove back Bucs linemen on back-to-back plays in which McCoy rushed for eight and nine yards in the fourth. Celek also caught a screen over the middle for 10 yards.
Ertz cut into Celek’s snaps and played 62 percent of plays – his most so far this season. He caught three passes for 13 yards including a diving first down catch in the first. Ertz appears to be improving as a blocker. He had lead blocks on two long McCoy carries.
Offensive line – B+
The offensive line had a strong overall effort, giving Foles enough time in the pocket – most of the time – and pushed a talented Bucs front seven in the run game. Foles had ample time on all three of his touchdown tosses.
After a rough outing against the Giants, Jason Kelce rebounded with a solid effort. The Bucs often had a defensive tackle lined up on an angle opposite the center, obviously trying to duplicate the success the Giants had with similar alignments. But Kelce was able to seal the defender, especially on runs. He did it when Foles ran four yards for a touchdown on a draw and when McCoy took a few handoffs in the zone read. Kelce once again delivered in space, leading McCoy with downfield blocks on both screen passes and when he pulled on a nine-yard carry in the second.
Lane Johnson had some impressive moments in the run game, like when he drove back a Tampa lineman on Brown’s 4-yard carry that picked up a first down in the first. The right tackle helped seal a lane for McCoy on his 19-yard tote. He’s still having struggles in pass protection and allowed Foles to get hit several times, but didn’t allow any sacks.
Evan Mathis was stout in the run game, plowing open lanes for McCoy, especially in the first half. Twice the left guard mauled a lineman into the ground. There were a couple of plays when it was unclear if Mathis was at fault or another lineman – when a Buc defender slipped between him and Kelce and McCoy was dropped behind the line in the second and when defensive tackle Gerald McCoy split Mathis and left tackle Jason Peters and pressured Foles to throw the ball away.
Todd Herremans played well, too, especially in the run game. He had a key block on Foles’ touchdown carry. He helped paved the way when McCoy picked up short third down in the second. He assisted in opening the hole in McCoy’s 19-yard jaunt. He had a tough series in the third when he was called for holding and then a play later allowed Gerald McCoy to hurry Foles into a check-down throw on third and long.
Peters had a quiet day, which was a good thing. He left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury but returned in the fourth. Kelly employed an unbalanced line with Peters and Johnson next to each other on either side, especially on the clock-draining fourth quarter drive. Allen Barbre played nine snaps when Peters left and held his block when Foles hit Cooper for 47 yards.
Defensive line – B+
Kelly said Fletcher Cox had his best game of the season. The end was active from start to finish. He didn’t notch a sack, but Pro Football Focus credited Cox with five hurries. In the second, he drew a holding call and then a play later he knocked quarterback Mike Glennon down as he threw and forced an incomplete pass. He had pressure when Glennon threw an interception to Bradley Fletcher. And he forced tow errant passes in the fourth quarter. Cox still had difficulty fighting off blocks against the run, but he busted up two Doug Martin carries for short yardage.
Cedric Thornton was once again the Eagles’ best defender against the run. He blew up a short Martin run that Connor Barwin cleaned up in the first. He teamed with DeMeco Ryans to stop Martin on third down and two in the same quarter. He also had pressure on Fletcher’s pick.
Bennie Logan drew a holding penalty in the third. He recorded a sack late in the fourth and a play later forced Glennon into an incomplete pass. Isaac Sopoaga also drew a hold. He clogged the middle on a short Martin carry in the third. He dropped into coverage and made the tackle after Martin picked up ten yards on a screen in the second.
Vinny Curry’s 25 snaps were his most this season. The Bucs ran straight at him when Martin picked up 11 yards in the second. And he whiffed at tackling Glennon outside the pocket when he scrambled for 16 yards on third down and 14. Curry batted a pass late in the fourth. Clifton Geathers played ten snaps of little note.
Outside linebackers – C
Connor Barwin had a quiet game until the fourth when he ran a stunt inside Curry and sacked Glennon on third down. Trent Cole wasn’t around the ball much either. He was matched up against Tim Wright when the tight end caught a 36-yard pass in the third. Cole looked like he was in the zone underneath. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis took the blame for putting Cole in a bad spot. Brandon Graham played 23 snaps and had pressure in the first even though he was held. The penalty was declined. Casey Matthews played one snap.
Inside linebackers – B
DeMeco Ryans had issues in coverage, but led the team with 12 tackles, most of them against the run. He dealt Martin two big hits on short carries in the third. He gave up a couple of passes to Wright, missed tackling receiver Vincent Jackson in the open field, but also made stops when he played soft in the zone. Mychal Kendricks had an early blitz that forced an incompletion. He stopped Martin after a short rush in the second and was held in the third. He had good coverage on Wright in the third, but the tight end caught a 16-yard pass on third down.
Cornerbacks – B
Bradley Fletcher’s interception gave the Eagles six on the season, five from cornerbacks. The defense had a total of eight all of last season. Fletcher broke up an early pass on third down. He was covering Jackson on his 24-yard touchdown catch in the second. It looked like he was waiting for inside safety help from Nate Allen. He was beat by Jackson for 24 yards in the third.
Cary Williams had good coverage in the second and drew offensive pass interference. He was victimized by a perfect fade pass to Jackson in the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown. He played soft coverage in the third and allowed a 16-yard reception.
Brandon Boykin played 40 snaps. Glennon targeted him five times and completed four passes for 35 yards. Boykin made stops each time. He almost picked him off in the fourth when he jumped a sideline route. When Williams left for three plays with cramps, Roc Carmichael subbed for two plays. He was called for pass interference on the first.
Safeties – B
Nate Allen continued to play better than he did in the first three games of the season. He popped Jeff Demps and after a short catch. The running back fumble but the Bucs recovered. He had good coverage on a deep throw in the third. And he assisted Ryans to stop Martin for no gain on first and goal in the fourth.
Earl Wolff was effective blitzing early. He forced Glennon to intentionally ground in the first and to throw the ball away in the second. He took a poor angle on a short pass in the second and missed the tackle. He blanketed Wright when he picked up a third down in the third, but obstructed him when he couldn’t hold onto a pass near the goal line in the fourth.
Patrick Chung left early when he re-injured his shoulder. But he dropped Martin in the backfield for a tackle for loss and broke up a pass in the end zone later. He blitzed on Jackson’s 24-yard touchdown catch, but bit on the play-action and stopped rushing.
SPECIAL TEAMS – B
Donnie Jones punted four times and had a 40.8-yard net. He got lucky when a short punt bounced favorably and Colt Anderson downed it at the 1-yard line. He possibly saved a touchdown when he tackled returner Eric Page after a 40-yard return in the first. Alex Henery had four touchbacks on six kickoffs and kicked a 24-yard field goal. Johnson had a few dubious choices in the return game, especially when he returned the first kick from nine yards deep.