Philly’s offense wasn’t anywhere near as prolific on Sunday as we’ve become accustomed to since Chip Kelly took over as head coach. With 307 total yards, the Eagles fell nearly 100 short of their season average. Yet despite the sizable drop-off, they still managed to escape victorious.
Part of that is thanks to a defense that’s going to grade very well this week, but it was also because Nick Foles and company didn’t make the worst kind of mistakes. Sure, the Eagles were only able to muster two first downs over their final six possessions (not including defensive penalties), but they didn’t give the Cardinals anything easy, either. That's how good teams weather the storm.
Meanwhile, Arizona had three giveaways, one of which gave Philadelphia a short field that led to an easy score. That helps explain how the Eagles got to 24 points in the first place. After all, Nick Foles only threw for 237 yards. LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson certainly didn’t reach the century mark.
In my weekly report card grades, I score each individual position on some fairly simple criteria. “A” is virtually mistake-free, “B” is good, “C” is average, “D” is passable and “F” is a complete failure to carry out basic tasks.
One might say the various offensive performances hovered around average. However, they generally graded out higher thanks to the discipline to put ball security above all else.
Yeah, Foles got away with one too, and it always helps to catch a break. When players are regularly making sound decisions with the football though, good things tend to happen—such as beating quality teams like the Cardinals.
Nick Foles was not nearly as good as his numbers might indicate. In his first game since officially being declared the Eagles’ starting quarterback, the 24-year-old connected on 21-of-34 attempts for 237 yards and three touchdowns—zero turnovers—for a rating of 112.0.
That said, his 61.8 percent completion rate was aided by receivers making some difficult catches, and Foles only hit on 6-of-14 attempts in the second half. That’s a big reason why the Birds were unable to move the ball late in the game.
Foles also tossed what would’ve been his first interception of the season, but it was called back for defensive holding. It remains a terrible decision—nursing a three-point lead with four minutes left in the fourth quarter, and floated to the middle of the field while under duress.
Wide receiver/kick returner/Swiss army knife Brad Smith took a snap in what looked suspiciously like the Wildcat formation, which he bobbled for a loss of four. Chip Kelly swore up and down after the game that Smith was playing quarterback; reprising the role he had at the University of Missouri nearly a decade ago. Docked points for that tomfoolery.
Dear Eagles running backs: stop running backwards.
Seems like simple advice for any ball-carrier, but LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown struggle with the concept at times. Sure, occasionally talented backs can turn a broken play into a big gain, but more often than not, they’d be better served by taking the yard or two that’s there.
Brown had losses of four and eight yards on his five carries. McCoy was usually able to get back to the line of scrimmage at least, but he missed a bunch of holes while performing his dance number in front of the hostile audience that is Arizona’s second-ranked run defense.
Shady still managed to gain 79 yards with a solid 4.2 average, finishing with 115 total yards of offense. However, for the first time this season, McCoy’s name is no longer atop the NFL’s rushing leaderboard.
The Eagles didn’t get huge production from their wide receivers this week. Riley Cooper led the way with three receptions for 48 yards. Locked into a matchup with shutdown corner Patrick Peterson much of the afternoon, DeSean Jackson was limited to three balls for 36. Jason Avant caught one for 20.
The trio did manage to bail out Foles a couple of times. Cooper made a ridiculous one-handed grab on a badly overthrown pass, then turned up field and created a 24-yard gain out of the play. DeSean Jackson knocked an interception away from Peterson on a bomb to the back of the end zone, and actually Jackson nearly went over the top of the defensive back for the reception.
Avant came back to an underthrown pass on his lone catch. He sort of negated that, though, with a dumb block in the back penalty later.
The fact is this group struggled to get open against Arizona’s secondary though, which is not a surprise because it’s a quality unit. Philadelphia sorely missed Jeremy Maclin on this Sunday.
No defense in the NFL had given up more production to opposing to tight ends this season entering Week 13, so naturally Chip Kelly came up with a game plan to expose the Cardinals. Foles’ first five pass attempts of the game were all intended for tight ends, and it set the tone for the afternoon.
Brent Celek and Zach Ertz wound up combining for three touchdowns on the afternoon, accounting for all three of the Eagles’ trips to the end zone. They added 97 yards on a combined nine receptions.
The big story was Ertz though, who enjoyed a breakthrough performance with five catches for a career high 68 yards and two scores. The second-round pick has had something of a quiet rookie year playing limited snaps, but he made the most of his opportunities against a prone Cardinals defense.
Foles was sacked five times; so the natural rush to judgment is the offensive line didn’t do a very good job in pass protection. That’s not always the case though. Chip Kelly told reporters at his postgame press conference that he felt the offensive line did fine, citing the Cardinals’ coverage as an issue.
By and large, we were pretty good. I think they obviously present a lot of challenges. I think that's as good a front as we faced and they do some really good job with their pressures and getting after them. We had one miscommunication early where we had a guy come clean but for the most part, we picked up everything they brought. You know, sometimes they did a decent job in coverage on the back end so we had to hold the ball a little bit.
Kelly also pointed out Arizona owned the second-ranked run defense coming into the game, which would explain why LeSean McCoy had a little trouble getting it going. Overall, there were maybe a few breakdowns in both phases, but it was a real battle all day in the trenches, one in which the Eagles were ultimately the victors.
The one aspect of the defensive line’s performance that was somewhat surprising is a mediocre ground attack pushed the unit around a bit. Rashard Mendenhall was averaging a dismal 3.0 yards per carry entering the game, yet pounded away for a solid 4.2. Ordinarily the Birds’ front puts a stop to that.
The line more than made up for it, collapsing the pocket on the quarterback instead. While no sacks were recorded, Carson Palmer had little, if any, room to step into his throws.
Vinny Curry easily could’ve been credited for a sack that went to DeMeco Ryans, as the defensive end pushed a blocker into the backfield and forced the passer to eat the ball. Palmer narrowly avoided Fletcher Cox’s relentless pursuit a few times as well.
No big stat lines to speak of, no outrageous individual performances at all to speak of. Just another solid day at the office for the boys that do the dirty work for the Eagles’ defense. If nothing else, that pressure undoubtedly went a long way toward forcing a pair of interceptions.
What can I say about Trent Cole that hasn’t been said a million times already? He was already having a stellar year against the run and has done well in coverage, now the ninth-year veteran is coming on as a pass-rusher. Give No. 58 two more sacks on Sunday, giving him five over the last four games.
One of Cole’s sacks was a strip of Palmer, which the Eagles recovered and turned into six. That’s three forced fumbles for the season as well.
Brandon Graham also blew up for two sacks, further proving former 4-3 defensive ends can convert to 3-4 outside linebacker.
DeMeco Ryans made it five sacks total for the unit, as well as for Philadelphia as a team. The interior linebacker also led the way with nine tackles and added a pass breakup for good measure.
Mychal Kendricks was solid in his return from a knee injury with eight tackles. A quiet day for Connor Barwin couldn’t spoil this group’s performance, which was essentially everything and more the team needed to win the game.
Nobody would envy the position Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin were in, having to trail towering wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd all over the place. These were not easy assignments, but all things considered, the cornerbacks acquitted themselves well.
All things considered because Fitz and Floyd combined for 10 receptions, 171 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles’ defense didn’t exactly shut those guys down, although it did take 18 targets to achieve those totals.
Williams was able to haul in an interception on a pass thrown behind its intended receiver. Both he and Fletcher were able to break up two attempts, Boykin another.
Roc Carmichael was on the field again late for Philadelphia because they have no depth at corner behind the big three. He got busted for a pass interference that gave Arizona a first down at the goal line, which was quickly converted into a touchdown. The Eagles really need the other guys to stay healthy in order to stand any chance at making a run in the postseason.
It’s really unfortunate that Nate Allen was paired with Patrick Chung today, because the former played a really strong game.
Allen recorded his first interception since 2011, undercutting the receiver to collect an underthrown deep pass, then followed it up with a 43-yard return. Allen also finished second on the team with eight tackles, doing a solid job of hauling the Cardinals’ wide receivers to the ground. You have to be impressed with his progress he's made in season number four.
Then there’s Chung, or Captain Friendly Fire, who played with such reckless abandon he was taking out his own teammates. Subbing for the injured Earl Wolff, Chung crushed teammate Brandon Boykin and forgot to wrap up Larry Fitzgerald, freeing the future Hall of Fame receiver for a 43-yard touchdown. Later, he lowered the boom on cornerback Cary Williams.
Somehow Chung didn’t record a tackle despite flying around the field like a maniac, although he managed to miss a couple. At this point, it’s painfully evident Wolff—a fifth-round rookie—has surpassed Chung in performance.
DeSean Jackson appears to have replaced Damaris Johnson permanently at punt returner. He returned a punt 54 yards to the house, although it was brought back by a holding penalty against Kurt Coleman. It was still positive to see that kind of explosiveness from the return game.
Brad Smith took over at kick returner for Brandon Boykin after halftime and had the long run-back of the day at 31 yards.
Major props to the Eagles’ kick coverage units for their effort against a pair of big-play threats on Sunday. Javier Arenas was held below 20 yards per return on four kicks, while he and Patrick Peterson combined for three yards on a pair of punt-return attempts.
Donnie Jones made perhaps his strongest bid for the Pro Bowl yet. Seven of his eight punts were downed inside the 20-yard line, including a long kick of 69 yards. Giving the Cardinals long fields to work with all day was a hugely underrated help for the defense.