It’s not often that we see the complete collapse of a player or unit like we witnessed with the Philadelphia Eagles secondary on Sunday. After the Eagles had held nine consecutive opponents to 21 points or fewer, the Minnesota Vikings went off for 48, as Matt Cassel of all people picked the Birds apart.
Cassel completed 26 of 35 attempts for 382 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked three times and threw an interception, but those were only minor impediments. Most of the time, the ninth-year veteran was having his way with the Eagles’ coverages.
Yet as poorly as Philly’s defense played, you have to give the opponent credit. Cassel came out of the gate hot, hitting on his first nine passes, including a 57-yard bomb to Greg Jennings. The quarterback stepped up in the pocket to avoid a sack and unleashed a perfect throw, hitting the wide receiver in stride over the top of two defensive backs.
It was just that kind of day. Eagles boss Chip Kelly told reporters after the game that his staff recognized the Vikings had the capability to go vertical, and while the defense certainly could’ve done a better job, part of the problem was Cassel was feeling it. Via Alex Smith of PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
We knew going in that it was going to be an issue, in terms of (Minnesota) being very talented at the receiver position, and right from the get-go I thought that Cassel was on fire and throwing the ball a little bit. I know that Billy (Davis) tried to mix things up a little bit with changing coverages. We needed to generate a little more pressure on him and make sure that he can't set his feet when he throws, but we needed to be a little bit closer in coverage too.
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. I don’t dish out that last mark very often, but it might be appropriate for this performance.
After all, no matter how well he played on Sunday, that was still Matt Cassel in the backfield for 4-9-1 Minnesota. The offense was even without its best player in running back Adrian Peterson. Surely the Birds defense should have been able to prevent some of what happened.
Nick Foles will escape some criticism because of the numbers, and truth be told, nothing there can be downplayed. His performance (30-of-48, 428 YDS, 8.9 AVG, 3 TD, 1 INT) is not the reason Philadelphia lost to the Vikings.
At a 62 percent completion rate for the season, though, Foles is not high-end accurate, while negative plays—turnovers and sacks—are on the rise. The interception was his second in as many weeks (let’s not forget a penalty spared him from going 3-for-3), and the four sacks included some real drive-killers.
Adding to the idea that there are just too many missed opportunities in the Eagles offense right now, the unit converted just two of five trips to the red zone into touchdowns on Sunday. Seeing as LeSean McCoy had only eight carries, a lot of that falls on Foles.
One final point: Minnesota’s secondary was without its top three cornerbacks due to injury. Foles may have led the Eagles to 30 points, but he never “took over” like maybe he should have.
LeSean McCoy was great...from the little we saw anyway. Shady looked downright fresh after carrying the ball 29 times against the Detroit Lions a week ago, but for some reason the NFL’s leading rusher was limited to eight carries in Minnesota on Sunday.
That’s over the entire 60 minutes.
McCoy’s 38 yards on the ground were second on the team to Nick Foles (41) despite a solid 4.8 average. The All-Pro back added five receptions for 68 yards.
McCoy was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on consecutive yard-or-less-to-go attempts, one of which he could’ve cut up field to get to the sticks. Still, the lack of touches was a huge oversight by the coaching staff, especially considering Foles hasn’t been all that sharp.
Chris Polk saw the primary touches as McCoy's backup over Bryce Brown this week.
On one hand, there is DeSean Jackson, who was phenomenal. Jackson set a career high with 10 receptions, racking up 195 yards and a touchdown. His 51-yard catch-and-run was a thing of beauty, as he made multiple defenders miss, then broke several more tackles on his way down to the goal line.
Jackson did have some heat for not turning into a defender on Nick Foles’ interception, but it appeared as though he went for the catch. The defender was playing off coverage and stepped in front of the receiver. Perhaps a misjudgment on Jackson’s part, but there was nothing he could've done.
Jason Avant had three catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Brad Smith threw in a 14-yard reception.
Riley Cooper caught just four balls for 29 yards on seven targets. He’s fallen back to earth in recent weeks, but it was particularly troubling to see versus Minnesota’s beaten-up secondary. The Vikings’ top three cornerbacks were out, and that’s all Cooper could do?
The grade here is largely based on Jackson’s performance.
Brent Celek only had one reception, but it was the most Brent Celek reception ever. The veteran tight end took a screen pass 25 yards down to the goal line, setting up his blocks nicely, then running over and through defenders with glee. Nobody wants to tackle that guy.
Zach Ertz also put up decent numbers, though the rookie padded his stats during garbage time. Ertz finished with six receptions for 57 yards, and let's not forget a sick one-handed grab for a touchdown. This kid is going to be the real deal.
It’s been great to see the tight ends more involved in the passing game in general, while Celek continues to pitch in as a blocker.
Defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison finished with two sacks each, so on the surface it might seem like the offensive line did not protect well. In actuality, the quarterback held on to the ball too long on several of those plays.
Jason Peters probably gave up the most immediate pressure of the day working against the All-Pro Allen, but even that was on a 3rd-and-2 where Nick Foles probably could’ve had the ball out faster. The rest of the time, Foles generally had a reasonable pocket to work in.
The rookie Lane Johnson held his own against Robison, an underrated pass-rusher. The fourth overall pick’s development at right tackle has been a huge positive this year.
It looked like the run blocking would have been good if, you know, Chip Kelly had called some running plays. LeSean McCoy was averaging 4.8 yards per carry and ripped off a few nice runs before the game plan put him on the shelf.
The line has been one of the club's biggest strengths over the last month or two especially.
The good: Matt Asiata carried the ball 30 times for 51 yards, a paltry 1.7 yards-per-carry average. It may not have mattered much even if reigning league MVP Adrian Peterson was healthy and in the Vikings backfield—the push up front was often that good by the Eagles.
The bad: Asiata scored three touchdowns. That’s mostly a product of being down on the goal line continuously, but the defense couldn’t keep him out of the end zone nonetheless. Asiata was able to get to the second level and fight for extra yards to punch it in.
The play of the game up front was made by Cedric Thornton, who simply moved an offensive lineman into the backfield and met Asiata for a big loss. Thornton has enjoyed a Pro Bowl-caliber season as a run defender.
Fletcher Cox was credited with eight tackles as well, tied for the team lead.
Bennie Logan also had a key deflection at the line of scrimmage which wound up being intercepted. The rookie also landed a couple good shots on the quarterback, so it was a nice day for him.
Overall, pressure on the quarterback could have been better from this group.
The linebackers did a nice job creating negative plays in the backfield. Trent Cole and Mychal Kendricks both finished with a whopping three tackles for loss. Kendricks, Connor Barwin and DeMeco Ryans each came up with a sack.
However, though defensive coordinator Bill Davis dialed up plenty of blitzes, it didn’t seem like the pressure was consistent from this unit. Nor did the linebackers have much of an impact in coverage.
Kendricks came up with a key interception off Bennie Logan’s deflection at the line of scrimmage, but it was more of a right-place/right-time deal. Otherwise, the unit was often invisible, as Matt Cassel got rid of the ball quickly and often threw deep and outside.
There was nothing even remotely salvageable about the play of the Eagles cornerbacks and safeties on Sunday. Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards with a 10.9 average per attempt and 116.6 passer rating. Greg Jennings had 11 receptions and 163 yards receiving—the first time he’s broken the century mark this season with the Vikings.
There was overly soft coverage. There were missed tackles. There were numerous penalties for contact and conduct.
Filling in for the injured Earl Wolff at safety again, Patrick Chung was burned by Jennings for a 57-yard touchdown. It was the third time in four games Chung was on the hook for a completion a scoring play over 40 yards.
As the numbers demonstrate, none of the Birds defensive backs did anything particularly well. Total failure to contain Matt Cassel, who didn’t even have much of a running game for support.
In theory, kicking away from Cordarrelle Patterson is brilliant. Alex Henery proved it’s much more difficult in execution.
Henery’s series of squibs and pop-ups designed for anybody other than the rookie phenom were successful in that. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s up-backs often just collected the short kicks and ran them back to midfield anyway. Okay, Patterson didn’t score a touchdown, but the Vikings constantly had good field position.
Meanwhile, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh boomed all but two kickoffs out of the end zone so that Philadelphia had no chance for a return. I guess Henery can’t do that?
Probably not, at least not on a consistent basis. After all, the third-year pro tied a career long with a 51-yard field goal on Sunday, which seems exceptionally short in this day and age.