Eagles grades vs. Cards: Cole, pass rush shine

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Eagles grades vs. Cards: Cole, pass rush shine

December 3, 2013, 10:30 am
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Trent Cole picked up two sacks on Sunday for the second straight game. (USA Today Images)

The Eagles showed they’re ready to contend for the NFC East title, scoring an impressive 24-21 victory against a previously surging Cardinals team that had won four straight.

Nick Foles stood up to the challenge of a December game against a stout defense and the Eagles’ defense didn’t allow more than 21 points for the eighth straight game, the league’s longest active streak.

Here’s a different approach to our weekly film review, with each position graded from A to F. Hint: There were no F's.

Defensive line: B
Without their best running back, Andre Ellington, and fully recognizing the overall weakness of their offensive line, the Cards frequently ran out formations with multiple tight ends and an extra offensive tackle. The Eagles didn’t make as many negative plays against the run as they usually do, but didn’t allow any breakaway runs.

Cedric Thornton was still very good against the run. On one snap, he fought through a double team by right guard Paul Fanaika and right tackle Eric Winston to smother Rashard Mendenhall after a two-yard pickup.

Fletcher Cox didn’t cause as much havoc as usual up front but played 57 snaps, the most of any lineman, and hurried Palmer into a second-down incompletion at the end of the first half. On the Cards’ last drive, Cox stunted over right tackle Eric Winston on 3rd-and-5 and nearly pushed Winston back into Palmer, who had to ditch the ball quickly and threw incomplete.

Vinny Curry played 22 snaps and continued to see action on downs that aren’t glaringly pass situations. He drew a holding against center Lyle Sendlein or else would have split a sack with DeMeco Ryans and had another pressure in the fourth against guard Daryn Colledge that forced Palmer to unload quickly for an incompletion.

Linebackers: B+
Trent Cole, who had two sacks against the Redskins, got started early. He raced around left tackle Bradley Sowell on the third play from scrimmage and knocked the ball out of Carson Palmer’s hands to cause a fumble that Bennie Logan recovered. Cole supplied steady pressure all game against the overmatched Sowell. Cole, lined up at defensive end in a four-man rush, abused Sowell again on 3rd-and-2 in the fourth for his second sack. Brandon Graham also picked up two sacks, both coming on inside stunts.

The Cards are weak in pass protection, which the Eagles exposed. Connor Barwin again wore multiple hats as a run defender, pass rusher and coverage option. He had just three tackles but often set the edge against stretch runs, forcing Mendenhall to go inside into the belly of the defense.

DeMeco Ryans got the only sack by an inside linebacker in the second, with a delayed blitz up the middle that caught Mendenhall by surprise in pass protection. He was also active in coverage, finishing with eight tackles, a pass defended and two tackles for a loss.

Defensive backs: C
Both corners, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, were given help against Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, either with safeties slid over or linebackers dropping into coverage. Fitzgerald and Floyd were targeted 18 times but combined for just 10 receptions. Both had touchdowns that came when defensive backs collided with each other.

Fletcher again showed his knack for playing physical and using his hands to disrupt passes without getting flagged. Williams had some iffy coverages but didn’t get beaten deep. Fletcher didn’t have a great opening series of the third quarter. He let Fitzgerald get seven yards on a quick out to left by diving and failing to wrap up two yards behind scrimmage. Four plays later, he collided briefly with Boykin on a rub route by Floyd that turned into a 23-yard touchdown.

Nate Allen came up with his first interception since the 2011 season finale, although he has Palmer to thank for not getting enough air on a heave to Floyd. Earlier, Allen fought off a lead block from Floyd on a screen and tackled Andre Roberts after a three-yard pickup.

Patrick Chung had some good moments, and some awful ones. He assisted Allen’s 43-yard interception return with a crushing block on tight end Rob Housler. He also assisted Fitzgerald’s 43-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-19 by failing to wrap the receiver up at the 26-yard line and colliding with Boykin, who got knocked out of making a tackle. Flashbacks of Chung taking out Cole along the sideline against Washington on Darrel Young’s 62-yard touchdown catch.

Arizona’s big run formations meant just 30 snaps for Boykin, who had one defended pass.

Quarterbacks: B+
In the face of an attacking defense that blitzed him from all angles and corners, Foles completed 62 percent of his passes, tossed three touchdowns and compiled a 112 passer rating.

He did most of his damage in the first half before going through a dry spell that started in the third. With his outside receivers taken away by the Cards’ corners, Foles picked apart the middle of the defense and relied on checkdowns. Of his 21 completions, 14 went to tight ends or running backs.

For whatever reason, Foles went through a brief spell of inaccuracy in the second half and had trouble getting the ball out quickly. He threw a screen behind Riley Cooper that went out of bounds for a two-yard loss and took sacks on back-to-back snaps in the fourth. After a Cary Williams interception return to midfield, Foles misfired to Brent Celek down the left seam and then overthrew an open LeSean McCoy in the right flat.

It’s obvious what went wrong with the direct snap to Brad Smith inside the Cardinals’ 10 before halftime. He took his eyes off the ball before he secured the snap, looking for the running lane before he actually possessed the ball.

Running backs: B
It figured to be a long afternoon for McCoy against the NFL’s second-ranked rushing defense. He still averaged 4.2 yards per carry and totaled more than 100 yards on the ground and through the air. McCoy’s blitz pickup against Arizona’s aggressive defense was stellar for the most part, although he helped Foles get dropped for a seven-yard sack in the first when he didn’t recognize linebacker Karlos Dansby’s blitz up the middle.

McCoy’s shakes and stutter-steps weren’t as effective as they usually are, but the Cards are more disciplined up front and made better one-on-one tackles than most of the Eagles’ opponents have done this year. McCoy did elude Dansby on a second-quarter screen that picked up 19 yards.

Bryce Brown also helped out in pass protection. He picked up Calais Campbell’s 3rd-and-11 blitz in the third, giving Foles time for a 16-yard completion. On the next snap, Brown picked up five tough yards on a run up the middle against a seven-man box.

Receivers: B+
Tight ends were big for the Eagles, who used the size of Celek (6-foot-4) and Zach Ertz (6-foot-5) to counteract Arizona’s fast-but-short secondary.

Ertz caught passes when lined up split wide and in the slot and had some decent run blocks. His 22-yard fingertip catch against 6-foot-2 linebacker Daryl Washington on a slant is exactly why Chip Kelly likes to split him out against shorter linebackers and defensive backs. Washington had Ertz covered, but a perfect throw from Foles and the extra inches still allowed for the connection. On the opening drive of the second half, Ertz again beat Washington for 16 yards on a 3rd-and-8, taking a big hit at the end from safety Rashad Johnson. Four plays later, he beat Johnson with a double move to the inside for a 24-yard touchdown catch.

Celek caught a one-yard touchdown pass before halftime on a vintage Chip Kelly crossing route against tight man coverage near the goal line. The Eagles frequently use crossing routes near the goal line, capitalizing on congestion across the middle. On the touchdown, safety Tyrann Mathieu ran into Riley Cooper, who was crossing from right to left underneath Celek’s route from left to right.

DeSean Jackson and Cooper weren’t big part of the passing attack, which isn’t a surprise. Jackson was shadowed the entire game by Pro Bowl corner Patrick Peterson, who didn’t get lost easily. Jackson's longest gain came on a wheel route when he lined up next to Foles and released down the right sideline, getting a running start on Peterson. Jackson played D-back at the end of the second half, breaking up a near-interception for Peterson in the end zone on a drive that ended with Foles’ one-yard touchdown pass to Celek.

Cooper made a terrific one-handed grab on the left side on a pass that Foles nearly threw into the grandstands, then somehow spun away from cornerback Jerraud Powers to get 24 yards on the catch. Cooper beat Powers early in the second half on a 3rd-and-11 dig route, catching a 16-yard pass.

Offensive line: B+
The Cards used a variety of stunts and exotic blitzes to get pressure on Foles, who was sacked five times, but protection wasn’t a persistent problem. Overall, the line held strong against one of the best front sevens the Eagles will see all year.

Left tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson were solid protecting the edges. Johnson got beat by rush linebacker John Abraham for a sack in the third, but that was his only real negative play. He had some punishing run blocks and twice lined up in the slot to get an extra defender out of the box.

Peters drew the most matchups against Abraham, the NFL’s active sack leader, but kept the pocket clean for Foles. The bye week did his body some good. Peters played one of his best games of the season. There were some breakdowns on the inside, especially in the second half, but the fact that Pro Bowl tackle Darnell Dockett made just three tackles and had no impact plays speaks volumes about the work done by center Jason Kelce and guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans.

Herremans, in particular, won more matchups against Dockett than he lost and really held his ground against a variety of Dockett’s moves in the pass rush. Calais Campbell, the Cards’ other imposing tackle, finished with just three tackles and a half-sack. Mathis pushed Campbell back on Bryce Brown’s longest run, a six-yarder. Brown lost eight on the next snap, when Dockett shot the gap past Mathis on an outside zone run. On a big 4th-and-2, Mathis cleared out Karlos Dansby and Peters mauled Campbell to help McCoy get five yards and keep the drive going. Two plays later, Foles found Celek for a one-yard TD and 17-7 lead.

Specialists: B
Donnie Jones could have won game MVP. He landed seven punts inside the 20, a team record and tie for the third-most in an NFL game since the league started tracking that stat in 1976. He had a 69-yarder thanks to Patrick Peterson inexplicably allowing the punt to hit the ground. Alex Henery made his lone field-goal attempt, a 32-yarder.

Roc Carmichael blew a chance to deliver a turnover when he failed to recover the second-quarter Jones punt that hit Javier Arenas in the back. The ball bounced toward Carmichael, who jumped on the ball but somehow couldn’t secure it. Antoine Cason recovered the loose ball and advanced 16 yards.