Eagles grades vs. Lions: Game won in trenches

Eagles grades vs. Lions: Game won in trenches

Eagle Eye: A game to remember

December 10, 2013, 1:00 pm
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The offensive line helped the Eagles run all over the Lions for 299 yards on the ground Sunday. (AP)

It took them one half to weather the inclement weather, but once they did, the Eagles unleashed a storm on the visiting Lions.

Their win, like most, was decided in the trenches. The Eagles were stout against the run and put persistent pressure on Matthew Stafford. On the other side, the offensive line made its mission to get bodies on Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley and clear lanes for LeSean McCoy, who turned in a superstar game.

Win the trench battles, win the game.

Here are my positional grades for the Eagles from their 34-20 win over the Lions:

Defensive line: A-
With heavy snow falling, the Lions ditched their prolific passing attack and tried to overpower the Eagles in the running game. They failed.

The trio of Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan dominated up front, and Lions running back Joique Bell rushed for 69 yards and averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Thornton’s bear-hug tackle on Bell in the first quarter jarred the ball loose and forced Detroit’s first turnover. Vinny Curry also made his presence known against the run. He had a nice sequence in the second quarter, fighting off tackle Jason Fox on consecutive snaps to get into the backfield and detour Bell, who totaled four yards on those two runs. Logan repeatedly took on double teams without losing his ground and kept gaps open for linebackers to make tackles.

Up 8-0 in the third, the Lions seemed to believe they could play clock-control offense, even with the snowfall letting up. Scott Linehan’s conservative play-calling catered to the Eagles’ strength. Thornton, Cox and Trent Cole, who played several snaps at defensive end, combined to make three tackles against the run on the Lions’ opening possession of the third, an eight-play drive that featured runs on 2nd-and-6 (Thornton solo tackle), 2nd-and-10 (Cox) and 3rd-and-10 (Cole). None of the runs netted more than 4 yards.

Cox blew up two Lions plays in the third, stunting inside of left tackle Riley Reiff to slow up Bell on a first-down run, which went for one yard. On the ensuing 3rd-and-8, he stunted outside Barwin on a four-man rush and batted Stafford’s pass at scrimmage to force a punt.

When the Eagles went up, 22-20, the Lions were forced to throw, and the pressure came in good spurts. Logan occupied a double team that created an open lane for Mychal Kendricks to pressure Stafford into a first-down misfire to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Cole followed with an inside stunt to force Stafford into a wobbler downfield that fell two yards short of Calvin Johnson. A three-man line of Curry, Cox and Cole pushed the pocket on 3rd-and-15 in the fourth enough to force Stafford into a scramble and stumbling pass that sailed over Bell’s head, well short of the first down.

Defensive backs: C+
Without much of a Lions passing attack, corners and safeties were tasked with assisting against the run and guarding against screens and quick outs. Corners played more off coverage than usual, and the Lions tried to counter with some quick strikes to the flats, hoping to capitalize on missed tackles.

The Eagles usually struggle with their back-end tackling but did a decent job this time. Sometimes, they were just lucky. Patrick Chung bit badly on a 2nd-and-6 playaction late in the first, but Stafford wildly overthrew an open Pettigrew across the middle. On the next play, Cary Williams played inside leverage against Johnson and got beat by two steps as the All-Pro wideout caught a 33-yard pass. Nate Allen was the help safety, but he came up to assist Brandon Boykin on Pettigrew and wasn’t in position to help Williams. That would be Johnson’s second reception of the game. He’d have only one more.

Williams responded in the second quarter with a breakup against Nate Burleson on a catch that would have given the Lions a first down. Allen nearly allowed a touchdown in the fourth with the game still within one possession when he lowered his head in attempt to tackle Bell about 15 yards after on a quick pass to the right side. Bell hurdled him and would have scored if DeMeco Ryans hadn’t caught him from behind. Fortunately for the Eagles, the Lions botched the next snap and turned the ball over.

Linebackers: B
The slippery field created some problems for Kendricks, who seemed to develop a better feel for the conditions as the game progressed. He let Pettigrew shake him on a basic out route on 3rd-and-15 to catch a 23-yard pass in the first quarter. In the second, Kendricks broke up a pass across the middle on 3rd-and-6 and jarred Burleson to make him drop the pass.

DeMeco Ryans, who made five tackles (four solo), couldn’t wrap up Johnson on a seven-yard catch across the middle for first down that was received about three yards shy of the marker. Ryans and Kendricks each bit on playaction on the Lions’ first two-point conversion, making it easy for Bell to get open in the right flat. Cole and Graham played several snaps on the line as the Eagles beefed up against the run.

Quarterbacks: C+
This won’t go down as Nick Foles’ prettiest game. For most of the game, his throws either sailed high or wide of their target despite facing almost no pressure all game. Unlike the Dallas game, though, Foles never lost confidence and finally popped some decent deep balls in the second half.

Foles, who started 4 for 13, was victimized by some drops, as was Stafford. Riley Cooper bobbled one across the middle on 3rd-and-9 that would have been first down. The interception to Chris Houston came out of his hand high and sailed. His erratic play continued into the third, but he was fortunate to have receivers bail him out. Cooper’s twisting, 44-yarder that set up a 19-yard touchdown to Jackson was one of the best catches of the season. On the ensuing PAT, Foles had LeSean McCoy for an easy conversion in the right flat but threw low despite no pressure.

Foles’ sharpest toss came in the fourth, when he stepped up in the pocket and whizzed a pass across the middle to Cooper, just out of the reach of linebacker Stephen Tulloch for 25 yards. Foles probably held onto the ball a split-second too long on his bomb to Jackson that safety Louis Delmas broke up in the end zone, but Delmas covered a lot of ground. The takeaway here is that Foles managed to get it together and make some plays on a day when it seemed like he was headed for a Dallas repeat.

Running backs: A+
Often compared to Barry Sanders, LeSean McCoy sure did his best Sanders impersonation. All of his signature cutbacks and stutter-steps were on display as he rushed for a franchise-record 217 yards, his third game this year of 155 or more.

McCoy made three Lions miss on his 40-yard touchdown run in the fourth, which included a hurdle over Delmas and a shake-away of Rashean Mathis. On his 57-yarder, McCoy slinked through the tiniest of crevices on the left side before shifting gears and exploding into the second level. The Lions had running lanes decently clogged but couldn’t get a body on McCoy fast enough before he broke free. McCoy cleared his own path on another long run in the fourth, leaping over Delmas after cutting back to the left side and then juking away from Glover Quin, an excellent run safety, en route to 26 more yards.

Chris Polk’s power is already known, but he showed explosion through the hole on his 38-yard TD run. Bryce Brown was once again mediocre. Don’t be stunned if Polk leapfrogs Brown on the depth chart. Brown played 10 snaps to Polk’s nine.

Receivers: B+
DeSean Jackson made a couple of nice adjustments to move the chains. On a 2nd-and-7, he managed to keep his feet inbounds to catch an 11-yard pass along the right sideline. In the third, he went to the ground to reel in a poorly thrown ball by Foles for another 11 yards. The ball might not have been intended for him on the 19-yard touchdown, but he came back after nearly stepping out of bounds to make the catch.

Riley Cooper had some first-half trouble shaking veteran corner Rashean Mathis, especially in the red zone, but Cooper made some terrific adjustments on the ball in the second half. He got inside Mathis deep down the left seam and twisted his torso to catch an underthrown ball thrown to the wrong shoulder for 44 yards. Cooper twice had to look up and find the ball before making the body adjustment, a catch that set up Jackson’s 19-yard touchdown catch. Cooper also snared a one-handed pass on a two-point conversion slant that put the Eagles up 22-20 despite juggling the ball.

Receivers and tight ends were the unsung backbone of the team’s 299-yard rushing effort. With double teams applied to both Suh and Fairley inside, tight ends were kept in for pass protection and run blocking more than usual. Brent Celek, in particular, was outstanding. He frequently locked up against defensive end Willie Young as right tackle Lane Johnson helped right guard Todd Herremans on Suh. He and James Casey had a few nice trap blocks to help spring McCoy in the first half. Casey’s trap block on a blitzing Delmas opened the lane on Polk’s 38-yard touchdown scamper.

Rookie tight end Zach Ertz did a nice job of riding defensive end Israel Idonije to the inside, allowing Foles to ide to his right and have time to hit Jackson on the 19-yard touchdown. Ertz also sealed off Idonije on McCoy’s 40-yard TD. Late in the fourth, on a broken play, Celek turned from from receiver to blocker and got his hands on Quin as Foles scrambled for 20 yards. On the next snap, Celek cleared out Young to create a lane for Bryce Brown’s 17-yard pickup.

Jason Avant played 45 snaps and somehow wasn’t targeted once, but he showed his value on McCoy’s 57-yard TD run. He slammed corner Bill Bentley to ground 10 yards down field, clearing away the only Lions defender with a chance to corral McCoy.

Offensive line: A+
Foles’ rough outing had nothing to do with protection problems. He worked from a clean pocket throughout the game. Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis often double-teamed Nick Fairley, leaving right guard Todd Herremans and right tackle Lane Johnson to double-up on Ndamukong Suh.

Left tackle Jason Peters played a fantastic game, neutralizing the bull rush of rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah. With the Lions’ three best linemen swallowed up, Foles had ample time to make his throws and McCoy had very few bad runs. Kelce and Peters were tremendous in the run game. Peters had a nice seal on Fairley, then penetrated into the second level and took out Tulloch on an early McCoy 14-yard run. Kelce got enough leverage against Fairley to give Polk enough space for a nine-yard gain. Kelce also had a productive pull to the left in the third and blocked linebacker DeAndre Levy on a McCoy 13-yarder.

Mathis drew Fairley by himself and held his own on the 44-yard connection from Foles to Cooper. Herremans and Johnson tag-teamed to clear out Suh on McCoy’s 40-yard touchdown run. On that run, Johnson left Suh to get his body on Tulloch, giving McCoy a clear path at the line of scrimmage. Kelce’s block on Suh on 3rd-and-1 late in fourth, with the game still within one possession, enabled McCoy to pick up the first down. Kelce took out Suh again on a 2nd-and-1 run by Polk that netted three. On Polk’s 38-yard TD, Peters pushed Idonije back about five yards and completely out of the picture.