Eagles grades vs. Vikings: O-line a bright spot

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Eagles grades vs. Vikings: O-line a bright spot

December 17, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Maybe the Eagles didn’t take the Vikings lightly, but they sure didn’t treat the game as if it had playoff implications.

If there’s one major takeaway from their 48-30 loss at the Metrodome it’s that defensive coordinator Bill Davis needs to get back to the drawing board. His secondary got shellacked by Vikings wideouts, an ominous sign for this coming Sunday’s game against the Bears.

Here are grades for each position from the game:

Defensive line (B-)
As usual, a three-man line of Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan controlled scrimmage against the run. Matt Asiata, the Vikes’ lone running back, averaged 1.7 yards per carry. Cox was very disruptive, with eight tackles. Thornton drove center John Sullivan back on the opening series, creating a gap for DeMeco Ryans to stop Asiata for no gain. Vinny Curry also had some disruptions with his quick first step. Thornton abused Sullivan to smother Asiata for a four-yard loss.

The line wasn’t as stout at the goal line, as Minnesota got three rushing TDs from Asiata inside the 6.

Pressure from the front line was sporadic, and sometimes a split-second too late. Cox had a chance to hit Matt Cassel on the 57-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. He breezed past left guard Charlie Johnson but was slowed down by halfback Joe Banyard, who got just enough body on Cox to give Cassel time for a pump fake and step-up into the pocket. Logan walloped Cassel just as the quarterback delivered a 15-yard strike to Jennings.

A three-man rush of Cox, Thornton and Logan generated no pressure on Cassel’s 22-yard strike to Jennings across the middle. Logan supplied second-effort pressure against right guard Joe Berger, filling in for injured starter Brandon Fusco, to force an incompletion. Inside the 20, Cox beat Berger on third down and forced Cassel to rifle a pass into the end zone before Joe Webb and Jerome Simpson could finish their routes.

Backup linemen Damion Square and Clifton Geathers weren’t effective. Geathers was pancaked by right tackle Phil Loadholt on an Asiata six-yard gain. Square had a chance to corral Asiata two yards behind scrimmage after Curry blew up Sullivan but couldn’t get off his block. Credit Vikes OC Bill Musgrave for capitalizing on the upfield rush of Logan and Cox and calling for Cassel’s 6-yard touchdown keeper up the middle.

Linebackers (C+)
DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks were active in the A-gaps on stunts and blitzes. They caused disruptions, with Ryans notching a sack and Kendricks picking up a sack and interception. Coverage and tackling wasn’t their strong point. Kendricks took a bad angle in the flat on Asiata, who turned a three-yard catch into an eight-yard gain on 3rd-and-7.

On a 3rd-and-3 run by Cordarelle Patterson to the right, Kendricks shot through the middle and lunged at Patterson’s feet but couldn’t make the tackle two yards behind scrimmage and Patterson gained three. Kendricks had the same problem against Asiata, diving at the running back’s feet four yards behind scrimmage and coming up empty.

Needing a big stop in the third, with the Vikes facing 3rd-and-14, Kendricks got greedy and went for a pick-six on a risky Cassel throw over the middle to Chase Ford. Kendricks should have just battled the ball down. Ford caught the ball and gained 37, setting up a touchdown that put the Vikes up 12. Trent Cole made seven tackles and hit Cassel a few times but badly missing Patterson nine yards behind scrimmage on a broken end-around that became a 12-yard gain exemplified the poor tackling throughout the game.

Brandon Graham played 20 snaps but didn’t make a tackle or record a hurry.

Defensive backs (D)
When these guys are asked to play zone, the potential for disaster ensues. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are physical in coverage down the sidelines, but not textbook across the middle. Williams turned a 13-yard Jarius Wright catch into a 26-yard pickup by diving at the receiver’s feet. He had a nice touchdown breakup against Patterson in the end zone but couldn’t repeat the technique on Patterson’s five-yard TD in the fourth. It’s unclear why he was flagged for roughness on the play before, when he exchanged words with Webb. The foul didn’t seem egregious. He came out and was replaced by Roc Carmichael, who had poor technique on a 30-yard interference call against Patterson.

Fletcher got stiff-armed by Jennings on a 2nd-and-6 catch that picked up a first down. He was also flagged for interference against Simpson in the ed zone, although Fletcher's gotten away with far more contact in past games. The Eagles didn’t have much of a comeback chance late, but Fletcher let Patterson beat him on a very average outside move for an 11-yard catch on 3rd-and-10. 

Safety play bordered on bad to abysmal. The next time Patrick Chung plays with discipline will be the first time. His trouble started early. On the opening series he let Ford get wide open for an 18-yard gain by overplaying Patterson’s motion out of the backfield. Then came the whammy, when he lost his battle within the five-yard contact zone against Jennings on the 57-yard touchdown, a mishap that landed Chung on the bench. After injuries to Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson forced Chung back into the game, he was flagged for a roughness penalty on an Asiata 10-yard gain. The call was questionable but he left his feet and went high on Asiata.

Nate Allen has tackled well this year, but he showed some hesitation to stick his nose into a ball carrier.

Receivers (B+)
DeSean Jackson drew his position coach’s ire after a third-quarter interception that maybe Jackson could have pursued better, but Jackson otherwise managed to set a career high with 10 catches for 195 yards. For all of Kelly’s play calling problems and offensive imbalance, the coach did a masterful job of lining up Jackson in the backfield and getting him isolated on defensive backs in man coverage, a matchup Jackson won every time. His 51-yarder was an all-effort play, as he shook away from Marcus Sherels two yards shy of a first down and then slipped out of two Shaun Prater tackles.

His 30-yard touchdown catch against safety Robert Blanton came from the slot, with Jackson shifting into a gear that Blanton couldn’t match.

Riley Cooper made some nice grabs for first downs and Jason Avant was targeted five times, his most since Oct. 20. On a few snaps, receivers had trouble getting separation against Minnesota’s man coverage.

Zach Ertz rebounded from a rough first half -- a drop and some blocking problems -- to make a spectacular one-handed touchdown grab with safety Andrew Sendejo almost draped on him. Ertz’s athleticism is really showing as he improves each week and gets more comfortable with his assignments.

In an unbalanced formation, he failed to get enough body on Jared Allen on a McCoy run that went nowhere when Allen pounced on the tailback. But Ertz sealed off Allen on a 12-yard McCoy run that set up Jackson’s 30-yard touchdown catch.

Quarterback (C+)
Despite good protection, Nick Foles struggled with consistency from snap to snap. He’d make a pinpoint throw, then follow up with one that sailed. The Vikings played more zone than opponents normally do against the Eagles, which seemed to cause Foles to hesitate on some of his decisions.

Placement wasn’t his strongest point. He had overthrows to Jackson and Avant and an underthrow to Cooper, each of which could have been big gains with better placement. If his deep ball to Cooper had more air and carried more toward the end zone, it could have been a touchdown instead of incompletion after Cooper couldn’t keep both feet inbounds.

He had all the time in the world to find Jackson downfield earlier on the pass that turned into a Shaun Prater interception. It just appeared as if Foles wasn’t as sure of himself as he usually is. He was sacked four times, but two were coverage sacks and one he could have thrown the ball away after ducking outside the pocket. But he was also victimized by some early drops, one by Ertz and another by Polk.

A good chunk of his career-high 428 yards came on screens or breakdowns by the Vikings' defense on shorter routes. Still, nine times out of 10, when you complete 62.5 percent of your passes, throw three touchdowns and register a 103.5 passer rating, you’re doing fine. Foles is still coming along with the read option. He correctly read an over-pursuing defensive end on a 9-yard run, but made a bad read on a 3rd-and-1. Allen maintained his ground and didn’t get suckered in by the fake handoff, then dropped Foles well shy of first down.

Running backs (B)
Tantalized by single-safety looks from Minnesota, Kelly decided to ignore his running backs and win through the air. It wasn’t the wisest decision. Even against crowded boxes, McCoy ran hard and found lanes. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry.

Even still, McCoy made plays in the passing game. The Vikes were too slow to obstruct him on a 24-yard screen and he single-handedly turned a busted delayed screen into a 22-yard gain by one-handing the overthrown pass and slipping away from linebacker Audie Cole along the sideline. 

But on the game’s most important play, a 3rd-and-1 inside his own 25, McCoy ran too east-west instead of following Jason Kelce’s pull or Todd Herremans’ lead block. It’s impossible to tell through TV replay if his fourth-down carry did or didn’t cross the yard line, but the refs felt he was stopped.

Chris Polk dropped the only pass that came in his direction, with nobody within five yards of him. He didn’t get any carries.

Offensive line (B+)
Jason Peters drew Allen all game and allowed just one of Allen’s two sacks on a basic bull rush. Otherwise, Peters handled Allen’s variety rushes and power moves.

On the other side, rookie right tackle Lane Johnson struggled at times with the edge speed of defensive end Brian Robison, who had two sacks. Robison consistently had Johnson on his heels in pass protection and backed up into the pocket.

The Vikes didn’t blitz very much, so protection responsibilities were handled by the interior line. In screens, Kelce showed his expertise at the second level. He blasted Audie Cole on a 24-yard McCoy screen and took out Harrison Smith on McCoy’s 22-yarder.

Foles and right guard Herremans wiped out Chad Greenway and Cole, respectively, to spring McCoy for seven.

Left guard Evan Mathis, executing a right-side pull, didn’t get enough body on Smith on a McCoy run that netted no gain, but he mauled Cole downfield on the delayed screen to Celek that went for 25.