The Eagles kicked off their Super Bowl defense on Thursday night with a gritty win over the Falcons that was eerily similar to their victory over Atlanta in last year’s playoffs. It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win and the Eagles are now in favorable position to get off to a great start in 2018. Let’s look back at last night and hand out some grades.
Nick Foles completed 19/34 passes for 117 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He was a step late throughout the night, an issue that directly led to his interception. The offense again lacked rhythm and created no down-the-field threat. Luckily Foles did nothing egregious to lose the game while eking out just enough offensive production to get the W.
Running Backs: B-
At first glance, a B- for the running game might seem a bit low. The Eagles rushed for 113 yards and a 4.2 average, and Jay Ajayi’s two touchdowns proved to be the difference in the game. The backs deserve credit for all of that, but a deeper dive paints a less flattering picture.
Darren Sproles, who started the game and was in for a lot of the early snaps, was ineffective as a runner, rushing five times for just 10 yards. He did have four catches for 22 yards including a huge third-down conversion.
On the surface, Corey Clement’s five carries for 26 yards looks serviceable. But when you consider 21 of those yards came on one carry, Clement’s relative ineffectiveness comes to light.
Jay Ajayi was curiously absent in the early going, leading Eagles fans to wonder what was going on. The offense seemed to get a jolt with Ajayi on the field, and he racked up 62 yards on 15 carries and those two huge touchdowns.
Wide Receivers: D
The Eagles got nowhere near enough from their wideouts. Nelson Agholor had eight catches but just 33 yards, as the inability to get anything vertically led to a parade of routes to the flats. Only one other wide receiver, DeAndre Carter, had a catch (one reception for 10 yards). Mike Wallace was again invisible, although he should have drawn a pass interference penalty that the referees ignored. Nine receptions for 43 yards is not enough, and the Eagles need to find a way to get the wideouts involved. Get well soon, Alshon.
Tight Ends: C
Zach Ertz hauled in five catches for 48 yards, leading the Eagles in receiving yardage. Dallas Goedert had one catch for four yards, but almost pulled in a beauty in the end zone which would have been his first career TD. It’s not that the tight ends were terrible, but with the current state of the wide receivers, the Eagles need the tight ends (particularly Ertz) to step up. Six catches for 52 yards as a unit might cost the team games in the future. There were also some missed opportunities between Foles and the tight ends, and if they can clean that up these numbers could look a lot different. The group did enough to help secure the win, but didn’t meet expectations.
Offensive Line: B+
The offensive line didn’t look like the dominant unit that they were last year, but they did their job well and provided no reason to believe they won’t be a major strength of this team going forward. Nick Foles was sacked twice, but spent most of the night with time to go through his reads. He was only hit four times in 60 minutes of play. The line was able to help spring a few big runs as well as helping the Eagles grind out 113 rushing yards. I think the line has the ability to play better than they did Thursday night, that’s why they don’t get an “A,” but still a very good job.
Defensive Line: A+
We highlighted the defensive line as a key, and they lived up to expectations. The line harassed Matt Ryan all night, piling up four sacks and keeping him uncomfortable.
The Falcons were held to just 74 rushing yards, and 11 of those came on a Julio Jones gimmick play and eight came on a pair of Matt Ryan scrambles. The explosive duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for just 55 yards on 15 carries.
The line set the tone all night long against a very good Falcons offensive line and their control of the line of scrimmage helped the linebackers thrive. Fantastic performance from this unit.
Anybody else happy to have Jordan Hicks back? Hicks was all over the place Thursday night, leading the team with seven tackles. He added two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two QB hits, and a pass defended.
Kamu Grugier-Hill added four tackles and a huge tackle for loss on the Falcons’ 4th and goal play on their first drive.
Perhaps most importantly, there were no glaring breakdowns.
Looking at Julio Jones’ monster line (10 catches, 169 yards), you might think the secondary had a rough night. But they kept Jones, and the rest of the Falcons pass catchers, out of the end zone, most notably on FIVE tries from the red zone on the last five plays of the game while clinging to a six-point lead.
Mohamed Sanu had four catches for just 18 yards, and all of the other Falcons completions went to either running backs or tight ends.
The tackling was solid and Sidney Jones made a huge play in the flat. Rasul Douglas secured the Birds’ first interception of the season at a huge juncture of the game. The secondary combined for eight passes defensed.
Playing against a former MVP quarterback and one of the best wide receivers in the world, this group acquitted themselves well.
Special Teams: B
If it wasn’t for Tre Sullivan’s inexcusable mistake touching a live punt that Darren Sproles clearly indicated was “poison,” and Shelton Gibson’s poor decision to bring a kick out of the end zone, this group would earn an “A.”
Outside of that poor decision, Gibson returned two kicks for 43 yards. Darren Sproles returned three punts for 29 yards.
Jake Elliot hit both his attempts, one field goal and one extra point.
Cameron Johnson punted six times, averaging 52.2 yards per kick. He put one kick inside the 20 and had one go for a touchback.
The Falcons didn’t attempt to return a kickoff and had just 11 punt return yards.
The early absence of Ajayi was curious, and the reliance on horizontal passing was approaching a frustrating level. It didn’t feel like the early play calling was effective at trying to establish a rhythm for Foles and the offense. And the decision to challenge a catch early in the game that went for a four-yard gain seemed to not pass the risk/reward test, and the call was upheld anyway.
But the defensive game plan was solid and proved effective. Offensively, they may have been limited by the personnel, but ultimately pulled out enough calls to get the job done. The Birds got the win, and the coaching staff did their part.
Plus, they called a variation of the Philly Special, and that’s worth major bonus points.