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Less-than-perfect grades for the clincher

Position-by-position grading of the Eagles after their 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, focusing on one player at each spot:

Position-by-position grading of the Eagles after their 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, focusing on one player at each spot:


Quarterback - B

Nick Foles didn't get much going through the air in the second half, but he had an excellent first half that answered any concerns that he might repeat his first-game performance against the Cowboys. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns before the break. After the half, Foles was pressured consistently and sacked three times. He fumbled once when he probably held onto the ball too long, but he didn't make any other major errors.

A few first-half highlights: Foles made a strong throw for 17 yards to Zach Ertz, who ran an out pattern. He stood in the pocket and delivered to Ertz for 12 yards on third down later in the drive. He moved to his left to avoid pressure and hit DeSean Jackson for 20 yards. He squeezed a 17-yard pass to Jason Avant over the middle on third down. Foles connected with Brent Celek for 35 yards, then found him open underneath for a 14-yard touchdown one play later.

Foles avoided several sacks when he threw at the feet on his receivers, but was called for grounding once. The penalty was questionable. He completed just 5 of 10 passes for 66 yards in the second half. Foles completed 8 of 9 passes for 128 yards and a score against the blitz.

Running back - B+

LeSean McCoy had a quiet 131 yards rushing, if that's possible. He was very good, and made a number of shifty moves that padded his numbers, but he also failed to hit a few holes that were there for the taking. Perhaps the NFL's rushing leader had raised expectations so much after a career year.

Wide receiver - B

Jason Avant caught three passes for 45 yards, but for the first time in his career, he did not finish the season with more receptions than the previous year. His final numbers: 38 catches for 445 yards and two touchdowns. Avant's best grab was when he went up and pulled in a jump ball for 22 yards in the second. He injured his shoulder but returned.

Tight end - A-

Brent Celek and Zach Ertz combined for 68 catches for 971 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. They had six grabs for 114 yards and Celek's 14-yard score on Sunday. James Casey didn't have a catch but played 28 snaps and was instrumental in the running game. He had a lead block on Bryce Brown's 6-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Line - B-

The line didn't play as poorly as it might have seemed considering the barrage of pressure Foles saw in the second half. Lane Johnson, who has made great strides in his rookie season, had his struggles, though. He was called for holding and brought back a McCoy 11-yard run in the first. Johnson was beaten by end George Selvie on an inside rush and Foles stepped into a sack.


Line - C

The Eagles' front didn't generate a lot of pressure on Kyle Orton, but the quarterback did a good job of getting the ball out quickly and the pass defense didn't do a good job of cutting off his receivers. Fletcher Cox, though, couldn't seem to get off blocks. He rushed 40 times and was not credited with a hurry. The end was the third lineman to be called for encroachment when he jumped in the third.

Outside linebackers - B

Trent Cole didn't do much as a pass rusher, but he was involved a few run stops. Brandon Graham made a few plays with limited snaps. Connor Barwin came up with a tremendous stop on fourth down in the fourth when he rushed untouched and batted an Orton pass.

Inside linebackers - B

Mychal Kendricks was either stupendous or poor. There didn't seem to be any middle ground. The two first-half turnovers - a forced fumble and an interception - have been dissected already. He was hot and cold covering Jason Witten. Kendricks did well running downhill to tackle the tight end on short, sideline passes. He had trouble keeping up with Witten on over-the-middle vertical routes. Witten, who is one of the best in the game, beat Kendricks for 11 yards, 19 yards on a slant and 34 yards on a seam route in the fourth.

Cornerbacks - B+

Despite the Cowboys' 358 passing yards, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher did not get beaten often. Slot corner Brandon Boykin had a few dubious moments in the early going but finished strong. Boykin broke up a pass in the end zone for Dez Bryant and he sealed the game with his interception. Orton basically threw the pass behind Miles Austin and into Boykin's arms, but the corner jumped the route, too.

Safeties - C

Nate Allen made a few solid plays. Patrick Chung had problems in coverage once again. Witten caught an 11-yard pass in the second when singled up on the safety. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis may have been more to blame for Chung having to guard Bryant in the slot in the fourth. The Eagles zero blitzed and Orton found the mismatch and hit Bryant. When Chung missed the tackle, the receiver ran 32 yards for a touchdown.


Donnie Jones had another clutch late-game punt when he booted a 56-yarder that was returned only 7 yards. He finished with a 43.8 net on five punts. Alex Henery had three touchbacks on five kickoffs and made a 47-yard field goal.


Nick Foles was sacked 22.6 percent of the time when pressured, the third-highest total among NFL starters, but he didn't toss one interception on 124 dropbacks under pressure. The next closest was the Chiefs' Alex Smith with two interceptions when pressured on 202 drops.

The Eagles became the first NFL team since the 1991 Bills to lead the league in rushing while ranking last in time of possession. That Buffalo team eventually lost in the Super Bowl.

The Eagles averaged an NFL-best 5.05 yards rushing on first down. The Vikings were next at 4.95 yards.


For weeks, Chip Kelly has steered clear of any talk about the playoffs, saying that he and the team never discussed the postseason as a goal.

He just repeated the mantra he presented to his players when they first met in April at the beginning of spring workouts.

"April 1, Chip said to take care of business and then we'll pick our heads up on Dec. 29 to see where we're at," guard Evan Mathis said. "After the game, we picked our heads up and we're division champs."

After the Eagles beat the Cowboys and won the division, Kelly addressed his players in the locker room at AT&T Stadium and part of his message involved having the players symbolically picking their heads up.

"After the game he reemphasized that and we're into the playoffs," center Jason Kelce said. "But it doesn't change from here on out. It's still each week by each week."

LeSean McCoy had been honest about his initial doubts after the Eagles hired Kelly in January. The running back was loyal to former coach Andy Reid and had the same concerns many have had when a college coach without NFL experience makes the jump to the pros.

"Coming from college, I didn't know what to expect," McCoy said. "I'd been around Coach Reid for so long. He's been a guy that's established, a winning coach. . . . I think after I talked to [Kelly] I was really optimistic about it because he was just amazing - the strategies of how he wanted to run the ball, the thought process behind how he wanted to get the ball in the playmakers' hands."


Who's going to cover Jimmy Graham?

More than likely, the Eagles will use a combination of defenders to guard the best tight end in the NFL. For one, it's nearly impossible to have one player cover a tight end for an entire game. It's why the position can so often be used to exploit mismatches.

"We know the challenge with Jimmy Graham coming here," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said, "but I'm confident in Billy [Davis] and our defensive staff will have a plan together for him."

The Eagles' numbers against tight ends heading into Sunday's game against the Cowboys were solid. They had allowed only two passing touchdowns. But it's not as if they faced a steady stream of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league.

When they have faced top-tier talent, they've mostly struggled. The Chargers' Antonio Gates torched them for eight catches for 124 yards. Martellus Bennett was the only effective pass-catcher for the Bears a week ago and pulled in five passes for 85 yards.

The Cowboys' Jason Witten was kept in check in the first meeting (four catches for 48 yards), but he bludgeoned the Eagles pass defense with 12 catches for 135 yards in Texas. Witten is very good, but Graham is playing on another level.

Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans have been most responsible for covering tight ends this season, as one would expect for 3-4 inside linebackers. Both have had their struggles. Kendricks has elite speed, but he sometimes loses tight ends after contact and isn't as effective running backward. Ryans' downfield capabilities have been lacking.

Witten caught five passes for 73 yards on Sunday when Kendricks was covering. He had two catches for 31 yards against Ryans. Witten also victimized Eagles safeties, catching three passes for 20 yards when Nate Allen was on him and one for 11 yards opposite Patrick Chung.

The Eagles may not have an answer for Graham, but some teams have been able to contain him. The trick is slowing the tight end and not letting the Saints' other weapons beat them.