Grayson’s Grades: Eagles at Saints
NEW ORLEANS - The Philadelphia Eagles late-season run came to an end in New Orleans. The Eagles got the start to the game they needed scoring the first 14 points of the contest, but allowed 20 unanswered points to suffer a 20-14 loss in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
The game started with an interception by Cre'Von LeBlanc as Drew Brees tried to go deep on the first offensive play. The Eagles took that change of possession and scored a touchdown. They followed that up with another defensive stop and another touchdown drive.
The offense struggled to do much after that and it was all New Orleans the rest of the way to send the defending Super Bowl Champions home.
Here is the final edition of Grayson's Grades for the season:
Doug Pederson - Pederson called a perfect opening drive. The Eagles went 76 yards on seven plays thanks to a great mix of runs and short passes before taking a deep shot and scoring on a 37 yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to Jordan Matthews. Pederson could not get his offense going beyond the first quarter. After catching a break following another missed field goal, Pederson called a play and Foles snapped it with 2:01 remaining in the game. That pass went off Alshon Jeffery's hands and was intercepted. Pederson should have let the two-minute warning hit because there was no rush to score at that point. The Eagles were on the Saints 27-yard line. At the end of the day, I believe the loss of Brandon Brooks to injury in the first half coincided with the struggles of the offense and his absence had a bigger impact than many realize. Lane Johnson acknowledged afterwards that he and Brooks had great timing and communication on a silent count that he and Stefen Wisniewski did not have due to a lack of reps working together.
Jim Schwartz - Schwartz opened the game with a great plan. Cre'Von LeBlanc intercepted the first play of the game to give the Eagles the ball right away. He did a good job of drawing up coverage plays that caused Brees to hold the ball just long enough for some pressure to get to him. Schwartz' defense got vulnerable when injuries to Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett caused them to come out of the game. Both players returned. Also, Defensive Back Rasul Douglas suffered an ankle injury that took him out of the game and brought in Josh Hawkins who was on the practice squad last week. Schwartz struggled to get his team off the field throughout the final three quarters. They could get the Saints into third down, but could not quite get off the field. They played well enough to give the Eagles a chance to win the game at the end. The Saints were one-for-three on third down in the first quarter. They went seven-for-12 the rest of the game.
Fletcher Cox - Cox seemed to win his individual battle on the line more often than not. He suffered an injury in the first half that kept him out for a couple of possessions, but he returned late in the half and helped hold the Saints to a Field Goal. The Saints started gaining momentum while Cox was off the field. He fought through his injury to try and help his team win, but like the rest of his defensive teammates he wore down. The Saints ran 71 plays and held the ball for 37:50. Cox finished with three tackles.
Michael Bennett - Bennett had a great season with the Eagles. He also had a decent impact in this game. He managed to rack up two of the five total quarterback hits the Eagles managed to get on Drew Brees.Bennett had four tackles, one tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits in the contest.
Avonte Maddox - Maddox was tested by Brees on a deep pass on their second possession of the game. Maddox had great coverage and the third-down pass fell incomplete forcing a punt. Maddox had great coverage on a deep ball where he timed his jump perfectly to tip it away and hit Taysum Hill to avoid a catch off the deflection. Maddox finished third on the team with eight tackles including a pass successfully defended. Overall, it was a good rookie year for Maddox who showed how versatile he can be as a safety and corner.
Brandon Graham - Graham got good pressure on Brees and got just enough of the ball in his hand to force a fumble at one point. It was recovered by the Saints on third down, so it forced a punt. However, like the rest of the defense, he got worn down by the failure of the defense to get off the field on third down coupled with the Eagles' inability to sustain any offensive drives. Graham finished with three tackles including a sack and a forced fumble.
Cre'Von LeBlanc - Drew Brees opened the Saints first possession of the game by trying to attack LeBlanc on a deep post, but LeBlanc timed his jump perfectly and picked off the pass to start the game. LeBlanc did a great job to dive and bat away a pass over the middle late in the first quarter bringing up a third-and-long for the Saints. LeBlanc stepped up late in the season and played very well for this defense. He had three tackles, an interception and two passes successfully defended.
Malcolm Jenkins - Due to injuries at various points in the game, Jenkins had to move around. His versatility is a huge strength for this defense and he went on to tie for the team lead with ten tackles. Jenkins also had two tackles for a loss in the game. Jenkins approached Jim Schwartz after the regular season loss to the Saints and asked to simplify the defense a little with all the youth that had to step in due to injuries. It proved to be a huge plus for this team to earn a spot in the playoffs. Jenkins and Schwartz seem to be on the same page and have a great working relationship. That was a big reason for their success late in the year.
Chris Long - Long has had an excellent locker room presence on this team and always backed it up with solid play on the field. He did the same in this game meeting Tim Jernigan at Drew Brees for each of them to register half of a sack. Long also managed to record two of the five total quarterback hits on Brees in the game as well as three tackles.
Jordan Matthews - Matthews got behind the defense on the Eagles' opening drive and hauled in a perfectly thrown 37-yard touchdown pass to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead. Matthews only had one other pass thrown to him in the game and it fell incomplete. This was his second stint in Philadelphia and he did a good job of being a situational receiver. That touchdown early showed great concentration to haul the ball in over his shoulder and help the Eagles strike first.
Nick Foles - Foles was a perfect 5-for-5 on the opening drive including a perfectly thrown 37-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews to strike first and give the Eagles a 7-0 lead. Foles took the Eagles second possession and marched the team 75 yards for another touchdown. He took it in himself from one-yard out to give Philadelphia a 14-0 lead. Foles had Zach Ertz on a deep ball, but he failed to lead Ertz and as a result it was intercepted. If he had led Ertz it likely would have gone for a touchdown. Foles looked off from the moment that interception occurred and struggled to find timing with his receivers. He threw behind a couple of guys and high to others. That was all part of the reason why the Eagles offense was virtually non-existent for three quarters. Unsure if Foles saw something he wanted to take advantage of on what was potentially his final play in an Eagles uniform, but I strongly believed regardless of the result of the play that the Eagles should have let the two-minute warning hit. Foles heads home unsure about his future, which will likely be the biggest offseason storyline in the NFL. Foles finished the first quarter completing eight of nine passes for 113 yards with a touchdown pass and a rushing touchdown. He completed nine of 22 passes the rest of the way for 88 yards and two interceptions. Overall, Foles was 18-of-31 passing for 201 yards, a touchdown, a rushing touchdown and two interceptions.
Offensive Line - Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson all did a great job early in this game of dominating the line of scrimmage and allowing the team to open the game with a pair of touchdown drives. Brooks was carted off the field in the first half with a leg injury and did not return. Stefen Wisniewski replaced him and that moment in the game seemed to coincide with the beginning of the offensive struggles. Johnson acknowledged that Brooks' absence was felt on a silent count as needed in this building. It was not a knock against Wisniewski, but that kind of timing is developed through countless reps which he and Wisniewski did not get. Peters also failed to finish the game due to a back injury. This offensive line was playing at an extremely high level throughout the end of the season. Losing those two players certainly had an impact on this final result.
Alshon Jeffery - Jeffery will be haunted by the interception that effectively ended the game for quite a while. In my opinion, the ball should not have been snapped prior to the two-minute warning, but it was a pass that he catches 99% of the time. Jeffery had the ball go off his hands and get picked off. He laid on the ground for some time trying to accept what happened. Jeffery had played a good game to that point. He finished with five receptions for 63 yards. I expected Jeffery to be a bigger part of the game plan using his size as an advantage against the New Orleans secondary more frequently. At the end of the day, that is a season-ending mistake that definitely affected his overall grade in this game.