Grayson’s Grades: Eagles vs. Vikings
PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Eagles lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2016. The Minnesota Vikings took it to the Eagles early and were able to hold on and avenge their NFC Championship Loss in Philadelphia by knocking off the defending Super Bowl champs 23-21.
It was a tale of two different halves for the Eagles who managed just 17 plays for 91 yards in the first half. They played much better in the second half running 38 plays for 273 yards and scoring two touchdowns. In the end, it was not enough as the defense gave up a Field Goal late in the game that put it out of reach.
The Eagles fall to 2-3 overall with a short week staring them in the face. The birds will face their first NFC East foe of the season when they visit the New York Giants Thursday night.
Here is the latest installment of Grayson's Grades:
Zach Ertz - Ertz is just one receiver on this team and continues to be a steady and reliable target for Wentz. He was once again the leading receiver pulling in ten receptions on eleven targets for 110 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown was a thing of beauty. Ertz was on a corner route to the back corner of the endzone and Wentz fired it just over the hands of a defender and where only Ertz could make a play on the ball. Ertz needs to be more of a factor in the red zone. Opponents have done a good job limiting his touches on that part of the field daring the Eagles to beat them with someone else.
Nigel Bradham - Bradham's biggest play of the game came on a backward pass that was dropped. Bradham alertly went after it and was able to wrestle it away from Roc Thomas for a big takeaway. The Eagles did a good job of limiting the Vikings rushing attack due in large part to what Hicks and Bradham were able to do. Bradham finished tied for second on the team with seven tackles.
Wendell Smallwood - Smallwood had a lot of chances again to show what he can do. He dropped what would have been a third-down conversion in the red zone early in the game. But he made up for it as the game went on. Smallwood caught a touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter and followed it up with a great run to tack on a two-point conversion. Smallwood finished with three carries for 27 yards and a two-point conversion rush. He added three receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown.
Brandon Graham - Graham had a pretty solid game and toed the line towards earning an 'A'. He did a nice job batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage in the red zone that forced a field goal by the Vikings. They missed that field goal. Graham also got some great pressure around the end quickly and dropped Cousins for a sack. He got into the backfield frequently, but kept falling about a step short of getting to Cousins for more sacks. Graham recorded three tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits and one pass successfully defended.
Fletcher Cox - Cox also toed the line and nearly earned an 'A'. He helped the run defense avoid giving up too many successful plays. He also got involved heavily in the pass rush. Cox was so close to getting multiple sacks, but found himself a step or so short of the moment Cousins got rid of the ball. He only had one tackle in the game but was a big factor on moving bodies around on the line. Cox also finished with four quarterback hits.
Michael Bennett - Bennett was involved in what was arguably one of the biggest plays of the game. He was flagged for roughing the passer when he appeared to be pushed towards the ground by an offensive lineman and into Kirk Cousins' knees. It would have forced a third and very long. Instead, it gave the Vikings a first down just outside of the endzone and they ultimately scored. Referee Walt Coleman was asked about that call after the game. "He went low into the quarterback's knees with his shoulder, with force," Coleman explained. "Somebody would have to basically push him and change his direction in order for that not to be a foul." Bennett saw increased snaps due to the absence of Derek Barnett. He finished with one tackle and a pair of quarterback hits.
Carson Wentz - Wentz was once again under pressure frequently in this game. His internal clock appears to be slightly off. He recognizes the pressure coming a split-second late and nearly gets away from the rush when he is caught. This was just his third game back from injury and that internal clock should start getting more in sync as the season progresses. Wentz made some great throws in the second half to start bringing this team back. In the end, it was too little too late. With a pocket that keeps collapsing on him, perhaps some more designed rollouts would help him buy time to go through his progressions. Wentz took advantage of what the Vikings gave him late in the game to move the ball down the field, but when he needed to he threw an absolute dime in the endzone to Ertz for a touchdown. It was a pretty pass thrown where only Ertz could get it. Wentz completed 24 of 35 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns. He took a costly intentional grounding penalty in the fourth quarter that pushed the Eagles out of field goal range. Wentz was trying to avoid a sack, but should have held onto the ball and not risk the yardage loss associated with the penalty.
Jalen Mills - Mills has been under fire lately for getting beat down the field and also giving up big plays on double moves. He broke up several pass plays, but did give up another deep ball that went to Adam Thielen for a 68-yard gain when the Vikings were backed up deep in their own end of the field. At one point, Mills got into a trash talking match with Thielen after batting a ball away from him. Fletcher Cox went to break it up and get Mills out of there, but Mills shoved Cox to back away. This defense and this team has had a very strong team chemistry that helped it win a Super Bowl. Clearly frustration is setting in and affecting that unit. Overall, Mills had a pretty good game. But one play that covers 68 yards and allows the opponent to not only get out of the shadow of its own endzone but flip the field and score points on the drive is unacceptable. Mills led the team with three passes successfully defended. He also added four tackles.
Doug Pederson - Awful play call on third and inches. Brought in Josh Adams and ran a pitch out. He was dropped for a loss of two yards. Absolutely should have done a QB sneak and move the chains. Instead, they were short and had to punt. The Eagles offense lacked rhythm throughout the first half and continued pressure on the offensive line did not allow Wentz to operate much in the pocket. The Eagles ran just 17 plays in the first half. They ran 18 plays in the third quarter alone. I liked seeing Pederson get aggressive again by going for two when the Eagles cut the deficit to 8. It worked and they put themselves in position to take the lead with a touchdown. However, down by six points, I questioned not trying a 57 yard Field Goal attempt late in the game. He tried a 61 yard attempt and it paid off with Jake Elliott a year ago to beat the Giants. A make and you are down by three which forbids the Vikings from essentially winning the game with a Field Goal. I do understand the risks of attempting and missing it which would have given the Vikings the ball near midfield. I feel as though Pederson is lacking some of the aggressive tendencies that allowed this offense to succeed a year ago. I do not want to see him get reckless; however, controlled aggression might help this team. For example, after Bradham recovered a fumble around the Vikings 30, Pederson should have taken a shot at the endzone on first down. The Eagles had momentum, the home crowd was into it and the Vikings appeared to be playing on their heels.
Jay Ajayi - Ajayi found some holes in this game, but failed to hold onto the pigskin when the Eagles needed it most. He coughed it up at the Vikings' five-yard line as the Eagles were driving and turned it over. It was one of several key self-inflicted wounds they suffered. He needed to cover the ball with two hands and instead had it too loose in one hand and gave it away. Ajayi carried the ball eight times for 29 yards. He also caught one pass for five yards. But his grade is largely reflected by the cost of fumbling the ball at the opponent's five-yard line resulting in an empty trip to the red zone.
Offensive Line - The offensive line that was touted as one of the best in the NFL heading into the season continued to struggle, particularly early in this game. There were a few missed blocks by Isaac Seumalo and Lane Johnson. Seumalo started in place of Stefen Wisniewski in an attempt to shake things up on the line. Johnson's missed block led to the sack-fumble forced by the Vikings that was scooped up and taken 64 yards for a touchdown by Linval Joseph. Wentz continues to be under pressure and rarely has a clean pocket to step into and deliver the ball. Ultimately, the offensive line has to set the tone and win the battle at the line of scrimmage. The dominos all fall into place from there giving holes for running backs to shoot through, giving Wentz more time to find an open receiver and eventually wearing down the opponent by the fourth quarter.