Eagles First Quarter Grades

Well, we are ¼ of the way through the Eagles season with the Birds sitting at 3-1.  Honestly, if you offered me 3-1 through these 4 games, I would have signed for it rather readily.  But, I certainly would not have anticipated the route they have traveled to arrive there.  And, there has to be a part of every Eagles fan that knows that 4-0 was 54 inches away.  All that said, there have been some very good performances so far (and some not so good ones).  So, at the quarterpole, it’s time to give out the First Quarter Grades for each of our guys in green.

Most of the grade is based strictly on my opinion of each player’s performance to date, but there is probably a subconscious “curve” going on here, as I am sure my opinion is at least partially affected by my expectations and what is asked of each player.  For instance, Brad Smith is going to get a higher grade than Riley Cooper, but that does not at all mean that I think Smith should be ahead of Cooper on the depth chart.  I just believe that based on what was expected and what is asked of each player, Smith has delivered more than Cooper.  If their expectations and roles were switched, the grades would be very different.

Anyway, on to the grades…

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Nick Foles – C+
The first grade handed out was one of the hardest to give.  What can you say about a guy that has thrown for a ton of yards and leads an offense that has scored the 3rd most points in the league through 4 weeks.  However, he has looked shaky – including a clunker in San Fran.  Now, some of that has to do with the makeshift O-line, so I gave him a bit of a break there, but a completion percentage below 60% is not good and some of the misses have been big misses.  In the end, the guy has still led 3 late comeback wins and was 54 inches from 4-for-4 on Sunday.  We are going to need much better QB play, for sure, but Foles hasn’t been as terrible as our favorite Chicken Littles may want you to believe.

Running Backs

LeSean McCoy – D
The O-line can only go so far as an excuse for flat-out POOR play from the “best RB on the planet.”  To me, he looks hurt.  He was always so good at making the first guy miss, so the bad offensive line shouldn’t be hurting him as much as it would some other backs.  Also, he has really struggled in pass protection, which has always been a real strength of his game.  My big fear:  Shady has always been great about understanding when to get out of bounds and not chance another hit.  But, with his immense frustration right now could cause him to take push for extra yardage and get himself hurt.  For better or worse, the Birds will be riding Shady as far as he can take them, and he must be healthy for any of these high aspirations to see the light of day.

Darren Sproles – A+
For the past 5-6 years, my favorite non-Eagle has been Darren Sproles.  Now, he’s an Eagle, and he has been everything I dreamed he could be.  The only knock against him is that he has disappeared a bit on offense the past two weeks, but I blame the o-line and gameplan for that more than Sproles himself.  And, in San Fran, he showed that you don’t have gameplan him in to get impact, as he took a punt return to the house.  This guy is amazing.

Chris Polk – C-
“The most important ability is availability.”  Or, as Doogan always says, “health is a skill.”  Polk needs to be healthy.  We could use his change of pace going forward.  But, he has been banged up and unready to play.  His grade is only saved by that huge kick return against Washington.  Other than that, I have been very disappointed that he has not put himself in position to contribute more.

Wide Receivers

Jeremy Maclin – A-
After two games, I was very concerned about the wideouts in general.  But, the past two weeks completely eliminated my concern about our #1.  Maclin seems to be getting comfortable on his knee and is poised to potentially become an elite receiver in this league.  He has been making tough catches and shown that he can take the top off of the defense the way DeSean used to do.  He’s currently 5th in the NFL in receiving yards and poor deep throws by his QB has cost him at least 2 or 3 more big plays or he might be #1.

Riley Cooper – F
As good as Maclin has been, Cooper has been worse.  Honestly, there is no one on this roster in whom I have been more disappointed than Mr. Cooper.  And, I am not trying to pile on here or play hyperbole.  He has been dreadful.  There have been two touchdowns – including on in the Niners game that could have completely changed that game – that were flat-out dropped.  He is not getting open, and he is not making plays.  Remind me again why we think he’s good?  He has been a borderline #4 wideout for all but 10 game s in his career – those 10 games just happened to be the last 10 of 2013.  But, shouldn’t we think that that was the fluke and not the entire rest of his career?  I am very concerned about the #2 wideout position right now.

Jordan Matthews – B+
Matthews has been very good in the slot.  He is still making his way as a rookie WR.  This grade is definitely on a curve because I do not think he has made all that much of an impact, but that is more because (a) he hasn’t gotten the chances (I am hoping that will change going forward) and (b) he is a rookie WR.  Rookie WRs rarely produce right away, but Matthews looks like the exception so far.  I am not ready to say he can be a productive outside receiver yet, but with the struggles of Cooper, we may find out sooner than we otherwise should.

Brad Smith – C+
He hasn’t been asked to do much, but he has been okay when in there.  I still like his versatility and think he is a lot more valuable to this team than he may appear on the surface (not to mention his special teams contributions).

Jeff Maehl – D-
I have no idea why he continues to make this roster.  Is there no one out there that would be an upgrade here?  Honestly…

Tight Ends

Zach Ertz – A-
I know he had a rough homecoming in San Fran, but I am not letting that overshadow what he has meant to this offense in their 3 wins.  There is a real chance that Ertz becomes the backbone of the passing attack for years to come.  He is a special player, who is just about to break out.  His pass-catching ability and perfect fit for this offense even allows me to overlook the fact that he is not a very good blocker at this point in his career.  He is improving in that area, though, and is good enough to keep the defense honest.  This guy is a budding superstar.

Brent Celek – B+
A B+ for a guy with 3 catches in 4 games?  Yes.  First of all, Celek has turned himself into an outstanding blocking tight end.  And, regardless of the numbers, he still has to be respected as a pass-catcher by the defense, which makes him invaluable.  He is not just a blocker when in the game – and, like Maclin, his numbers could look a lot better if the QB had connected on a couple of deep balls.  Celek is still an important piece to this offense and, given the o-line struggles, has done all he can this year to lend a hand.

James Casey – D+
The first Chip Kelly free agent signing has been really disappointing for a year and a half now.  I know he made a huge catch to seal the game against Washington, but that is his only catch this year, and he has shown to not be the blocker we thought he was.  The guy we thought we were getting would fit rather nicely in this offense.  Unfortunately, we never got that guy.  I hope you all enjoyed the James Casey Era because it’s just about over in Philly.

Offensive Line

Jason Peters – A-
There are some “experts” who believe that Peters looks like he has taken a step backwards this year.  I am not sure I agree.  Yes, there haven’t been a ton of those plays where you watch and say “how does a guy that big do THAT?!?”  But, I think that is more because end-runs by McCoy and the bubble screens by the WRs haven’t been as prevalent this year.  To be honest, for a guy like Peters, who has always jumped off the screen because of his incredible plays, to be the steady, consistent guiding force of a beat-up, inexperienced offensive line shows a real maturity and progression to his game.  It is hard to fault the one guy in his rightful position that is seemingly holding this o-line together.

Todd Herremans – B
The point about Peters being the steady force guiding this makeshift line is the reason I gave Herremans such a high grade.  He has not exactly been that great this year, but he has been at least adequate at multiple positions with changing guys all around him.  O-lines crave consistency and familiarity, so for Herremans to play different positions with different guys just about every week and still be rather effective is an indication of how much of a pro he is.

Jason Kelce – B
Before he got hurt, Kelce had an A+. I think he had become the best center in the NFL – and BY FAR the best center for this offense.  Unfortunately, he’s on the shelf.  This offense NEEDS its center.

All Other O-Linemen – C-
I was going to go through them individually, but it is just not worth it because of the lack of time and such.  Andrew Gardner has seen the most action of the “second stringers” and has not been terrible.  David Molk was barely serviceable (and that’s actually generous) as Kelce’s replacement in San Fran.  Dennis Kelly has been okay, but has clearly shown why he is a 6th lineman in this league.  Allen Barbre barely saw the field before being placed on IR.  Same for Evan Mathis, though he’s due back (thank god – because he’s irreplaceable).  And, then there’s Matt Tobin.  The coaching staff loves this guy, and he has all the tools to really make an impact in this offense.  But, he was absolutely DREADFUL in San Fran on Sunday.  Just awful.  It looks like he is going to get another chance even with Lane Johnson coming back, but he can’t give the same performance this week or he might not ever get a third chance.

DEFENSE

D-Linemen

Fletcher Cox – A-
I have been driving the Fletcher Cox bandwagon since he was drafted and have finally been vindicated this year.  Cox has been sensational.  The only reason the grade isn’t higher is because I want to see more sacks on the stat sheet.  But, he has brought some pressure and, more importantly, has been incredible against the run.  He is playing at a borderline All-Pro level and is going to be a stalwart on this defense for years to come.

Cedric Thornton – A
The higher grade does not mean he has outplayed Cox – it’s just been that, compared to expectations, the undrafted free agent, Thornton, may be the most underrated player on this Eagles roster.  Week in and week out, he just puts out stellar performances – taking on blockers, setting an edge, and creating havoc in the middle of the o-lines.  This defense is still built around strength up front, which makes Thornton one of the most important players in green every single week.

Bennie Logan – B
I am going more with what I read and hear than what I see on Logan.  People that know more than me seem to think he has been playing outstanding football in the middle.  Personally, I haven’t seen a lot that has jumped out at me.  But, having only closely watched a 3-4 defense for 21 games now, I fully admit that I might not fully understand the nuances of nose tackle.  Either way, there is no doubt that Logan has filled a very important need in this defense, as he appears to be a certifiable NFL nose – and those are hard to come by.

Vinny Curry – D+
This might be unfair because I am tired of the hype around a guy that is clearly lost against the run.  I was always able to put up with the lack of run stopping ability when he was getting to the QB, but he hasn’t really been doing that either this year.  I love the hometown kid, who grew up dreaming of playing for the Eagles, but I won’t be heartbroken when he’s let go this offseason.  (That said, it wouldn’t shock me in the least if he is the next Derek Burgess and has 17 sacks in Oakland next year or something like that).

Beau Allen – C-
He doesn’t seem to cause much havoc when he’s in there – and it’s hard to miss him with that ridiculous hair.

Brandon Bair – C+
I would be lying if I said that I have noticed all that much of Bair either way.  He seems to be decent on special teams, despite not being the type of guy who plays much “teams.”

Linebackers

DeMeco Ryans – A
It is not necessarily the overall playmaking of Ryans that got him an A in the first quarter.  It is the fact that he is the undisputed leader of this defense and, at 30 years old, has played every single snap (at a grueling position) for a team that leads the league in defensive snaps.  And, this will be the second straight year that he leads the league in snaps played on defense.  If you value “steady’ (which I value VERY HIGHLY), then you love DeMeco Ryans.

Connor Barwin – A-
Am I too high on a defense that has stuggled at times this year?  Just wait…  Anyway, Connor Barwin has been outstanding all year.  I wish he would start putting sacks up on the board, but he is so good at deflecting passes and sniffing out play calls, that it is hard to hold that against him right now.  This has been a very underrated signing for this team, as Barwin comes to play every week – no bells, no whistles – just hard-nosed linebacking.  I love that.

Trent Cole – C-
I hate to pour dirt on one of the best Eagles in a generation, but we need to be honest here.  If Cole isn’t putting up monster sack numbers at OLB, then he is probably really hurting your defense.  He will always be a liability in coverage (through no real fault of his own, considering he lived on this Earth for 30 years without EVER being asked to cover anyone), but so are Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware.  Well, Trent Cole is not causing nearly enough pressure to make up for his lack of coverage skills.  They are stuck with him now because Marcus Smith clearly isn’t ready and Brandon Graham is just a younger, not as good version of Cole (more on these two in a minute), but one of my favorite all-time Eagles is a real liability for the 2014 team.  Shh – let’s keep that rather quiet, though, out of respect for an all-time great.

Brandon Graham – B-
I don’t think Graham will ever be an upgrade to Cole, but at least, when given the chance, he is getting to the QB.  There is no doubt the guy is a bust for where they took him, but at this point in his career, I think he is valuable, and I am glad that no one panicked and cut him loose this offseason.  We will see if he earned himself another contract (probably not), but for now, I am glad to have him.

Mychal Kendricks – A-
This would have been an A+ if he were healthy.  But, he is not.  That said, if Kendricks can at all replicate the first 2.5 games he was out there in the final 12, this defense might actually be one day considered rather good.  It is nice to see a young LB turning in to a star right before our eyes, though.  Get back on the field, Mychal.

Emmanuel Acho – C
I wish he didn’t have to play at all…ever.  But, he hasn’t been terrible.  The Najeh Goode injury looks really big now, as Goode would have been a nice fill-in for Kendricks.  Acho has shown something on special teams, as well, so he has been okay.  It is just a shame that it is such a huge step down from Kendricks to the Acho/Matthews combination.

Casey Matthews – D-
He stinks.  I just hope that this Casey Matthews Experiment ends this year.  Please…

Marcus Smith – D+
He hasn’t gotten a chance to play, but that doesn’t mean that that isn’t his fault.  And, just because the team reached for him as a first-round pick doesn’t excuse the fact that he can’t get on the field.  Someone else would have taken him in the 1st or early 2nd.  I know that he is a bit of a project, and we should wait to fully evaluate the Smith selection, but it is really tough to swallow when your 1st-round pick can’t get on the field (I can’t tell you my reaction every time I see Darqueze Denard make another play for Cincinnati).  All in all, though, I like the fact that he was able to move to ILB in one week and not look totally lost – a little anxious, maybe, but not lost.  Oh well, I guess we should just look at Jordan Matthews as the #1 and Smith as a work-in-process #2.

Cornerbacks

Cary Williams – C-
I have always been a Williams defender.  I actually like his attitude.  I think the “F you” attitude is needed in today’s NFL – particularly at CB.  However, when the “F you” is turned inside (more specifically, at the coach) then you’ve lost me.  But, beside the stupid comment about practice tiring him out (even though he missed that whole week of practice), Williams has not been very good on the field.  In his defense, he is not really a #1 corner.  In NOT his defense, he is paid like one.  I may have actually been kind with this grade.

Bradley Fletcher – D
This season has been a nightmare for Fletcher in coverage.  I considered a flat-out F, but I do like his tackling ability.  And, after years of Asante Samuel and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, I do have a soft spot for corners that are willing to tackle.  Unfortunately, he is paid to cover receivers, and he just can’t do that right now.

Brandon Boykin – B+
I am not jumping on this “Boykin needs to play outside right now” bandwagon.  BUT…I am DEFINITELY on the “Boykin needs to play more snaps” bandwagon.  I don’t care how you get him in the game, but this guy needs to be on the field.  I am not sure he’s a superstar in the making, but I am sure that he has done just about everything he can in his limited action.

Nolan Carroll III – C+
Carroll hasn’t seen much of the field, either, but I kind of put some of that blame on him.  The coaching staff has never said that Carroll isn’t an outside CB, so if they saw anything in practice, they might replace Fletcher on the outside.  So, while the limited action I have seen has been positive with Carroll, I have to believe that he has been less than impressive in practice or he would be on the outside.  Or…maybe that change is coming.

Safeties

Malcolm Jenkins – A
Hard to say anything negative about Malcolm Jenkins.  He has been everything we could have hoped for.  He has come up with timely interceptions (including that return TD for an offense that probably wouldn’t have scored there based on how they were moving the ball).  He has done exactly what they said he would do when they signed him – bring versatility.  He can cover man-to-man, play the single high, or come into the box in run defense.  In fact, that last point is the one that has been most impressive to me.  I didn’t realize he was such a sound tackler.  Jenkins has been terrific.

Nate Allen – D+
I have held out on saying this because I still thought there was hope for Nate Allen.  But, you know what?  I am officially DONE with Allen.  He blows coverages (and not just the obvious one against D-Jax) and gets manhandled at the line of scrimmage.  And, for a free safety, he takes the worst angles I have ever seen.  It is like he thinks he like 10% faster than he actually is…and, bad angles is not exactly a good trait for the last line of defense.  I’m ready to move on.

Earl Wolff – C
I like Wolff.  I know that he is a bit undisciplined, but he hits people, and he is really aggressive going for the ball in the air.  I don’t think he’s ready to replace Allen midseason, but if I were planning the personnel, I would be looking for Wolff to be the starting FS in 2015.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Bryan Braman/Chris Maragos – A+
The biggest improvement for the Eagles from Chip Kelly, Year 1 to Chip Kelly, Year 2 has been – without a doubt – the kick coverage teams.  A lot has to do with the kicker and punter (more on that below), but I think the complete overhaul, which was led by the free agent signings of Braman and Maragos – among others.

Cody Parkey – A
I could have knocked him for the short miss in the Indy game, but he came back and made the game-winner.  And, while the two 51-yarders are nice, the reason I gave Parkey an A is because the Eagles touchback percentage has gone from 40% in 2013 to 60% in 2014.  That 60% is 15th in the league, but doesn’t take into account the fact that 3 of the 4 games were at the Linc or San Fran – two difficult places to kick for distance.  Parkey is booming the ball – and that is a welcome change.

Donnie Jones – B+
This might be a little unfair because he has been really good again this year (particularly in hangtime and placement).  I guess I just downgraded him a bit because he hasn’t been quite as incredible as he was last year (when he was sensational).  Still it is such a luxury to have such a steady, solid, smart punter.

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