Grading the Eagles' 28-23 Week 6 win over the Panthers

Grading the Eagles' 28-23 Week 6 win over the Panthers

QUARTERBACK

Carson Wentz: 16/30, 222 YDS, 3 TD

Wentz is the real deal, plain and simple. Under intense pressure for much of the contest, the second-year quarterback kept his composure and continued to come up big in clutch situations. The Eagles were only 5 for 14 on third-down conversions this week, but it was enough, and Wentz's lone turnover occurred on a strip-sack in the first quarter. The numbers may not look incredible, but he got the job done, guiding his team to victory, on the road, against a quality opponent and defense (see 10 observations).

Grade: A-

RUNNING BACKS

LeGarrette Blount: 14 ATT, 67 YDS

All numbers aside, this group struggled mightily in pass protection, especially Kenjon Barner. Barner wasn't effective with the ball in his hands, either, carrying five times for seven yards and catching one pass for nine yards. Blount was fantastic again, and the case could easily be made he should've touched the ball more. Have to think his limitations in the passing game keep him from being on the field more, although it's not as if somebody else was deserving of those snaps.

Grade: B-

WIDE RECEIVERS

Nelson Agholor: 4 REC, 55 YDS, 1 TD

Agholor is on a roll. He now has four touchdowns this season and really showed his wheels on this one, turning a short reception over the middle into a 24-yard score. Nice night for Alshon Jeffery as well with a team-high 71 yards on four receptions. Rookie Mack Hollins added two catched for 38 yards, and give Marcus Johnson a catch for 16 yards, as the Eagles spread the ball around and got everybody involved.

Grade: B

TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz: 2 REC, 18 YDS, 2 TD

It was a quiet night for Ertz, from the standpoint that he was targeted only five times, but he certainly made the most of the limited opportunities. The Eagles needed their tight ends to block here — not exactly Ertz's strong suit, but nobody is complaining when you score twice. That false start in the fourth quarter sure could've hurt though.

Grade: A-

OFFENSIVE LINE

Halapoulivaati Vaitai: Started at RT

Starting in place of Lane Johnson, Vaitai experienced his share of shaky moments (see breakdown). The backup right tackle had a hand in two sacks, one of which went for a forced fumble. Granted, Wentz likely could've got rid of the ball sooner. Vaitai would eventually settle down, and once he did, the offensive line was fine. The Eagles rushed for 103 yards with a 4.1 average (minus kneeldowns), while Wentz took three sacks and sustained eight quarterback hits — though much of that damage was inflicted early.

Grade: B

DEFENSIVE LINE

Fletcher Cox: 2 TKL, 0.5 SK, 2 QBH, 1 PD

This was one of the most dominant performances against the run that I can recall. Granted, Carolina has struggled in this phase all season, but outside of Cam Newton, they literally could not get anything going on the ground against the Eagles. Panthers running backs carried 13 times for one yard. Unreal performance, and it made the Panthers offense one-dimensional. The front four also registered 2.0 sacks and nine quarterback hits. Cox in particular was a beast making his return from a calf injury, forcing an interception (see story).

Grade: A

LINEBACKERS

Nigel Bradham: 10 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 PD

This was probably Bradham's best game of the season (see story). He prevented Newton from getting out of bounds during a two-minute drill. He held Christian McCaffrey short of the goal line to force a Panthers field goal. He sacrificed his body to make a pivotal third-down stop in the third quarter. The numbers speak for themselves. Jordan Hicks exited the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury but finished with four tackles, while Mychal Kendricks finished with a whopping 15 tackles in extended action.

Grade: A+

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Rasul Douglas, Patrick Robinson Jalen Mills: 1 INT each

Newton completed 28 of 52 passes for a 53.8 completion percentage, 4.6 yards per attempt with one touchdown pass and three interceptions. It should've been four picks, but a ticky-tack pass interference penalty against Jalen Mills wiped it away. Douglas led the way with three pass breakups (see rookie report), but the whole unit was solid in coverage. The longest play from scrimmage for Carolina in either phase was a 20-yard completion.

Grade: A

SPECIAL TEAMS

Jake Elliott: 2/2 FG, 2/2 XP

The Eagles nearly made a rare special teams miscue. Barner got clipped by his own man while attempting to field a punt and muffed it. Fortunately, Robinson was hustling on the play and there to clean up the mess. Otherwise, another strong effort. Elliott was good from 50 and 48 yards, and Donnie Jones averaged 51.0 yards per punt with one inside the opponent's 20. Jones also did a nice job handling a tough snap on Elliott's 50-yard try. Special teams captain Chris Maragos and Hollins both exited the game with injuries in the fourth quarter.

Grade: A-

COACHING

Eagles' record: 5-1

I'm sure you could nitpick all sorts of calls and decisions, but the record speaks for itself. Furthermore, to go down to Charlotte on a short week, with a hostile crowd and officiating crew, and beat a strong Panthers team speaks volumes about the job Doug Pederson is doing right now. They're winning on the road. They're winning close games. They're winning, period. If the season ended today, the Eagles would be the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and it's a credit to Pederson and his staff.

Grade: A+

Eagles Film Review: Jason Kelce is doing work

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Eagles Film Review: Jason Kelce is doing work

Eagles center Jason Kelce might be the most unfairly scrutinized athlete in the city. We’re talking about a player who’s earned trips to the Pro Bowl two of the last three years, yet remains a constant source of fan frustration.

Well, until this season anyway. Kelce appears to be off to his best start since 2013. Through five weeks, he grades second among all NFL centers, according to Pro Football Focus. Gone are lazy complaints about the 295-pound lineman getting pushed around in the trenches, or taking too many costly penalties.

Nobody can argue Kelce isn’t getting the job done right now.

There are a lot of factors behind Kelce’s resurgence. For starters, he was never performing as poorly as the criticism might make you think. The offensive line is also improving as a unit, and the seventh-year veteran is benefiting from a developing rapport with the players to his left and right. It’s his second season in Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s system as well.

All of which has Kelce playing with a high level of confidence that was somewhat lacking in years past. There is perhaps no better example of just how much the guy is “feeling it” right now than on Carson Wentz’s 72-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor in the Eagles’ 34-7 win over the Cardinals on Sunday.

“They brought an all-out blitz there,” Wentz said postgame. “If you guys go back and watch it, Jason Kelce made an unbelievable play. He ended up blocking two guys, so I shouldn’t have had the time to get that one off.”

Wentz challenged us to go back and watch the play, so we did – and couldn’t help but come away impressed.

If you recall the situation, the touchdown came on 3rd and 19. More often than not, defenses will set back and keep the play in front of the sticks. But the Cardinals are trailing 24-7 in the third quarter, and want to force the Eagles to make a mistake, so they are sending a zero blitz.

There are so many rushers coming for Wentz, they aren’t even all in the picture.

Kelce is going against unheralded first-year player Olsen Pierre here, and winning. There’s nothing spectacular about this one-on-one block, but Kelce is holding up at the point of attack and steering his assignment to the outside, leaving Wentz plenty of room to step up.

Make note of No. 41 in white, though. The Eagles only have six blockers for seven rushers, leaving safety Antoine Bethea unaccounted for – and a small crease to the quarterback.

Not on Kelce’s watch. At the last moment, he reaches his arm out and essentially clotheslines Bethea. It’s just enough to slow the blitzer.

Then, Kelce finishes the play, driving Pierre into Bethea. Both defenders wind up on the ground.

It’s not a pretty, clean pocket, but Wentz is great at navigating crowded areas, and he gets off a perfect throw. Everybody did their job here to make this play happens, including Agholor with the catch and run.

Kelce went above and beyond.

Obviously, this is only one play. Are there occasions where Kelce is overpowered at the line of scrimmage, whiffs on a block or is called for a bad penalty? Absolutely. Yet, for the past few seasons, fans only seem to take notice of his mistakes. You can pick anybody apart if you’re only looking for the negatives.

Kelce has a reputation for being a “finesse” player, somebody who’s only good when he gets into space. And when it comes to that aspect of the game, Kelce is the best in the league, hands down. He is perfectly capable of making the “ordinary” play as well though – even the ones that aren’t so ordinary.

Maybe it’s about time people stop throwing Kelce’s name into every trade rumor or debating whether he will be a cap casualty. The Eagles have arguably the best offensive line in football right now, and their center is a big reason why.

Position Breakdowns: How the Eagles stack up against the Panthers

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Position Breakdowns: How the Eagles stack up against the Panthers

The Eagles and Panthers enter their Thursday night showdown with 4-1 records, though it won't quite be like looking in a mirror when they take the field. Though there are some similarities, these two teams are constructed a bit differently -- or at least, have their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Actually, they are kind of the same when you think about it. Big, mobile quarterbacks surrounded by big playmakers at receiver and tight end, a power running game and quality offensive line. Stout defenses up front with questions in the back end. Coaching staffs that are doing some of their best work in the early portion of this season.

Yet, for all their comparisons, the breakdown gives one side or the other a fairly obvious edge at almost every position. Similar makeup, but different strengths and weaknesses. What will it mean when the Eagles and Panthers take the field?

QUARTERBACKS

Carson Wentz appears to be blossoming into the NFL's next elite quarterback, which is great news for the future of the Eagles franchise. Still, Wentz has a ways to go to reach Cam Newton's level. After a shaky start to the season coming off of shoulder surgery, Newton has been red hot the last two weeks, completing 77.4 percent of his passes for 10.8 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and one interception, and running for 44 yards and a score in back-to-back wins. He's only one season removed from earning the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award and leading the Panthers to a Super Bowl. Wentz is on the right track, but he's not quite there yet.

Edge: Panthers

RUNNING BACKS

At this stage of their respective careers, LeGarrette Blount and Jonathan Stewart are very similar backs. They're big, bruising runners, and if either one gets into the open field, look out. Both are their 30s and don't pose much of a threat as receivers, though that's an area the Panthers may own an advantage. Eighth-overall draft pick Christian McCaffrey has proven an immediate weapon in the passing attack, with a team-leading 27 receptions for 237 yards and 1 touchdown. McCaffrey is their Darren Sproles. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Sproles is out for the year.

Edge: Panthers

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

There will be no shortage of massive targets on the field on Thursday night. Zach Ertz (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) is tied for third in the NFL with 32 receptions and seventh with 387 yards -- as a tight end -- and Alshon Jeffery (6-3, 218) is quietly having a nice year for the Eagles with 20 receptions for 246 yards. The Panthers feature Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 245) and Devin Funchess (6-4, 225), who have a combined 41 receptions, 541 yards and 4 touchdowns, although lack much depth behind their top two receivers. Prolific tight end Greg Olsen is on injured reserve, which is a huge blow. With Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor emerging as weapons for the Eagles, the decision is easy.

Edge: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINES

Even if five-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil wasn't out with a neck injury for the Panthers, it would be difficult to give them the nod. The Eagles offensive line has simply looked like one of if not the very best unit in the league the last few weeks. Sure, Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaces Lane Johnson (concussion) at right tackle. Vaitai is also experienced, and the line didn't miss a beat last week when he entered the game. Even acknowledging both sides will be without a key member, the Eagles have done a superior job. Look no further than the rushing stats, where the Birds rank fifth in the NFL, and the Panthers are 19th.

Edge: Eagles

DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVENS

This is going to be difficult to evaluate, as Fletcher Cox is a game-time decision for the Eagles with a calf injury. Cox is one of the most disruptive players in the league, but has missed the last two games. The defensive line has held up fine without him, but has also benefited from going against some bad O-lines. Meanwhile, Carolina's front four sports three players with at least 3.0 sacks -- Mario Addison, Kawann Short and Julius Peppers -- compared to only Brandon Graham for the Eagles. Even if the clubs are even in the trenches, linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis split six Pro Bowl selections between them, not to mention a Defensive Player of the Year award.

Edge: Panthers

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The Eagles have been pleasantly surprised by what they're getting out of Patrick Robinson. Robinson can play the nickel or move outside, and currently grades as one of the best cornerbacks in the league, while Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas are doing fine. The Panthers are getting nice work from second-year corner James Bradberry, but the rest of the secondary is suspect, especially with Kur Coleman out (knee). The safeties are the difference. Even with Coleman, Carolina is susceptible to the deep ball. The Eagles have Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod patrolling that area of the field, which is a comforting feeling.

Edge: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

There's no other way to say this: the Eagles special teams units have been incredible the past couple weeks. Field goals, punts, returns, coverage, you name it -- they have completed dominated the competition in every phase. On paper, they should do the same to Carolina as well.

Distinct edge: Eagles

COACHING

You have to hand it to Ron Rivera. The Panthers have been tough every year since they've been there, never winning fewer than six games in his first six season. They have four victories already, and are on pace for for their fourth playoff appearance in five years. There was some changeover on Rivera's staff with Doug McDermott leaving for Buffalo, but Mike Shula remains the offensive coordinator. Doug Pederson has been getting in a groove the last few weeks with the Eagles, but simply doesn't have the experience of Carolina's staff, while most probably wouldn't take defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz over Rivera in that role.

Slight edge: Panthers

OVERALL

Two evenly matched teams, both with some fairly distinct advantages in different areas. That makes it really tough to predict a winner. However, the Panthers may hold the upper hand in the two most important categories: quarterback and coaching. Wentz and Pederson may one day be on the level of Newton and Rivera -- that day may even come Thursday night. Right now, it's clear which is the more experienced, more decorated combination. If the Eagles are going to come out of Carolina with a win this week, Wentz will have to play to Newton's level, and Pederson must match Rivera and his staff call for call. That's going to be easier said than done.

Slight edge: Panthers