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Eagles score high grades in NFC Championship Game

Eagles score high grades in NFC Championship Game

Grading the Eagles' 38-7 win Sunday night over the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field to advance to Super Bowl LII (see breakdown):

QUARTERBACK
Nick Foles: 26/33, 352 YDS, 3 TD

From the Eagles' opening snap, Foles looked sharp, picking up right where he left off last week. Yet, even the way he was slinging the football on those first few possessions, I doubt anybody envisioned this performance coming. Foles completed 78.8 percent of his passes, averaged 10.8 yards per attempt and connected on touchdown passes of 53, 41 and five yards — against the No. 1 defense in the NFL. He moved well in the pocket but stood tough when called upon to do so. Most importantly, no turnovers and just one sack. This was the finest moment of Foles' career, which is truly saying something for a guy who set multiple franchise and NFL records in 2013.

Grade: A+

RUNNING BACK
Jay Ajayi: 18 ATT, 73 YDS, 3 REC, 26 YDS

Though Ajayi got the bulk of the word, LeGarrette Blount had the play of the game. Blount would not be denied on his 11-yard touchdown in the first quarter, barreling over and through Vikings defenders on his way across the goal line. It was exactly the kind of hardnosed postseason mudding the Eagles envisioned when they signed the two-time Super Bowl champion, even if he only finished with 21 yards on six carries. Ajayi was having a mediocre game, but picked it up on the Eagles' final possession and did his part to help put Minnesota on ice.

Grade: A-

WIDE RECEIVERS
Alshon Jeffery: 5 REC, 85 YDS, 2 TD

Torrey Smith was seen apologizing to Foles after dropping what should've been a 50-yard pass on the Eagles' second play from scrimmage. Smith did a bit better than "I'm sorry" in the third quarter, making a tough 41-yard grab at the pylon to complete a 41-yard flea flicker. That wasn't even the longest play by a receiver, falling short of Jeffery's 53-yard score in the second quarter. The play fell apart, so Jeffery broke off his route and headed for the end zone. All told, Jeffery, Smith and Nelson Agholor combined for 13 receptions, 213 yards and three touchdowns. Flat out dominant against the league's No. 2 pass defense.

Grade: A+

TIGHT ENDS
Zach Ertz: 8 REC, 93 YDS

It became clear early the Vikings had no answer for Ertz. The Pro Bowl tight end hauled in all eight targets that came his way, leading the Eagles in both receptions and receiving yards. Brent Celek and Trey Burton weren't as productive with their opportunities, combining for one 12-yard catch on three targets, but no matter. Ertz was a monster.

Grade: A

OFFENSIVE LINE
Credit Jeffery for turning his route up the field and catching the ball (see Roob's observations). Credit Foles for hanging in the pocket and delivering a perfect pass. But make sure you credit the offensive line as well for giving Foles' 53-yard touchdown to Jeffery time to develop. That pretty much personified the unit's performance. The quarterback was only hit five times and sacked once. The Eagles weren't nearly as strong on the ground, averaging a modest 3.7 yards per carry. Regardless, the run blocking wasn't exactly ineffective, either, not to mention that really seems like nitpicking.

Grade: A

DEFENSIVE LINE
Chris Long: 2 TKL, 2 QBH, 2 PD, 1 FR

Long has been good all season, but it was as if he took a dip in the Fountain of Youth right before this game. The 10th-year veteran caused a momentum-altering interception with one of his two quarterback hits, then fell on the fumble forced by fellow defensive end Derek Barnett's strip sack, both plays in the first half. Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry each got two pressures on the signal caller as well, as the D-line made throwing down the field next to impossible for the Vikings. Minnesota ball carriers averaged a respectable 3.9 yards per carry, but it wasn't enough to influence the game in any meaningful way.

Grade: A

LINEBACKERS
Mychal Kendricks: 8 TKL

Ugly start for this unit. The Vikings' offense went right down the field on the game's opening drive, largely at the expense of Najee Goode. Playing for the injured Dannell Ellerbe, Goode was torched for 25-yard touchdown pass amid some confusion, and generally looked in over his head. Goode was on the field less as the game progressed, while it seemed at times there were two of Kendricks, who led the team in tackles. After a quiet first half, Nigel Bradham picked up his play as well, finishing with four tackles. No major complaints are given the outcome.

Grade: B

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Ronald Darby: 7 TKL, 3 PD

Who knows the way this game may have transpired were it not for Patrick Robinson's interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter. Robinson took the woefully underthrown pass forced by Long, weaved across the field and outraced the Vikings' offense for a 50-yard score. Darby threw a key block on the return and later forced another turnover, one of his three pass breakups deflecting into the hands of Corey Graham. The Eagles' secondary was active and physical, as Minnesota completed just 58.3 percent of pass attempts for 5.6 yards per attempt.

Grade: A

SPECIAL TEAMS
Donnie Jones: 43.3 AVG, 3 IN20

Little of note from special teams. All three of Jones' punts pinned the Vikings' offense inside their own 20-yard line. Jake Elliott was perfect on one 38-yard field goal and five extra points, and all six kickoffs went for touchbacks. Kenjon Barner returned one punt for 10 yards. It was exactly what it needed to be.

Grade: B+

COACHING
Eagles' record: 15-3

Absolutely masterful job by the Eagles' coaching staff on both sides of the football. Doug Pederson's play-calling was brilliant from start to finish, keeping the Vikings' No. 1 defense completely off balance. Jim Schwartz's defense recovered after an opening march 75 yards on nine plays for paydirt — it was the last time Minnesota would score. This was the No. 2 seed in the NFC, a team with 14 wins, including playoffs and the Eagles, went right through them like it was nothing. Amazing job and an amazing season overall by Pederson and Schwartz.

Grade: A+

Eagles releasing Mychal Kendricks the right thing to do

Eagles releasing Mychal Kendricks the right thing to do

For the past two years, the Eagles kept Mychal Kendricks in a state of limbo. It was about time the team set him free.

The Eagles didn’t release Kendricks on Tuesday simply because it was “the right thing to do” — if there was such a thing in this instance. They did it because the move will save $6 million against the salary cap in 2018. They did it because Corey Nelson is a cheaper alternative. They did it because Kendricks isn’t an ideal fit for Jim Schwartz’s scheme. They did it because, evidently, they couldn’t find a trade partner.

In short, the Eagles released Kendricks because the 27-year-old linebacker wasn’t worth $16-plus million over the next two seasons. That really should be enough.

It was also about time the Eagles put Kendricks out of his misery. He made no secret about being unhappy with his reduced role since Schwartz became defensive coordinator, asking the team to either cut him or move him last offseason. The subject of trade rumors annually since 2015, Kendricks probably hadn’t felt comfortable about his standing with the organization for quite awhile.

At what point are the Eagles holding him hostage?

Good thing the club didn’t oblige Kendricks’ request last year, as he wound up filling in for the injured Jordan Hicks and playing a pivotal part in the Eagles’ Super Bowl run. Some see that as evidence the team made a mistake in letting a six-year veteran with 78 career NFL starts to walk away for nothing.

While it’s true Kendricks came up big in 2017, he wasn’t exactly an impact player for the Eagles, finishing the season with four tackles for loss and two sacks in 18 games, including playoffs. He hasn’t forced a fumble since 2015. He hasn’t recorded an interception since 2013. And rushing the passer, arguably his greatest strength, goes almost completely unutilized in Schwartz’s scheme, which sent Kendricks after opposing quarterbacks just eight times all year, according to Pro Football Focus.

Numbers may not do Kendricks’ campaign justice, but typically more would be expected of somebody who was set to carry a $7.6 million cap figure into ’18.

The Eagles also feel they are in better shape now in terms of depth at the position (see story).

Kendricks’ days appeared to be numbered the moment the club signed Nelson and the free-agent addition declared he would compete for the starting weakside linebacker job. It’s unclear whether the Eagles are putting too much faith in the former Denver Broncos reserve and the host of linebacker prospects already on the roster. Regardless, the team likes its options.

So why force Kendricks to stick around? From the team’s standpoint, it was a lot of money for the level of production, for not being a great scheme fit and given his impending return to the bench. The Eagles were wise to keep him around for one more year, but with other arrangements since made, moving on now doesn’t sting as much.

The fact Kendricks was anything less than thrilled to be back only makes it easier. After handling his displeasure like a pro last season, then helping the Eagles win their first Super Bowl championship, granting his release seems like the least the team could do.

Joel Embiid takes shot at Aron Baynes on Twitter

Joel Embiid takes shot at Aron Baynes on Twitter

With the Sixers eliminated, Joel Embiid was asked at his end-of-the-season press conference if he had a prediction for which remaining team would win the NBA championship.

His response was short and simple.

"Nah," he said, "I don't care."

However, Embiid looks like he's still keeping some tabs on the NBA postseason.

And, watching from afar, he's apparently not too impressed with Aron Baynes.

If you recall, during the Eastern Conference semifinals series in which the Sixers fell to the Celtics in five games, Embiid and Baynes had their moments.

Lots of physicality. A few minor scuffles. And this monster dunk by Embiid.

That's probably what the Sixers' big man was referring to when he tweeted Monday night during Game 4 of the Cavaliers-Celtics series.

Could this play have prompted the tweet?

Baynes probably isn't focused on Embiid or Twitter right now in the heat of the Eastern Conference Finals, but maybe he'll be asked about the tweet during media availability sessions before the series goes to Game 5 Wednesday.

The 31-year-old from New Zealand, a role player not known for tons of offense but with a championship ring, can become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. We'll have to see where he plays next season, but let's hope some matchups with Embiid are in the near future.