Eagles Week 16 PFF Grades: Milton Williams leads the way defensively; DeVonta Smith and AJ Brown dominate Dallas’ secondary
In a game that came down to the final play, the Philadelphia Eagles fell just short of the Dallas Cowboys on Christmas Eve, losing 40-34.
With backup QB Gardner Minshew under center, the Eagles offense didn’t miss a beat, racking up 442 yards of total offense. Minshew went 24-for-40 (60 percent) while scoring three total touchdowns. The aerial assault was at full throttle on Saturday, but the Eagles rushing attack wasn’t nearly as potent without Jalen Hurts running the show. Philadelphia totaled just 87 yards on 29 attempt (three yards per carry).
Still, the Eagles moved the ball effectively all day. Their downfall was losing the turnover battle. Philly turned it over four times on the day and gave up 20 points on those turnovers. It’s the most points this team has allowed off turnovers all season and it ultimately led to their second loss of the year.
As we do every week, let’s dive into Pro Football Focus‘ grade sheet.
DeVonta Smith, AJ Brown, and Lane Johnson lead the way offensively
DeVonta Smith and AJ Brown cemented their status as one of the best wide receiver duos in the game in Week 16. The pass catching tandem combined for 14 receptions for 216 yards and two touchdowns. In the process, they became the first WR duo in franchise history to both eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in a single season.
Smith sits atop the Eagles grading chart, posting a 90.1 offensive mark for the game. He was unguardable for much of the contest, hauling in spectacular catch after spectacular catch.
Smith finished the game with eight catches, 113 yards, and a pair of touchdowns. He might technically be the WR2 in this offense, but he plays like a bonafide No. 1 wide receiver.
Brown was right behind Smith in PFF’s grading, ending the day with a 79.8 offensive grade. He got things started for the Eagles offense on the opening drive, hauling in a 48-yard reception to set up the Birds’ first score of the day.
When it was all said and done, Brown totaled six receptions for 103 yards.
Despite playing with a backup quarterback, this WR duo still managed to dominate their competition. Truly impressive.
Rounding out the top-three for the Eagles offense is Lane Johnson, who once again did a marvelous job containing Defensive Player of the Year candidate Micah Parsons. The Pro Bowl RT finished the game with a 78.6 offensive grade, along with an 85.0 pass blocking mark.
The Eagles offensive line as a whole rose to the occasion on Saturday. They didn’t allow a single sack or quarterback hit on the evening. For Johnson, it was his 28th consecutive game without surrendering a sack. He continues to prove himself as one of the elite pass protectors in the game week in and week out.
Along with the top-three highest graded players on the Eagles offense, Gardner Minshew, Jason Kelce, and Isaac Seumalo all graded out at 70.0 or higher.
Quez Watkins’ struggles as the WR3 were on full display
Quez Watkins hasn’t had a terrible season in 2022. Sure, his numbers have dipped a bit but that’s to be expected when he’s surrounded by top-tier playmakers. Despite having TE Dallas Goedert back in the lineup against Dallas, Shane Steichen still tried to get Watkins involved as much as possible and the results were less than ideal.
The third-year wideout was targeted five times and only managed to haul in one of them for a catch. Both of Minshew’s interceptions also came when he targeted Watkins. The second INT, in particular, was clearly catchable.
Watkins finished the game with an offensive grade of 57.3, the lowest mark of any starter on the Eagles offense. For the year, Watkins sits at 56.3, good for 108th among 118 qualifying wideouts. If that 56.3 overall grade holds, it will be the worst single-season grade Watkins has earned in his career.
I like Watkins as a player. His skill set as a deep threat will always be valuable in an offense that showcases top-tier possession receivers like Brown and Smith. But having him as the primary target on these quick hitting slant patterns is just silly.
The Eagles have at least three guys who are more viable on these types of plays. You could even argue that Zach Pascal belongs in that conversation.
There will be fans calling for Watkins’ job all week. While he absolutely should have hauled in more than just one receptions on his five targets, it’s up to Steichen and Nick Sirianni to put their speedy wideout in more favorable situations that utilize his skill set more effectively.
PFF grades for the entire Eagles offense
Milton Williams, TJ Edwards, and Linval Joseph lead the way defensively
Despite only playing 13 defensive snaps, Milton Williams was a menace on Saturday. He finished the game with three tackles, one tackle for loss, and an elite 92.2 defensive grade.
His 93.3 run defensive grade led all Eagles defenders in Week 16.
As a unit, the Eagles defense did a great job containing Dallas’ rushing attack. They surrendered 115 yards on 31 attempts (3.7 YPC). Pro Bowl back Tony Pollard couldn’t get anything going, rushing nine times for just 19 yards on the day.
Linebacker TJ Edwards led the charge against Dallas’ potent running game, racking up a team-high 14 combined tackles and five defensive stops (a PFF metric that categorizes tackles that constitute a ‘failure’ for the offense). Edwards finished the game with an overall grade of 75.5 and a run defense grade of 85.1.
Edwards is a one-man wrecking ball at the linebacker position and he’s still one of the most overlooked backers in the game today. His overall grade for the season sits at 86.4, good for second among 83 qualifying backers. Bobby Wagner is the only linebacker who has a higher grade.
Coming in at No. 3 on the Eagles grade sheet is Linval Joseph, another player who was instrumental in the Eagles run defense Saturday night.
Joseph finished the game with an overall mark of 73.8 and a run defense grade of 73.5. His four defensive stops were the second-most of anyone on the Eagles defense right behind Edwards.
Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick were the only other Eagles defenders who posted grades higher than 70.0.
The absence of CJ Gardner-Johnson is starting to become glaring
The safety position on Jonathan Gannon’s defense was expected to be the weakest link coming into the 2022 campaign. And for the most part, the Eagles safety group has held their own. On Saturday, the script was flipped.
They were a complete liability for Gannon’s group against Dallas and played a huge role in Dak Prescott’s wildly productive afternoon. Reed Blankenship (44.2) and Marcus Epps (49.7) were the lowest graded starters on the Eagles defense. Third safety K’Von Wallace didn’t fare much better, ending the game with an overall mark of 46.7.
Blankenship and Epps were targeted six times in coverage and they allowed receptions on each of those targets. In total, the safety duo combined to allow six receptions for 99 yards and one touchdown.
Prescott and Co. exploited the Eagles safeties early and often and there wasn’t anything Gannon could’ve done about it.
If anything, it highlights just how important CJ Gardner-Johnson is to this defense. He hasn’t suited up since Week 12 against Green Bay, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be back in the lineup until the postseason gets underway.
There were a handful of plays that CGJ would have made on Saturday. This 3rd and 30 play immediately comes to mind.
I still like the potential that Blankenship brings and Epps is still a solid safety when used properly. This was just a “come back down to Earth” game for the Eagles safety group. Luckily, CGJ should be good to go when the games truly matter.
PFF grades for the entire Eagles defense
Mandatory Credit: Fox News