By: Scott Brock-Wilson
The NFC East could turn out many different ways this year, but this is why the Eagles will come out atop the division.
The Eagles ended last season 10-6, but were disappointed watching the playoffs on their couches at home. In Chip Kelly’s second season at the helm, the Eagles finished with the exact same record as his first, despite losing several key players, including their former #1 WR in Desean Jackson. Similar to last year, they lost many key offensive players this offseason that helped lead them to the 5th ranked offense in terms of yardage and the 3rd ranked offense when it came to points. Philadelphia lost their best player at each skill position; they lost QB Nick Foles, RB Lesean McCoy, and top WR Jeremy Maclin.
Many would say they will not be able to continue their success with all of those pieces on different teams this year, but let’s take Nick Foles to start. Last year, he started eight games and finished with a 13-10 touchdown to interception ratio, far from the 27-2 mark from a year before, which many consider a fluke. In fact, before I even get into Bradford vs. Foles argument, let me just say that Mark Sanchez put up almost identical numbers as Foles last year in the exact same amount of games started. Sanchez finished the season with a 14-11 TD to INT ratio and a 58 QBR, which is similar to Foles’ QBR of 62. Both QB’s were middle of the pack QB’s last year.
Now, getting to Bradford, I know he has not played in a year and a half, but in 2013, in just seven games, Bradford posted a TD-INT ratio of 14-4 before getting injured. Taking their last season played, Bradford has the highest passer rating (105) of the three QBs while Foles posted the worst (92). Bradford did this all with inferior offensive weapons around him. Can you guess the Rams best WR in 2013? Chris Givens. Givens led all WRs on the Rams in receiving yards and had zero touchdowns; however, Jared Cook did have 671 receiving yards as the team leader. Bradford has yet to play with a good team, but has the potential to succeed. In the QB-friendly, offensive scheme that has gotten the best out of both Foles and Sanchez, Bradford can put up big numbers, provided he stays healthy.
To compensate for the loss of their Pro Bowl RB McCoy, the Eagles added Ryan Matthews and last year’s leading rusher DeMarco Murray. Murray will certainly not replicate what he was able to do last year as he is no longer behind the best offensive line in football, but that does not mean he will disappear. Philly’s offensive line is considered among the top five in the league, and provided Murray can stay healthy, he could put up big numbers yet again. Matthews will have a role independent of Murray, but also provides the Eagles with a quality starting running back if Murray were to get hurt. Philly has a deadly three-headed monster at running back that will be difficult to matchup against when you add in Darren Sproles.
The Eagles offensive line struggled last year after arguably being the best in 2013. In 2013 the starting 5 offensive linemen - Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, and Lane Johnson - started all 16 games together. In 2014, the Eagles used seven different offensive line combinations throughout the season due to several injuries and even Johnson’s suspension. Both guards, Mathis and Herremans, are no longer with the team. The Eagles O-line will have to rely on inexperienced Guard play from the likes of Allen Barbre, with eight career starts in seven years, and Matt Tobin with seven career starts, all of which came last year. The O-line will be anchored by Peters, as always, and will be one of the top units in the league.
The talented backfield will help aid in compensating for the loss of Jeremy Maclin, but the man expected to fill Maclin’s hole will be 2nd year WR Jordan Matthews. After the Eagles bye in week seven, over the last 10 games of the season, Matthews had 44 receptions, 646 yards and six touchdowns. He was featured much more in the offense averaging nearly seven targets a game over that same stretch. The Eagles also added Nelson Agholor through the draft, who can be a solid number two WR opposite from Matthews. As a safety option for which QB is playing, Philly also has two sure-handed tight ends in Zach Ertz and Brent Celek.
The Philadelphia Offense does have a couple questions, but it is safe to say that their offense will continue to be in the top 10 of the league. With Kelly guiding their talent, even if they do encounter some injury issues, I believe their offense will prevail.
The reason the Eagles missed out on the playoffs last year was due to their defensive struggles. They finished 22nd in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed. Philly had an atrocious secondary that let up the second most passing yards per game (264.9) only ahead of Atlanta.
The core of the Eagles defense lies in their linebacking core. And this core was weakened last year as DeMeco Ryans, their Middle Linebacker and anchor of the defense, tore his achilles halfway through the season. Their big offseason trade involving McCoy landed the Eagles Kiko Alonso (25) from Buffalo. He will be a key part of the linebacking core to go along with not only Ryans, but also Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin, and Brandon Graham, former DROY, off of the bench. Their linebackers will have have expectations leading the defense.
Their secondary was the main concern though, and it will continue to be this season. Today’s NFL is a passing league and therefore a team has to be able to stop the pass if it wants to win. The Eagles decided to go out and get one of the best CB’s in free agency, Byron Maxwell. Maxwell has always played second fiddle to Richard Sherman in Seattle and has yet to prove that he can be the main guy. This year he will have to prove he is capable of being that player in the secondary, and that he is worth all of the money (6yr/$63 million dollars, 5th highest among all cornerbacks) the Eagles gave him. Ideally for the Eagles, Maxwell will be a lockdown corner that can take out the opposing teams number one WR.
Who is the next best player in the Eagles secondary? Malcolm Jenkins. That is not a good answer if you are an Eagles fan. Yes, the rest of the secondary still needs work, but the Eagles will try to rely on young guys like Eric Rowe, a rookie from Utah, as well as players like Walter Thurmond, who is only 28 and has potential that has yet to be reached.
The Eagles are in a division that could turn out many ways. It seems that the Dallas Cowboys are the popular pick, yet both the Eagles and the New York Giants could find themselves in the mix for the division title. Now, the Cowboys didn’t necessarily improve this offseason, and it is possible that they take a tiny step back this year after losing Murray. Even though they were able to re-sign many players that were instrumental in their success and sign former Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, it will be hard for the Cowboys to repeat their success from last year.
Let’s breakdown the Eagles schedule. I am willing to assume they win three of four from the NFC South and split one game each with both the Giants and the Cowboys. Continuing on, it is likely they will split two and two with the AFC East, but can sweep the Redskins. Now they play two difficult opponents for their other two games, the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals, but they will probably win one of those. That rundown of the schedule leave the Eagles finishing with a 10-6 record for the third straight season. I would guess that they steal a game and end up 11-5. Now, Dallas plays most of the same teams, except instead of Detroit and Arizona, the Cowboys have to play Seattle and Green Bay. And it seems as though the Cowboys always have a disappointing loss to the Washington Redskins.
The Eagles can and will win the NFC East and make the playoffs in Chip Kelly’s third season as head coach.