I don’t mind national writers being critical of the Eagles. I just don’t think they do a very good job of it. So, I’ll do it for them. Here is a negative outlook on things.
* * *
In 10 days, Eagles rookies will report for Training Camp. Optimism is high. New coach Chip Kelly brought enthusiasm and excitement to an organization that had grown stale. Free agency and the draft went well. The Eagles added some talented pieces. Life is good.
All that will change when Training Camp gets underway. Optimism will get a Deacon Jones head slap from harsh reality. While the team’s QB competition will make for great media fodder and fan discussion, it doesn’t make for good football. Mike Vick is on the downside of his career. He had a chance to force the Eagles to cut him so he could hit the open market. Instead, Vick chose to re-do his deal for average money and to compete with a couple of young QBs. Nick Foles went 1-5 as a starter in 2012 and lacks special physical skills. Matt Barkley had a disappointing Senior season at USC and the team went just 7-4 in his starts. You can argue that the focus shouldn’t be who will be the choice at QB, but rather…are there any good choices at QB? Just because there will be a winner of the competition doesn’t mean he will win games.
LeSean McCoy got his huge payday last summer and delivered a whopping 2 rushing TDs. He’s had some questionable off-field issues since then and it is fair to wonder if the big contract has brought out the worst in him. His backup is Bryce Brown. The whole world got caught up in his amazing first couple of starts since Brown posted freakish numbers. Unfortunately those teams had severely banged up defenses and Brown came back to Earth very quickly after that. He was a fumbling machine and that’s a major issue for the new coaches to try to fix.
Whoever wins the QB battle will have plenty of good targets to throw the ball to. The Eagles have several talented receivers and tight ends. The question is how they fit in the Chip Kelly offense. Kelly says wide receivers must block to play for him. DeSean Jackson lacks the size to be a good blocker. Jeremy Maclin just doesn’t seem very interested in it. There are big receivers in Riley Cooper, Arrelious Benn and Ifeanyi Momah. Forget big…are any of them good? Tight end should be a strength. That group is talented, deep and versatile.
Injuries ruined the O-line in 2012, but the group should be much better this year. Jason Peters looks all the way back at LT. Evan Mathis has become one of the best LGs in the league. That side of the line should be outstanding. Things are more iffy beyond that. Center Jason Kelce is coming off a torn ACL. His game is based on athleticism, but that might be affected by the injury. How effective will a less athletic Jason Kelce be? Todd Herremans moves to RG, a position he hasn’t played. Rookie Lane Johnson takes over at RT. He’s got all the talent in the world, but don’t forget that just a few years ago he was a bad junior college QB. The change on the right side of the line takes on extra importance if Vick is the QB. That would be his blindside.
The Eagles were 15th in the NFL in yards last year. Even with awful blocking and erratic QB play, the team could move the ball. There were 2 huge problems. Turnovers killed the team and Red Zone struggles were almost as bad. Kelly will focus on fixing these areas. Still, it is fair to question how well he will solve them since a veteran coach like Andy Reid wasn’t able to do it.
Trying to get a read on the Eagles defense is hard. Over the course of the final 10 games in 2012. the defense was awful. Not just bad, but truly awful. They got immediately better when Kelly hired Bill Davis, a man without a sterling track record. He is the team’s first real defensive coordinator since Sean McDermott was fired in January of 2011. The fact that Davis improves things should tell you just how bad the situation was.
Davis and Kelly don’t want to commit to a scheme. They will mix the 4-3, 3-4 and some hybrid looks. That sounds great in theory, but it is fair to raise the question…if the Eagles struggled to do one thing (the 4-3) well the last couple of years, how are they going to master a variety of looks and fronts?
There is talent in the front seven, but the Eagles lack a stud player that teams must gameplan around. Fletcher Cox might emerge in that role this year, but he’s going to be adjusting to a new position and there is no guarantee that he’ll make that leap. Trent Cole is coming off his worst season in the NFL and is moving to OLB. It is hard to get optimistic about that. Connor Barwin could be a good SAM, but he struggled to get to the QB last year. It’s hard to think that will change since he’s now playing in a tougher division.
Depth at linebacker is a concern. We don’t know what will happen if DeMeco Ryans gets hurt, but I can tell you that the answer isn’t good. Barwin might be the most irreplaceable of the Eagles. Do you want Cole or Brandon Graham dealing with TEs in coverage?
The Eagles defense was 29th in points allowed last year. They only had 30 sacks and 8 INTs all year long. This is a far cry from the Buddy Ryan days when the defense might produce 60 sacks and 25 INTs.
There are going to be 3 new starters in the secondary. Unless Kenny Phillips beats out Nate Allen. Then we will have an entirely new set of starting DBs. What could go wrong there? The secondary will be a better group of players in 2013, but with so many new faces there will be some problems. DBs must be cohesive. They must communicate and work well together in order to pull off complex coverages successfully. There is no doubt the secondary will be tougher in 2013, but there are likely to be some coverage mistakes as the players get used to each other and the new system.
The 2013 Eagles have too much talent to be considered a bad team, but they don’t have enough talent to be considered a top-notch group. It really feels like this team’s success will be determined by the QB and coach. That could turn out to be a good thing, but could also prove to be a major issue.
The old saying in football is that if you have 2 QBs you have no QBs, meaning that if it isn’t clear who your best player is that you don’t have a good QB. The Eagles have 3 QBs. I don’t know what that means, but it isn’t good. Can one of these guys emerge and prove to be an effective starter? That’s what Kelly needs for the Eagles to be a winning team.
As for Kelly, he is a huge question mark. He has never played or coached in the NFL. Think about his competition. Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin have each won a pair of Super Bowls. Jason Garrett played on Super Bowl teams. These men know the NFL and what it is like to be part of a championship team. Kelly built Oregon into a dominant program, but he wasn’t coaching against men that were on the same level as him (or smarter). How will Kelly adjust to this?
There is no question that the changes he has made so far are bringing some excitement to the organization, but the novelty will wear off soon enough and Kelly’s ideas will be judged on their merit. Andy Reid started 0-4. Ray Rhodes started 1-3. If Kelly gets off to a similar start, expect to start hearing some sniping from the locker room, mostly from players who Kelly has benched or taken playing time away from. College football coaches can be dictators. NFL coaches have to get along with their players due to salaries, signing bonuses and the salary cap.
Things got away from Reid at the end of his time in Philly. It was time for a change. Any new coach was going to offer short term improvement, but Kelly must prove during the season that he’s cut out for the NFL and is the right coach to lead 53 men on the quest for a Super Bowl.
The 2013 Eagles could go from worst to first,but you sure wouldn’t want to bet on that. Just too many questions.