The Eagles are at the halfway point of the season. Let’s look at how things have gone so far.
The team is 3-5. I was projecting the Eagles to win 8 or 9 games (based on a weak division and last place schedule) so the record is a bit off the pace I expected. Part of this is on the Eagles, but part is also on the AFC West being a juggernaut division. Heading into the season, it looked to be one of the worst in the league. You can argue it’s the best.
There are real signs of life with the Eagles. The offense was rolling prior to the Dallas game. The defense has improved over the course of the season. There are times when the team looks really good.
The problem is that the team also looks like a mess at times.
The frenetic offensive pace hasn’t been used as much as we expected. The Red Zone is still a problem on offense. The defense isn’t rushing the passer nearly as well as hoped.
I do think the Eagles feel more like a team this year. The past 2 seasons were an odd mixture of Reid’s guys, rookies and new guys. That meant a dysfunctional locker room and a team that felt more like a group of individuals than an actual team. It doesn’t feel like there are nearly as many agendas this time around.
Chip Kelly has had some ups and downs. It would take entirely too long to cover him thoroughly right now. I also think it will help to see him for a full season to figure out how his mind works. You can’t judge his decisions by the same standard you did Andy Reid’s and Ray Rhodes’ decision. Those guys were traditional NFL coaches. Kelly is an outsider who comes at things a bit differently.
I don’t have any insight on Pat Shurmur.
Bill Davis looks a lot smarter right now than he did after the Denver game. I still don’t like the 3-4, but Davis is growing on me.
Dave Fipp did a great job for the first 2 weeks. Things have been shakier since then. I have no idea what happened. Ol’ Crazy Eyes has the unit playing better than last year, but they still need to get a lot better.
So who thought all 3 QBs would have thrown 45 or more passes by midseason? Injuries and performance have been issues for the QBs this season.
Michael Vick played well in the first couple of games. It seems he then suffered a groin injury that went unreported. Look at his numbers and you see a dramatic drop-off. The competition played a part in that, but I fully believe injuries had some impact as well. Nothing dramatic happened, but Vick’s play can be affected by an injury. He’s special when he’s able to use his athleticism. Take that away or slow it down and you get a different player.
Nick Foles looked good as a backup vs Denver and the Giants. He then was excellent as a starter down in Tampa. A major QB controversy was brewing. And then Foles had a disastrous showing vs Dallas. We won’t know what to make of that until we see Foles play this weekend and possibly more this season. Anomaly or not?
Foles has shown improvement from last year. He has thrown the ball better down the field, although he still needs to get better. He was good in the Red Zone prior to Dallas. Foles has about a third of the pass attempts from last year, but has the same amount of TDs (6) and no INTs (5 last year). Foles has 3 passes that have gone for 40 or more yards. Last year he had just 2. He is a better player. We just don’t know how good he is or what role he projects to in the future.
Matt Barkley looks like a rookie. He certainly doesn’t wow you physically, but he has moved the team well at times. The big issue for him right now is turnovers. He’s got 4 INTs and a lost fumble in less than a full game. Not good. It would help to see him enter a game when he wasn’t trailing by at least 12 points.
LeSean McCoy is the leading rusher in the NFL. He’s struggled some in recent weeks. There are a mixture of factors at work. To me, the biggest key is that defenses don’t fear the QBs as runners or passers. Defenses can load the box and focus on McCoy.
McCoy is adjusting to life under Chip Kelly. Sheil Kapadia wrote a good piece on that.
Bryce Brown has been a major disappointment. He has 38 carries for 98 yards. His long run is 9 yards. My guess is that Brown is having trouble adjusting to Kelly’s offense. Brown was an I-formation runner in college and played in more of a typical pro style system last year. Kelly’s offense is completely new to him. The good news…fumbling hasn’t been an issue.
Chris Polk has played well on STs and has done well in limited touches (5-36-1). He did miss a game with an injury.
I expected the backup RBs to get more carries. The Eagles haven’t had many leads to work with so that’s limited touches for the other runners. I also think Brown’s struggles have made the coaches hesitant to use him more.
DeSean Jackson is playing the best football of his career. He’s able to use his speed to stretch the defense, but is also able to catch short passes and work the middle of the field. He’s on pace for career highs in catches, yards and TDs. The huge plays aren’t there as much, but that is more due to scheme/QB play than Jackson. I also think he’s done a good job as a blocker.
Riley Cooper is the other primary WR. He started very slow, but then came alive with Nick Foles in the lineup. Cooper is a tough subject. He hasn’t been as good as I had hoped back in the spring, but he’s been better than I thought he might after the whole concert incident. That seems completely forgotten, by teammates, opponents and the media. Cooper hasn’t made anyone forget Jeremy Maclin, that’s for sure. He is a good blocker and has had some good moments, but clearly he’s not meant to be a starting WR.
Jason Avant is 2nd on the team in catches. He’s been the best blocker among the WRs. Avant also has value as a leader. He is a big reason the Cooper incident went away. Avant and Coop are genuine friends and that relationship really meant something to others in the locker room. Avant is less athletic than a telephone pole, but the man is highly respected by everyone around him. I had him pegged as a potential cut victim throughout the offseason. Kelly has been impressed enough to want Avant on the field and the 3 WR sets have been the primary offense for the Eagles.
Damaris Johnson. Who? He has 2 catches this year. He’s been targeted 5 times less than Jeff Maehl. I don’t know what’s going on, but this is a major disappointment. I thought Damaris would be ideal on the WR screens. He’s just not getting on the field. As a RS, Damaris is posting respectable numbers, but he’s not as impressive on the eye test. Damaris is 9th in the league in KORs, but has the lowest long return (33 yards) among the Top 11 KORs. Everyone else is 42 yards and up. Damaris is 13th in PR average, but again doesn’t come close to the others with long returns. His best is just 21 yards.
Jeff Maehl is a guy I thought had no shot to make the team. He did and has actually done some good things. 3-48-1 on the year. Could be a slot receiver and role player in the future. Okay as a blocker and STer.
Brent Celek is having an odd year. He’s blocking better than ever. He’s averaging a career high 15.3 yards per catch. But he’s on pace for just 28 receptions, which would be far and away his lowest total as a starter. I can only think of one bad drop from Celek so he seems to be playing pretty well, even if the production is off.
Zach Ertz is making progress, but hasn’t been as good as we hoped he would right off the bat. I still think he’ll be a key player in the future. Ertz does have the same number of catches as Celek (14). Ertz has had a couple of drops. He’s got to work on that. He has caught the ball well downfield and has good athletic ability. Ertz has had some good moments as a blocker, but needs to get bigger and stronger to succeed in that area.
James Casey has been a major disappointment. The problem is that we don’t know if he’s to blame. Casey has been terrific on STs. He has blocked well when on in on offense. He’s only got 2 catches, but they went for 11 and 12 yards. Casey looks good when he’s on the field. Kelly has publicly said that he liked the 3-WR sets and the way the offense worked with them. That wasn’t his plan coming in (focus was going to be on TEs), but Kelly found something that worked well and went with it. You can’t fault him for that. It is possible that Casey hasn’t practiced well
Jason Peters was the best LT in the NFL in 2011. He’s nowhere close to that level right now. He looked all too human in the loss to KC. I still see a good athlete and talented blocker, but his game has slipped a notch.
Evan Mathis is steady Eddie. He doesn’t have highlight moments, but he’s consistently good.
Jason Kelce has been very good, with the exception of the Giants games. You cannot tell he tore an ACL last year. Kelce is as athletic as ever and has been an excellent fit in Kelly’s offense.
Todd Herremans was really struggling early in the year, but has improved since the loss to KC. His run blocking has been good all year, but his pass pro needs work. He’s been beaten by quickness and power. A new scheme plus age plus a new position have gotten the better of Herremans.
Lane Johnson has been up and down. He looks outstanding at times. He’s looked like a rookie at others. Johnson has the athleticism to be a good OT. He’s not getting physically overwhelmed. His issues have mostly been about technique. Time and coaching will fix them. It doesn’t seem to me that the coaches have had to give a ton of help to Johnson. This is an OT pick the team got right.
Cedric Thornton has been the best DL this season. He has been outstanding against the run. He is stout on runs at him, but what makes Ced really stand out is that he’s so active. He leads the DL in tackles. He’s able to eat up blocks or get off them and make plays. Ced is doing a solid job as a pass rusher. He’s only got 1 sack, but has done a good job of pushing the pocket.
Fletcher Cox started slow, but has picked up the pace. He has been outstanding at times. Cox is new to the 3-4 (Thornton played some of it in college) and adjusting to 2-gapping can take time. Cox still shows his special ability when he’s able to chase after the QB in space. He runs exceptionally well for a big DL. Cox is tied for the team lead with 3 sacks.
Isaac Sopoaga was the NT, but he’s been dealt to NE.
Bennie Logan is going to replace him in the starting lineup. Logan has played NT and DE. He hasn’t stood out as anything special so far. Logan does have a couple of sacks, but got some help in getting them. Logan has shown good lateral movement skills. The big question with him will be his ability to anchor vs the run. The Eagles want him to bulk up over time, but he’s not huge right now. Logan is new to the 3-4 so he’s learning on the fly.
Clifton Geathers is the backup LDE. Funny story about him. When I saw him come into the Giants game the other day, I yelled at the TV that I was ready for Geathers to get his pink slip. “I’m tired of waiting for your potential. Let’s give that spot to some other DL.” And then Geathers went out and played his best game of the year. Flashes potential when he plays with good power. Was able to get off blocks and make plays against the Giants. It did help that the Giants ran between the tackles a lot. Let’s hope the light went on for Geathers. He had been disappointing prior to Sunday.
Vinny Curry is 2 players. The 3-4 DE is a marginal player. He still struggles to be an effective 2-gap defender. He spent the past 5 years attacking. Asking him to engage blockers and read is like asking me to write a cricket blog while drinking mineral water and listening to Justin Bieber. When Curry is put at DT in the Nickel, he can be very disruptive. That is a 1-gap role that lets him use his quickness and attack up the field. Curry is showing progress in the base defense, but I don’t know if the coaches will ever be fully comfortable with him.
Damion Square played in the first couple of games and did nothing. He will likely be the backup NT now. Will be interesting to see if he’s better.
Trent Cole is still a good run defender. He’s had some solid moments in coverage. The problem is that his last sack came Dec 13 last year against the Bengals. The ROLB position must be an impact pass rusher. Cole gets some pressure and has just missed a few sacks, but the bottom line is that he’s not making plays. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Connor Barwin has been a good player. He’s tied for the team lead in sacks (3). He’s 2nd in pass deflections. Barwin is a good run defender. He would be a terrific #2 OLB. You really need someone on the other side that can be a consistent pass rusher. Barwin isn’t going to consistently beat OTs. He is going to get sacks on stunts or by coming free on blitzes or due to effort. Barwin isn’t an explosive rusher.
Brandon Graham is getting more comfortable in the 3-4. He’s got 1 sack and has had some good pressures. Graham is playing more on the right side and he’s not going to consistently beat LTs. He does use power rushes effectively. Graham is playing on STs and has had some good moments. He did make one mistake that led to a blocked punt vs Denver.
Casey Matthews has gotten snaps as a backup OLB. He’s done nothing of note. He is a good STer.
DeMeco Ryans leads the team in solo tackles and total tackles. He has 2 sacks and an INT. Until a few weeks back, I wasn’t overly thrilled with his play. Ryans was very good vs the inside run in the Tampa game. He made a couple of big plays vs Dallas. He was good last week as well. I’m feeling better. Ryans has been solid all year, but for the first month I didn’t think he stood out, even as a tackler and run defender. He’s playing better and the whole defense is as well.
Mychal Kendricks is a real head-scratcher. There are moments when he looks like a star. He’s had a couple of TFLs when he fired into the backfield and looked so explosive that you got all kinds of excited. But Kendricks has missed too many tackles, mainly due to sloppy technique. He isn’t keeping his feet solidly under him and getting his head in front of his targets. Kendricks was excellent against the run last Sunday. His cover skills are all over the place. I thought he did well vs Jason Witten, but he’s been burned by some other guys. Kendricks is disappointing simply due to the fact that I had high expectations for him and the new system. Kendricks still has top athletic ability.
Jake Knott and Najee Goode have been good STers.
Nate Allen isn’t the worst player ever. He now is playing with confidence and is showing solid ability. He’s 3rd on the team in tackles, has a sack and 5 pass break-ups. Allen still has some bad moments. He doesn’t always take good angles to the ball. He is now at least a functional starter, if not better. The problem is that he isn’t a playmaker or top shelf hitter/tackler. He has no INTs, FFs, or FRs. He’s not an enforcer at the back of the defense. Allen is just a guy that gets to the ball most of the time. This year Allen plays in the box a lot and actually seems comfortable there.
Patrick Chung has been disappointing. I wasn’t expecting Brian Dawkins, but he’s still made more mistakes than I anticipated. Chung is hurt now.
Earl Wolff looks like a rookie Safety that will pan out. He can hit. He can tackle. He takes good angles to the ball. He runs well enough. He can blitz and play in the box or he can stay back. The question with Wolff is about cover skills. He has some good moments, but also looks confused at times. Rookies struggle with zone coverage in the NFL. I think his future is bright. Just needs experience.
Kurt Coleman has played most of his snaps on STs. Good STer.
Colt Anderson remains a good STer. He has 2 FFs this year.
Bradley Fletcher is 2nd in the NFL with 12 pass deflections. He also has an INT and has looked good at times. He has been burned on slants and some other inside routes. Fletcher is very good when pressing, but is less effective when playing off. He lacks the athleticism to stick right with receivers who make quick breaks. Fletcher is a solid tackler and run defender. The one game Fletcher missed (SD) is when the Eagles looked the most helpless on defense.
Cary Williams is a productive player. He’s got 2 INTs, 5 PDs, and a sack. He’s also 4th on the team in tackles. Williams isn’t great, but all sconces references are now terms of endearment. Williams shows his limitations on a regular basis, but he’s a smart veteran and there’s no questions about effort or toughness with him.
Brandon Boykin has looked very good at times. He could become one of the best Nickelbacks in the league. We knew Boykin had good cover skills. He’s shown playmaking skills as well this year. Boykin has 6 PDs, 2 INTs and a FF this year. Bill Davis used Boykin to blitz quite a bit for a few weeks. That’s been dialed back. Boykin just missed a sack last week on a perfectly executed blitz. He wasn’t able to get Eli Manning to the ground. I’ve also been highly impressed with Boykin on STs. He is one of the gunners and does an outstanding job. His hustle last week kept the Giants P from recovering the bad snap on Sunday.
Roc Carmichael was a late addition to the team. He’s played a little on defense. Carmichael has stood out as one of the gunners on STs. I think the Eagles like his CB potential due to his size and long arms.
Donnie Jones feels like he’s having a good year, but the numbers say different. He’s 16th in average and 23rd in net punting. He is 8th in the league in punts downed inside the 20. I’m sure the blocked punt from Denver hurts his overall stats. Jones is a good directional Punter and did a good job in limiting Dwayne Harris a couple of weeks back.
Alex Henery remains a player that many fans don’t like. The Eagles spent a mid-round pick on him and I think many fans hold that against Henery. He had a bad game vs SF as a rookie and then was basically lights out after that, but people still talked about him as if he was a marginal PK. Henery is 14 of 18 this year. One of the misses is from 60 yards out. I do agree that he does need to get better. Those misses hurt the team. Henery has generally gotten good depth on his KOs.
The KO cover unit needs to get better. The Eagles allow 27 yards per KOR, one of the worst figures in the league.
The punt cover unit is among the best in the league.
The low point for STs was giving up a KOR TD in the Denver game and then having a punt block TD in the same game.
The Eagles did recover a bad punt snap for a TD last week. Sadly, that’s the STs highlight for the year.