This Eagles team is hard to get a handle on. They have a record of 8-5, but this is a very different team right now than it was in September or even October. The obvious difference is Nick Foles taking over at QB, but that’s actually just one piece of the puzzle.
The O-line is playing their best football of the season. It took a while for Todd Herremans to adjust to the RG position. He still has some struggles in pass protection from time to time, but is generally solid. RT Lane Johnson had some rookie moments early in the year. He’s now developed into a solid RT.
The defense is world’s better. They allowed 34.5 points per game for the first month. Since then, no team has scored more than 21 points in a game. The Eagles were dead last in scoring defense for a while. They are now all the way up to 13th. Amazing. Give some credit to Bill Davis and his staff for figuring out how to use the players. Give a lot of credit to the players, since they have gotten better all year long and really become playmakers.
Fletcher Cox started slow, but is now playing good football. Vinny Curry began the season as a spectator. He earned playing time and is now a key part of the defense. DeMeco Ryans took a while to hit his stride. Nate Allen looks like a legitimate starting Safety. Trent Cole has been very disruptive in recent weeks. Early in the season he was effective, but not making plays.
Think about P Donnie Jones. He is the anti-Sav Rocca. Remember how Rocca was always good for about 6 weeks and then as the weather cooled down, so did his punting? Jones had his 2 best games in late November/early December. And don’t underestimate the importance of his punting on the team’s 5-game win streak. He’s been a huge help to the defense by pinning teams deep.
And of course we do have to talk about Foles. St. Nick is now 6-1 as a starter. I think Foles has had his biggest impact in 3 areas. First, he protects the ball. Michael Vick did a solid job of protecting the ball. He only threw 3 INTs this year. But 2 of them came in the loss to KC, including a pick-6. Those INTs turned into 10 points. The Eagles lost that game by 10 points. I’m not saying the loss is all on him due to the INTs. Clearly there were many issues in the game. But the turnovers were costly. They played a big part in the loss.
Foles has 2 turnovers this year. He fumbled in the GB game. That didn’t result in any points. Foles threw a pick yesterday that did lead to a TD. But mostly Foles has protected the ball very well. He is making good decisions. There are some times when he will throw the ball into coverage and rely on his receivers to go get the ball or break it up. Most good QBs do that. You can’t expect every player to be wide open. The key is to be selective with these throws. Don’t make them at critical times. And do make sure that you are giving your guy a chance to get to the ball.
Red Zone success is the next area in which Foles has had major impact. The Eagles are 29th in this stat right now. They were 31st or 32nd under Vick. That doesn’t sound like much, but you do have to factor in that the Eagles have taken a knee in the RZ 3 times under Foles. There was a possession in the Tampa game when the Eagles just ran the ball and kicked a FG. There was no serious attempt to score a TD. That is 4 possessions when the Eagles were just working the clock.
Look at the RZ stats for both guys.
The rushing stats for Foles look funny, but remember that at least 6 of those are kneel-downs. Matt Barkley had 3 RZ knee-downs in one game.
The emergence of Riley Cooper is the final area in which Foles has had tremendous impact. It was like a light switch getting turned on. Rather than me trying to throw the stats at you, just go look at his gamelog. It is amazing the difference that Foles has made with Coop. I predicted Riley’s numbers would go up with Foles at QB, but even I didn’t expect this. The big difference is that Vick likes receivers to be clearly open. Cooper doesn’t get consistent separation. You must be willing to throw to him while covered. Foles will do this and it has paid off for both players.
Prior to Cooper’s emergence, the passing offense was going to sink or swim with DeSean Jackson. Now teams have to worry about both WRs. That has helped the whole offense. With Foles taking over at QB, it was almost like the Eagles made a trade for a good WR. Cooper has 7 TDs on the year and is 2nd in the NFL in yards per reception.
Back to the original question…how good is this team?
I’m always cautious of buying too much into a win streak. There is a lot of fool’s gold in the NFL, both past and present. All we have to do is look down I-95 to the mess that the Skins are. Just one year ago life was glorious in D.C. Team Shanny was brilliant. RG3 was a revelation. Jim Haslett and the defense still stunk, but for some reason that got conveniently overlooked. I think it is important to be skeptical of a team that starts to win more or play better than expected.
Peter King has the Eagles 8th in his latest power rankings. Is that really possible? The 8th best team in the entire league? This is where you have to separate the Eagles of the last 9 games from the team that got off to a 1-3 start. Since then, the Eagles are 7-2. They protect the ball. They score TDs. They come up with takeaways. They prevent TDs.
I think it would be easier to be comfortable with the Eagles if this team wasn’t 4-12 last year and so flat out awful for half the season. I think the slow start to 2013 sticks with us. I think we all still have that little bit of fear with Chip Kelly. Is Joe College going to get exposed in some way, shape or form? There is the whole Foles Factor. Is he really this good?
This Eagles team is not the 2012 Skins. That group started 3-6 before winning the final 7 games of the season. 5 of those wins came against NFC East teams. I don’t think I need to remind you how bad the division was last year. The Skins got hot at the right time. They still had an awful defense. They still had an OL that struggled to pass block. That team was a fluke.
Before the season I predicted 8 or 9 wins. I saw a good coach, enough talent for him to work with and a soft schedule. I did not envision the offense doing amazing things. I did not envision the defense going 9 straight games without allowing an opponent to score 21 points. Chip Kelly and his staff have done an amazing job.
Time will tell us just how good the Eagles truly are, but I do think it is time to accept the fact that this is a good team.