Despite a win, there are plenty reasons to be concerned about the Eagles moving forward. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
A win on the road in the – (Ron Jaworski voice) – National Football League should never be taken for granted. The Eagles won Sunday in New York, against a favored opponent, no less. Eagles fans should not fool themselves, though. All is not well in Philadelphia.
Why not start with the positives from Sunday’s win. The defense played well despite key injuries. Chip Kelly was able to squeeze some production out of the dormant running game and Darren Sproles once again proved how invaluable he is to the Eagles.
Sam Bradford also played. That’s not a typo. I didn’t leave an adjective out. Sam Bradford played Sunday. That’s about the only thing you can say about his performance. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t a catastrophe. It was barely adequate. That’s where expectations are for this team right now. From “NFC champions” to “don’t suck” in a matter of weeks. Such is life in the NFL when your head coach gets rid of any offensive player with a hint of talent and proven production.
In some ways it’s unfair to criticize Bradford with such intensity. He is only a year removed from knee surgery. Football players are rarely the same the year after surgery. It’s often at least 18 months until a full recovery. Regardless, Bradford is the starting quarterback for what many believed would be an elite offense. His preseason performances indicated his arm and accuracy were game-ready despite some lingering mobility issues. However, instead of carrying his preseason success into the regular season, Bradford has struggled mightily.
His preseason accuracy has completely disappeared. He’ll throw a pinpoint pass here and there but most of his passes require the intended receiver to stop, jump, or change direction. He’s not throwing receivers open like he did in August, nor is he fitting the ball in tight places. His completion percentage ranks him outside the top 20. His yards per attempt ranks an abysmal 31st in the league out of 32 starting quarterbacks, ahead of only Ryan Mallett. A 5.8 yards per attempt is the antithesis of Chip Kelly’s offense. Kelly’s offense is geared toward getting the ball downfield at a rapid pace, not dinking and dunking your way to the end zone. For reference, Mark Sanchez’s yards per attempt was 7.83 in 2014, good enough for 6th in the NFL. Nick Foles’ yards per attempt was 9.12 in 2013, which put him atop the entire league. Kelly’s offense doesn’t work without chucking the ball downfield at least a few times a game. I can’t think of a single deep attempt Bradford has taken the last two weeks. Every pass is within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. As disappointing and dreadful as Bradford’s been, it’s not all his fault.
Receivers aren’t getting open. This is a consequence of jettisoning proven talent. In Kelly’s first two seasons with the Eagles, receivers were often streaking down the field with 2-3 yards of separation. In 2013, DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper and Brent Celek all averaged over 15 yards/reception. In 2014, Jeremy Maclin did the same. Zack Ertz currently leads the Eagles with an average of 11 yards per reception. Jordan Matthews’ average is less than 11. Maybe NFL defenses have caught up to Kelly’s scheming or maybe the players handpicked by Kelly aren’t good enough.
Nelson Agholor sticks to opposing cornerbacks like they’re escorting him through a secure building. When exactly are we going to see his speed and quickness? Right now he’s never open. On the rare occasion he has the ball thrown in his direction, he drops it. Maybe it’s also time to get concerned about Zack Ertz. For two years the Eagles have been telling anyone who will listen about how talented Ertz is and the breakout season ahead. It’s been 19 games and Ertz has more than 50 yards only 5 times. Delanie Walker has 8 games of more than 50 yards despite appearing in only 17 games. Half of you probably don’t even know who Delanie Walker is or which team he plays for, which is exactly my point. Ertz is no star. Not even close. Though Ertz is only 24, the situation is beginning to smell like LJ Smith all over again.
Additionally, Eagle receivers drop a TON of passes. As we’ve witnessed in other Eagle seasons, the dropsies is a virus that spreads. It often goes uncured; so don’t be surprised if the Eagles literally let a victory slip through their fingers at some point this season.
Although the receivers lack talent, the running game is the biggest hindrance to Bradford and the offense. The Eagles ground attack ranks as the 3rd worst in the NFL right now, a far cry from its place among the top 10 in 2013 and 2014. Once again, this is where discarding talent has bitten Chip Kelly. Yes, Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis were past 30, but that offensive line had been together for years, gelling into one of the NFL’s best. In fact, Pro Football Focus ranked the Eagles offensive line as the best in the NFL in 2013 and 2nd in 2014. Both Herremans and Mathis were under contract for the 2015 season. Perhaps cutting bait on one would have been the wiser move instead of gutting the interior of an already elite unit.
In order for the Eagles to compete for the NFC East crown of shame, Chip Kelly must restore the rushing game. There’s too much talent in that backfield for it to remain this inept. If the ground game can return to elite status, the receivers and Bradford will find more open space to operate. The offense will open up and hopefully go back to stretching defenses as it used to do before Kelly decided talented players were overrated.