Eagles Accentuated Strengths In Surprising First Season Under Kelly
By Frank Irving
The Philadelphia Eagles improved their win-loss record by six games in 2013, ushering in coach Chip Kelly's program with an NFC East division title and a return to the playoffs for the first time in three years. What's humbling about the accomplishment, however, is that Kelly needs a dozen more 10-win campaigns to match Andy Reid's franchise record for coaching victories.
Nonetheless, the just-completed season restored pride to an Eagles fan base that now has more cause to hope than to wonder about their team's prospects moving forward.
Reasons to Dream
The Eagles current roster is relatively young, with only nine players age 30 and above. The 2012 and 2013 drafts produced 11 players who made significant contributions this past season.
Nick Foles emerged as a bona fide NFL starting quarterback. LeSean McCoy further developed as the league's best pure running back. DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper recorded career receiving years. Veteran Brent Celek and rookie Zach Ertz split time at tight end and combined for 10 receiving touchdowns.
The team staked a 7-1 record in the second half of the season, immediately following two demoralizing division losses. The Eagles won their last four home games of the season, reinstating advantage at Lincoln Financial Field.
Defensive adjustments led to nine straight games holding opponents to 21 points or less. The takeaway/giveaway ratio consistently stayed in positive territory, ending the year ranked fourth in the league.
Across the board, the Eagles avoided major injuries during the regular season, perhaps due in part to the conditioning and nutrition regimen instituted by Kelly.
In their Wild Card playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Eagles showed resolve in coming back from a 20-7 second-half deficit to take a 24-23 lead with 4:58 left in the fourth quarter.
Reasons to Worry
The Eagles will play a first-place schedule in 2014, including four games versus the NFC West and matchups with the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers.
After a season-killing 0-6 record in 2013, the New York Giants finished 7-3 and should expect to contend in the NFC East in 2014.
Foles is unlikely to repeat his 119.2 quarterback rating, and Backup QB Michael Vick plans to test free agency in March, leaving the Eagles without a seasoned backup at the game's most important position.
Regardless of whether the Eagles can win a playoff game or two in 2014, their defense is not on par with San Francisco and Seattle, both battle-tested at the top level of the NFC.