Midseason Report Card For The Enigmatic Eagles
At the midpoint of the 2013 season, the 3-5 Philadelphia Eagles are running out of legitimate chances to play meaningful football. Sure, they're merely a game behind the Dallas Cowboys in the decaying NFC East, but also only a game ahead of the last-place New York Giants.
Exactly who are these enigmatic Eagles? Are they capable of dusting themselves off in the midst of a two-game funk that produced no offensive touchdowns? Or are they more likely on the verge of an all-inclusive collapse?
Perhaps the most telling metric about this year's Eagles is that their three victories came against winless teams: the Washington Redskins in Week 1, the Giants in Week 5 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6. Until they prove otherwise by beating a quality opponent under adverse conditions, this year's Birds cannot truly be considered contenders, even in a down division.
Here's how I would grade the major components of the team thus far.
The Eagles move the ball an average of 397 yards per game, fifth best in the league. However, the team's early-season rushing success with RB LeSean McCoy has tapered off lately, especially in games in which QB Michael Vick has been limited or out due to injury. Without Vick's presence, the read-option attack has disappeared, and opposing defenses have brought additional pressure with a safety in tight to key on McCoy.
The Eagles also rank 18th in the league in scoring, averaging just 22 points per game, due to a vexing inability to convert red-zone possessions into touchdowns.
The defensive squad actually played fairly well the last two weeks, allowing 17 and 15 points to the Cowboys and Giants, respectively. In fact, the Eagles have not allowed more than 21 points in any of their last four games. That's a huge improvement over the team's performance in three consecutive losses to AFC West opponents who seemingly converted third downs at will.
Linemen Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox have shown an ability to apply pressure while keeping running backs in check. Still, the linebackers and defensive backs remain sub-par by NFL standards.
Special Teams: D
Damaris Johnson averages nearly 26 yards per kickoff return, but considering that the typical boot travels deep into the end zone, he's often better off downing the ball for a touchback. His long return for the year is 33 yards, and he often goes down on initial contact. This is an area where the Eagles need an immediate upgrade. Perhaps reserve RB Chris Polk deserves a look.
K Alex Henery is only 4-for-7 on field goal attempts beyond 40 yards, and coach Chip Kelly seems hesitant to use him in those situations. Henery may be a wasted fourth-round pick from the 2012 draft class. If a game comes down to a decisive kick in coming weeks, many Philadelphia fans will avert their eyes.
Kelly came into the league with a sterling reputation for being able to run an uptempo offense that would keep opponents off-balance and in unfavorable matchups. Aside from a tremendous debut against Washington, during which the Eagles ran 53 plays in the first half and looked unstoppable, the offense has regressed week-to-week. In last week's loss to the Giants, the Eagles ran a season-low 58 plays.
At this point, there would be little to lose in re-launching the quick-strike attack. Nick Foles, who will be the starting quarterback in Week 9 against Oakland, has shown flashes of being able to run the offense effectively.
My advice to avoid a failing grade for the year would be to work short slants and screens early to open up the running game for McCoy; not vice versa.