Week 8 marks the mid-season point and the Eagles head into their bye week with a 3-4 record that ties then with the Redskins for 2nd place in the division, trailing the Giants by a single game. Whilst the results may not reflect it, The Eagles have shown flashes of becoming a Super Bowl team in every single game. Yes I said it and believe it. But with that being said, the teams undisciplined play, sloppiness with unforced errors (False starts, Illegal motions, Too many men on the line, etc.), missed assignments, dropped passes, poor throws, missed tackles, bad coverage, fumbles, missed blocks are anchoring them to mediocrity. All of the above could be classed as a recipe for a bad team, you would think we’re talking about the Buccaneers, Raiders, or Titans. But despite all of this, the Eagles aren’t a bad team and haven’t been out of a single game they played this year. I’m going to give my review the way I see it at the mid-point of the season and what the Eagles need to do to improve.
Quarterback – Grade- D
The man who plays at the most important position on the field simply isn’t getting the job done. Sam Bradford hasn’t been able to spark this team on a meaningful opening series drive since the Jets game. He isn’t making great decisions and seems to be off with his accuracy. The former number one pick often misses the open receiver and throws into double coverage, giving the team a lesser chance of making a play. It seems if you get to Sam early he becomes rattled and very inaccurate. That being said, the Heisman Trophy winner seems to get better later in the game after he gets comfortable and a feel for the pocket, but by that point it’s often too late. In his defense it’s not all his fault either, with poor line play at times, dropped passes by receivers who really should be making the catch and no threat of a running game in stretches of a ball game.
If Bradford could get a better feel for the pocket early on in games and finds a way to lead the team to early scores then I think he could settle in and lead the team to the playoffs. Remember, Bradford is playing for a contract and needs to respond, but his receivers, line and running backs also need to help him.
Running Back – Grade – C-
The only reason I gave this unit a C- is because of Ryan Mathews. Demarco Murray has been poor outside of 2 games. It seems as though he was blaming the line without coming out and saying it, yet Mathews comes in behind the same line and puts up some serious numbers without excuses. Murray often hesitates while awaiting a hole to open up and gets tackled behind the line, which as Eagles fans is absolutely frustrating to watch.
Mathews seems to follow the play design hit the hole and put out a positive gain even when nothing is there. He has also shown the ability to shrug off tackles to make a big play or homerun ball, something Murray has yet to show.
Darren Sproles has been a positive for the unit but he isn’t built to take a heavy load running the ball. Sproles has done a nice job coming in and creating matchup problems with linebackers, but also has dropped some key passes..especially worrying considering he was targeted 10 times last game. The passing game doesn’t open up the box for this unit to actually hit its full potential and an inconsistent line has only emphasised the problems.
Wide Receivers – Grade- D
Jordan Matthews. Jordan Matthews. Jordan Matthews. Will you please show up???? You were a promising young star ready to bud last year with 9 TD’s and over 800 yards receiving as a ROOKIE!
He has recorded 6 dropped passes on the season which is 6th in the league overall. PFF has rated 107 WR’s on the season and he ranks 106th. Not the type of production were looking for out of our #1 Wide Receiver.
Nelson Aghlor, was supposed to be a Jeremy Maclin replacement, outside of a few spectacular catches has yet to put up a significant game to show he will be a reliable #2 target.
Josh Huff, to me has been a huge disappointment. I expected big things from Josh this year and was excited to see him break out and show his big play potential. He statistically had one big game against the New Orleans Saints catching four passes for 78 yards and a TD. However the second year wideout only gets a limited number of targets, but when given an opportunity like against the Panthers last night in the end zone he simply can’t get the job done.
Riley Cooper and Miles Austin have been pretty solid with their roles on the team and produced outside of the team’s plague of dropped passes (Riley had a deep ball drop against the Giants, and Austin had a key drop against the Panthers to continue the game).
The wide receivers unit as a whole has been terrible with the dropped passes. It seems like we don’t have a deep threat and it’s easy to see why Bradford is sceptical to throw the ball over 20 yards. Route running has been sloppy at times too, with receivers breaking in and Bradford throwing out or vice versa. At week 8 the QB and WR should be on the same page there should be no excuse for that.
Tight Ends – Grade- C
Going into the season with a new quarterback, a coach who picked Bill Belicheks brain in the offseason because of the success he has with the position in New England and has two pretty solid offensive threats at the Tight End position to his disposal expected big things. I expected it to be a Pass heavy to tight ends offense but it seems like they’re typically a 3rd or 4th option on a play.
With Ertz showing he has potential to be an elite status type Tight End, he isn’t getting the targets which are limiting his opportunities. Celek on the other hands has come up big at times, even though sometimes it’s through Defense’s concentration on other options allowing him to roam free. Ertz has made somekey plays and nice catches but both need to be better in the run blocking game, where Celek missed two key blocks on back to back plays in the Cowboys game to allow Murray to get hit for consecutive 5 yard losses.
Offensive Line – Grade- C-
The offensive line in recent weeks has been playing better and is the only reason why they broke the C barrier. That still isn’t too impressive. The Eagles rank 32 in run blocking statistically in the league and rank 8th in pass blocking. That’s what the statistics say but as you know here in Philly we call it like we see it.
This unit was garbage the first two weeks of the season. They made some adjustments and took some personal challenges to find a recent run of improvement. Jason Peters has been solid like he usually is at his position and is debatably the best player on the Offense this season. But after going down with an injury against the Panthers, the lack of depth at the line showed as he was replaced by Matt Tobin who produced a much weaker performance.
At the other tackle spot Lane Johnson is playing above average but still struggles in pass protection off the edge sometimes. His main flaw is giving up sloppy penalties in undisciplined play. The Offense need every bit of help they can get and these penalties are proving to be costly.
The loss of Evan Mathis and Todd Herremens is really showing on this unit. Backups are playing starting positions. We’ve seen a stable of Allen Barbre, Dennis Kelly, Josh Andrews, Andrew Gardner and Tanner Hawkinson man these positions. It seems to be problematic when it comes to getting a push and making holes for the Running backs as there is rarely any movement or forward push causing the Running backs to struggle to get room for some positive gains. It shows especially when Demarco Murray has the ball and begins to hesitate as opposed to Matthews who just goes where the play designed to go and makes a positive play.
Jason Kelce was coming off a pro bowl season, after showing how athletically gifted he was but this year his production and concentration has dropped. He has called his own play out this season himself. He has snapped the ball on 2 different occasions before the quarterback was ready, causing turnovers in the process. Some uncharacteristic holding penalties all add to his disappointing season but to his credit, he may be over compensating for the inexperience and lack of trust he has in the guards next to him. As previously mentioned, the unit is getting some chemistry and taking small steps forward. Pass protection needs to be better even outside what the statistics say, Bradford takes too many unnecessary shots and gets very uncomfortable in the pocket.
Defensive Line – B
The defensive line led by Fletcher Cox has been a solid unit and produced consistently for much of the season. Cox is constantly creating pressure on quarterbacks in passing situations and has been very solid against the run. Cox has put up 5 sacks to lead the team and has 24 tackles on the season. He has been a disruptive force and is shaping up to finally have a pro bowl season.
Bennie Logan has also been producing at a high rate accounting for 6 tackles for a loss, leading the team. He is solid in the run game, plugging gaps in the middle causing Running backs to bounce the ball outside the tackles or cut back in another direction to find running room.
Cedric Thornton could show us a little more but he has played well on this cohesive unit. But one man who needs to step up is Vinny Curry. After having 9 sacks and 4 FF (Forced Fumbles) last season, his production is down to 1 sack and 0 FF’s on the season. If he could get back to his old ways this could be an elite unit and be considered one of the best fronts in the league. Taylor Hart and Beau Allen have been solid substitutes coming in both breaking double digits in tackles and getting a good push up the middle to apply some heat on the QB.
Linebackers- Grade- B
This grade I believe would be higher if it weren’t for injuries. Although injuries have allowed for the emergence of 3rd pick and University of Texas star Jordan Hicks to emerge and show his talent. This is one of the deepest and most talented units in the NFL that hasn’t hit anywhere close to its full potential.
We seen the flash of talent our newly acquired LB Kiko Alonso had in the Atlanta game doing his impersonation of Odell Beckham JR with his 1 handed interception in the end zone off of Matt Ryan. He was a disruptive force when he was out there but as expected, his injury history came into play limiting that potential to just 2 games so far.
The Same could be said for Mychael Kendricks who made his return against Carolina after struggling with injury. Kendricks was playing solid all the way around before getting injured in pass coverage and was able to cover running backs out of the backfield or wide receivers in a zone scheme with his amazing athletic ability.
Demeco Ryans has been solid against the run with 23 tackles on the season, 4 passes defended and 1 INT. He does occasionally get caught in bad matchups at times and is a liability in pass coverage due to his speed. Even outside the stats I just gave, he is the leader of this team who makes plays and is considered the mufasa of the defense.
Brandon Graham has 3 tackles for loss and 1 FF on the season to go with 17 tackles. Graham is more of a run specialist filling gaps and making plays with his solid build. Connor Barwin is in a bit of a slide this year compared to last year which is disappointing. Connor was an elite Linebacker last year consistently dominating opponents and batting down passes and creating havoc all over the field. This year not so much. There are stretches in the game where you have to question if he is even playing. He has 17 tackles on the season and 1 pass defended.
Overall this is a solid unit for the Eagles, and having only allowed 3 rushing TD’s up to this point on the season (1 before the Panthers game), it’s fair to say we’re just scraping the surface. If Connor Barwin breaks out of the slump and has the effect he had last season watch out.
Kiko Alonso should be returning in the next few weeks which will be another welcomed lift to this already dominant unit. Jordan Hicks has played his way into holding his starting LB spot tied for the team lead with 43 tackles. Moving forward I see it playing out like this: Barwin, Kendricks, Hicks, Graham. Alonso once healthy will see snaps for Graham and in the middle ultimately regaining his starting status.
Corner Backs – Grade- C
This is a frustrating position to cover. Byron Maxwell makes me feel like we have Nnamdi Asomugha all over again. He is playing better so I will go easier on him in this section. As we all found out in game one, he is not an elite shut down corner, in fact he is an average or slightly above average corner. Maxwell is playing better being treated as an average corner with schemes that give him help over the top and allows him to stay on his side of the field instead of shadowing the other teams #1 target.
Nolan Carroll III on the other hand is playing extremely well on his side of the field. Carroll really contained Odell Beckham and actually was matched up on him in 1 on 1 situations for a good period of the game and held his own. The former Dolphin is consistently battling receivers ,fighting for position and shadowing his man. Yet to give up a touchdown, he has 2 interceptions and 7 passes defended and a TD.
Moving to rookie Eric Rowe. The former safety is a rookie and is playing as such. He showed flashes of potential but also flashes of confusion. Rowe had some nice plays against the Jets even recording an interception but has since been sidelined as such to give way for Biggers. EJ Biggers has been able to come in off the bench and has had some nice plays with some good open field tackles specifically against the Saints in key situations.
This unit is the most improved from the beginning of the season without a doubt which was a relief considering it was supposed to be a strength going into the season. The unit is starting to gel and things are looking a lot better.
Safeties- Grade- A+
Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond have been lights out. The two have put their print on the defense and consistently come up big when the team most needs it. Pro Football Focus ranked them respectively 3 and 4 as top safeties in the NFL. Whether it’s a huge tackle to stop a drive or a key interception, these two bring their lunch every week and come to play. Jenkins is tied for the team lead with 43 tackles and 7 tackles for a loss. To that total he has 1 interception, 3 Forced fumbles and 4 passes defended. Walter Thurmond has been just as disruptive recording 34 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, leading the team with 3 Interceptions and a defensive TD. They are drawing comparisons to the best duo in the league up there with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
Nothing needs to be fixed here, just they both need to continue to stay productive and healthy. Although Jenkins did have a bit of a drop off last season after a hot start needs to keep his impact at an elite level. Thurmond needs to stay healthy and also produce.
Special Teams – Grade- B
Football Outsiders has the Eagles special teams ranked 14th in the league, middle of the pack statistically speaking. To further analyze the position we need to examine a few things. I gave this unit a B. We have a game changer at this position that a lot of other teams don’t have and that’s Darren Sproles. Sproles is always a threat to take a kick to the house. The running back averages 14.7 per return on punt returns and has 1 TD against the Jets. Kick return duties are handled by Josh Huff, but with the new league kicking rules there’s a lot of touch backs. Huff does have the potential to take a short kick to the house as long as the kick return team gives him a seam.
The Field Goal unit has been very inconsistent. After the Parkey missed FG in the Atlanta game caused the Eagles to ultimately lose he was 3 of 4 on the season. Parkey injured his groin and ended up on IR. In came Caleb Sturgis who has since hit 9 of 11 Extra points which is a scary statistic moving forward. He has been a little better in the Field Goal category also striking 9 of 11 but a miss from 30-39 yards and another miss 50+ yards. Moving forward this position needs to be more reliable.
Punting duties handled by Donnie Jones have been efficient. He averages 47.8 per kick and the unit as a whole limits opponents to 5.4 yards per return.
Collectively as a unit the Eagles are solid here and do their job. No glaring holes that needs to be fixed, maybe generate a few more turnovers to help the offense work with a short field.
Coaching – Grade-D
A team coming in with high expectations and a coach who is moulding the team to his type of players with this much control should be playing a lot better. The mistakes are the same every week and that is a direct reflection of coaching. Chip has got to get a better grip on this and work with the strengths of the team, not the system. There are some easy coaching decisions that need to be made on the offensive side of the ball that are simply being neglected (I.E. Matthews should be starting over Murray). The ego needs to go out the window and the winning ball games attitude needs to be put in place. He succeeded with instant progress his first 2 years but it seems it went to Chips head and now he needs to fix it.
Second Half Prediction
I predict the Eagles to finish 9-7. I think the defense is going to get healthy and the team will build some chemistry but above all Bradford will get it together. I’m on the optimistic side but we all know how quickly things could spiral. There are some very tough games left on the schedule including the Cowboys in Dallas, Giants in New York, @ Patriots, and home games against the tough Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, the emerging Miami Dolphins. Even a tough home division game against the Redskins. They should be able to go 6-3 down the stretch but 9-7 could quickly become 7-9 or worse if they don’t improve.