After rewatching both of the Eagles preseason games thus far, I was actually relatively impressed with the receivers. A few drops and miscommunications are to be expected at this point, even if they are frustrating..but the general grasp of the West-Coast Offense seems to be a tight one. The problem is that the team are still suffering the exact same problems that they did under Chip Kelly..and they are more damaging in a system that depends on reliable hands. Just how damaging has it been?
Preseason is only a small sample size..and it’s almost traditional that everyone gets carried away with what they say, be it good or bad. However, there are some worrying patterns occurring in the Eagles receiving corps just two games in..and it’s not overzealous to say that the unit has been horrifically underperforming.
To start with the basics: It’s always a little worrying when your leader in receiving yards in both games has been the same undrafted rookie. That same rookie has accounted for the most targets, the most completions and the most total yardage. There’s a lot of rotation in preseason..and there’s always a “Rasheed Bailey” type player that seems to catch people’s attention. But the Eagles have added a lot of bulk to the position throughout the offseason…and with so much uncertain when it comes to depth chart order, you’d expect to see some high production from the likes of Josh Huff or Nelson Agholor, guys who have potentially had their noses put out of joint and are vying to keep their starting roles.
It’s not as if the starting receivers have been playing minimal amounts of snaps either.
Snap counts for Eagles offensive players: pic.twitter.com/3VSbSsvYMS
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) August 12, 2016
Snap counts for Eagles offensive players: pic.twitter.com/0Q0gTbWRf2
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) August 19, 2016
For the most part, the receivers are still seeing close to a third of the game or more. What have the Eagles gotten in return? The answer in itself is perhaps the most telling reason behind the headline of this article. I found it peculiar how the Eagles are yet to find the endzone through the air in preseason. Shades of the Chiefs 2014 campaign in which a wide receiver did not catch a pass began to edge their way into the back of my mind..knowing fully well that Pederson was the Offensive Coordinator under Andy Reid during that time. There had to be more to it than just a conservative nature of the offense and running the ball more in the red zone…unfortunately, there was.
This is the most underwhelming combination of statistics I have compiled thus far. From an overall completion rate of 54% (some of which can be put down to some blocking struggles against the Bucs) to the ridiculously low average of just 4.49 yards per reception, the Eagles receivers have been almost invisible.
There are a lot of screen passes, drag routes and short curls which all contribute to this astonishingly low number, but the ability to pick up yards after the catch has been made is something that Pederson is going to need to see in the coming weeks.
The unit has accounted for 36.7% of total Offensive yardage. The Eagles are running an Offense where the run game is traditionally the dominant unit, but this is almost a direct contrast to the pass-rush ratio we saw in game one against the Falcons last year.
So just why have the Eagles receivers been so underwhelming? You can blame it on the drops..or the bad pass protection forcing bad throws in the opening game, but it really comes down to one thing. Ghosts. The receivers of last year still seem to be haunted by the woes they faced under Chip Kelly.
From an inability to separate at the line of scrimmage to screen passes that just seem uncoordinated at the best of times, the Offense is still clicking and the receivers are still trying to adjust to the new ways of Doug Pederson. Partner that with the transition out of an Offense that chained receivers down to basic routes and what you have is a long, drawn out process that many seem to underestimate.
The best example of this is former Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin. After being traded to the Chiefs and reuniting with Andy Reid, Maclin was expected to be an impact player, capable of performing right away. Fresh off of a 1,300 yard season under Chip Kelly, Maclin seemed primed to finally break 1,000 regular season receiving yards under Andy Reid..something he was never quite able to do when playing for him as an Eagle.
The development of Maclin under Reid is obviously more natural because he had already played in the system for four seasons prior to Chip’s arrival..but as you can see, it still took a while for Maclin’s efficiency to really heat up.
Maclin has never had a season in which he has received for less than 700 yards and has only gotten better as his career has progressed. If you compare that transitional period to the Eagles receivers like Huff and Agholor, who struggled under Chip Kelly..or Reuben Randle, who proved to be inconsistent as a Giant..then you have a very large projected developmental learning curve that not many are accounting for.
The struggles during OTA’s, the inefficiency in Training camp and the underwhelming preseason to this stage are not a consequence of any one particular area, more a combination of many..some individual and others fundamental that when mixed with a transition to a new Offense, are going to cause natural problems.
The addition of Dorial Green-Beckham highlights how desperate the Eagles are for a playmaker, especially considering that he’s going to be getting looks with the first team this weekend, having spent less than a week and a half with the team. Green-Beckham even saw a couple of targets thrown his way against the Steelers which was surprising.
Patience is a virtue..and while it’s encouraging to see the Offensive line run block so brilliantly and the Tight ends contribute in all facets of the game, sooner or later..the Eagles receivers will be called upon. It’s up to Doug Pederson and Greg Lewis to prepare his unit for the year ahead and ensure that the best receivers make the roster..which could mean a surprise or two come cut-day.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports