Eagles quarterly review: Contenders or pretenders?

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The opening four games have already come and gone for the Philadelphia Eagles, but if that wasn’t scary enough..so has their bye-week. The team are 3-1, something that has been a surprise to many and Doug Pederson’s first quarter of his rookie season as a Head Coach is in the books..so how do things look ahead of a divisional clash with the Redskins?

 

Offense:

Wentzylvania:
Carson Wentz has been nothing short of sensational. After four games, the rookie quarterback has thrown for 1,007 yards, 7 touchdowns and just 1 interception. Even more impressively, he’s completed 67.4% of his passes. Given the way he came into the starting role with such a narrow turnaround between then and the season opener, the maturity and confidence Wentz has not only showed but earned back from his Offense has been outstanding.

There has been some criticism along the way but you simply cannot fault the poise of Carson Wentz. It’s not the wins or the completion percentage that make him so impressive, but the way you can physically see improvements on a weekly basis. His throwing motion seemed a little slow in week one, against the Bears the contrast was exceptional. In week 3 his rushes were a little careless and against the Lions, extremely conservative.

Wentz has easily been the brightest part of this Eagles team so far and regardless of what the final record will be, the development of Wentz and ability to handle such tremendous amounts of pressure despite being drafted as a “project QB” paint a very bright future.

 

Receiver resurgence:
The Eagles receiving corps is both very light and very young. Reuben Randle, Chris Givens and T.J Graham didn’t do enough to cement their places on the roster, giving Pederson enough confidence in the likes of Matthews, Agholor and newcomer Dorial Green-Beckham.

As expected, it’s been Jordan Matthews to lead the charge, averaging 14.2 yards per reception  on 30 targets, receiving for 269 yards. The chemistry with Carson Wentz is evident as the duo continue to make things happen on the field as a result as their bonding away from it.

Below Matthews we’ve seen a somewhat change in direction. After Ertz and JMatt dominated the targets in week one, Wentz began to spread the ball around much more evenly..which in itself has presented a very clear pecking order.

Josh Huff seems to be limited to Jet Sweeps and screen passes while Nelson Agholor is being pushed into a more prominent role, but showing the same tendencies to squander opportunities that plagued him last season. Then, there’s the wildcard.

Dorial Green-Beckham’s involvement in the Offense has become more and more prominent as he learns more of the playbook..but he’s still seeking that first touchdown as an Eagle. The blueprint of a dominant receiver is there..and it’s something I’ll be taking a much closer look at later today.

Through four games we’ve learned a lot about the Eagles receivers and just how versatile the corps can be. Trey Burton burst onto the scene in the absence of Zach Ertz, proving his worth to Doug Pederson and Frank Reich, while the drops are decreasing and productivity along with consistency  seem to be doing the inverse.

 

O-Line with a point to prove:
The Eagles Offensive line started with a wobble and has since transformed into a level of efficiency not many thought possible. Jason Peters has defied the low expectations placed on him and the pass-protection for Wentz has been largely impressive. But with Lane Johnson now suspended for ten games, the success of the right hand side now falls upon “Big V”, but again, there will be a closer look at that later.

Jason Kelce has been the weak link on the line however. 3 penalties, some miscommunications and being overpowered by much heavier Defensive tackles have seen Kelce’s 2015 struggles carry over into the new season..and with a weaker right side now Johnson’s suspended, it will be interesting to see how the Line deals with the loss and if Kelce’s play is exploited.

The line has done a great job of opening up the running game and it’s safe to say that the extremely low YPC of Mathews and Sproles can’t be blamed on the line when the success of Barner and Smallwood shows a contrasting efficiency.

The line has been a pleasant surprise so far, but there have been slight concerns and with Johnson now gone..the question becomes can they sustain the level of success without their franchise right tackle..and how important is Johnson to the Offensive line?

 

Running back rotation:
The backfield has been a very interesting topic of conversation in the opening four games. Sproles and Mathews have been drastically underwhelming on the ground and if it wasn’t for the utilization of Sproles in the passing game, this would be a very different angle.

Kenjon Barner and fifth round pick Wendell Smallwood exploded onto the scene against the Steelers and showed a glimpse of just how powerful the backfield could become. Excessively high YPC, touchdowns and an ability to keep the chains moving opened up avenues previously closed off to Carson Wentz and the Offense. But against the Lions, both players had just one snap..and no carries.

The decision is baffling..and if the ankle of Mathews is still proving to be a problem, surely rotation would be an even more logical option. It’s clear that Sproles as a lead back is nowhere near as successful as the duo of Barner and Smallwood, but his niche is found in passing looks out of the backfield.

The backfield may have amassed over 100 yards rushing per game, but it’s vastly misleading..and if the team fail to implement the versatility of Smallwood and dominance of Barner against some of the more stout Defenses, the Offense will naturally stagnate.

 

Defense:

Defensive line:
The heart and soul of Schwartz’s Defense has been nothing short of exceptional. Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan have often been double and triple teamed, but that’s opened up a world of trouble on the outside as Brandon Graham has ran rampant.

Twelve tackles, 3 sacks and a forced fumble have seen Graham soar under Jim Schwartz..partner that with some rare Marcus Smith sightings, consistent efforts from Connor Barwin and the natural dominance we can expect from Fletcher Cox, the result is a unit that dictates everything for the Defense and often minimizes the effects of bad play in other areas.

The Run Defense has been terrific..and only Theo Riddick has found a way to break the walls down..and even that attempt was thwarted after the first half.

Somehow, the D-line has exceeded all expectations, that were incredibly high to begin with..and if they can continue to do so deep into the heart of 2016, then the Eagles Defense can easily sustain it’s top-5 reputation.

 

Cornerbacks questionable:
If you follow my cornerback grades & analysis series, you’ll know that the play has been suspect..and they have often been bailed out by the Safeties or a strong pass rush.

Inconsistencies, a lack of physicality and strength, mental mistakes and missed tackles have plagued a cornerback corps that have escaped some very dangerous situations unscathed.

Leodis McKelvin’s impact has been minimal due to injury while the quiet surprise of the unit has not been seventh round pick Jalen Mills, but instead the development of nickel corner Ron Brooks. The sporadic tackles and lack of technique that chained him down in the early games have disappeared and he’s become a much more well rounded corner as a result..it’s safe to say not many saw this coming and while it may not become a national headline anytime soon, it’s worth noting.

There are a lot of questions over the cornerback corps after four games, especially after a week 5 loss to the Lions where without lifelines, the unit struggled in the first half and were exploited as a result..but it will no doubt be one of the more interesting positions to watch develop in the remaining three quarters of 2016.

 

McLeod’s a monster:
Rodney McLeod’s impact on this Defense has been so underrated it’s criminal. There will be an article focusing on this specifically but 23 tackles sees the former Ram lead the Eagles in that category..not to mention his 3 pass deflections or two interceptions.

McLeod is making plays ALL over the field and is rapidly becoming the backbone of the Defense. Malcolm Jenkins has had a slightly quieter season in contrast, but the duo are living up to the hype through the opening quarter.

A lot can and most likely will change this season, but McLeod’s level of play has been nothing short of outstanding..embodying the aggressive mentality Schwartz is implementing perfectly.

 

Coaching:

Pederson’s mentality:
Doug Pederson’s playcalling through the opening three games was near faultless. Balancing risk with reward, the Eagles still lead the league in time of possession and despite unproductive lead backs on the ground, have found a way to make a near 50/50 split on rushing and passing looks..something Bradford would have dreamed of last year.

The system is very much like an onion. The more the season peels on, the more layers reveal themselves. Pederson has earned the trust of his players and his emotional yet personal style of coaching has resonated perfectly with the Offense, giving them a spark that was missing under Chip Kelly.

As a Head coach having to deal with all the off-the-field controversies, Pederson has been beyond impressive, keeping the lid on the pan and the ball rolling..in fact, it’s very hard to criticize Pederson at this stage.

There was one play against the Lions that was just a bad idea..the Mathews fumble. Running it to the outside in that situation instead of up the gut was begging for something to go wrong..and unfortunately, it did. But other than that, Pederson has easily been the most impressive rookie head coach so far, leading what could have easily been a very broken locker room into complete unity and harmony after a controversial offseason.

 

Feel the Schwartz:
Until the Eagles loss to the Lions, the Jim Schwartz Defense had been simply unstoppable. Dominance doesn’t even begin to describe how impressive his unit has performed. The aggression, the big hits, the forced fumbles and the amount of pressure faced by opposing quarterbacks lights a fire inside every Eagles fan on every Defensive stop on third and short.

But against the Lions, Schwartz kept Nigel Bradham, the Eagles most complete linebacker, sidelined during an opening portion of the game. The result of which could be described as directly correlating to the Lions opening three drive scores. When Bradham was inserted into the game, the efficiency spiked and the Eagles clawed their way back into the game..keeping the Lions at bay. The rationale behind the season is hard to understand and it’s really the only speck of dirt on Schwartz’s record in Philadelphia.

His Defense is playing with such intensity and explosiveness that it’s hard to find much wrong with him as a Defensive coordinator. There are flaws at linebacker and concerns at corner, but the overall play has been so sensational that it overwhelms all of those concerns with a surge of excitement..even Destiny Vaeao, an undrafted rookie has been able to make plays!

The Eagles Defensive coordinator has been brilliant so far and his Defense mirrors his intensity perfectly. The only real question becomes, can he sustain that level of sheer power through the rest of the season?

 

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