The regular season is now over for the Philadelphia Eagles and heads are already turning to what could be another chaotic offseason. A 7-9 record was something many would have been satisfied with after such a bumpy start to the Doug Pederson era..but there are still questions that were asked a year ago, that have still not been answered.
Can a committee backfield work under Doug Pederson?
Coming into the year, it was thought that the incredibly versatile Eagles backfield would be one of the key features in Doug Pederson’s Offense. Factor in that Carson Wentz would be leading the team in his rookie year and the decision to run the ball assertively seemed obvious.
It even started out that way. Against the Steelers, both Smallwood and Barner scored their first NFL touchdowns as the committee effort completely stifled the Pittsburgh Defense. Darren Sproles was used heavily in the screen game after the Steelers allowed Gio Bernard to do the same a week beforehand and it all seemed to be shaping up perfectly.
But then injuries began to factor in. Whether it was this alone or just a reliance on the lead backs, Smallwood and Barner saw less and less of the ball. The Eagles rookie was dropped into the game for the first time in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys, which ended in a fumble..and the Eagles simply could not establish a run game.
The Birds then turned to Ryan Mathews as a lead back. Mathews, who had been relegated to a goal-line back in previous weeks was all of a sudden taking on the entire backfield load..but even they was still half of the touches that Carson Wentz was dealing with.
Wentz completed a rookie single-season record for most passes attempted..which is probably a sign that this versatile committee effort didn’t pan out as planned. A rookie QB throwing the ball 46 times in a single game, doesn’t help either.
It remains to be seen whether Doug actually prefers rushing with a lead back (creating a whole new problem to deal with) or if he can utilize the dynamic backfield as he did as an Offensive Coordinator in Kansas City. The Eagles backfield was a unit that bought excitement to the table prior to the start of the season. The same questions that bought that excitement however, are now being asked in a negative light.
Can the Eagles find a way to repair a leaky Secondary?
The Eagles cornerbacks had a tough year. After trading Eric Rowe to the Patriots (let’s not get into that), the Birds rolled out with McKelvin, Carroll, Brooks and Mills. Injuries plagued any cornerback not named Jalen Mills..but just like the year before, we are left asking the same question. Will the Jim Schwartz Defense stop a very leaky Secondary?
The early signs are pointing towards a resounding “No”. The Eagles allowed 37 plays of over 25-yards this season, tying second most in the league. How many yards did the Eagles give up on plays over 20+ yards?
What happens next?
This year was supposed to be one of development..but also a sign of things to come. Was Jason Peters getting too old to perform at the stellar level he had previously? Was Lane Johnson ready to inherit the LT throne? Well, because of a PED violation and a resurgent season from Peters, we still don’t know.
Peters is on his way to yet ANOTHER Pro Bowl, showing that Age is clearly just a number to the Eagles Left Tackle. Lane Johnson on the other-hand, missed ten games of the 2016 season and showed the world just how much that cost the Eagles with some dominant performances late on.
So now the Eagles are stuck at the same crossroads they were a year ago. Is it time to move on from Jason Peters..or does he have one more big year in the tank?
“Just how dangerous can the Eagles pass rush be?”
When Jim Schwartz was signed as the new Defensive Coordinator, many were elated that the gritty and aggressive style of play Philadelphia has resonated itself with would return. When Fletcher Cox signed a long-term extension, the only question left to ask was..”just how dangerous can it be?”
A year later, that question still stands. Cox spent most of 2016 making plays in the shadows before breaking out after effort was called into question against the Bengals. Those final few games were exactly what the Eagles paid Cox to play like, the only problem was that he still ended this year with fewer sacks, tackles, forced fumbles/recoveries & tackles for a loss than he did a year ago.
For the DE’s, it was all about pressure. Brandon Graham put the unit on his back and ended the year in explosive fashion, emerging as one of the Eagles most valuable players on that side of the ball..but beyond him, play was inconsistent. Connor Barwin flashed while Vinny Curry had a very quiet season in wake of a new extension. The depth behind followed suit..but when all is said and done, we’re still left asking the same question.
“Just how dangerous can the Eagles pass rush be?” The only difference is, we’ve now seen flashes of its potential.
Are the Eagles rebuilding?
It was unclear whether or not the Eagles were entering a rebuilding phase under Doug Pederson, but a few months in it became apparent the team were walking a tightrope and trying to avoid it. Now the rookie season of Carson Wentz has passed, we still don’t know how aggressive the team will be during the offseason.
There are clear holes on the roster..but the team appear to have a solid foundation, a new direction and a “build from the ball out” mentality. The only problem is that their Salary cap situation isn’t exactly the most friendly in the world and with nine pending free agents, it’s going to be a tough few months.
Will the Eagles decide to shift some of the heavier contracts as they did a year before and place a focus on the draft? Or will veteran free agents shake off that rebuilding label and give the team a legitimate chance to compete in 2017? Growth seems to be the direction that the Front Office are veering toward, but with cornerstone contracts only increasing, a five-year window ticking and holes opening..we’re still not totally sure if this team is one shock trade away from accepting a rebuild status.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports