The Philadelphia Eagles were the NFC’s forgotten team last season. After starting the year 9-3, the Eagles squad dropped three games in a row and ended up getting shut out of the playoffs at 10-6, the same record the team finished with the year before. So what does a head coach do after back-to-back disappointing seasons without a playoff win? Simple, at least for Eagles head coach Chip Kelly: get rid of and replace the team’s core.
Quarterback Nick Foles, star running back LeSean McCoy, and number one wideout Jeremy Maclin will all be wearing different jerseys in 2015. To replace them (so far)? Former Rams QB Sam Bradford, All-Pro halfback (from Dallas) DeMarco Murray, former Chargers running back Ryan Mathews, and wide receiver Miles Austin, who recently played for the Cleveland Browns. So on a position-by-position basis:
DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews together are certainly better than LeSean McCoy. The Eagles had the #1 ranked run blocking offensive line last season (per Pro Football Focus), and LeSean McCoy still showed a steep decline in production, putting up 500 less total yards and 6 touchdowns fewer than in 2013. On the flip side, DeMarco Murray posted a league-high 1,845 rushing yards for the Cowboys (who had the #2 ranked run blocking offensive line). Meanwhile, Ryan Mathews had a solid six games before being injured for the season.
At the QB position, Nick Foles has to have the edge over Bradford for three reasons: he knew Kelly’s system, had success in the system, and was relatively healthy. Sam Bradford on the other hand, has only shown short spurts of the talent that made him the #1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. If he can remain healthy, Bradford can and will be a good player for Philadelphia, but so far he has not proven that he can stay on the field.
Miles Austin used to be a good wide receiver; for example, in 2009 he caught 11 touchdowns and posted 1,320 yards for the Dallas Cowboys. However, injuries have caused the 2-time Pro Bowler to be nothing more than a complimentary player on offense. Jeremy Maclin proved he was a true number one receiver for the Eagles in 2014 and easily takes the edge over Austin.
So only one of three key offensive positions have improved for the Eagles this off-season. Not good for Philadelphia fans, right? Well, don’t forget, the Birds did add former Seahawks DBs Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, as well as former Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, who posted 159 tackles in 2013 (but missed the entire 2014 season) on the defensive side of the ball.
So in the end we can say the cornerback position and linebacker position were improved, meaning the Eagles break even in terms of their situations on a position-by-position basis. And do note that the 2015 NFL Draft has not happened yet, in which the Eagles are sure to upgrade the wide receiver position, secondary, and pass rush.
At the end of the day, are the Eagles still contenders in the NFC? As an Eagles fan, I can say yes without bias (okay, maybe a little optimism). Remember, the Eagles finished at 10-6 last season with a backup quarterback for 8-plus games. Yes they got thrashed by Green Bay and beaten by Seattle, but if Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray stay healthy (asking a lot, I know), and the Birds pick up a starting wide out in the draft, I see no reason why they can’t make it to the playoffs and at least have a chance at a run.
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