There were some questions as to whether the offensive system Chip Kelly ran while coaching in college would translate to the NFL. If year one of his tenure in Philadelphia is any indication, his professional team will do just fine.
Philadelphia exploded out of the gate with a win against Washington, then went through some ups and downs. But a 7-1 second half allowed the Eagles to complete a worst-to-first turnaround in the NFC East and enjoy a trip to the postseason.
That playoff appearance ended quickly with a close loss to New Orleans, but 2013 had to leave Eagles fans excited about what’s to come. So what has to happen in order for Philly to make a deeper playoff run? Brandon Lee Gowton, manager and editor in chief at the Bleeding Green Nation, tells us his thoughts.
Zoneblitz: The Eagles were streaky but got hot heading into the end of the season and made the playoffs. What’s your assessment of the 2013 season and what did you think Of Chip Kelly’s first year as coach?
Gowton: It’s hard to call it anything except a big success. The abrupt ending was unfortunate not to mention a wasted opportunity. But on the whole it was a very successful season. Kelly proved his doubters wrong. The Eagles offense was one of the best in the league and a lot of that is to Kelly’s credit.
Zoneblitz: Any concerns about the ability of Nick Foles to build on what he has accomplished so far?
Gowton: Regression is certainly a concern when it comes to Foles. It’s just hard to see him repeating his 2013 performance, especially when you account for a tougher schedule and an entire offseason where teams can study tape on him. On the other hand, Foles has the offseason to improve on the weaknesses in his game. My main concern with Foles is that he seems to leave too many big plays on the field when they’re there for the taking. Perhaps this comes with the low interception rate, but at a certain point being “too safe” could hinder the offense. An example of this can be found in the first half of the Eagles-Saints playoff game. The Eagles got off to a slow start and part of that was because Foles missed some easy plays. He rebounded in the second half, however. More consistency is needed.
Zoneblitz: DeSean Jackson – what is the story there and how much will the Eagles miss him? And what does his absence mean for the WR position?
Gowton: Well since the Eagles aren’t officially talking, the story seems to be that Jackson wasn’t the best teammate and the organization was simply tired of him. The fact that he was so easily cast aside despite his talent level seems to say a lot. The Eagles will certainly miss his on the field contributions. Not only did he put up big numbers but he stretched the field. Jackson’s absence means it’s time for the other receivers to step up in the increased workload that they will be seeing. The Eagles will likely add a new body at wide receiver somewhere during the 2014 NFL draft.
Zoneblitz: Darren Sproles was an interesting signing, especially with the presence of LeSean McCoy. How do you see Sproles’ role developing?
Gowton: When the Eagles traded for Darren Sproles, my first reaction was “Another toy for Chip Kelly’s offense!” I don’t see Sproles as a mere running back. He’s an offensive weapon. The Eagles will give him some handoffs, but a lot of what Sproles can do will be in the screen game or lined up as a slot receiver. Sproles should give the Eagles significant production in the underneath passing game.
Zoneblitz: The defense gave up 62 fewer points in 2013 than in 2012, but still allowed 382 and also ranked 29th in yards allowed. Where does this unit have to improve?
Gowton: First, I think the yards allowed stat is a little misleading. The problem with that stat it’s a measure of volume. Due to the fast pace of the Eagles’ offense, their time of possession was the lowest in the league. That means their defense was on the field very often. If you look at yards allowed per play, the Eagles ranked 20th. Still below average, but nowhere near as bad as the volume number indicates. With that said, the Eagles defense obviously still has room to improve. The first area that stands out is pass rush. The Eagles simply do not generate a very efficient pass rush right now. Trent Cole is still a productive starter but he’s hardly a feared pass rushing force off the edge. The Eagles need to find a way to get better at getting to the QB.
Zoneblitz: Free agency has been relatively quiet, with the addition of safety Malcolm Jenkins, QB Mark Sanchez and a few lower-priced defensive pieces. What do you think of the moves thus far?
Gowton: I would hardly call the Eagles’ free agent class exciting, but they did add some valuable pieces. Malcolm Jenkins is a much needed starter in the secondary. He also has the versatility to be moved around in different defensive formations. Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos are primarily special teams players and depth guys. Cornerback Nolan Carroll was signed on the cheap and could compete for a starting job or at the least be a quality backup on the outside. Mark Sanchez gives the Eagles a veteran QB to compete for a backup job. I’d say the Eagles added some quality depth to their roster without making a big splash.
Zoneblitz: What should expectations be for 2014 and how far is this team from going on a deeper postseason run?
Gowton: Expectations for 2014 should be tempered. Just because the Eagles made the playoffs last year won’t guarantee success. The NFL is a tricky league in the sense that the parity is so great. That said, if the Eagles do manage to build off of Year One of the Chip Kelly era, they will be in good shape. As far as I’m concerned, they’re still the favorites in the NFC East until another team steps up and proves their worth. I could easily see a playoff win for this team if everything progresses according to plan.
Zoneblitz: What else would you like to see Eagles do in free agency and then in the draft?
Gowton: The Eagles are probably done in free agency. As far as the draft goes, there are a number of different options they could go. They need to add a wide receiver at some point. Pass rush is also a big need as I already mentioned. The key thing is for them to truly stick to their board and take the best player available. Acquiring more talent is paramount.