The Eagles were undoubtedly one of the surprise teams of 2013 as Chip Kelly transferred his high tempo offensive scheme from college football into the pros.
Rebounding from a 4-12 season in 2012, the Eagles improved to 10-6 and the NFC East title after winning a crunch week 17 match up in Dallas. In fact the Eagles were very impressive down the stretch, with seven wins and only a high scoring defeat in Minnesota to show for their efforts in November and December. The Eagles also won the most iconic game of the season in that stretch; a 34-20 victory over the Lions in blizzard conditions and foot thick snow on the pitch. A close defeat to the Saints ended the campaign at the Wild card stage, but there are plenty of reasons for Eagles’ fans to be cheerful heading into 2014.
One of the major beneficiaries of Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme was quarterback Nick Foles, who rose to the challenge after stepping into the starter’s shoes following an injury to Michael Vick. Vick had amassed a rating of 86.4 prior to his injury, yet Foles grabbed the job with both hands. An end of season rating of 119.2 is sensational and stats of 2891 yards, 27 scores (including an NFL record seven in one game) and just 2 picks back this up. It was no surprise to see Vick move on in the offseason; this is now Foles’ team. LeSean McCoy was in inspired form too with 1607 yards on the ground at 5.1 per carry and nine scores of his own. DeSean Jackson’s 82 catches for 1332 yards and nine scores will be missed next season and Riley Cooper will need to step into the breach to improve on his 47 catches, 835 yards and eight touchdowns. Tight ends Brent Celek and rookie Zach Ertz combined for 32 and 36 receptions respectively, with a total of 10 touchdowns (six to four). They will form an integral part of the offence again in 2014.
Philly’s defence gave up an average of 23.9 points per game (17th in the NFL) and 394 yards per game (29th in the NFL). Spending a lot more time on the field than in the past due to the high tempo offence has not helped their statistics, but it is clearly evident that improvements will be needed to make the next step. Trent Cole led the team with eight sacks and Connor Barwin managed five, but no other player managed more than four. The secondary saw plenty of action, with Brandon Boykin managing six picks and a further 16 passes defended. Bradley Fletcher (15), Cary Williams (12) and Barwin (10) also hit double digits in terms of passes defended. DeMeco Ryans racked up 127 tackles, four sacks and two picks in an impressive season, whilst Mychal Kendricks recorded 106 tackles, three interceptions and four sacks of his own. The Eagles will look to add more youth to their defensive unit as Kelly builds his own style of roster, but currently the defensive unit remains very much a work in progress.
Damaris Johnson was solid if unspectacular in achieving a kick return average of 25.9 yards. In sharing punt return duties with Jackson, the pair were distinctly unimpressive in averaging 6.6 yards per attempt. Alex Henery made just 82.1% of his Field Goal attempts and Donnie Jones achieved a net average of 40.5 yards per punt. Both may be under pressure coming into 2014.
Chip Kelly’s approach is like a breath of fresh air in the NFL. He has entered the league committed to his own coaching philosophy and shown that he can be successful. With more time now to start to mould his roster to the type of player his game plan needs, this is clearly just the start of a project for the Eagles. If he can continue to achieve a similar level of success (and given the strength of the division this is definitely possible), then exciting times lie ahead in the City of Brotherly Love.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
The pick up of Darren Sproles is an ideal example of the Kelly moving to get the type of player his system needs. Sproles can prove very effective as a third down back for the Eagles in terms of blocking and pass catching. Effectively swapping back-ups with the Jets sees Mark Sanchez arrive in Philadelphia with plenty to prove and a year of watching Nick Foles trying to improve on his impressive 2013 ahead of him. The loss of DeSean Jackson was a surprising move, but clearly he did not fit into Kelly’s long term plans. The Eagles may live to regret the decision with two games against the Redskins next year giving Jackson plenty of opportunity for ‘revenge’. With this move in mind, the retention of Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin is even more important. Yet with Jason Avant’s departure to the Panthers, wide receiver may be an area looked at in the draft. Moves to strengthen the secondary have already taken place with the addition of former Saint Malcolm Jenkins to come in at safety and Nolan Carroll joining from Miami at cornerback. Aside from wide receiver, expect Philadelphia to target the defence in the draft. More help is needed at safety, whilst adding a pass rusher along the line or/and at linebacker will be a key area of interest heading into the draft as the Eagles look to create that young and athletic defensive unit that they need