Philadelphia Eagles 2014-15 Team Preview
Chip Kelly does one thing that a lot of football fans (myself included) find very entertaining: a hurry up offense. While the merits of doing so may be in debate, the excitement it generates helps fill seats and keeps fans enthused (not that such has really been a problem in Philly anyway).
Kelly must build on last year’s momentum and help the Eagles take the next step towards contention. The offense is diverse, and the West Coast offense is gaining popularity in the league. Can Kelly be the best to implement it so far?
Odds to win Superbowl: 25/1
Odds to win NFC: 14/1
Odds to win NFC East: +110 (favorite)
Odds courtesy of Bovada
Kelly has made the Eagles one of the most dynamic and fluid offenses in the league. Five offensive starters made the Pro Bowl and LeSean McCoy won the league’s rushing title. Quarterback coach Bill Lazor took off to become the new offensive coordinator in Miami. Nick Foles will continue to develop even without Lazor, but he was largely responsible for his quick ascent in the NFL.
Foles has something very unteachable in QB: his size. At 6’6” he’s tall enough to see over a line and make solid decisions. He’s a pocket passer, which isn’t prototypical for Kelly’s offenses. He’s also the next in a long line of great Philly QBs (Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, and even Michael Vick). Mark Sanchez has virtually no chance (barring injury) to take back his starting job from Foles, while Vick is a bit of a long-shot too.
Foles threw 27 TDs with just two INTs, which was the best TD/INT ratio in NFL history. His 119.2 passer rating was the third-best in NFL history (behind Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning). Foles also won the Pro Bowl MVP award. He’s going to be up for an extension next offseason, so another solid campaign this year will result in a very big payday. A deep playoff run would guarantee his spot as the Eagles’ franchise QB for many seasons to come. The depth the Eagles have at this position is virtually unparalleled, and entirely unneeded unless Foles suffers a serious injury.
LeSean McCoy was the biggest beneficiary of Kelly’s offense. He led the NFL in rushing while amassing 2,146 yards from the line of scrimmage. Incoming back Darren Sproles will help McCoy’s legs remain fresh by taking some of the carries. He’s a good option as a receiver, too, which will help a lot in the West Coast offense. Kelly will love the added flexibility of having Sproles, while still maximizing McCoy’s impact. Third-year back Chris Polk is a powerful back who became McCoy’s primary backup last season. He’s also got a good set of hands that Kelly will be sure to make use of.
The Eagles lost a lot of depth at WR over the offseason. Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin were re-signed and the team spent its second and third round picks on wideouts. Jordan Matthews was the all-time leader in SEC history for catches and receiving yards, and he’ll eventually be a top-2 option at the position. Fellow rookie Josh Huff will function mostly as a kick returner, but he’s a good option both on the inside and outside. Again, he’ll function well in the WC offense once he gets some experience under his belt.
The OL returns all five starters. The holes it created last year for McCoy were brilliant and the left side in particular is stacked with two Pro Bowlers (Jason Peters and Evan Mathis). This experienced unit also will benefit from last year’s No. 4 overall pick being in his second NFL season.
The secondary last season was the absolute worst in the NFL. Signing S Malcolm Jenkins and adding Nolan Carroll for CB depth will help. Even so, it’s difficult to go from worst to passable, and without it, the defense will be unable to function very well, especially given that the LBs and DL are average at best.
The DL features a lot of inexperience, but was the best part of the Eagles’ D last year. It features a variety of high draft picks (Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox), but it will take time before the DL reaches anything close to its full potential as a unit. Thornton is a great run stopper but isn’t much of a pass rusher.
At LB the team really garnered almost no sacks last year. Thus, it spent a first round draft selection on Marcus Smith. Smith won’t be ready to take over Trent Cole’s starting role by opening night, but he is likely to do so eventually this season. Cole and Connor Baldwin combined for only 13 sacks last year. Brandon Graham is a good pass rusher, but doesn’t see a lot of field time. Maybe that changes. The Eagles have a few more options here, but none are likely to take starting positions.
The secondary, as mentioned, is horrible. Even with a complete turnover, Malcom Jenkins is the only real good thing it has going for it. Jenkins is able to run with TEs and also move into the slot. Jenkins will have either Nate Allen or Earl Wolff along side him; though 5th round pick Ed Reynolds will vie for time. CB returns two starters in Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. Watkins may steal either’s starting role and he could be the sleeper of last year’s draft. Brandon Boykin had six INTs last season, and he should have a much bigger role than just slot coverage.
Kelly is looking for a lot more from his special teams. Two FA signings (Braman and Chris Maragos) will improve both the return and coverage units. Margos was vital in the Seahawks championship last year, and should help Philly considerably. Punter Donnie Jones was re-signed after setting a franchise record for punts downed inside the 20.
It helped the Eagles a lot in late-game situations. Alex Henery had a poor year last season, but has shown enough in his career to inspire further confidence in his abilities. He doesn’t have overwhelming leg strength to say the least, though. Rookie Carey Spear is a strong bet to take over the role at some point. The issue at kicker could be very problematic for the Eagles, because special teams often make the difference with fringe contending teams.
The Eagles will likely win the NFC East, but the team’s chances at a NFC title are slim. Offensively, there is little not to like. And defensively, there is just as much to hate. Teams will go hard at the Eagles often on third down, knowing the team has little recourse to prevent short yardage.
Foles also was unthinkably successful in his rookie season, and teams are going to be more prepared for Kelly’s attack this year. The Eagles need a lot more from its defense, and that will take time and further additions to the team. Thus, 25/1 Superbowl odds do not represent a value pick in any sense of the word.