Grading the Philadelphia Eagles' Positional Units at the First Quarter Mark
We’ve arrived at the quarter milestone in the inaugural season of the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia, and the Eagles have already taken us on a roller coaster ride. Expectations soared after the club knocked off Washington in Week 1, but it didn’t take long for the Birds to come plummeting back to earth.
Three losses later, fans are wondering what Chip and the front office are going to do to fix this team, and with good reason. The first quarter grades are in, and they are not pretty.
As you look over the Eagles’ report card, you’ll notice there’s not a lot of hope for some students. The roster has some glaring deficiencies, for instance right up the middle of the defense, and it’s going to take at least another offseason before the organization can plug that hole.
There are a few areas though where the club has either shown tremendous progress already or has room for improvement. Some players have surprised by some of the things they’re doing—or in Mike Vick’s case, things they aren’t doing—and a few positions even earned a nice grade.
There’s even one "A" in there. You can probably guess where that goes, or you can click through already for the full scoop.
You have to hand it to Michael Vick. He really has cut down on turnovers this season minus one game, a sloppy loss to Kansas City.
Otherwise, it’s been boom or bust under center for Philadelphia. Vick’s 9.2 yards per pass attempt are second only to Peyton Manning, but only 55 percent of his passes were complete. Vick averages another 8.8 yards on the run, but only two quarterbacks have been sacked more.
The inefficiency is taking its toll. Entering Week 5, the Eagles are converting right around two of every five trips (41.7%) inside the red zone into six points according to TeamRankings.com—tied for 27th in the NFL.
To be fair, the wide receivers appear to be overmatched, and the offensive line hasn’t lived up to the hype, but the quarterback isn’t exactly putting the offense on his back. Vick may not be the primary reason for the Birds’ 1-3 record, he merely hasn’t been the solution either.
LeSean McCoy is the NFL’s leading rusher after four weeks, so there’s that. His 6.0 yards per carry are second among running backs, and Shady leads the league with 608 yards from scrimmage as well.
Bryce Brown hasn’t had near the same impact since first exploding onto the scene as an injury replacement for McCoy last season, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry in 2013. Brown also has yet to put the rock on the carpet, so that’s a win.
Chris Polk was pressed into action for the first time in Denver and performed fine, even scored his first career touchdown.
Overall, there’s nothing negative you can say about this group. McCoy is an absolute workhorse, and while Brown could probably be more productive, the yards should come with more touches.
Now I know how teachers feel when they have to grade a group project where it’s quite clear one person did all of the work.
Despite falling off the radar somewhat the past two weeks, it’s fair to say DeSean Jackson has made the most out of his opportunities in Chip Kelly’s offense. He’s still the NFL’s sixth-leading receiver with 393 yards, his 18.7 yards per reception fourth-highest.
Unfortunately, DeSean accounts for roughly half of Philly’s wide receiver totals. Riley Cooper and Jason Avant combined have fewer receptions and yards, with the same number of touchdowns.
Times have become so desperate, Jeff Maehl catching two passes for 43 yards and a score during garbage time of a 52-20 loss to Denver might get him more looks in the offense. This is an ugly situation without Jeremy Maclin.
This unit is nowhere near what was advertised, nor have the upgrades made in the offseason proven worth the investment
With Brent Celek already under contract, the Eagles signed James Casey to a free-agent contact, then drafted Zach Ertz in the second round. Combined, Casey and Ertz have six receptions for124 yards, while Celek has been only slightly better than the two of them with seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.
You can excuse a rookie tight end for not making an immediate impact, but Casey’s lack of involvement in the offense is especially disappointing. Not sure the front office needed to bring somebody in to play special teams for $4 million a year.
On one hand, the Eagles are leading the NFL in rushing by close to 50 yards per game. Between Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and the fleet of running backs, Philadelphia might be unstoppable on the ground.
Sadly, the unit has been far from invincible in pass protection. Fourth-overall pick Lane Johnson is struggling to protect Vick’s blindside, and veteran Todd Herremans hasn’t been much help. Meanwhile on the left, All-Pro Jason Peters has been experiencing some trouble himself, perhaps a result of a dislocated finger.
The occasional erratic snaps of Jason Kelce haven’t gone unnoticed either. About the only guy who’s stayed relatively consistent through it all is left guard Evan Mathis—not surprising for one of the best in the league.
Overall, the Birds’ offensive line has been inconsistent, but you can’t argue with that kind of production on the ground. They only stand to improve with increased continuity.
This is a very complicated unit to grade because they’re all over the spectrum. Strictly speaking starters, Cedric Thornton has been a big surprise on one end, while Fletcher Cox appears to have regressed at the other.
Then Isaac Sopoaga has been a total non-factor at nose tackle no matter how few snaps he’s played. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis is essentially trying to run a 3-4 defense without the foundation.
Thornton has been a true standout, and Cox still occasionally flashes the skill that made him the 12th-overall pick in the 2012 draft. Behind them, Vinny Curry and Clifton Geathers are okay when given the chance, although rookie Bennie Logan seems to be ineffective.
All over the place. There are definitely some pieces to a quality line on this roster. At the moment, the coaching staff is still trying to figure out how they all fit.
All things considered, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have adapted well in their transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. Cole is still a monster against the run, Graham wreaks havoc on the passer with his limited opportunities.
If only there was a way to combine the two.
A simpler solution to the problem would probably just be to divvy their snaps a little more accordingly. Let’s see more Graham in obvious passing situations. The Eagles did use a first-round pick on him at one point in time, right?
Connor Barwin has easily been Philadelphia’s top free agent addition, performing his duties well on the opposite side. Defending the run, getting after the quarterback or dropping into coverage, Barwin is solid.
DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks may leads the Eagles in tackles, but those numbers feel hollow to say the least.
Perhaps it’s Kendricks’ eight missed tackles, tied for the most in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (subscription only). Maybe it’s Ryans’ sheer lack of impact in every phase of the game.
Between the two of them, Kendricks and Ryans haven’t forced any fumbles, intercepted or even so much as broken up any passes, and have recorded just one sack between them. Other than tackling ball carriers once they’ve already 5-10 yards down the field, the interior linebackers are pretty much invisible.
At least Kendricks’ dynamic athleticism makes him suitable for a number of different roles. Too bad he doesn’t fit any of them particularly well.
Early impressions are the Eagles got what they paid for in Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher—a pair of corners who won’t shut down many receivers but won’t embarrass your defense either.
The front office signed Williams and Fletcher off the free agent scrap heap at mid-level rates in March, hoping for at least adequate cornerback play. That’s right around what the Birds have got out of both. Cary in particular has had his moments against San Diego and Denver, but neither one of them is getting burnt for a ton of huge plays.
Brandon Boykin is a bit of a disappointment both in the slot and when he was called on as an injury replacement on the outside, although Bill Davis has utilized him in a variety of roles so it’s not always as simple as his man is catching the football.
With Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning off the schedule, I really think you’re going to see this unit might be better than they seem. I especially like the physicality on the outside.
Let’s start by stating something positive about the Eagles’ safeties for a change. They haven’t really been beaten over the top at all when they are the last line of defense, which is the only thing that keeps them from getting an ‘F.’
Nate Allen, Patrick Chung, and rookie Earl Wolff have more or less taken their turns getting whipped by opposing quarterbacks. Allen always seems to be a step behind the play, Chung whiffs on far too many tackles, and Wolff is clearly in over his head.
It says something about Kurt Coleman that he can’t even get on the field the way those three have played.
Wolff gets a bit of a pass too because he’s a fifth-round pick that’s been rotating into the lineup from day one. There’s not much more promise here than that though, and Wolff appears to be a ways off from actually contributing in any meaningful sense.
Alex Henery is only 7-for-10 on field goal attempts this season, including just 1-for-4 on attempts between 40 and 49 yards. His 46-yard miss to close out the first half of a 33-30 loss to the San Diego Chargers in Week 2 proved to be his most costly.
Also, per teamrankings.com, only half of Philadelphia's kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. That's tied for a paltry 25th in the NFL.
Punter Donnie Jones ranks worse, averaging only 42.8 yards per punt, 30th in the league.
Damaris Johnson is a bright spot as a kick returner, averaging 26.4 yards per return.