Before his senior season at USC, many draft analysts believed that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley was destined to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. Ultimately, Barkley didn't live up to that promise during the draft process, as he was selected in the fourth round with the 98th overall pick this year.
Chip Kelly didn't select Barkley to immediately insert him into the lineup, as Michael Vick and Nick Foles were clearly ahead of him on the depth chart entering the year. Vick would ultimately win the starting job before Foles saw time when Vick was injured. With both quarterbacks sidelined last week, Barkley was forced into the spotlight earlier than expected.
Last week against the Dallas Cowboys, the now 23-year-old completed just 11 of 20 passes for 129 yards and no touchdowns with three interceptions. This week against the New York Giants, he completed 17 of 26 passes for 158 yards, an interception and one lost fumble.
While the panic stations are crowded right now, it should always be remembered that Barkley isn't a refined quarterback and he wasn't a top prospect entering the league, such as Andrew Luck. Asking any rookie to start in Week 1 is a difficult situation. Asking a third-choice rookie with no real preparation time to play in relief for two games is simply unfair.
Because he wasn't expected to be the starter at any point this year, Barkley wouldn't have prepared properly to be a starter. Combine that with his lack of experience, and his flaws are being exacerbated rather than quelled.
On the very first drive of his career, last week against the Cowboys, Barkley threw an interception to linebacker Sean Lee. This wasn't a terrible play, but there was one fatal mistake that made it easy for the Cowboys defender.
On 3rd-and-6, the Cowboys come out with a single-high safety and are showing press man coverage underneath. This puts the focus for the offense on their two receivers in the slot to the left side of the field. With those two players so close together, the Cowboys can't play straight-up man coverage.
Barkley immediately knows where to go with the football. He understands the situation and the route combination that is going to allow his receiver to come wide open underneath for what would be a first-down reception.
It's a good sign that Barkley understands where he needs to go before the snap, but he doesn't understand precisely what he needs to do after the snap. Lee, circled in blue over the middle of the field, is reading Barkley's eyes, so as soon as the young quarterback looks to that side of the field, Lee knows where the ball is going.
In order to play this route perfectly, Barkley needed to hold Lee to the middle of the field or move him to the other side with his eyes or even a quick pump fake.
To compound his mistake, Barkley doesn't let the ball go early and throw with anticipation. Instead, he holds the ball and ultimately throws it with a defender in his face. He already doesn't have impressive arm strength, so this pressure made his pass float so that Lee had an easy opportunity to catch the ball and go the other way.
That play was very telling for what Barkley currently is as a quarterback. He has some intelligence on the field, but he still needs to learn and develop for the professional level, while his physical traits are limited at best.
Barkley threw an interception on his second drive, but it wasn't really a bad play for the quarterback.
Every interception tells a story—it's not just a number. For every interception, we need to understand how much pressure the quarterback is under, what decision the quarterback makes, what throw the quarterback makes and what situation the play takes place in.
For Barkley's second interception against the Cowboys, he evaded the initial wave of pressure before creating enough space for him to let go of the ball down the field. At the point when he let go of the ball, his intended target, Jeff Maehl, was turning upfield into space. As for the situation, the Eagles were losing by 18 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter and facing a 3rd-and-10. Barkley had to try to make something happen.
He ultimately overthrew his intended target, who was well covered by the cornerback, but it was a play that Barkley had to force. Had another receiver come free or if one was coming free before that point in the play, then Barkley could've been penalised for his play, but realistically, he had nowhere to go with the football.
With just a minute left in the game, Barkley and the Eagles offense are in the red zone. The Cowboys come out with two safeties deep and just four defenders threatening to rush the passer. Even though there is barely any time left in the game and the Eagles are down by 14, it's 1st-and-10, so Barkley doesn't have to force any throw that he doesn't like.
Critically, he does.
The Cowboys drop into zone coverage with the two safeties holding deep. The key player on this play is cornerback Brandon Carr, who is lined up to the top of the screen and watching Barkley in the pocket. Barkley is staring toward the green patch in the back of the end zone as he hopes for a window to be created with his two receivers who cross each other.
Carr is reading Barkley's eyes, though, so he is dropping into that space. Barkley never looks to his receiver in the flat, so Carr doesn't have to respect his threat in his zone.
Barkley not only fails to recognise his best option in the flat, he floats his pass to the corner of the end zone so Carr has a relatively easy interception once again. On two of his notable interceptions from the Cowboys game, he failed to understand that the defense reacts to what he does in the pocket, and his lack of arm strength was exposed.
Although Barkley threw an interception against the Giants late in the fourth quarter when it was a one-score game, again, it's tough to be too harsh on him.
If every interception tells a story, the story of this one wasn't that Barkley's late turnover cost the Eagles the game. He threw the interception on 2nd-and-10 from the Eagles 16-yard line when there were just 22 seconds left on the clock and the Eagles had no timeouts.
The Giants played prevent defense with their safeties very deep and their cornerbacks playing zone coverage on each sideline. Barkley actually looked to the left side of the field to try and create a throwing window before turning back down the right sideline.
DeSean Jackson was running free down the right sideline in behind the cornerback, but Giants safety Will Hill was coming across the field from his deep position. Hill attacked the football, while Jackson stayed on the field and waited for it to come to him.
The ball never came to Jackson. He could be blamed for not putting in enough effort, but realistically, it was Barkley's lack of arm strength that took the chance away from Jackson. With a perfect throw, Jackson could have potentially made it to the end zone, but that perfect throw probably couldn't have been made by 95 percent of the players playing quarterback on this level.
As a passer, the only real issue that can be judged is his lack of arm strength. At this stage, it's impossible to use two games where he came in as relief during his rookie season to judge him for the long term. That doesn't mean that he will eventually become an elite passer. It doesn't even mean he will eventually become a viable backup. But it does mean that it's too early to give up on him.
To go along with his interceptions, Barkley had three fumbles against the New York Giants.
Two of those fumbles came as a result of poor snaps from his center. Barkley picked up both of them quickly and was able to throw the ball down the field.
Only one of his three fumbles really reflected poorly on Barkley. It was 1st-and-goal at the Giants 2-yard line just before the half. With the Giants only leading 12-0, a score before the half of any kind could have been huge to alter how the rest of the game would go. For Barkley individually, it would have been a big score because it was his very first drive of the game.
Barkley was flushed from the pocket and initially did well to avoid a rusher in open space, but once he got outside of that rusher, he didn't feel his presence behind him. The rusher kept working to tackle Barkley while the quarterback was looking to throw the ball away. If Barkley wanted to throw the ball away, he needed to flip it forward without a wind-up in his throwing motion.
If he really wanted to be smart, he could have just held onto the ball since there was plenty of time left on the clock and it was still first down and close to the goal line.
It's been a terrible start for Barkley, but in many ways, it's not really a start. It's more like a false start because Barkley wasn't expected to be involved this early, and he clearly isn't ready to perform on the field on Sundays.
Even a week of practice as the starter could prove to be huge for the young signal-caller moving forward.