7 Ways Chip Kelly Can Avoid a Sophomore Slump in 2014-15
Along the way, Kelly implemented a new fitness regime and transitioned the defense to a 3-4 scheme. He made a midseason switch to his backup quarterback and rode the second-year player to a late-season surge and a series of consecutive wins over potential playoff teams.
The Eagles seem to be set as the class of the NFC East. The New York Giants and Washington Redskins took a step back in 2013, while the Dallas Cowboys are mired in annual mediocrity. Factor in that Philadelphia has most of its key players under contract for next season, and Eagles fans should be expecting a repeat division crown.
Kelly will want to be careful not to undergo a sophomore slump. There’s no guarantee of anything in the National Football League. The Washington Redskins proved that by going from 10 wins and an up-and-coming franchise in 2012 to a meager three wins in ’13. For Kelly to duplicate his first-year success, he will need to ensure the following seven things occur.
Take Advantage of Division Opponents
Chip Kelly went 4-2 against his division foes in 2013. He swept the Washington Redskins and split with both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. His Week 17 win over the Cowboys secured the Philadelphia Eagles’ division crown.
Kelly will need to duplicate that division success next year. He especially can’t afford a midseason swoon like the consecutive losses to the Giants and Cowboys, in which Philly scored 10 total points.
The Eagles also play tougher conference opponents, given that they won the division. That means they will face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers and Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. They also play the rest of the NFC West, which means they face tough defenses in the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals.
Re-Sign Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin
Cooper broke out in a contract year, demonstrating a fantastic rapport with Nick Foles. The pair combined for an NFL-best 141.7 passer rating, and Cooper caught eight touchdowns in 11 starts from Foles. Given that Cooper has never had success at any other time in his career but the stretch this year with Foles, the Eagles may be able to sign him at a cheaper price.
Maclin is coming off ACL surgery from an injury that kept him out for all of 2013. That’s the second such injury he’s suffered since graduating high school, and he’s underachieved in Philadelphia since being drafted in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft.
Maclin may be best suited in the slot, but either way, he should break out in Chip Kelly’s offense. After all, DeSean Jackson did. A one-year deal may be the best option for Maclin so he can then test the free agency number coming off a strong showing.
Sign Proven Depth on Offensive Line
The Philadelphia Eagles were almost unsustainably injury-free in 2013. Aside from Jeremy Maclin and the quarterbacks, the offense didn't suffer a single injury in 16 regular season and one postseason contest.
The offensive line was particularly durable, as the five players combined to start 85 of a possible 85 games. All five—Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, and Lane Johnson—are signed through 2014. Peters and Mathis were named AP First-Team All-Pros, and Kelce was one of the top alternates for the Pro Bowl team.
Allen Barbre was the only backup to see competitive playing time, appearing in 89 snaps, mostly to sub Peters. Julian Vandervelde—who possesses the ability to play both center and guard—was the only other second-team player to see time on the offensive line, and that was nine snaps at the end of the Chicago rout.
It's highly unlikely that the Eagles go through another regular season staying that healthy on the line. That being said, Chip Kelly would be wise to invest a late draft pick or sign a veteran free agent to back up the interior line. Vandervelde is probably best suited as a backup, and the team needs more than just Barbre with experience. Dennis Kelly slipped down the depth chart last season, and he doesn't seem to be Chip's type of player.
A veteran like Chris Williams or Jamon Meredith may be an ideal fit, given each player's versatility and impending free-agent status.
Add Defensive Star Like T.J. Ward
The Philadelphia Eagles got burned by the free-agent spending splurge three offseasons ago, when they added Nnamdi Asomugha, Vince Young, Ronnie Brown and a slew of others.
They need to be careful not to overpay for top talent this summer. But Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward is worth paying for, considering he would fill such a position of need. Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd is the top safety on the free-agent market, but he’s going to command top money that may come in the form of $8-10 million per season.
Ward might be a better option. He was just added to the Pro Bowl, and deservedly so. But that means he will probably cost more money. The Eagles may have to shell out $6-7 million per season for Ward, but it’s time Billy Davis gets a top-tier safety for his defense.
The Philadelphia Eagles have no major offseason needs, but they could definitely use improvement at pressing positions.
It’s time the defense gets a pass-rushing linebacker that can consistently wreak havoc on the opposing quarterback. Trent Cole played surprisingly well down the stretch in 2013, and Connor Barwin is a talented all-around linebacker. Brandon Graham may be trade bait, and the team needs a player like Aldon Smith or Clay Matthews that requires double teams.
Assuming the team addresses the safety position in free agency, the second-round pick should be a versatile defensive linemen that can play both 5-technique end and 0-technique nose tackle. That’s going to require a pretty versatile player, and the Philadelphia Eagles could opt for a player who plays primarily either of the techniques.
Bennie Logan was a fine player as a rookie nose tackle, but that doesn’t mean the defense couldn’t use another player of his talent. Drafting a mammoth of a man to play on the interior line will allow Billy Davis to be creative with him. Davis could line up his new draft pick next to Logan in a four-man front or put him head-to-head with an offensive tackle on the outside. Green Bay’s B.J. Raji (back in his prime) is a perfect example, as he possesses the versatility to play seemingly anywhere on the line.
The third-round pick should be a cornerback or a safety. If the team signs T.J. Ward, drafting a safety isn’t as much of a priority (but it would still be a good idea). A cornerback can compete with Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin for one of the top spots in 2014. Meanwhile, a safety would push for playing time as well, since this position is far from set.
Continued Development of Up-and-Coming Defensive Players
Billy Davis’ defense overachieved all season in 2013, at one point going nine consecutive games allowing 21 points or fewer. They can’t necessarily expect that to replicate in ’14, but the Philadelphia Eagles have the foundation for a talented defense.
The front part of the 3-4 is young, namely Bennie Logan, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Vinny Curry. Mychal Kendricks is becoming a playmaker as an inside linebacker, and he made a ton of impact plays down the stretch last season. Cornerback Brandon Boykin recorded more interceptions than any player in the league except for Richard Sherman, and he’s going to be a star.
The Eagles have to continue to develop their young players. Thornton will need to develop some sort of ability to rush the passer. Kendricks needs to cover better. And Boykin needs to prove he can play on the outside.
If Davis can again do what he did last year, this team will head to the playoffs once again.
Win the Close Games
The mark of a great NFL team is to win the close games. Much of that stems on the quarterback. Nick Foles was very rarely tested in the fourth quarter in 2013, but he’s going to have to deliver some fourth-quarter comebacks next season.
The defense stood up to the challenge in a handful of games. They stopped Arizona. They stopped Washington twice. And they made a huge stop against Dallas to win the division.
It didn’t carry over to the playoffs, but it was a good start for Chip Kelly’s team. The Philadelphia Eagles went 4-2 in one-score games in ’13. They will have to be just as good or better in ’14.
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