Sproles, Carroll Could Be Final Pieces as Eagles Become Super Bowl Contenders

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Sproles, Carroll Could Be Final Pieces as Eagles Become Super Bowl Contenders
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

You could argue that they still have to prove they can score like the Denver Broncos, but if the Philadelphia Eagles didn't already have the NFL's best all-around offense prior to free agency, they've moved a lot closer to that throne with Thursday's acquisition of Darren Sproles

That deal, which was first reported by Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, will only cost Philly the fifth-round pick it got from New England in exchange for Isaac Sopoaga last year, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio

An easy price to pay in order to add one of the most dynamic backs in the game to Chip Kelly's offensive arsenal. 

Everyone knows Kelly likes to use smaller backs as receivers, and Sproles is the ultimate receiver out of the backfield. Since joining the Saints in 2011, he has more catches, yards and touchdowns than any other back in football, and it's not even close.

Most prolific pass-catching running backs since 2011
Back Team Receptions Rec. yards Touchdowns
1. Darren Sproles Saints 232 1981 16
2. Ray Rice Ravens 195 1503 4
3. Matt Forte Bears 170 1424 4
4. Pierre Thomas Saints 166 1292 5
5. LeSean McCoy Eagles 154 1227 8
6. Chris Johnson Titans 135 995 4

Pro Football Reference

LeSean McCoy ranks in the top six in all three of those categories as well, but McCoy is a very different player. There's no reason the Eagles can't use both backs frequently—an approach that would give opposing defenses tremendous headaches. 

Of course, that would also help to lighten McCoy's load, which could be a lifesaver. Since 2011, McCoy has had two seasons with 850 or more snaps at running back, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). During that span, only two other backsJamaal Charles and Matt Fortehave hit that plateau once. 

But back to the offensive arms race. Last year, the Eagles had the league's second-ranked offense and were fourth in points scored, but their offensive numbers were actually more impressive when you isolated games in which Nick Foles was the quarterback.

After eliminating Michael Vick and Matt Barkley from the equation—which is only fair considering he's the franchise quarterback moving forward—the gap between Denver and Philly is minuscule.

Offensive comparison, 2013
Points/game Yards/game TO/game
Broncos, with Manning 38.1 457.3 1.7
Eagles, with Foles only 33.0 436.0 0.7
Packers, with Rodgers 30.6 443.1 2.2
Patriots, with Brady 27.8 384.5 1.3
Eagles, any quarterback 27.6 417.3 1.2
Saints, with Brees 25.4 323.8 1.1
Chargers, with Rivers 24.8 393.3 1.3

Pro Football Reference

Regardless of the quarterback, the Eagles and Broncos each averaged 6.3 yards per play in 2013. Nobody else in the league was above 6.0. 

Now take starters Eric Decker and Zane Beadles away from Denver and add Sproles and Jeremy Maclin to the Eagles and tell me this isn't the league's most dangerous offensive unit. 

This offense is now officially good enough to compete for a Super Bowl. But of course, the offense is only on the field half the time (and in Philadelphia's case, because of their breakneck pace, less than that), and three of the last four teams to actually reach the Super Bowl—Baltimore, San Francisco and Seattle—were there as a result of strong defensive play to more of a degree than strong offensive play. 

So don't overlook what Philly has done to shore up its defensive backfield the last few days, starting with the addition of veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins on Tuesday and peaking with the signing of cornerback Nolan Carroll Thursday, according to CSN Philly's Geoff Mosher

Jenkins will start, and Carroll could too. The 27-year-old has started 22 games the last two seasons in Miami and is coming off a career year with three picks, two sacks and an opposing passer rating of just 47.8, per PFF.

Lowest opposing complete percentages vs. CBs, 2013
Player Team Opp. comp. %
1. Trumaine McBride Giants 43.8
2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Broncos 44.1
3. Leodis McKelvin Bills 46.1
4. Nolan Carroll Dolphins 47.8
5. Johnathan Joseph Texans 48.3

Pro Football Focus

Carroll should at least push incumbent starters Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher while giving the secondary some much-needed depth in a league that continues to emphasize the pass (and defense of the pass). 

That's something this team has been struggling with for years. And although it felt as though it was always sunny in Philadelphia last season the Eagles still had the league's 32nd-ranked pass defense. 

That should change this year. Combine a strong D with an upgraded offense featuring new weapons like Sproles and Maclin and there's no reason the Eagles can't win their first championship in half a century. 

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