Philadelphia Eagles: Creating the Blueprint for Optimal Offense in 2014
The 2013 Philadelphia Eagles played as well on offense as anyone could have expected under first-year head coach Chip Kelly. They set franchise records in points scored and total yards gained, winning seven of their final eight contests en route to an NFC East division title.
No one could have envisioned second-year quarterback Nick Foles would have engineered such a prolific offensive attack. After all, Michael Vick won the heavily publicized training camp battle to be the starting quarterback, and he was deemed the idealistic athlete to run Kelly’s offense.
While Vick did put up career-best numbers, the team wasn’t winning games. That all changed when Foles took over. The health of the entire team was almost uncanny, and credit that to Kelly’s fitness tactics from monitoring his players’ sleep to personalized smoothies.
Repeating as NFC East champions this coming season should be expected. Foles is back and trying to prove he wasn’t a one-year wonder. The heart of the offense is back, minus Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson, but Kelly seems to have a plan in place to make up for what Jackson brought to the table.
For the Eagles to outdo their 2013 offense, they will need repeat performances from some of their stars and growth from the younger players. Here are four main reasons Philadelphia could be even more prolific on offense this coming season.
Repeat the Hurry-Up Offense
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles ran the fastest offense in the National Football League on a constant basis. The team finished with 1,180 plays on offense, and there’s a chance it could hit 1,200 this season.
Recent reports, per Nick Fierro of The Allentown Morning Call, from Philadelphia's organized team activities say the offense has been moving even quicker than last year:
Foles was masterful in recognizing the defense’s schemes last season, and he demonstrated the pocket poise of a 10-year veteran. While he took too many sacks, that’s perfectly acceptable if he can continue to throw touchdowns to interceptions at an uncanny clip.
The offensive line is getting older, with three players (Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans) all over 30 years old. But they still all played 16 games last season and, aside from Peters, barely even missed snaps.
With all the offensive weapons the Eagles have, their best bet is to just get to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball as soon as possible. Defenses will have limited time to adjust or substitute players in, and it certainly worked for Kelly’s offense last year.
Lead the NFL in Rushing Attempts
The key to the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles will be the continued development of Pro Bowl quarterback Foles. What the team can take comfort in is knowing that it has arguably the game’s finest all-around running back in LeSean McCoy, who is still just 25 years old.
McCoy led the National Football League with 1,607 rushing yards and 2,146 total yards from scrimmage last season. As a team, the Eagles were fourth in rushing attempts (500), first in rushing yards (2,566) and first in yards per attempt (5.1).
There’s no reason to expect McCoy can’t be just as good in 2014. He’s shown no signs of declining, and he’s a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield too.
Bryce Brown was traded to Buffalo, but multidimensional back Darren Sproles was acquired from the New Orleans Saints. He will handle a small load of the carries and catch short passes out of the backfield. Chris Polk blossomed well as a second-year back a year ago, and he’s a fine No. 3 in the offense.
The heavy reliance on the running game will also make life easier for Foles. As well as Foles threw the football a year ago, he attempted just 317 passes. He’s still growing as an NFL quarterback, and his job will be much easier with a top-notch running game to help him out.
Increased High-Percentage Passes to Compensate Loss of DeSean Jackson
Last year, Foles threw a higher percentage of deep passes than any other quarterback in the National Football League. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Foles threw the ball at least 20 yards in the air on 17.4 percent of his passes.
Foles was remarkably efficient when he did throw long, accounting for 14 touchdowns to just one interception on those throws. He showed an uncanny rapport with wide receiver Riley Cooper, and he helped Jackson come through with a career-best 82 receptions and 1,332 yards.
Expecting that production to continue next season is unrealistic. Joe Flacco, for example, led the NFL with 11 touchdowns to no interceptions in 2012 but followed that up with just one touchdown to eight picks.
What Foles can control is his accuracy on short-to-intermediate routes to tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz and running backs McCoy and Sproles. With the hurry-up offense, Foles’ ability to come through on successive shorter passes on a consistent basis could be lethal.
One of the Wide Receivers Emerges into a True No. 1
Jackson is gone, which means the wide receiving corps consists of Jeremy Maclin, Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. The latter two are rookies, the first is coming off a torn ACL and Cooper had a breakout season in his contract year.
Cooper benefited greatly from Jackson taking pressure off him, but the team did show faith in Cooper to the tune of a new deal this offseason. The Philadelphia Eagles can’t afford for Cooper to regress to the player he was in the first five games of 2013.
Meanwhile, Maclin has never lived up to the potential he displayed when the team made him a first-round draft choice back in ’09. He’s also coming off a serious injury and will be expected to be the focal wide receiver in the offense.
The sleeper is second-round receiver Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt, a highly accomplished collegiate player who will push Cooper for immediate playing time. Matthews has the physical skills (6’3”, 215 pounds, 4.46 40-yard dash, 23 repetitions on the bench press) to eventually be a No. 1 wide receiver in this league.
Matthews will begin the season in the slot, but he will undoubtedly begin to steal snaps on the outside from Cooper. Matthews just has too much raw athleticism to ignore. If he can become that rare 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie, the offense will be Super Bowl-worthy.
The 2013 Philadelphia Eagles were almost unsustainably healthy. Aside from Maclin’s preseason torn ACL, the injuries were almost nonexistent. Even the injuries that did happen helped; Vick getting hurt allowed Foles to flourish.
The entire offensive line started 16 of a possible 16 games during the regular season, plus the postseason. McCoy and Jackson didn’t miss any contests. The defense was almost unaffected as well.
If Kelly has really revolutionized one NFL team to the point that they’re nearly avoidant of injuries, the 2014 Eagles will be special. The key will be replacing the players who do get hurt.
Mark Sanchez looks to be a very capable backup at quarterback. There’s a little more depth at wide receiver than there was immediately following the Jackson release. The offensive line has a capable backup in Allen Barbre (who can play tackle and guard), but the Eagles can’t afford for an All-Pro like Peters or Mathis to miss substantial time.
On defense, no one player is important enough that his absence would sink the team. What the Eagles will need to do is have depth players ready for the inevitable injuries that will happen. And if all goes according to plan, this could be a pretty special year for Philadelphia.
Scouting Combine numbers courtesy of NFL.com.