Who Is Eagles Team MVP Through First Six Weeks of the Season?
The Philadelphia Eagles are 5-1 heading into the bye week, but how did they get there? Five of those games came down to the wire, many of the outcomes hanging in the balance until the final second ticked off the clock, uneven performances by both the offense and defense to blame for the constant struggles.
How did the Eagles manage to come out on top time and time again? Because as well as they’ve played together as a team this season, offense and defense and special teams, one unit always picking up the other, there have been several outstanding individual efforts throughout.
Whose hard work has been the most vital to that 5-1 record? Who is Philadelphia’s Most Valuable Player six weeks into the 2014 season?
The answer might not be as simple as you think. Whoever your horse is, you better believe there is a convincing argument for someone else. We break down each candidate’s resume in an effort to pin down the deserving individual.
RB/PR Darren Sproles
Darren Sproles seems like the obvious choice. The 11th-year veteran jump-started the offense in Weeks 1 and 2, effectively willing the Eagles to victory, while he’s been one of the club’s steadiest performers overall to date.
Trailing the Jacksonville Jaguars 17-0 in the third quarter on opening day, Sproles got Philadelphia on the scoreboard, busting a 49-yard touchdown run on a critical 4th-and-1. After the Eagles defense forced a stop, the 31-year-old returned the punt 22 yards into enemy territory to set up another touchdown drives. The Birds went on to win 34-17.
Sproles did it again in the following week against the Colts in Indianapolis. His 178 yards from scrimmage accounted for over a third of Philly’s offensive production, while a bruising 19-yard touchdown scamper in the second half both kept the Eagles within striking distance—not to mention provided one of the defining moments of the club’s season to date.
Sproles has had a big influence on literally every game this season, even the Eagles’ loss, in which he was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his 78-yard punt return for touchdown. The only knock on Sproles as MVP is he hasn’t had the ball in his hands all that much.
Between rushing attempts, receptions, and kick and punt returns, Sproles has only touched the ball 65 times this season. That being said, it’s hard to imagine there are many players who have done more with less around the entire NFL this season. Sproles may have the appearance of a role player, but he’s actually far more valuable than that.
S Malcolm Jenkins
Like Sproles, Malcolm Jenkins defected from the New Orleans Saints in the offseason, only to find the grass can be greener on the inside. While the Eagles can celebrate the week off with one of the best records in the NFL, the Saints will be happy just to get back to .500 this Sunday.
Jenkins isn’t just another face in the crowd in Philadelphia the way he was in New Orleans, either. In five NFL seasons, the former first-round pick out of Ohio State managed only six career interceptions. After six games in midnight green, he’s halfway to that total, tied for the league lead with three.
There have been some big ones in there. In Week 2 at Indianapolis, Jenkins’ fourth-quarter interception prevented the Colts from taking a commanding two-possession lead late in the game. The Eagles’ prize free-agent acquisition struck again in the fourth period the following game against Washington, helping his team preserve a key inter-division victory.
Jenkins also has a pick-six to his name in the loss at San Francisco that would’ve been huge had the Birds somehow found a way to pull out the win there.
Beyond the turnovers, Jenkins has been a very solid addition to an otherwise weak secondary. While fellow safety Nate Allen and starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher have all been exploited to some degree, Jenkins has been very dependable regardless of his role.
Jenkins’ ability to play up in the box, back deep or cover a wide receiver man-to-man gives defensive coordinator Bill Davis a lot of freedom to get creative with his schemes. That alone has a certain kind of value. Add in the timely interceptions, and Jenkins is a legit MVP candidate on this squad.
OLB Connor Barwin
No way Philadelphia’s transition to a 3-4 defense would’ve gone as smoothly as 2013 without Connor Barwin. Signed away from the Houston Texans during free agency, Barwin’s versatility was something the Eagles’ other outside linebackers—all converted defensive ends—simply do not possess. Without that moveable chess piece, the system doesn’t work.
That was then. Now in their second season with the 3-4, Eagles players are comfortable in their roles. It’s allowed the coaching staff more options to attack offenses, which in turn has given Barwin more freedom to be on the attack.
It’s paying off. While he looked underwhelming as a pass-rusher in a limited capacity last season, Barwin’s six sacks in 2014 are good for third in the NFL. That’s in addition to his typically strong play against the run, not to mention the linebacker’s ability to help cover receivers and tight ends.
Barwin is still the piece that makes Philly’s 3-4 go, but now that he’s been unleashed on opposing quarterbacks, it’s having a downright devastating effect on offenses. The 28-year-old’s three sacks against the New York Giants on Sunday almost single-handedly destroyed two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning’s confidence. Barwin’s two takedowns of St. Louis signal-caller Austin Davis were significant in keeping the Rams offense from gaining too much momentum as well.
Oftentimes, though, it’s the little things with Barwin, like when he sets the edge against the run, or bats down a pass at the line of scrimmage. While Jenkins is providing some competition, Barwin still looks like the best free-agent signing the Eagles have made under head coach Chip Kelly. Talk about value.
LT Jason Peters
For my money, there is nobody more important to the Eagles than Jason Peters to begin with. Look no further than 2012, when the six-time Pro Bowl left tackle was lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles tendon, and the offensive line subsequently fell apart. Philadelphia finished 4-12 that year.
2014 hasn’t been dissimilar in that a rash of injuries and other absences have decimated the Eagles offensive line. Notice that this time, however, Peters has been the one constant, and the team is off to a 5-1 start.
Peters is the only member of the Birds’ O-line who’s started all six games at the same position this season. It’s stability the unit has desperately needed to survive losing All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis and dynamic center Jason Kelce to injuries, and impressive young right tackle Lane Johnson for the first four games to a suspension.
And as usual, Peters has been dominant. In wins over the Rams and Giants, the All-Pro was left out on an island in protection against some of the NFL’s most intimidating pass-rushers, Robert Quinn and Jason Pierre-Paul respectively. Nary a peep was heard from either one of them.
Peters also showed what kind of leader he is, the first to arrive on the scene after Washington nose tackle Chris Baker delivered a cheap shot to Nick Foles in Week 3. Peters was ejected for fighting, potentially doing more harm than good to a perilously thin line, but you can’t let opponents take liberties with your quarterback like that.
In the game of football, everything starts up front. The offense can’t move the football or put points on the scoreboard if the quarterback isn’t protected and holes aren’t opened for the running back. Peters is one of the most dominant linemen in the game, and once again is the primary reason any time good things are happening.
QB Nick Foles
This might seem like an odd choice considering that by all accounts Nick Foles has struggled mightily this season. Much of the blame can be placed on pressure surrendered by a patchwork offensive line, but Foles’ has used rushed mechanics even when there is time to set up and throw and made poor decisions.
Forget the sub-60 completion percentage or pedestrian 82.0 passer rating. Foles leads the NFL in turnovers so far this season with 10—seven interceptions, three fumbles. He needs to do a better job than that.
That being said, the quarterback often takes too much of the blame when things are going poorly, but he also receives more of the credit when his team is winning. Last I checked, the Eagles are 5-1, and Foles has been on the field for every snap.
It’s not as if he hasn’t come up big in clutch situations, either. The third-year signal-caller did his part to guide the Eagles to a comeback win in front of a hostile Indianapolis crowd. He took shot after shot against Washington and kept on ticking, putting together his best game of the season in the process.
Even in Philadelphia’s lone loss, a game where Foles couldn’t mount any kind of offense but for one drive, the potential game-winning pass actually hit wide receiver Riley Cooper in the hands in the end zone, only it was dropped.
Say what you want about Foles’ numbers this year, about his performance in general. Some would argue the Eagles are winning in spite of Foles, yet as ugly as it’s looked at times, he’s still getting it done out there in the one place that matters—the win column. What could be more valuable than that?