There was a time this season when the Philadelphia Eagles led the NFC East, which seems like more than a fading memory now. It seems like a dirty lie.
How could that possibly be true? It’s acceptable to have a foggy memory while fighting sleep because of the mass quantities of turkey you’ve consumed during Thanksgiving Day festivities.
And that matters little, because even on a turkey-free belly (an awful thought, I know), the Eagles being a first-place team at any point in 2015 feels like an impossible dream and the highest form of football comedy.
After being whipped 45-14 in an embarrassing loss to the Detroit Lions, the Eagles are closer to a mass dismantling this offseason than hosting a playoff game. Ominous dark clouds are growing over the head coach and general manager. The problem is both of those people are actually, well, one person: Chip Kelly.
But I promise you, the Eagles leading their division was a real thing that happened. Here’s how the NFC East looked in the not-so distant past after Philadelphia beat the New York Giants on Monday Night Football:
That snapshot of a clown-car division comes from after Week 6, when hope still remained for the Eagles.
They’ve now lost three straight games, and simply losing hasn’t been enough. The Eagles have lost while being lit on fire and jumping into a pile of tires also engulfed in flames. Their last two losses have come by a combined score of 90-31.
At this point, the Eagles have become a punch-drunk boxer due to failed decisions by Kelly. They’re still standing only because the NFC East’s low bar for playoff entry fuels a reaching, dreaming shot to keep playing in January. But they’ve taken many, many haymakers, and the latest that came Thursday could leave them on the mat.
The afternoon started out innocently enough. Philadelphia had a long first drive that stalled, and then kicker Caleb Sturgis clanked a 50-yard field-goal attempt off the upright. Not to worry, though, because two series later tight end Trey Burton set up a touchdown with his 43-yard reception.
Then the game became so bad, so fast that scoring didn’t even require running.
In the second quarter, the Lions outgained the Eagles offensively 193 yards to minus-eight. Philadelphia was absolutely roasted in all phases.
Offensively, the Eagles had two three-and-outs in the second quarter and ran 12 plays to the Lions’ 31. And defensively, the Eagles did nothing, or less than nothing.
"It takes a collective effort to get your ass beat like this," Eagles center Jason Kelce told Phil Sheridan of ESPN.com. "It really does. At this point, we're 4-7. We're going to find out what this locker room is made of."
The Lions have improved recently while winning three straight games. But overall, they’ve fielded a struggling offense in 2015, and their rushing attack has barely existed.
So they faced the ideal opponent, as the Eagles have become the easy antidote for whatever ails a mediocre offense. Please note the canyon below between Detroit’s offensive averages prior to Week 12, and what the box score read after Thursday.
|The Eagles' defensive tailspin|
|Offensive category||Lions' per-game avg before Week 12||Result against Eagles|
|Rushing yards/game||7.1 (32nd)||108|
The Lions offense freely sauntered to 93 yards more than its previous per-game average. It also gained nearly a full yard more per play.
The yardage the Eagles started to leak in the second quarter soon turned into a gushing waterfall. They allowed six touchdowns, and three were the result of 80-plus yard drives.
The wound left gets even deeper when we look at the Eagles secondary. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 337 yards with five touchdown passes, sending a once-solid pass defense further into a fiery spiral.
Heading into Week 11, Philadelphia had allowed only 15 touchdown passes. That’s a perfectly modest average of 1.7 passing TDs given up each week, which kept games within reach. Now a once-respectable secondary has been pulverized.
|Eagles secondary since Week 11|
|Opponent||Passing TDs allowed||Yards/attempt allowed|
|Week 11 vs. Bucs||5||8.5|
|Week 12. vs. Lions||5||8.9|
Yes, that’s 15 touchdowns coughed up over nine games, followed by 10 touchdowns over two games.
The team announced cornerback Nolan Carroll suffered a broken ankle, which didn’t exactly help and left Eric Rowe exposed against Calvin Johnson, the Lions receiver who often doubles as a sprinting tank. Predictably, Johnson finished with 93 receiving yards and three touchdowns while roasting Rowe, a rookie second-round pick.
But blaming the Eagles’ demise on that injury means you trusted Carroll to begin with, which isn’t a wise stance. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11 he was torched for three touchdowns and a passer rating in coverage of 109.2, according to Pro Football Focus.
Across from either Carroll or now Rowe, the results haven’t been much better, with expensive free agent Byron Maxwell allowing a passer rating of 111.6, per Pro Football Focus. Maxwell signed a contract worth $63 million over six years with $25 million guaranteed, and now he’s among Kelly’s mounting failures.
Kelly also thought running back DeMarco Murray was worthy of $21 million in guaranteed cash. He came to that conclusion after Murray absorbed the punishment of 497 touches in 2014 (including playoffs). Now a centerpiece of the Eagles' offseason decision-making is plodding along while averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
Then there’s quarterback Sam Bradford, who missed Thursday’s game while adding to his already lengthy medical file. Murray’s backfield running mate Ryan Mathews sat too, and his brittleness is also well-documented.
Chip Kelly the general manager has saddled Chip Kelly the coach with a roster of under-performing and now injured pieces. Worse, Chip Kelly the coach is seeing his once-innovative offensive scheme sputter each week, leaving a substandard defense on the field far too long.
If the Eagles can’t halt their nosedive, both the coach and the GM could be looking for new employment soon.