No team has been as active in free agency this month as the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly’s moves have been largely panned, but there’s far more reasons for optimism than pessimism in 2015. In fact, after two straight 10-6 years, the Eagles have the look of a playoff team in 2015. Here are five reasons why.
1. They’ll be fine on offense – if QB Sam Bradford is healthy. Chip Kelly’s 1st year, 6.2 yards per play, #1 in the NFL. Chip Kelly’s 2nd year, (after he dumped leading receiver DeSean Jackson): 5.6 yards per play, 11th in the NFL. Some might see that as a regression. In both years, he was doing it with an immobile, ordinary QB (Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez). Finally, he has a top-end QB in the oft-injured Sam Bradford, who has struggled in St. Louis (albeit with several offensive coordinators in five years). Now Bradford reunites with Pat Shurmur, his offensive coordinator from his best year in St. Louis. If Bradford’s healthy, he’ll be successful.
2. Improved running game. In Chip Kelly’s final three years at Oregon, his Ducks were 4th in the country in rushing yards per game (2010), 5th (2011) and 4th (2012). That carried over to the Eagles in his first year (1st in the NFL, 160 ypg) but as the offensive line took a hit, and LeSean McCoy’s dancing increased, they fell back to 9th in 2014. Their running back situation improved this offseason, despite losing McCoy. DeMarco Murray is a better 1-cut runner, and Ryan Mathews, who was a starter in San Diego (1,255 yards in 2013, career 4.4 ypc) adds depth. Toss in Darren Sproles and the Eagles have the best trio of running backs in the NFC, perhaps the NFL.
3. The secondary, which kept the Eagles out of the playoffs last year, has been improved dramatically. Gone are cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher (rated 49th and 92nd at their position according to Pro Football Focus) and in are Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond. Sure, they overpaid for Maxwell (rated 45th according to Pro Football Focus), and he benefitted going against No. 2 receivers in Seattle. Whether he can handle defending No. 1’s – Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham and DeSean Jackson in the division! – remains a mystery.
He’ll be paired with his former partner-in-crime in Seattle, Thurmond, who played at Oregon. The bonus that nobody talks about: What a steal Brandon Boykin (Georgia) was in the draft. He was the 21st ranked CB according to Pro Football Focus.
4. An addendum to the defense: While everyone is focused on Chip Kelly and all the offensive moves, and the racial reaches by those who get paid to make outlandish statements on TV, the front seven on defense got a huge boost with budding star linebacker Kiko Alonso (trade for McCoy) to pair with speedy leading tackler Mychal Kendricks in the middle. Connor Barwin (14.5 sacks) and Brandon Graham (5.5 sacks) are on the outside. And in 2013, DeMeco Ryans was one of the best linebackers in the division (127 tackles, four sacks); last year he missed half the season due to injury. The Eagles have a fast group of linebackers, and an improved secondary. The defense should be markedly improved from 17th in yards per play allowed in 2014 and 18th in 2013.
5. The schedule. The NFC East is matched up against the radically-improved AFC East, a division where the three teams not named the Patriots made enough moves in free agency to make a run at the Wild Card spot. But Dallas has to play the 1st play schedule, meaning a home game against Seattle, and a road game against Green Bay. In place of those two games, the Eagles host the Cardinals and travel to Detroit. Both were playoff teams in the NFC a year ago, but the Cardinals have a QB coming off an ACL injury, a defense that lost several starters and its coordinator, and a Lions team that lost the interior of a formidable defense. Point, Eagles.
And who knows what rabbit Chip Kelly will pull out of the hat at the draft in April?
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