Philadelphia Eagles 2015 Season Preview
There has never been a team in the history of the NFL who has made more significant changes in one offseason than the Philadelphia Eagles.
Head Coach / GM Chip Kelly changed his starting quarterback, running back, wide receiver, both offensive guards, an inside linebacker, a safety and both cornerbacks during the offseason because he wasn't happy with just being a good team that could win 10 games.
That took a lot of guts, but the jury is still out on whether or not it was smart as well.
Let's take a look at the 2015 Philadelphia Eagles and see if Chip Kelly is a mad genius or just simply mad.
Kelly traded QB Nick Foles and a 2nd round pick for Sam Bradford and his long injury history. Bradford has had two ACL surgeries since the last time he played a game in the NFL almost two years ago. Personally, I was a fan of Foles and thought he was a very good QB, but Kelly must have thought otherwise. Bradford looked good in the preseason throwing the ball and also getting up after getting hits, sometimes right on that twice surgically repaired knee. But it's not just the knee that's the problem.
In college, Bradford had a concussion, a shoulder injury and a severe high-ankle sprain. He also won a Heisman. But he has never had much success in the NFL, in spite of his quick release and superior arm strength. That will have to change if the Eagles have any hope of going back to the playoffs this season. If Bradford goes down, the season is over. We all saw how bad backup Mark Sanchez was last season.
The biggest shock during the offseason was probably the trade of RB LeSean McCoy. McCoy had the 3rd most yards rushing (1,319) in the NFL last season, but apparently Kelly didn't like the way he danced behind the line of scrimmage. So off went McCoy and in came DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews, with their north-south running style.
Truth be told, the Eagles are better at RB this season than they were last year, when you throw in Darren Sproles and his pass catching ability. Yes, Murray and Matthews have extensive injury histories (Noticing a trend here?). But by signing both players, Kelly hopes to keep them both healthy by splitting the carries. Murray led the NFL in yards rushing and yards from scrimmage last season, but he also handled the ball far too much. That won't be an issue with Matthews also on the team. Did you know that Matthews has had two 1,000 yard seasons during his career? He's not just a backup.
Expect the Eagles to pound the football at their opponents on the ground all season long. It will help keep the pressure off Bradford and the offensive line.
Speaking of the offensive line, Kelly decided to make massive changes there, as well. RT Lane Johnson, LT Jason Peters and C Jason Kelce all return and Peters and Kelce are among the best at their position in the entire NFL. Meanwhile, Kelly changed both guards. RG Todd Herremans was on his last legs, so I'm guessing journeyman Andrew Gardner won't be a downgrade. But at LG, Kelly dumped Pro Bowler Evan Mathis because he dared to ask for more money. If you don't kiss the king's ring, you're gone in Chip's world. Just ask McCoy and DeSean Jackson. Allen Barbre is another journeyman who will be a major downgrade at the position. If Peters continues the gradual decline he showed the second half of last year, the line might not be a strength of this team.
Kelly decided not to overpay (5 years, $55 million) to keep WR Jeremy Maclin. They'll certainly miss his production (85 catches, 1,318 yards, 10 TDs), but they plan on using several receivers to make up for his production. The drafted Nelson Agholor, who has been compared to Maclin, but don't expect too much out of the rookie as he learns the NFL game. Riley Cooper will block and Josh Huff will just try to hold onto the football. But the guy who will lead the team in receiving will be Jordan Matthews. Matthews had a very good rookie season (872 yards receiving) and looks to take the next step towards becoming a No.1 receiver this season.
The Eagles also return Brent Celek, who is still a decent receiver and a top-notch blocker and Zach Ertz at TE. The preseason sports hernia surgery for Ertz may hold him back early in the season, but expect him to be a major force in the slot in the second half.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kelly actually didn't change anybody on the defensive line. That's because DEs Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox and NT Bennie Logan are very good players. All excel at stopping the run and Cox looks to be on the verge of stardom.
The McCoy trade brought back one of Chipper's former Ducks, Kiko Alonso. Alonso missed the entire 2014 season with a knee injury (Damn, Chip must really believe in the magical healing powers of those smoothies), but he looked like a great player as a rookie in 2013. This trade tells you all you need to know about the health of DeMeco Ryans after his Achilles injury. He's nothing but a run stopper these days. The other ILB is Mychal Kendricks, who will team with Alonso to form one of the most athletic ILB pairings in the NFL.
On the outside, Conner Barwin returns from his Pro Bowl season that saw him register 14.5 sacks, while also being great at stopping the run and dropping back in coverage. He is the total package. On the other side, the Eagles are banking on former first round Bust, Brandon Graham being able to handle a big jump in playing time and the dual responsibilities of the position. Expect opposing offenses to target Graham in pass coverage.
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The only holdover from the 31st ranked pass defense last season is safety Malcolm Jenkins. That's a good thing, though. The Eagles gave big money to free agent Byron Maxwell, who has all of 17 starts during his career, so he better live up to the hype. On the other side, the Eagles have turned to Nolan Carroll, who defensive coordinator Bill Davis didn't think was good enough to start over Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher last season. Not sure how that will turn out, but on a defense that led the league in 20-plus yards plays given up, with 72, it can't possibly get any worse.....can it?
Nate Allen will be biting on play-action fakes and giving up long TDs in Oakland this season, so oft-injured Nate Thurmond is the other starting safety. Some may question why the Eagles took a career CB and moved him to safety, but I get it now. The Eagles like their safeties to be interchangeable, so they can play in the box or in coverage. Thurmond isn't exactly a great tackler, but he will help cover up one of Kelly's biggest mistakes this offseason.
Trading away nickel corner Brandon Boykin was a huge mistake, but again, Boykin wasn't happy and nobody questions King Chip. However, the Eagles like to stay in their base defense more often than other teams in order to stop the run. By having Thurmond at safety, they can do that and have him cover opposing TEs and third receivers. When the Eagles do go to the nickel, expect to see Thurmond move into the slot and Eric Rowe come in at safety. It went largely unnoticed when Rowe started practicing at safety, his position in college during three of his four years, but I think that's his best position.
Cody Parker made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season, but he's been slowed by a groin injury this summer. That's not a good thing for a kicker, but we'll just have to wait and see if he's healthy. Donnie Jones returns to punt and he should be just fine after dropping 34 punts inside the 20 yard line last season. And of course, the longest tenured Eagle, long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, returns after making the Pro Bowl last season.
Speaking of Pro Bowl special teamers, Darren Sproles should be the first choice to return punts again, in spite of Kenjon Barner returning two punts for TDs in the preseason. The Eagles led the NFL with seven special teams TDs last season, but you can't expect that kind of production again. We'll settle for five or six, instead.
After the Eagles beat the New York Giants in a meaningless game to end the 2014 season, Chip Kelly said, "Ten and six, not going to the playoffs, is just like being 4-12."
That explains why Kelly made all those changes in the offseason. He wasn't content with having a good team that could contend for the playoffs. He wanted to build a team that could contend for a Super Bowl. It's too early to tell if he did that, but it certainly looks promising.
It's too easy to say the entire season rests on the health of Sam Bradford because any good team would be done if their starting quarterback went down. It's just that Kelly made himself an easy target for critics by trading for such an injury-prone QB.
Assuming the Eagles enjoy a reasonably healthy season, I don't see any reason why they shouldn't win the NFC East. The Cowboys won't have a running game without Murray and their defense will get exposed. The Giants have Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr and not much else. Their defense will be even worse that the Cowboys D. And the Redskins are the laughingstock of the NFL.
I see a 11-5 record and the Eagles winning a first round playoff game at home. After that, they'll probably have to face either the Seattle Seahawks or the Green Bay Packers on the road. I'm not sure this roster is quite ready to beat either of those teams, but I guess anything is possible. At the very least, this season should be step forward towards the ultimate goal of winning that elusive Super Bowl. You know, if they can stay healthy.