The 2015 Eagles remain not-yet-ready for prime time viewing as they head into the bye with some soul-searching to do.
By Mike Diviney
A week after embarrassing the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, the Philadelphia Eagles looked not yet ready for their next prime-time matchup in Carolina, losing 27-16 to their undefeated hosts.
The Panthers had not beaten a team with an above-.500 record all season, and they did not look terribly impressive in beating the Eagles. But the visitors made it easy for them by playing poorly in almost all phases of the game.
The Eagles defense has been the better unit all season long, and indeed, picked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton three times. Despite those bright spots, the unit surrendered too many big plays to a stable of average offensive players and allowed the Panthers to control the game by failing to stop the run, a phase of the game in which the Eagles had excelled all season.
The Eagles’ vaunted run defense, which had gone a league-best 18 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher, was gashed repeatedly by the Panthers. Pedestrian running back Jonathan Stewart, who had averaged just 3.8 yards per carry coming into the game, piled up 125 yards on 24 carries, including a 36-yarder on the opening drive.
In the second quarter, the Eagles cut the Panthers’ lead to 7-3. On the ensuing Carolina possession, the Eagles gave linebacker Brandon Graham a breather and inserted Marcus Smith. Smith was fooled on a 43-yard reverse that allowed wideout Ted Ginn, Jr. to slash into Eagle territory.
It was that kind of night for the Eagles. They played into the Panthers’ hands all game long. The score never got out of hand, but the Panthers were always in control. Whenever the Eagles managed to tighten the margin, the Panthers responded to widen the gap.
The Eagles’ offensive game plan was mystifying, as Sam Bradford repeatedly opted for short passes against a defensive unit known for the sideline-to-sideline talent of its linebackers. The Eagles rarely used misdirection to fool those linebackers out of position, instead throwing short, obvious passes that allowed the linebackers to quickly corral receivers before they picked up much yardage. Of course, the Eagles receivers didn’t help their case by failing to hold onto catchable balls: every receiver dropped at least one.
When Bradford came to Philadelphia, his apologists defended his poor career completion percentage by claiming he had been surrounded by a subpar class of receivers in St. Louis. In Philadelphia, Bradford often has been inaccurate; when he isn’t, Eagles receivers lead the league in drops. Since Bradford is the only constant, some of the blame lies with him. Moreover, he virtually never takes a shot more than 20 yards down the field.
Numbers don’t even tell the whole story with Bradford. He is tentative and scared in the pocket. He feels the rush when it is not there and he does not feel the rush when it is there, often holding the ball too long, and allowing rushers to get to him. He is always looking for somewhere to fall down before he gets hit. In comportment, Bradford is one of the most uninspiring quarterbacks to play in the NFL in a long time.
Chip Kelly’s decision to trade for Bradford again calls into question Kelly’s ability to be an NFL general manager, for which he has zero credentials. Kelly traded a winning quarterback in Nick Foles for a losing quarterback in Sam Bradford and threw in a second-round pick for the privilege. Terrible judgement.
The lone bright spot was the Eagles running game, which amassed 177 yards on 30 carries. Even that was a point of contention as backup Ryan Mathews badly outplayed starter Demarco Murray yet again. Despite getting one-third the carries of the man behind whom he sits on the depth chart, Mathews outgained Murray by more than 30 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown run.
During a Monday morning radio interview, Kelly was asked whether Mathews’ production should earn him more playing time. Kelly replied that Mathews had been in the usual rotation but was on the field for a higher percentage of passing plays. At a later press conference, Kelly said Mathews did not get a lot of carries because he was injured. That kind of doublespeak does not go unnoticed in Philadelphia.
Heading into their bye week, the Eagles have a lot of work to do. Right now, they are nothing more than an average team. Kelly’s roster moves on the offensive side of the ball have thus far backfired, belying his reputation as an offensive-minded coach.
The state of the division gives Eagles fans hope. Maybe all the new players will become better acclimated to Kelly’s system or pick up their individual effort with another week to practice or rest. Only two years ago, the Eagles won the division after a 3-5 opening, but that team had different (better) offensive weapons that have since departed.
The Eagles still have a chance to compete for something, but only if they improve fast. The question now is whether these players–Kelly’s players–are even capable of improvement.
Photo credit: Keith Allison – https://goo.gl/lH4m9P.