This is going to be something I haven’t done in a long time – write something positive and optimistic about the Eagles.
It’s not easy, of course. The team that came into the NFL season as the favorite to win NFC East and was picked by many – including former Eagles president Joe Banner – to win the Super Bowl has limped into its bye week with a losing record and an unhappy fan base. The Eagles are 3-4 after looking bad in another loss, this time to Carolina 27-16, and it’s only a matter of time before people start sticking pins into their Chip Kelly voodoo doll.
The quarterback and running back that Kelly personally acquired have not lived up to expectations. Quarterback Sam Bradford and running back DeMarco Murray have had their moments, but not nearly enough of them. That hasn’t entirely been their fault, but they’re not blameless, either. And Kelly’s decision not to address his offensive line in free agency or the draft has proven to be a big mistake. Plus the young receivers he drafted in the last two years – Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor — to replace proven receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin haven’t filled those fast shoes yet.
Oh, yeah, for a moment there I forgot that this was supposed to be a positive and optimistic column. And the reason for those good vibrations is pretty simple – the Eagles have to get better, because they couldn’t be much worse. And that’s because all of the pieces Kelly has assembled should play better in the second half of the season simply because they’re more familiar with the system, as well as their new coaches and teammates.
It was probably foolish of so many of us to have so much preseason optimism, considering how many changes were being made and the fact that the NFL’s truncated and don’t-touch training camps and preseason didn’t give the Eagles the time to jell. They never really played together, so why did we expect them to play well?
That’s especially true of Bradford, who hadn’t really played for two years after successive knee surgeries. Not only did he have to come back from that, but he had to do it with coaches and teammates he had never met before, much less played with before. Everyone was impressed by his crisp play in the preseason, and even seasoned NFL observers should have known better than to be seduced by preseason play, which is like fool’s gold – it looks like the real thing, but …
The running back situation is also different than the quarterback situation because not only has Murray struggled, his backup, Ryan Mathews, has shined. Despite Kelly’s weak explanation for Mathews’ lack of carries against Carolina, the coach can’t keep ignoring the fact that Mathews has been far more productive than Murray. Again, that’s not entirely Murray’s fault, as Kelly’s scheme doesn’t seem to fit what Murray does best, but facts are facts.
So, going into the second half of the season, Kelly has to either admit that his No. 2 running back is better than his No. 1, or else redesign his offense so that it fits what No. 1 does best. Again, this has been a learning process for everyone and now it’s time to show what they learned in the first seven games.
Eagles fans should also feel better about the play of the young wide receivers, who now have half a season of playing with Bradford. Agholor has been bothered by nagging injuries, and at times he looks a little lost out there, but that, too, should improve in the second half of the season, as well as his chemistry with Bradford.
Even the Eagles’ offensive line, which was overwhelmed in the first couple of games, has looked better recently and should continue to improve. Certainly, there’s plenty of room for improvement for young guards Allen Barbew and Matt Tobin as they get more experience and learn to communicate better with the veteran members of the o-line.
As for the defense, it’s mostly been solid and that side of the line of scrimmage has carried the team so far, even though it also has a lot of new faces behind the facemasks. The secondary has three new members that are learning to play together, and the front seven is one of the best in the NFL.
Heck, even the kicker has more experience under his belt and after a shaky start, Caleb Sturgis has been more reliable.
Finally, the Eagles play in a mediocre division, and even though they have a losing record they’re just one game behind the New York Giants, whom they’ve beaten already, in NFC East. And the second half of the schedule also favors the Eagles, who will face losing teams like Miami, Tampa Bay Buffalo and Washington in the final weeks of the season. Of course, that’s what we said at the beginning of the season about teams like Atlanta, Washington and Carolina and we know how that worked out.
Still, even though Eagles fans have a right to be discouraged about their team’s play over the first half of the season, they should also be encouraged about the second half. It may be hard to see it right now after their poor play throughout September and October, but time is on the Eagles side.