Super Bowl Championships are won on the field, by the team with the best execution, not necessarily the best combination of players and coaches. The Philadelphia Eagles got a taste of a Super Bowl back in 2005, when they lost to the New England Patriots, who on that night were the better team. After 14 seasons with former Eagles head coach and now current Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, the Birds look to enter a new decade of championship success under current head coach Chip Kelly. But even with the best execution and the right game plan, getting to the big dance can be an insurmountable challenge for many teams. Do the 2014 Eagles stack up as one of the major contenders?
Philadelphia fans and media alike heralded Kelly’s arrival as the beginning of a new era. Reid’s commitment to the pass-pass-pass philosophy, even when data showed otherwise, frustrated fans. Last season, Kelly employed his running backs much more than in past seasons, resulting in Eagles running back LeSean McCoy having a career season. The off season pickup of former New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles showed a renewed commitment to the position, with a true stable of running backs that can attack the defense in a variety of ways. Coupled with a strong and consistent set of tight ends, balance at the wide receiver position, the skill position players look to improve on last season’s somewhat Cinderella-style run. Last but definitely not least, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles enters his second season as starter primed to continue where he left off, with a solid and consistent execution of Kelly’s offense. All of this bodes well for the defending NFC East Champion Eagles. But the game is won with both offense and defense, and the Birds will need to make a leap forward defensively to go deeper in January.
Very few people would consider the Iggles an elite team, based on last season. There were too many holes and too many growing pains, even though the 10-6 season showed significant improvement over the 4-12 debacle during Reid’s final year as head coach. Kelly immediately brought in some new blood and helped give the defense a much needed identity. It took a while for the pieces to come together, and the defense still struggled at times, most notable in the Wild Card Playoff game against the New Orleans Saints, but the foundation is there. Kelly used drat picks this season to continue to bolster the defensive unit. As all eyes look to training camp in 3 weeks, the defense must use the time wisely to become a cohesive and effective unit. Paired with an explosive and fast-paced offense, the combination can bring the Eagles from a good team to a great team.
No analysis would be complete without a mention of special teams. Here is a unit that showed marked improvement last season, but must continue to execute and provide good starting field position for every Eagles’ drive. While Eagles kicker Alex Henery will get competition in camp, the expectation is that he will return to good form and provide stability for the unit. The key for this unit is consistent kickoff coverage, and solid returns. It doesn’t seem like much on paper, but it’s a critical component of the game that can take pressure off Foles and the rest of the offense. A 50-yard drive is much easier to manage than an 80+ yard drive. With the Eagles’ offense ability to quickly tire out a defense, and their defense well-conditioned, the team has the capability to wear down even the higher-powered offenses in the league.
On paper, the Eagles have the makings of a championship team. But like any season, a key injury or internal discord can quickly derail their Super Bowl hopes. As Kelly and his team enter their second year together, the hope is that the Birds will move deeper into the playoffs. Could this be the year they make it to Arizona in February? If it happens, fans will look to all of the improvements and consistency. If it doesn’t, it may take another season or two for the team to get the right pieces in place to make the final push. Either way, the Birds have laid a solid groundwork for many years of successful Eagles football.
Tags: Philadelphia Eagles