Keys To Eagles Success in 2014
So by the time you read this, I will be relaxing on an Alaskan lake contemplating life, happiness, and how to hook the big lake trout who nibbles but doesn’t bite. But one thing I will not be thinking about is what the Eagles need to do in 2014 to improve on their 2013 season. Since it’s summer, and training camp will soon be upon us, I think it’s an ideal time to take a crack at some obtainable goals for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014. If the Birds can accomplish these goals, then I feel strongly that they will be very much on track to surprise the NFL and make a Superbowl appearance.
So what are these keys to post season success? Surprisingly, they are very attainable:
KEY ONE: The Eagles must rush for the most yards in the NFL.
This sounds tremendously challenging, but they did this in 2013 and they have actually improved their rushing threat with the addition of former New Orleans running back Darren Sproles. The offense of Chip Kelly, for all it’s innovative formations and overloads and defensive keys, is primarily a rushing offense. That rushing offense wears defenses down, is less susceptible to turnovers, and can be demoralizing when it finds success against a defense who knows it’s coming but is literally powerless to stop it.
Want to know how disheartening a rushing attack can be? Detroit faced Philadelphia on Sunday, December 8, having defeated Green Bay handily on Thanksgiving day. Coming into that game, Detroit controlled it’s own destiny. However, on that snowy day in Philly, they couldn’t control the line of scrimmage and the heroics of 217 yards and two touchdowns from Philaelphia running back LeSean McCoy not only won that game, but set the Lions onto a four game losing streak that ended their post-season hopes.
There were other factors at play. But the Eagles knew the weakness of the wide-9 defense and clearly made full use of that knowledge in the second half of what is affectionately referred to as the “snow bowl”. By the time the game was over, the Lions were stunned and never seemed to recover through the rest of the season. The Eagles, after failing to show up the following week at Minnesota, returned to the run game to end out the season on two wins and win the division.
KEY TWO: The Eagles must limit running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy to 300 carries or less.
The reason is obvious. If LeSean McCoy is to be an impact player in the playoffs, they have to plan to have a season extend well into January. As I expect the Eagles to be a rushing team in 2014, it will be important NOT to have that load fall onto one running back. In 2013, the Eagles offense rushed for 500 attempts and McCoy rushed for 314 of those attempts. The combination of Bryce Brown (who was traded to the Buffalo Bills) and Michael Vick (who has since signed with the New York Jets) tallied 111 of the remaining touches. The remaining offensive players managed 75 rushes or a mere 15% of the rushing offense.
A new year brings a new perspective, and 2014 will be a new look for the Eagles as well. In the role vacated by Bryce Brown, look for the Eagles to rely upon Chris Polk. I would expect Chris to see between 70-100 carries in 2014. Added to that, the offense now has change of pace running back Darren Sproles who has averaged 50+ carries in the New Orleans offense. I expect that number to increase slightly in Chip Kelly’s offense, so a 60-70 carries year is not out of the question. With carries distributed to Polk and Sproles, and expecting a 500 rush offense, the remainder will be handled by quarterbacks and skill players.
Keep in mind that limiting McCoy’s carries is NOT the same thing as taking the ball out of his hands. If the Eagles plan to have success in the playoffs, they have to ensure they get there with plenty of offense. A sub-300 carry season for Shady McCoy will go a long way towards post-season success.
KEY THREE: The Eagles must get 100 receptions or more from the tight end group this year.
In 2013, tight ends Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, and James Casey combined for 71 receptions from 112 attempts for 1,002 yards and 10 touchdowns. With the loss of Jason Avant and DeSean Jackson, the Eagles have lost valuable production, physicality,and leadership.
There has been a great deal of debate in the off-season as to the role of the Eagles tight end group, and of particular note whether the Philadelphia Eagles would retain James Casey. Head coach Chip Kelly never paused or hesitated when asked about how he views the performance of any of his tight ends.
When asked about balancing the reps for Brent Celek and Zach Ertz in an interview after the June 10, 2014 OTA, Chip Kelly replied:
We got a really good one in [TE] James Casey, also. But again we are not playing any games so we are just trying to get as many reps as we can. They are both playing tight end and they are both playing move tight end. They are just getting better at what they do and trying to get as many reps as they possibly can.
For a nice breakdown of the Eagles 2014 projections, check Brett Dickinson’s story about Fantasy Football and the Birds tight ends http://insidetheiggles.com/2014/07/15/fantasy-football-implications-philadelphia-eagles-tight-ends/
KEY FOUR: The Eagles should not promote either wide receiver Jordan Matthews nor Josh Huff as starters in 2014.
This may seem illogical, but in either case, a promotion of Matthews or Huff simply translates that Maclin or Cooper were injured or not meeting expectations. As much as I have truly enjoyed the pre-season optimism of both Matthews and Huff, I tend to believe a slow but steady easing into the NFL and Chip Kelly’s offense would be the best track.
I am hopeful that both Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff will make plays for the Eagles in 2014, and will become reliable targets as the team ends the season. Still, the team is currently expected to start wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Unless one is injured or one underperforms, there should be no reason to replace either with one of the rookies. In the current offense, Kelly has not hesitated to place three or four wide receivers on the field simultaneously. Should either or both receivers warrant more playing time, I would expect they will simply use more multiple receiver sets.