Why The Philadelphia Eagles Failed In 2014
The Philadelphia Eagles were eliminated from the playoffs this weekend after losing in Landover, MD against the Washington Redskins, combined with the Dallas Cowboys’ rout of the Indianapolis Colts. After suffering a rare, hard-to-believe meltdown which cost them three games, the Eagles are left empty-handed and having to figure out what went wrong and where it went wrong.
The pre-season expectations were high on this Philadelphia Eagles team.
Chip Kelly led the Birds to a first-place finish in his first year as the team’s head coach. He had shown he knew how to create mismatches and take advantage of them. LeSean McCoy was unstoppable and even when the opposition managed to contain him, Nick Foles delivered the ball where he had to and made things happen through the air.
The Cowboys’ defense was projected to be one of the worst defensive units in NFL history, the New York Giants had to learn and implement a new offense and the Washington Redskins didn’t have the talent to compete for the divisional title. However, things didn’t turn out as expected.
Dallas’ defense was serviceable to say the least, while the offense looked vastly improved from the previous season. The Giants’ offense was better than expected and the injuries on the other side of the ball were the main reason the G-Men didn’t compete. Only the Redskins were pretty much what we expected.
The problem for the Philadelphia Eagles was that they were less competent than anticipated.
The running game was not as good as last season and it wasn’t even close. Nick Foles went from efficient to turnover-prone and Mark Sanchez was no better, despite a promising start. The defense was stout against the run, but the secondary collapsed during the most important stretch of the season.
The main focus of the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason was to improve the special teams and establish a certain culture. Both targets were met, but not for free. The Eagles didn’t upgrade at cornerback and failed to draft impact players, with the exception of Jordan Matthews and Beau Allen to a certain degree.
Only way the offense could remain highly effective was having a top-tier quarterback at the helm or a dual threat.
The team’s limitations were not just in personnel. Without the element of surprise and lacking a deep threat, the offense was not as explosive as last year and looked flat in many games. When the offense couldn’t get the usual plan going, it looked like there was no alternative option. The defense was a pleasant surprise and covered up for the offense’s miscues many times, but the weak spots were too obvious and some teams were able to exploit them time after time.
After an injury-free 2013 season, injuries came in waves for the Birds this time. Nick Foles, Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Allen Barbre, DeMeco Ryans, Najee Goode, Earl Wolff – all missed significant time. Josh Huff and Chris Polk also missed some games, while Lane Johnson had to spend the first four games sidelined due to a suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
In 2013, it was McCoy or the passing game – opponents had to pick their poison. In 2014, defenses found a way to stop this offense. It was take away the run and bring pressure to the quarterback. Only way the offense could remain highly effective was having a top-tier quarterback at the helm or a dual threat, who could take off when the opponents crashed on the running back or had everyone covered. Not having that helped defenses focus on stopping the run and put the Eagles in less than ideal third-down situations.
Execution was also problematic. There were times when the Eagles could move the chains, but either the quarterback didn’t see the open receiver, the pass was not good, the offensive line didn’t provide the time needed for the play to be succesful or the receiver dropped the ball.
Defensively, the coaching staff showed more faith than it should to Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. The starting duo can hold their own against ordinary receivers, but they can’t cover the best of the league without help. The concept of having Malcolm Jenkins cover tight ends and slot receivers hurt the team there, because it left Nate Allen, a decent but not exceptional safety, to cover the back end alone. When he was not helping Fletcher and the ball went that way, the result was usually a big play for the opponent.
You can’t do much about injuries. You can, however, make better decisions in roster management, in the draft, at the playbook and the gameplan. The offense could be stopped in 2014. When it hit the wall, there was no solution to the problem. The secondary was vulnerable and the staff refused to make adjustments to put a limit to the risk.
This is a talented team, not a team which should go into rebuilding mode. The Philadelphia Eagles need to find the quarterback who want to move on with. If it’s Nick Foles, then they have to help him improve and adjust the playbook to his strengths and weaknesses. They also need to draft more than two players who can help right away. As for the coaches, maybe this bad ending to the season helps them realize that “the plan” can’t win every time.