While most of the world is swept up in the exhilaration of love at this time of the year, many of us are feeling a little left out.
Now, before you stop reading, passing this off as some long lost love letter just in time for Valentine’s Day, I should clarify that I am talking about the depressing time of the year that it is to be a Philadelphia sports fan.
Everybody’s favorite lovable band of losers, the 76ers, are a gift that keeps on giving, but it is not quite enough to soothe a city that is in desperate need of a winning organization, even if it brings me untold joy. The Flyers are an absolute mess, looking like they will make a playoff push one period, then looking like they solely want a high draft pick while the Phillies are so putrid that I am not sure anyone cares about pitchers and catchers starting up soon.
However, most in the city will conclude that the most depressing aspect of this season is the state of the Eagles.
This is a pretty regular feeling for someone like myself at this time of the year. It is a little too early to get overly optimistic about free agents or possible draft choices but the poor taste of the disappointments from the previous year are still fresh on the tongue. Therefore, we look up and down the roster only to find major holes and weaknesses. Most of the time, these glaring flaws aren’t as big as they seem, but sometimes, the problem areas are exactly as bad as we perceive them to be (looking your way Fletcher).
With this in mind, let’s go through the roster and analyze the optimistic point of view and the pessimistic point of view to get a slightly better understanding of some of the strengths and weaknesses of this team.
For this purpose, I am going to break this roster review into three parts. Today, I will focus on the offense. However, this will exclude the QB position as there would be too much to talk about in one sitting. Therefore, we will go Offense, Defense, and QB.
1. Running back:
The optimist says:
LeSean McCoy had one of his worst statistical seasons, and yet he still ranked third in the league in rushing with 1,319 yards and will only be 27 this upcoming season. Darren Sproles was as dynamic of a player as advertised, affecting games in the return game, run game, and as a receiver while the Birds got good production from Chris Polk as a battering ram down in the red zone.
The pessimist says:
LeSean McCoy looked mortal this year, struggling to make people miss in the open field like he did in years prior and barely impacting several games throughout the year. He is due to make a ton of money and it appeared as though his best years are quickly flying by.
Sproles was under-utilized compared to how the organization had discussed upon acquiring him, and he can’t be counted on as a backup running back as he is too old and too small to be the workhorse in an offense if McCoy gets injured.
Polk battled injuries again this year, and has only proven in this league that he is unable to stay healthy as the third running back who barely sees the field on a regular basis.
The pessimistic approach appears to be a valid conclusion. McCoy is due a lot of money and, even giving him a break due to the injuries that persisted throughout the offensive line all year, he was not the dynamic playmaker in the open field that we have come to expect him to be.
Even if Shady is still a top 3 running back in this league, there is no depth behind him.
Polk can’t stay healthy and Sproles is not a true, every-down running back. Besides, Sproles is going to be 32 years old and, for a player who is effective due to his speed, will need to be considered a possible liability.
Compound all of this with the fact that the Eagles are a run-first team, and you have some major liabilities.
2. The Offensive Line:
The optimist says:
This is still an elite unit in the league. Jason Peters is one of, if not the, best left tackles in the NFL. Meanwhile, Mathis is a dominant left guard and there is no better athletic, run-blocking center in this league than Jason Kelce. Herremans is an above average guard and this should be the break out year for Lane Johnson, the fourth overall pick two years ago.
The pessimist says:
This group is OLD. They make AC/DC look like an up and coming band. Jason Peters and Evan Mathis are both 33, while Herremans is 32. Meanwhile, Kelce has missed major time due to injuries in 2 of the last 3 seasons. Lane Johnson didn’t appear to be noticeably improved in his second season, and the depth behind this offensive line is nonexistent (see David Molk).
There needs to be an influx of talent at several spots along this line in order to maintain any consistency next year, as the age of the offensive line indicates that injuries should be anticipated.
The truth is probably closer to the optimists point of view on this one.
Jason Peters and Evan Mathis are old, however, they are still elite players at their respective positions. Mathis may not be the top guard in football any longer, however, he is still a better than average guard in this league who can open up holes in the running game and play in this tempo offense.
Peters is still an elite left tackle who dominates his opponents on a weekly basis. While they are trending down in their careers, they both started at such a high level that the downside of their careers are better than most players in their primes.
Kelce, meanwhile, is one of the best centers in football. Yes, he is injury prone, but he is also one tough guy and will play through most injuries. Herremans may need to be replaced, however, he is still a quality starter when healthy. Johnson is the wild card, as he is talented enough to be a star in this league, but needs to take the next step.
Depth is a major concern for this unit, but the offensive line should not be considered a weakness for this team for this upcoming season.
3. The Receiving Corp:
The optimist says:
After losing Jackson, Maclin stepped right in and had an even better year as the team’s primary receiver. Jordan Matthews had a big rookie season and seems to be a legit wide receiver who can use his big body to dominate the slot. Riley Cooper had a down year, but is still an elite blocker on the outside, and Josh Huff showed flashes of brilliance. Celek appears to be slowing down and doesn’t seem to be a quality receiving threat any longer, but he is one of the best blocking tight ends in the game while Ertz is a star in the making as a receiver and only looks to be improving.
The pessimist says:
First off, we gave away the best deep threat in the NFL for nothing after a breakout season.
Then, Maclin has a breakout season during his contract year. Therefore, we will either have to dole out major money to resign him, or we will lose our second star receiver in two years for nothing.
Riley Cooper is an atrocious receiver who must apparently have some blackmail on Chip since the Eagles continue to defend the guy no matter what he does. Matthews had a good year, but he was not an elite receiver. The fact that Kelvin Benjamin put up better numbers and he was selected two spots after the Eagles picked up Marcus Smith is enough to make me sick. Finally, Josh Huff did show some flashes of talent, but it was tough to remember since he seemed to turn the ball over every other time he touched it.
As for the tight ends, Ertz was clearly the best receiver on the team last year, but only played about 50% of the snaps. This was because Celek was consistently the starting tight end due to his ability to block. This stunted the growth of possibly the best offensive player on the roster.
Maclin should come back next year, albeit at a higher price tag.
That is fine though, since even though he had a dip in production towards the end of the season, that was with Sanchez throwing him the ball. With Foles, Maclin was unstoppable, even considering how many more plays Maclin could have had if Foles or Sanchez didn’t miss him when he was wide open.
Cooper is an embarrassment, that is all I have to say about that.
Matthews looks to be a good receiver. I kind of think of him like Marques Colston, a solid possession receiver who is consistent but won’t wow you, which would be awesome to have. Huff looks like he could be the next electric player for this offense, but he had to average a turnover a game, so I can’t trust him.
All in all, I feel much worse about this unit than I should. They just don’t scare defenses as much as they scare me.
As for the tight ends, this is a much bigger issue.
Ertz was clearly the best player, even though he was a worse blocker than Celek. However, he still should have been on the field more than he was. This raises the question of whether or not Chip Kelly is willing to adapt to the talent that he has. Ertz made some waves in my book on this topic by saying,
“Probably not, to be honest,” Ertz said, of a hypothetical role for [Jimmy] Graham. “I don’t want to take anything away from Jimmy, but the things I’ve seen, he is more of a pass-catching tight end. In this offense we are a run-first team and we don’t sub because we go at (a fast pace).”
If Chip Kelly can’t find a way to utilize the most talented players on his team, then can we really consider him this football genius?
It is not just the tight ends. Riley Cooper should not have been a starter this year, as he was a liability across from Maclin and the concept that Nolan Carroll and Brandon Boykin couldn’t replace Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher at corner is laughable.
Across this roster, the more talented players have sat or been cut to the detriment of this team. I don’t care if Ertz or a hypothetical Jimmy Graham can’t block, you find a way to get them on the field and put them in positions where their skills are accentuated while their flaws are minimalized.
This is my major concern with this team going forward.
Chip Kelly has shown an affinity for fielding players who fit what he likes, as opposed to the most talented players for the system that he runs. If talent continues to be oppressed as it has been so far under his regime, the pessimistic point of view will prevail.
I know I just went off on a bit of a diatribe, which would indicate that I am on the pessimistic side for our offense, but check in later in the week for a discussion on the defense and quarterback.