Season In Review: Philadelphia Eagles

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Overall Record: 10-6 (Regular Season) 0-1 (Postseason)

Division Winner? Indeed. The Eagles of the last three years of Andy Reid’s tenure were a paradox of a talented organization who couldn’t seem to avoid tripping over their own feet. After 14 seasons of consistently outstanding football (up until those last few seasons), Reid was let go and would land on his feet in Kansas City. Meanwhile, the Eagles brought in a man who is widely considered at the forefront of offensive innovation in football, former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. The offseason was rife with speculation about what Kelly would bring to the Eagles, whose offensive woes were a combination of injuries (Michael Vick, the entire offensive line) and poor playcalling. It was almost a given that Kelly would fix the latter issue, but how do you prevent injuries? How do you make an offense click with Vick, who was nothing more than average over the course of his time with the Eagles?

The sluggish start to 2013 seemed to make these questions more demanding of answers. But the answers were seemingly there all along; Kelly’s training regiment proved to leave the Eagles as the league’s healthiest team throughout the season, and Nick Foles, who was little better than Vick during his short stint of starts in 2012, was once again given the reins of the offense when Vick went down, once again, early in the season.

Only this time, Foles thrived. LeSean McCoy, one of the league’s best backs who was poorly utilized under Reid, led the league in rushing. The defense, the team’s Achilles’ heel, was off-again on-again all year, but showed more fight and determination than they had in many years. All things said, Kelly revitalized the Eagles, and utilized his talent to great efficiency in taking the NFC East from the Cowboys, the only other team who posed much of a challenge in the division.

Milestones Of 2013: Clearly, Kelly’s offensive genius was the biggest. Knowing what he had in McCoy was only the beginning; also knowing that, if kept healthy, he had one of the league’s best offensive lines allowed him a wider range of playcalling. Once Foles was brought in, the offensive began to click on all cylinders, dominating many teams in a way that was reminiscent of the days of Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook. The offense wasn’t perfect, but for a first year experience, Kelly could have done no better, and neither could the Eagles offense under his direction.

The defense remains in flux, with serious weaknesses in pass rush and secondary play, but the additions of former Texans linebacker Connor Barwin and ex-Ravens corner Corey Williams were definite steps in the right direction. More than anything, defensive coordinator Bill Davis seemed to instill a toughness in his group, which ended up ranked dead last in passing yards allowed per game…but 10th in rushing yards allowed. While giving up around 18 points per game is average at best, this offensive unit is primed to put up that many points by default.

There are still lingering questions about the long-term validity of Nick Foles, and these are legitimate concerns. If he continues to progress early into next season, the question of QB in the city of brotherly love will be answered in full for the first time since the days of Donovan McNabb.

The Season In Review

It all began like a bolt of lightning, a first half against the Washington Redskins that had every Eagles fan ready to proclaim Chip Kelly the 2nd coming of Dick Vermeil. And then, a bad case of hiccups. They managed to hold off the Redskins, but would lose their next three, including two not-even-close contests against the Chiefs and Broncos. The Giants and Buccaneers would help Philly get back on track, and right around this time Foles stepped in for Vick.

After these needed victories, the Eagles would begin the process that, in hindsight, they should have begun at the start; working Nick Foles into the offense. Two losses, one to the Giants (shocking) and the other to the Cowboys (depressing) would be catalysts in trial-and-error and motivation for one of the best stretches of any team in 2013.

It all began with Nick Foles’ incredible 7-touchdown performance against the Raiders, and the Eagles would roll forward to five straight victories, including big wins against the Packers and Cardinals and an unforgettable performance (particularly by LeSean McCoy) in a snowed-out home game against the Lions. A shocking blow-out loss at the hands of the Vikings was a serious gaff, but they bounced off of that with a seriously convincing 54-11 wipeout of the Bears and stood up to the pressure by beating the Cowboys in the regular season finale/NFC East Championship game.

With Chip Kelly headed to the playoffs in his first year, the energy in Philadelphia was at a fever pitch. The actuality of being able to beat the Saints, known for their struggles on the road, was very much a real thing. The final score, 26-24, showed grit and poise even in defeat.

In all, a more successful first year for a head coach and a team loaded with misused talent could hardly have been imagined.

Future Forecast

As of the writing of this article, the Eagles have made two big splashes in free agency, aside from resigning some of their key offensive performers (LT Jason Peters, WRs Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin). The biggest of the two? It has to be Darren Sproles, the multi-purpose slash-and-burn specialist that the Saints had to lose because of their serious cap issues. It almost seems like poetic justice that it was the Eagles who would benefit from the Saints’ loss. The combination of Kelly’s offensive prowess and Sproles’ abilities seem like a match made in heaven, and what do you do, as a defense, when the league’s leading rusher and Sproles are on the field at the same time? Pray?

A bit more under the radar, but a definite improvement (and another ex-Saint, believe it or not) was Malcon Jenkins. The young safety isn’t exactly elite, but an obvious improvement over the failed experiment that was Patrick Chung (cut). These two moves, along with the resignings, show a disciplined and precise GM in Howie Roseman, who many in Philly have doubted along the way, and now the Eagles can focus in on bolstering their defense come the draft in May.

Overall Grades

QBA-

RBA+

WRB

TEC+

OL – A-

DL – C-

LB – B

CB – C-

FS/SSD-

K/PC-

KR/PRD

Team MVP: LeSean McCoy, RB

Offensive MVP: Nick Foles, QB

Defensive MVP: Mychal Kendricks, LB

Rookie Of The Year: Lane Johnson, OT

Biggest Disappointment Of 2013: 2 points away from the divisional round

Very Early 2014 Projection: 11-5, Division Winners

Season In Review: Oakland Raiders

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Overall Record: 4-12 (Regular Season) (No Postseason Berth)

Division Winner? No, and there isn’t a person on the planet beyond a handful of blindingly die-hard Raiders fans who thought it would happen any other way. In the midst of transitions from the top (the death of Al Davis and his son taking over the job) to the middle (new head coach Dennis Allen, formerly defensive coordinator of the Broncos, etc) and, of course, down to the field itself. The senior and deceased Davis, despite a passion for his Raiders that never waned, was simply inept at managing the entirety of the organization, and numerous draft blunders mixed with hefty contracts had the team digging out of a self-imposed black hole. If all this internal moving and shaking wasn’t enough, the other three teams in the AFC West made the playoffs in 2013. If ever the deck was totally stacked against a team…

Milestones Of 2013: Most of these came well before the season started, as Allen and new GM Reggie McKenzie began the arduous process of working the roster (and, in turn, the salary cap) to meet future needs. Their balancing act has turned a disastrous situation into the league’s most bountiful heading into 2014, as the team began free agency this year with nearly 65 million dollars to spend, an unheard of number in the history of the league. Now, what they’ve done with it so far is suspect, but we’ll get to that soon.

When looking back at the team’s 2013 season, it was readily apparent that no actual judgment of the new coaching staff could be made. No, it was the roster, a collection of low draft picks, cast-offs from other teams and a lingering mix of former Oakland draftees that either lived up to their promise or didn’t. The entire season was a test of each person on the roster, and as it stands, the majority of them failed.

At the top of the roster, there’s no telling if Terrelle Pryor is the long-term solution at QB. His play was sporadic, and injuries caused the younger Matt McGloin to start and, like Pryor, show the same growing pains. With two young men battling at the position, drafting another QB in the early rounds of the draft will come with a fair amount of criticism, but it’s hard to gauge just what they have after one year of mixed results.

Elsewhere, Darren McFadden was once again plagued by injuries, inconsistency and a below average offensive line. His reward? A new (cheap) one-year contract. Rashad Jennings, a surprise tailback who stepped up and produced much more than McFadden, is now a Jacksonville Jaguar. Go figure.

The almost total lack of production at the receiving positions, including tight end, is both a symptom of lack of quality QB play and a consistent running game as much as it is a reflection of the lack of talent overall. The offensive line has a couple of key pieces…wait, had a couple. Now, center Stefen Wisniewski is the only proven starter as LT Jared Veldheer, who impressed in limited work, is off to Arizona.

The defense? Equally bad, and not much better after free agency stripped them of most of their production. Veteran Charles Woodson provided a major boost in leadership and, in a true reflection of how bad this defense is, a big boost in production in the secondary, but beyond him and Lamarr Houston (now a Chicago Bear), the defense was a mix of middle-of-the-road veterans and rookies trying to adapt to the NFL level.

Hey, Sebastian Janikowski still has the biggest leg in football, though. In yet another reflection of how bad this year was for the team, however, he missed 4 out of his 7 attempts from 50+ yards.

The Season In Review

After five games, the Raiders actually appeared to be in fighting form, sitting at 2-3 with a divisional win over the Chargers and only one lopsided loss (against Denver, forgivable for most teams in 2013). For a variety of reasons, many of which are pure speculation (losing the will to fight, fighting for a lost cause, what have you), the rest of the year would be a series of let downs broken up by only two more victories.

A loss to the Chiefs, a bye week to collect themselves, and a solid win over the Steelers had the Raiders at 3-4. Respectable for their circumstances, but at this point, both the Broncos and Chiefs were undefeated and the writing was on the wall for the Raiders season. Oakland was drubbed by Philadelphia, 48-20, and followed it up with a loss to the lowly Giants and what would be their last win, a squeaker over the shockingly inept Texans.

The last six games would all be losses, some close, some nowhere near close (at the hands of their divisional foes in Kansas City and Denver), and all of them putting a frame around the Oakland Raiders of 2013: fighting, but getting nowhere. A team still stuck in the quicksand of so many years of terrible management. But the fight was more important than the results, of that you can be sure. It was just ‘one of those years’, as they say.

Future Forecast

The offseason, as of now, has been an utter disaster for the Raiders. Their incredible amount of cap space has been either squandered on past-their-prime or nowhere-near-prime free agents or simply left off the negotiating table for so many quality free agents who would have represented true improvement for the team. The one move that seemed to make sense, a contract agreement with Rams OT Roger Saffold, fell apart after Oakland deemed his physical inspection a failure. Saffold immediately signed a long-term deal with the Rams shortly thereafter, which begs serious questions about both the Raiders’ brass and the Rams’, whose 2013 wasn’t all that much better in comparison.

Minor free agent improvements aside, this year’s draft is one of the most pivotal in the Raiders’ history. An influx of young talent is exactly what this team needs to succeed, and they need more of it than almost any other squad in the league. With questions at virtually every position on the roster, they can only mess this up with bad scouting and management, and they’ve been very eager to show, at the very least, that their management isn’t ready to be dubbed “good” as of now. Especially not after giving money to Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley (Steelers) and Antonio Smith (Houston), three players on the back-ends of productive careers. Aside from snagging guard Austin Howard from the Jets (and overpaying him in the process), nothing the team has done so far has made sense, not from a financial standpoint, and especially lacking in the “let’s keep what we have and know works” mentality.

Overall Grades

QBD+

HBC+

WR D-

TE – D-

OLC-

DL – C+

LBD+

CBD

FS/SS – C+

K/P B-

KR/PRD

Team MVP: Rashad Jennings, RB

Offensive MVP: Marcell Reece, FB/TE

Defensive MVP: Charles Woodson, FS

Rookie Of The Year: Mychal Rivera, TE

Biggest Disappointment Of 2013: Darren McFadden (WHY IS HE STILL IN OAKLAND?)

Very Early 2014 Projection: 3-13, No Postseason Berth

Season In Review: Washington Redskins

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Overall Record: 3-13 (Regular Season) (No Postseason Berth)

Division Winner? Not even close. A repeat of the division title seemed very much within the team’s grasp as the season began; Robert Griffin’s recovery from knee surgery was (reportedly) ahead of schedule, and the majority of 2012’s roster was returning. What we all knew beforehand was that the 2012 Redskins were overachievers and very much dependent on an offense that kept the ball in their hands, methodically moving the chains with head coach Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking run scheme and RGIII’s ability to grab chunks of yards with his feet. The defense were the true overachievers, and in 2013, they were exposed in so many ways that listing them seems a moot point; the end result was a secondary that could not maintain coverage, a pass rush that was sporadic at best, and a linebacking corps that could only do so much to maintain the second level of defense. This collapse (or, more aptly, this true side of a talent-deficient unit) was only exacerbated by the lack of punch on offense, as Griffin never seemed comfortable on the move and defenses were perfectly content on stacking the box and putting pressure on both young powerhouse RB Alfred Morris and Griffin, whose pocket presence was exposed as a serious weakness a year after the football world praised the team for their genius in mortgaging their future for an apparent sure bet of a quarterback.

In short, this team was not prepared to overachieve again, made no strides to improve their roster from 2012 (due in large part to league-imposed cap penalties) and, from the start, were engaged in a tumultuous downfall that would eventually lead to Shanahan and most of his coaches being gone in theory by November and gone in actuality shortly after their disappointing 2013 season came to a merciful end.
Milestones Of 2013: I’m still hard pressed to find many. The most obvious? pass rush specialist Brian Orakpo’s return from a season on IR, as he showed some of his old in accumulating 10 sacks. On a unit otherwise abused due to a lack of quality starters in the secondary, Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Perry Riley managed to be effective. As was London Fletcher, who topped 100 tackles yet again, something he’s done every year since 2001. Fletcher, long the heart of the Redskins’ defense, has retired, leaving a major void of production and leadership.

For the most part, Washington’s milestones were of the “this isn’t working, let’s fix it” variety: although Mike Shanahan brought some stability and definite offensive improvements with him, he proved himself lacking in quality judgement of his staff, which ultimately (combined with his standoffish press conferences) led to his dismissal. Surprisingly, the team decided to keep on defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who has yet to show much in the way of proper scheming or a voice for what talent the team should acquire in order to make his job easier.

Where question marks lingered about Robert Griffin III and the tremendous cost he carried with him into Washington after his 2012 campaign was sullied with injuries and subsequent conflict between himself and his coaches, 2013 did little to answer any of them. Griffin was obviously hampered by his reconstructed knee for most of the year, and generally speaking showed that he has some work to do in terms of reading defenses and becoming comfortable as a dual-threat quarterback. Beyond this, Alfred Morris proved not to be a fluke, having a solid sophomore campaign. Beyond the outstanding (when healthy) Pierre Garcon, the receiving corps needs work, but Jordan Reed looks like the real deal at TE, a position that was in flux with the various problems surrounding former starter Fred Davis.

The Season In Review

As the rest of the NFC struggled to get out of the gate, the Redskins managed only one victory in their first five games, against the lowly Raiders. In between, they lost early divisional matchups (Philadelphia, Dallas), licked their wounds over an early week 5 bye, and were blown up by the Packers and worked over by the Lions. It wasn’t until October 20th that this team showed some real life, slugging it out and ultimately pulling away with a shocking victory over the Chicago Bears, 45-41. This was the sort of victory the Redskins were accustomed to after a nail-biting 2012, but six games into the season, they had already won two-thirds of the games they would all year.

A week after becoming another of the Broncos’ regular season victims, Washington managed their last victory, a hard-fought home victory over the San Diego Chargers.

It was all a mess from that point on.

A tough schedule played a part, as superior teams in Philly, Kansas City and San Fransisco were almost acceptable losses. But losing twice to the Giants, a team as much on the ropes as the Redskins were for most of the year, was beyond disappointing. Narrow defeats at the hands of two of the worst teams in 2013 (Minnesota, Atlanta) did nothing to alleviate the pain. In the end, the Redskins would drag themselves into the offseason on an eight-game losing streak.

Future Forecast

(NOTE: Since free agency has begun, future forecasts WILL reflect recent signings where I feel they are applicable)

This is the last season that the St. Louis Rams will benefit from the Robert Griffin trade, but considering the Rams lucked into a top-five first rounder, the price for Griffin’s services have, as of now, not outweighed his production. I don’t believe this will continue, as there is too much natural talent and willpower in this young man for him to fail, but the mounting injuries are going to be a concern going forward.

The offensive line is nowhere near solid, despite the presence of one of the league’s best LTs in Trent Williams. Work must be done here, and at least one veteran receiver (and at least one taken in a draft pool thick with wideouts) must be brought in. Depth is solid at the skill positions, but there’s doubt that the aging (and recently re-signed) Santana Moss can continue to man either starting position; this team needs somebody in-house to step up as a dependable starter, or, most likely, bring in someone in the draft that can work his way into the lineup.

The real focus of this offseason had to be (and has been, so far) the defense. The team made a big splash in signing former Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, and brought in some quality secondary depth in former Saints Superbowl hero Terry Porter. The draft will be pivotal; rounding out the back seven is something that cannot be avoided, and the Redskins’ personnel department will be put to the test trying to find quality, potential starters in later rounds.

Overall Grades

QB – C

RBA

WR C+

TE – C

OL C-

DL – D+

LBB+

CBC-

FS/SSF

K/P – D+

KR/PRF

Team MVP: Alfred Morris, RB

Offensive MVP: Pierre Garcon, WR

Defensive MVP: London Fletcher, LB

Rookie Of The Year: Jordan Reed, TE

Biggest Disappointment: The Fall of Mike Shanahan

Very Early 2014 Projection: 6-10, No Postseason Berth

Season In Review: Minnesota Vikings

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Overall Record: 5-10-1 (Regular Season) (No Postseason Berth)

Division Winner? It was unexpectedly apparent by mid-October that the 2013 Vikings would not repeat as division champs. With much the same roster as their 2012 counterparts, Minnesota got off to an extremely rough start this year, losing six of seven games before November began. While the rest of the NFC North was mired in a thick race for the division title, the Vikings were on the outside looking in by the time things got interesting.

Milestones Of 2013: In recent memory, it seems that Adrian Peterson is the lone superstar on a team that has plenty of talent, but is easily obscured behind bad records or unfortunate collapses at various points in their seasons. Coming off of a record year in which he came nine yards short of break the single-season rushing mark, Peterson didn’t exactly live up to his goal of 2,500 ground yards, but he was still on the top of his game despite opposing defenses playing the run almost as a rule against Minnesota. If there is one thing beyond Peterson and an offensive line that seems (mostly) set in stone, young and impacting, its that the Christian Ponder era can finally be put on the books as a failed experiment.

Elsewhere, age and lack of developing talent on the defensive side of the ball was readily apparent all season, but injuries to key players like up-and-coming safety Harrison Smith did nothing to alleviate the team’s Achilles’ Heel in 2013. Jared Allen, a perennial Probowler, seemed to be slowing down some and his free agency status seems up in the air, as it is highly doubtful Minnesota will bring him back without a serious cut in his salary.

Blair Walsh has, in two years, clearly become one of the league’s best field goal kickers, and solidifies a position that many teams are constantly rotating, looking for the answer. Rookie Cordarelle Patterson looks like the real deal, developing as a wideout and already polished as a return man; his 108 yard return against the Packers was a thing of pure beauty. He already looks like a capable replacement for Percy Harvin, who ended up playing little but contributing when the Seahawks dominated in the Superbowl.

In all, the milestones for this team were few and far between, but as I am fond of saying, finding out that certain things don’t work is a considerable step in the right direction, even if you want to throw blame around about those things. Trial and error is simply a real and unavoidable aspect of the NFL.

The Season In Review

Coming off of a strong 2012, Leslie Frazier’s job security seemed in-line with the expectations of Vikings fans for a repeat performance. Their eventual 5-10-1 record is why Frazier is no longer the coach, and why the new regime will be looking to shake things up in the coming months. But how did the Vikings get to this point?

It started with three straight narrow defeats, the first two against division rivals Detroit and Chicago. The third, at home against what was supposed to be a lesser Cleveland team, almost seemed to doom the Vikings before October began. Closing out the month with a hard-fought win over the Steelers alleviated some of the scrutiny, but many had a sense that this year’s Vikings were not going anywhere.

An early bye week did Minnesota no favors, as they returned to lose four straight, including beatdowns at the hands of the Panthers (who were simply a better team) and the Giants (who simply weren’t). Their next victory would come on November 17th over the Redskins, starting a stretch of games that didn’t really matter but held some surprises. A smashing at the hands of the eventual Superbowl champs in Seattle wasn’t much of a shocker, but fighting the Packers to the only tie of 2013 was one of the year’s most exciting games to watch. Beating the Bears in overtime the following week was almost as exciting, as Peterson simply put the game on his back and willed his lackluster team to victory as he’s done many times before. December encapsulated the Vikings’ 2013 perfectly: a 3-point loss to the Ravens in a hard fought contest, followed by a totally unexpected shellacking of the Philadelphia Eagles (48-30), followed by a horrific loss to the Bengals (42-14), and closing the season by narrowly beating the Lions 14-13.

All the ups and downs of 2013 were easy to get lost in but the simple fact of the final record was clear to everyone in Minnesota; 5 wins and 10 losses is unacceptable.

Future Forecast

Everybody knows the QB position needs to be figured out. Talks are still on going to bring veteran Matt Cassel back into the fold, but its clear that both Christian Ponder and the surprise mid-season signee Josh Freeman are not the answers for the Vikings. The draft is going to have to net results at this position. The rest of the offense is actually in excellent shape, with Peterson still in his prime, an outstanding offensive line anchored by Matt Kalil and center John Sullivan, and a receiving corps that features an older but effective Greg Jennings and rising stars in Cordarelle Patterson and TE Kyle Rudolph.

It’s almost every other position that needs looking after. Kevin Williams may be gone along with Jared Allen, and that would leave the team’s strongest link on defense more vulnerable than it appeared to be in 2013. The jury is still out on the Vikings’ first 1st-rounder last year, DT Sharrif Floyd, but his development will be pivotal to making this defense click.

Whatever roster moves the Vikings are going to make, bringing in former Bengals D-coordinator Mike Zimmer as head coach should had an immediate and positive impact on his side of the ball. Norv Turner may have been the best assistant coaching hire of the offseason, as his expertise in developing quarterbacks will be essential for the Vikings moving forward. The arrow is definitely pointing up, but if GM Rick Spielman can’t bring in the right players (with assistance from Zimmer and Turner), no early projections and high hopes will mean a thing in 2014.

Overall Grades

QBD

RB A+

WR – B-

TE – B-

OLA-

DLC+

LB D-

CBD+

FS/SS – D

K/PB+

KR/PR – A

Team MVP – Adrian Peterson, RB

Offensive MVP – Peterson

Defensive MVP – Chad Greenway, LB

Rookie Of The Year – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR

Biggest Disappointment – No improvement from Christian Ponder

Very Early 2014 Projection: 10-6, Division Winners