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.
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.
QB – A-
RB – A+
WR – B
TE – C+
OL – A-
DL – C-
LB – B
CB – C-
FS/SS – D-
K/P – C-
KR/PR – D
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