Philadelphia Eagles: Grading Players After First Quarter of Season
The first quarter of the first season under new head coach Chip Kelly is in the books, and one thing is for sure, it’s been an interesting ride.
The Philadelphia Eagles kicked their season off with a triumphant 33-27 win over the defending NFC East champion Washington Redskins in front of a national Monday Night Football audience. And then the Birds proceeded to drop three straight, during which the offense struggled, the defense was exposed and the special teams shockingly underperformed.
Remarkably, the Eagles are still right in the thick of the NFC East hunt. The New York Giants have bottomed out at 0-4, while the Washington Redskins (1-3) and Dallas Cowboys (2-2) sure haven’t run away with the division. Considering Philly plays the winless Giants next week and the Cowboys take on the red-hot Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos, Kelly’s team may be tied for first in less than a week.
There’s plenty to work on though, namely that awful defense. The quarter grades for the Birds’ players and coaches reveal those players exceeding expectations, those falling significantly short and those right in between.
*I did not rank defensive players that have appeared on fewer than 30 snaps.
Michael Vick won’t last the full season taking the hits he’s sustained in this offense. But he’s played well so far. Vick is a much better fit for the Philadelphia Eagles offense because of his dual-threat ability to both run and pass.
Vick has thrown five touchdowns to just two interceptions, and he’s rushed for two more scores. His 9.1 yards per attempt is the second-best rate in the NFL, which more than compensates for a low 55.6 completion percentage. Vick is 14th in the league in ESPN’s QBR statistic, which is a solid enough ranking given the impressive quality of quarterbacks right now.
Vick is also running as well as he ever has. He’s accumulated 228 rushing yards on the ground, amounting to nearly 60 per game. That puts him on pace for nearly a 1,000-yard season. His 8.8 yards per carry average is his best mark ever as a starter, even better than the 8.4 average he had the year (2006) he did rush for 1,000 yards.
Nick Foles has seen minimal action this year, but he fared well when playing in a mop-up role in Week 4. Foles led the Eagles to a touchdown drive, and while he’s thrown just five passes, he does have a passer rating of 132.5.
Chip Kelly’s offense has brought out the best in LeSean McCoy, who is arguably the best running back in the league other than Adrian Peterson. McCoy leads all runners in rushing yards (468) and total yards from scrimmage (608).
He has scored two touchdowns without a fumble, and he has an outside chance to break the single-season record for yards from scrimmage if he stays healthy. At the very least, McCoy should be able to top the 2,000 total yards mark, and he’s a good bet for 12 touchdowns.
Bryce Brown’s rushing numbers aren’t particularly good—just 23 carries for 64 yards—and that’s largely because he continues to try to bounce every run to the outside. He is a dangerous combination of power and speed when he runs between the tackles, but that happens too little.
Brown is a good receiver as well, and he would likely fill in well if McCoy were to go down with an injury.
Chris Polk finally got the ball in Week 4, and he made the most of his opportunities. He scored on a one-yard plunge the first time he ever touched the football, and he added a 28-yard run later in the game. Polk has five touches amounting to 52 total yards.
DeSean Jackson has been the single most valuable player on the Philadelphia Eagles this season, even more so than LeSean McCoy.
Chip Kelly’s system is bringing out the best in Jackson, as the trick is to get Jackson in single coverage against defensive backs, where Jackson can use his speed to take the top off the secondary. Jackson has been held in check the last two contests, but that’s more due to a concentrated focus on him and the lack of a No. 2 presence opposite him.
Jackson’s 21 receptions put him on pace for a career-best 84 catches, and he’s averaging close to 100 yards per contest. Jackson was never better than in the Week 2 matchup against the San Diego Chargers, when he repeatedly burned the Chargers on deep passes.
It’s not Riley Cooper’s fault that Jeremy Maclin is hurt, but Cooper sure hasn’t stepped up to fill the void. Opponents can easily remove Cooper with just a single defensive back, and Cooper doesn’t have the speed to make plays happen.
A grand total of 93 yards through four games is bench-worthy. Fortunately, he’s a good blocker or there wouldn’t be much purpose in having him on the roster.
Jason Avant is a tremendously reliable slot receiver with impeccable hands. He’s slow and rarely gains yards after the catch, but he’s a poor man’s Anquan Boldin in that he can often come up with passes even with a defensive back right on him.
After finishing with 51, 52 and 53 catches the last three seasons, Avant is on pace for 48 this year. He hasn’t dropped a pass since 2011.
It’s borderline shocking how little Kelly has utilized Damaris Johnson. He’s an undersized speedy receiver with the versatility to play outside or in the slot, and that seemed to be a factor that would intrigue Kelly.
But Johnson has seen just 21 snaps in four games, and he has no catches.
Jeff Maehl was Nick Foles’ go-to guy on the final drive against Denver, and Maehl made a couple of nice catches. He scored the first touchdown of his career, which may earn him more playing time in the ensuing weeks.
There seemed to be speculation that Chip Kelly would phase out Brent Celek from the Philadelphia Eagles offense, or even outright release him. But that hasn’t happened, as Celek is still averaging nearly 60 snaps per game.
Celek’s 7-131-1 stat line projects to a little over 500 yards and four touchdowns for the season. Those aren’t particularly impressive numbers, but it seems to be more indicative of Kelly’s refusal to utilize his tight ends than declining play from Celek.
After spending the 35th overall draft pick on Zach Ertz, Kelly has barely used the rookie. Ertz has just five catches in four games, and he’s appearing in barely 20 snaps per contest.
That’s downright puzzling, considering Kelly’s infatuation with tight ends. Especially with Jeremy Maclin out, Ertz has the speed to make something happen in the passing game.
Why Kelly signed James Casey to a three-year, $12 million deal in free agency is beyond puzzling. Casey has seen action on 18 snaps this season. In the Week 1 matchup, he was on the field twice, and that was for the two kneel-downs at the conclusion of the game.
Casey was supposed to play tight end, fullback, H-back and slot receiver, but instead, he’s sat on the bench for a quarter of a season.
Jason Peters seems to be fully recovered from the multiple Achilles tendon tears he suffered in March 2012. Peters has been a vital part of the Philadelphia Eagles offense, due largely to his remarkable ability to excel as both a pass-blocker and run-blocker.
Peters is the lead blocker for an offense averaging an NFL-best 198 rushing yards per game and 6.1 yards per attempt. He has struggled at times in pass protection, yielding 14 hurries through just four games, but some of that can likely be attributed to Michael Vick’s tendency to hold on to the football for so long.
It’s time to start recognizing Evan Mathis as the best guard in football. He gives nothing but an elite performance week in and week out. Mathis hasn’t given up a sack in 2013 and he rates as the best run-blocking guard in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
In fact, Mathis rates as the single best overall guard in the league by a wide margin. He’s been instrumental in blocking for McCoy and Vick.
The Philadelphia Eagles are reaping enormous dividends from having snagged Jason Kelce with a sixth-round pick in 2011. Kelce is quietly becoming one of the game’s finest centers. He’s undersized but athletic enough that he’s been a natural fit for Kelly’s fast-tempo offense.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Kelce is this: Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Eagles running backs have averaged an otherworldly 11.7 yards per rush on plays up the middle.
For the first three weeks of the season, Todd Herremans’ performance was serious cause for concern. He looked old, slow and not completely healed from the foot injury he suffered midway through 2012. He was at his worst against Kansas City nose tackle Dontari Poe, who manhandled Herremans in Week 3.
Herremans was the lone liability on a line that was one of the finest in the game. He finally turned it around with a solid performance against Denver in Week 4, which hopefully gets him back on track.
Lane Johnson’s NFL career started with an outstanding performance against the Washington Redskins. He didn’t give up a sack against stud pass-rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. He was also instrumental in opening up holes in the running game, and few running backs have the luxury of Johnson's athleticism to get to the second level with such ease.
Johnson has really been exposed as of late, largely in pass protection. He has given up four sacks and 13 hurries in just four games, numbers that put him among the NFL’s worst at his position. It’s obviously a learning curve to go from the college ranks to the NFL, but Johnson will need to improve his pass-blocking for the Eagles to be more competitive.
Fletcher Cox is a really good player, which is terrific since the Philadelphia Eagles have missed on some of their recent first-round defensive linemen. Cox transitioned from 4-3 defensive tackle to 3-4 defensive end, but he’s still playing very well.
Cox has two sacks in four games, which puts him on pace for eight. That would have tied for second-best among 3-4 ends last year, behind just J.J. Watt. Cox is also a good player against the run, and he’s the kind of defender the Eagles can build around.
Isaac Sopoaga has provided very little impact this season. He’s performing like a player simply at the end of his playing days. Sopoaga is still playing about half of the defensive snaps, but he’ll likely give way to rookie third-round pick Bennie Logan soon.
For a player who was one of the key reasons in the Eagles switching to the 3-4 defense, Sopoaga has disappointed. He likely won't be back with the team in 2014.
Believe it or not, Cedric Thornton has quietly turned in a solid season as a starting end. He’s played nearly every defensive snap, and he’s one of just four 3-4 ends with at least double-digit tackles and stops.
Thornton is at his best against the run, and he’s faced no competition from former second-round pick Vinny Curry.
The Philadelphia Eagles have used their rookie third-rounder very infrequently this season, and if you didn’t have a box score to look at, you might not know he’s played this year.
Logan has no sacks or quarterback hits and just one pressure in 106 snaps, but he’s also collected just two tackles. He really hasn’t stood out at all.
For some reason, the Eagles do not seem to like Curry. Curry didn’t set foot on an NFL field until midway through 2012, and this year, he’s again been deactivated for a handful of contests.
When Curry was activated against the Kansas City Chiefs, he picked up a sack and three quarterback hurries in just 12 defensive snaps. For the season, he has four hurries in 25 snaps. While it’s an incredibly small sample size, the ratio of one hurry for every six snaps suggests he should be seeing a lot more action.
Much of the concern during the offseason centered on whether the veteran Trent Cole would be able to transition from a career 4-3 end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. Cole has been an extremely pleasant surprise, as he’s made the transition with ease.
Cole hasn’t officially recorded a sack yet, but he’s picked up eight quarterback hurries, five hits, two forced fumbles, and a safety. He’s been playing largely as a 4-3 end, which hasn’t forced him into pass coverage on too many downs, and that’s a good move given that he probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with tight ends.
Like last year, Mychal Kendricks had a great start to the season but then really struggled. Against the Washington Redskins, Kendricks was flying all over the field, picking up a quarterback hit, a hurry, seven tackles and three stops, plus a fumble recovery.
Since then, he’s been the target of all the crossing patterns receivers have been running against the Philadelphia Eagles. Per PFF, Kendricks has been targeted 28 times on pass attempts, and a ridiculous 24 (85.7 percent) have been completed.
He’s also leading his position with eight missed tackles. That makes him the worst overall inside linebacker in the league, according to the Pro Football Focus numbers.
DeMeco Ryans is really regressing, and he’s likely in his last season with the team given his contract. Ryans is a liability in pass coverage because he’s not quick enough to keep up with slot receivers or most running backs.
He’s nonexistent as a pass-rusher, and he leads the NFL in snaps played from his position (313) without a quarterback hurry. Ryans has also missed a tackle per game.
The entirety of the Eagles’ 3-4 defense seems to be centered around Connor Barwin. There’s no stellar nose tackle clogging the middle of the line, and the 3-4 has forced both Cole and Brandon Graham out of position. With Barwin’s six-year, $40 million deal, the Eagles really need him to be a pass-rushing force.
So far, Barwin has been adequate. Two sacks in four games is a decent total, but he only has four total hurries and two penalties committed thus far. And the Eagles rank second-to-last in the league in pass-rushing efficiency, per Pro Football Focus.
It was expected that Graham would start pushing for snaps early in the season, given his natural pass-rushing skills. Graham is seeing action in only about a third of his team’s snaps, but he’s played well when he has been in the game.
Graham has a sack and five hurries in 73 snaps, numbers that suggest he should be seeing more action.
Cary Williams was one of the more high-profile free-agent acquisitions GM Howie Roseman signed. Williams is fresh off a Super Bowl season with the Baltimore Ravens, one in which he started at cornerback and recorded four interceptions.
Williams began his Philadelphia Eagles tenure with an outstanding game against the Washington Redskins. He recorded an interception and a pass knockdown, holding No. 1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon to just one reception for nine yards on five targets. And he was tremendous against Dwayne Bowe, holding him to just two catches for 11 yards.
Williams has also had his extremely frustrating moments. He committed a ridiculous three pass interference penalties against the San Diego Chargers and was seen visibly holding onto the receivers’ jerseys.
Bradley Fletcher is a decent cover corner, and he’s certainly not to blame for the problems in the Eagles secondary. Fletcher has given up a touchdown this season, but he’s allowed just 69 yards on 14 pass attempts his way. His problem has always been his tendency to commit a high number of pass interference penalties as well.
Brandon Boykin is small in stature (5’9”), but he plays aggressive football. Boykin recorded his first career interception against the Washington Redskins, and he didn’t give up any catches to the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s year four of the Nate Allen experiment at free safety, one that has gone strictly downhill in recent years. Allen is an extreme liability in pass coverage, and he’s inconsistent with his tackling.
He has been targeted 17 times in pass coverage. A whopping 14 of those have been complete. Two have gone for touchdowns, and Allen ranks 69th among 87 safeties in overall play, per PFF.
The Philadelphia Eagles thought they had themselves a solid starting strong safety in Patrick Chung, who was a second-round pick of the New England Patriots back in 2009. After all, Chung did start in the Super Bowl for Bill Belichick, and he’s just 26 years old.
Chung has been a huge liability though. He can’t cover running backs, wide receivers or tight ends. He’s part of an Eagles secondary that ranks 27th in passer rating and 31st in completion percentage allowed.
Earl Wolff is the latest of a series of Eagles safeties that have been thrust into starting jobs as rookies. Wolff was just a fifth-round pick, and he’s been clearly overmatched this season.
Wolff has allowed two touchdown passes in coverage without recording an interception, which means just the Eagles safeties have been responsible for five touchdown passes allowed in 2013.
Alex Henery’s disappointing season is incredibly frustrating. He entered 2013 as the NFL’s second-most accurate kicker in field-goal percentage, behind only Dallas’ Dan Bailey.
Henery has now missed field goals in three consecutive games. All were in the 40-49 yard range, but those are field goals that a fourth-round kicker has to make. Henery has also been flagged for a horse-collar tackle.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed a fairly big-name punter this offseason, inking a deal with former All-Pro punter Donnie Jones. Jones is averaging just 42.8 yards per punt. Only three punters rank worse with a 37.4 net average. And there was the blocked punt against Denver, although that is more the offensive line’s fault than Jones’.
Damaris Johnson has quietly had a productive season returning kicks. He’s fourth in the NFL with 317 kick return yards. While much of that can be attributed to the fact that the Eagles defense allows for so many scores, Johnson is averaging an impressive 26.4 yards per return. As a punt returner, Johnson has four returns for 35 yards.