Where the 2014 Eagles Stand After Week 3

eagles-week3Undefeated! Hard to argue with that. But I will. Blind loyalty backed by misguided enthusiasm just isn’t my thing. The Eagles are 3-0, and fun to watch, and tough as nails, and fearless in the face of adversity, and nowhere close to reaching their full potential. Those are the positives. On to the negatives.

Besides injuries, which are totally uncontrollable, my biggest concern with this team is not surprisingly the defense. Chip and Billy Davis can pontificate all they want about sacks being overrated and moving quarterbacks off their spot, but the fact remains that the front seven isn’t generating a consistent pass rush.

Increasing the sack totals and hits on quarterbacks was an offseason priority. And yet all they did to fix it was draft Marcus Smith, who is now playing ILB, partly out of necessity, partly because he isn’t showing anything on the edge. I’m not one of the Smith haters. He’s a rookie learning a complex defense that asks a lot from its linebackers. NaVorro Bowman was hardly a world-beater in his first season. Let’s shelve the ‘Smith is a bust’ narrative for now.

Chip and Davis sold us the theory that the defense would be better in year 2 of the scheme. Evidence to support that claim has yet to materialize. They have 3 sacks in three games and zero in the last two. I will give the front seven credit for harassing Andrew Luck into errant throws, but I saw very little of that against Kirk Cousins.

Rewatching the game, I counted two times where Cousins was actually rushed into delivering the ball early. Most of his misses were on him, meaning he panicked for no reason, similar to Nick Foles in the first two weeks. And if you watched the Thursday night horror show, it’s clear Cousins is a long way from being anointed savior in Washington. Foles, for all his problems, has never looked as abysmal as Cousins did against the Giants.

Of course, a meager pass rush directly affects the secondary. A secondary that still has a trio of marginal starters. Just think where this group would be without Malcolm Jenkins. He’s been rock steady with a pair of timely interceptions and is providing excellent support against the run. As for Nate Allen, well, he’s still the same ol’ Nate Allen: frustratingly dumb. His retaliation shove against DeSean was typical stupidity. Jenkins wisely backed away in hopes the refs would flag Jackson. And they might have if Allen hadn’t intervened.

There’s been a lot of chatter this week among the Eagles beat writers about Brandon Boykin, who was tremendous on the final drive last Sunday. Why isn’t he starting? Are Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher ever going to earn our complete trust? Where the hell is Nolan Carroll? Davis and Kelly like big corners, so Cary and Fletch aren’t going anywhere, whether we like it or not.

If teams continue to throw against the Eagles’ base alignment on first and second downs, Boykin won’t have a chance to make plays because he won’t be on the field. And starting a game in a nickel formation is basically begging the opposing offense to run it down their throats (like the Saints in the playoff loss). Not having Mychal Kendricks chucks a fly in the ointment as well. His versatility is clearly missed and it’s likely he’ll be out until the Week 7 bye.

The only thing left to do is trust Davis and Kelly. Hey, the defense was abysmal during the first month of 2013 before turning it around. This unit is never going to be dominant because it’s thin on talent. That said, if they are merely average, the offense is supremely capable of carrying the weight most weeks.

Offense:

I think we are all guilty of underestimating Nick Foles. He was fantastic for three quarters, but what he did in the final stanza versus the Redskins was eye-opening. Make no mistake, he was hammered time and time again by a legit front four. Cheap shots aside, Foles absorbed at least three major pops, all of which could’ve knocked him from the game. Taking hits, getting up, and leading game-winning drives is what separates franchise signal-callers from serviceable starters.

It’s a weekly soap opera with Foles, but he is gradually earning a favorable rep. His anticipation, ball placement, and footwork were sensational last Sunday. Yeah, he still sailed a couple big tosses down field, but getting Jordan Matthews and Riley Cooper more involved is only going to help an already scary offense going forward. I mean, look at this bullet:

04 2nd td to matthews end zone view

With the offensive line down another starter, Foles will have to be decisive under duress. There won’t be many clean pockets for the next few weeks, so his decision-making must be on point.

Shady is gonna be just fine. He is dancing too much, but some of that is warranted due to a lack of creases. The moment defenses start paying extra attention to the receiving corps (and they will), McCoy will pounce. That’s the beauty of Chip’s attack. The running game has been tepid at best and the offense is averaging nearly 34 points per game. How do you take away McCoy, Maclin, Sproles, Ertz, Matthews, Cooper, and Celek? Hell, Coop and Celek have been largely invisible, but each is a sure bet to explode at some point in the near future.

Jeremy Maclin in three words: He’s always open.

Defense:

I already covered them, so I’ll keep this brief. There is good to go with the bad, believe it or not. Fletcher Cox continues to play at an All-Pro level. It might not show up in the stat sheet, but Cox has been a disruptive force more often than not. Oh, and Bennie Logan is tearing it up like a boss.

Special Teams:

If the trade for Sproles wasn’t the steal of the century, maybe it was the one that shipped Cody Parkey from Indy in exchange for some guy named David Fluellen. In three games, Parkey has already nailed as many 50-yarders as Alex Henery did in three seasons. And his kickoffs have resulted in 14 touchbacks against 7 returns. Chris Polk? All he does is score touchdowns.

Turnovers/Penalties:

Sproles finally made a mistake. It happens. No big deal. 9 for 70 yards. The block in the back by Kelce on the Maclin screen was a killer, especially since it was unnecessary. But man, does Kelce have wheels. I’m going to miss watching him destroy/embarrass defenders.

Looking Ahead:

On the road against a desperate 49ers team. Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly know each other pretty well from their days in the Pac-12. The Eagles defense sans Kendricks will have to deal with Colin Kaepernick’s legs. An undermanned but still fearsome Niners’ front seven versus a beleaguered offensive line down three starters with Todd Herremans playing right tackle. I don’t like this matchup at all. However, the Niners’ secondary is prone to these kind of blunders:

Methinks Kelly and Foles can exploit this. Sadly, I still believe San Fran finds a way to win by a field goal.

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