Where the 2014 Eagles Stand After Week 4

eagles-week4Step away from the ledges, people. Yes, the Eagles finally lost a game. On the road to a team that’s participated in the last two NFC Championship games. They lost by 5 points after posting the second worst offensive output of Chip Kelly’s young NFL career. They lost by 5 points with LeSean McCoy rushing for a pathetic 17 yards. They lost by 5 points after committing four turnovers. They lost by 5 points without scoring a single offensive touchdown. They lost by 5 points without the services of Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis, Mychal Kendricks, and Lane Johnson.

And despite all that, they still had a chance to take the lead at the Niners’ two-yard line with less than two minutes to play. Sorry, but I’m not very upset about this defeat. This is still the same talented, yet flawed team that staged comeback wins in the first three weeks. This is still the same talented, yet flawed team that score 30-plus points in the first three weeks. This is still the same talented, yet flawed team that has scored a league best five touchdowns on defense and special teams.

Do the Eagles have issues? Of course, just like every other NFL team. LeSean McCoy’s horrific start is worrisome. Nick Foles’ wild inaccuracy is frustrating. The battered offensive line is a growing concern. Riley Cooper and Brent Celek’s disappearing acts are problematic. The glut of boneheaded penalties committed by the defense is maddening. All that said, it could be much, much worse.

Lane Johnson is back from suspension. His return allows Todd Herremans to slide back to right guard, meaning they will have three starters playing at their regular positions on Sunday, as opposed to one versus San Francisco. Johnson is a good bet to make his share of mistakes in the next couple of games, but his presence alone should bolster a moribund rushing offense.

The last time the Eagles’ run attack failed to top 100 yards in consecutive games was Weeks 7 and 8 last season, losses to the Cowboys and Giants. The next game was Nick Foles’ coming out party in Oakland. McCoy wasn’t great with 44 yards on 12 carries, but he did notch four catches for 36 yards and a touchdown.

I’m not suggesting the Birds will destroy the Rams. I’m just saying that the panic button shouldn’t be prematurely pressed. Chip Kelly hasn’t been “figured out.” To suggest that’s the case — as some local and national pundits have — is ridiculous, not to mention ignorant.

Now, Kelly does need to rethink his game plans. His tendencies are becoming a bit predictable. He’s also allowing defenses to dictate too much. Of course defenses are going to stack the box to stop McCoy. That’s football 101. Chipper needs to reach into his endless bag of tricks and find ways to open rush lanes.

And Shady needs to run vertically, not horizontally. Defenders are doing an excellent job of tracking and taking him down. Dancing can be fun to watch, but it’s not conducive to consistent success. Bryce Brown was jettisoned because he refused to run North-South. McCoy must hit the windows harder, even when they’re tight. Maybe giving Chris Polk a few totes would help. With Johnson back, perhaps Kelly can utilize the unbalanced line that was so effective last year.

Whatever he does, having Foles repeatedly drop back and launch bombs isn’t the answer. This offense clicks when all its moving parts are working in unison. Kelly was correct when he said guys are trying to do too much on their own. Players need to do their jobs and trust everyone else will do the same. Sounds simple because it is. Oh, and maybe use Zach Ertz more? Or, maybe not.

07 mccoy run ertz missed block
Via: Inside the Eagles

Defense:

Talk about the “porous” run defense if you want, but the Eagles have yielded 11 scores, 10 of which have come via the pass. Roy Helu (?) is the only running back to rush for a touchdown. Obviously allowing 218 yards on the ground isn’t ideal, but facing an athletic freak like Colin Kaepernick has a way of skewing the stats. In short, I’m not worried about the run D.

On the other hand, this Eagles secondary, with the exception of Malcolm Jenkins, is causing migraines. The bumbling trio of Williams, Fletcher, and Allen just can’t get their shit together. The defensive holding call on Cary that wiped out a third-down sack by Trent Cole is inexcusable. Just can’t happen. I don’t place a lot of stock in advanced stats, but according to this, Williams ranks 75th among NFL cornerbacks. Notice that Fletcher and the criminally underused Brandon Boykin rank 17th and 18th, respectively.

Guess who grades out as the number one safety in the league? And look who’s a top three defensive tackle. And a top five defensive end. Again, these rankings are derived from weird algorithms, but it’s hard to argue that all three of these guys are passing the eyeball test big time.

Get off the damn field! That’s the problem with Billy Davis’s unit. Be it dumb breakdowns, blown coverages, or egregious penalties, the defense isn’t getting the job done on third down. They were solid on first and second down versus the 49ers and consistently harassed Kaepernick into sacks, scrambles, and errant tosses. But giving up multiple third and longs is atrocious.

Special Teams:

Save for a few lazy infractions, Dave Fipp’s guys have been tremendous. Trey Burton is all over the place on kick and punt coverage. Free agent additions Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman are meeting expectations. And what else can you say about Darren Sproles? Howie Roseman deserves major praise for stealing him from the Saints. And the Saints deserve what they’re getting for letting Spoles and Jenkins walk.

Turnovers/Penalties:

Herein lies the biggest issue. A pair of derp fumbles from Cooper and Ertz, both of whom need to wake the hell up. Two picks for Nick, one of which was a prayer to end the game. Eagles are -4 in TO ratio and have yet to have a clean game. 10 penalties for 70 yards. The Cary Williams’ holding call was brutal. Three offensive holding calls? Ugh.

Looking Ahead:

Home to a well-rested Rams team that will start Austin Davis under center and boasts the 30th ranked run defense. Methinks Jeff Fisher used the extra days of preparation to ensure McCoy stays stuck in neutral. This is a tricky spot for the Birds. I could definitely see the Rams offense moving the ball early against a defense leaking confidence. Is this Shady’s week? Last time he played the Rams he went for 137 total yards and two scores.

Eagles get right. It won’t be pretty, but it never is.

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