Self-Scouting: Taking Stock Of the Offense

Eagles QB Nick Foles evades the Cowboys' rush. 10/20/13NFL coaches often use the term “self-scouting” when answering questions about their bye-week plans.

With no game to prepare for and players away from the team facility, it’s a chance to evaluate which areas of the team need to be adjusted going forward.

Keeping that in mind, here’s a position-by-position look at where things stand with the Eagles through 11 games and what changes might be on the way going forward. We’ll start with the offense and do the defense in the next installment.

QUARTERBACK

Nick Foles has been lights-out, having completed 63.6 percent of his passes (10th) with 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Foles has made good decisions, looks comfortable in the offense and has connected on downfield throws. He’s averaging 9.59 yards per attempt. To put that number into perspective, since 1957, only two other quarterbacks have averaged at least 9.5 yards per attempt (minimum 150 passes): Kurt Warner (9.88 in 2000) and Chris Chandler (9.65 in 1998).

To put that another way, if the season ended today, Foles would have the highest single-season YPA number in the last 13 years. Teams are going to continue to gear up to stop LeSean McCoy and the Eagles’ run game. The offense will need Foles to continue to hit on throws downfield.

There are a couple of areas to keep an eye on with the second-year QB in the weeks ahead: how he deals with consistent pass pressure and how the weather affects him. The offensive line has kept Foles pretty clean, and he’s done a good job of moving around and creating space. But he’ll be tested in that aspect against a heavy blitzing team in the Cardinals on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Foles has admitted that he needs to get better in the cold/wind. Weather won’t be a factor in Minnesota (indoors) and Dallas, but it could be during the Eagles’ three home games.

If Michael Vick’s hamstring is healed, he’ll serve as the backup down the stretch.

RUNNING BACK

McCoy is the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,009 yards through 11 games. Among the 24 running backs who have amassed at least 500 yards, only Alfred Morris (5.0), DeMarco Murray (5.1) and Rashad Jennings (5.1) have a higher YPC average than McCoy (4.7).

But that doesn’t mean Chip Kelly is going to stand pat with the run game. In the last seven games, McCoy is averaging 4.0 YPC (135 attempts for 541 yards).

Against Washington, he had to break a tackle or dodge a defender at or behind the line of scrimmage on 12 of 20 carries. McCoy is often having to do too much on his own. Look for Kelly to make some tweaks going forward. Maybe that means going more split backs and adding an extra blocker. Maybe it means less zone read where Foles has to account for an unblocked defender. Maybe there’s another wrinkle Kelly has up his sleeve. But this is an area the head coach has almost definitely spent some time on during the bye week.

Bryce Brown has been a disappointment with 165 yards on 53 carries (3.1 YPC).

WIDE RECEIVER

DeSean Jackson is sixth in the NFL with 985 receiving yards. He needs to average 34.4 yards per game in the final five to set a new career high in that category. And Jackson needs just five more receptions to beat his previous career high of 62. He’s sixth in yards per reception (17.0) and leads the NFL with 19 catches of 20+ yards.

Riley Cooper has been a pleasant surprise with 31 catches for 592 yards. He’s averaging 19.1 yards per catch (second in the NFL) and has seven touchdowns (tied for 10th).

The coaching staff has done a brilliant job with this group. There are plenty of one-on-one opportunities, and the Eagles have taken advantage.

Jason Avant has been quiet, and the offense has used more 2-TE sets in recent weeks. Jeff Maehl has played 14 percent of the snaps, occasionally spelling Jackson or Cooper.

TIGHT END

Brent Celek is averaging 26.4 yards per game. That would be his lowest number since 2008, but Kelly doesn’t care. He loves how the veteran tight end is playing.

Celek looked as spry as ever, taking an inside screen 42 yards in Week 11 against the Redskins. He’s averaging 15.3 yards per catch, which would be a career high, and has been excellent as a blocker in the run game (although he had some breakdowns vs. Washington).

Zach Ertz has shown improvement as a blocker in the run game and has played 40 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps. He’s caught 21 balls for 274 yards and a touchdown. The guess here is that Ertz’s role won’t change much down the stretch. The increase in 2-TE sets has been largely due to the Eagles holding leads and running the ball late in games.

James Casey has only played 57 snaps all season. He has three catches for 31 yards in a backup/situational/special teams role. Casey could see a slight bump in playing time if Kelly decides to add an extra blocker in the run game.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Football Outsiders has the Birds 26th in adjusted sack rate, but pass protection has actually held up well for the most part. There are breakdowns from time to time, but the Eagles lead the NFL with 56 pass plays of 20+ yards and are averaging 4.9 yards per carry on the ground (also first).

Continuity has been a major plus. The Eagles have had the same five linemen start every game this season. Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce have all held up well in pass protection. Todd Herremans has had issues, but played perhaps his cleanest game of the season against Washington. Lane Johnson has had some trouble too, but has shown significant improvement since earlier in the season.

Run blocking has been good for the most part, although the zone-read plays are vulnerable to slants and stunts up front (see: the first Giants game).

Peters, Mathis, Kelce and Herremans have all suffered injuries in the past 15 months. It’s worth monitoring how each holds up down the stretch. Peters, specifically, has been dealing with a variety of ailments.

Allen Barbre looked capable in a fill-in role when called upon against the Packers. A Kelce injury could prove devastating, depending on how Julian Vandervelde has developed.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Eagles special teams rank 21st in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. Colt Anderson leads the team with 13 tackles; Casey has 10; and Casey Matthews has eight.

Among the 19 players who have returned at least 15 kickoffs, Damaris Johnson is one of only two who hasn’t posted a return of at least 35 yards. He’s been replaced by Brandon Boykin. And Boykin could be replaced by newly-acquired Brad Smith after the bye. Jackson has been seeing more action on punt returns.

Alex Henery’s performance is absolutely a concern down the stretch. He’s been inconsistent and has made 17 of 22 field goals overall.

The Eagles’ average starting field position is their own 26.83 yard line (21st). Their opponents’ average starting field position is the 25.96 yard line (9th).

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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