Below are three leftover thoughts on the Eagles’ offense.
1. The Jordan Matthews hype has reached epic levels recently. At this point, anything short of a 100/1,700/20 stat line may seem like a disappointment.
I hate being the cold water guy, but there are a few factors worth mentioning. Most relevant is the fact that rookie wide receivers historically have a tough time bursting onto the scene in their first year. In the past decade, four rookie wide receivers – Michael Clayton, A.J. Green, Keenan Allen and Marques Colston – have had 1,000-yard seasons. Five – Eddie Royal, Clayton, Allen, Dwayne Bowe and Colston – have had 70+ catches.
And there’s this one from Brent Cohen of Eagles Rewind: 49 receivers have been taken in the second round since 2000 and played at least 10 games as rookies. Average receiving yards for that group has been 437.
All of those numbers are meant for context, and players buck trends all the time. But a really good season for Matthews would be replicating what Riley Cooper did last season, not DeSean Jackson.
During OTAs, Matthews has looked good. He gets open, he plays hard and he’s been catching everything. Aside from the “they’re in shorts” disclaimer, it’s worth noting that pretty much all his reps have come with the second team and against the second-team defense.
I remember during draft time wondering why Matthews didn’t go higher. He has size (6-3, 212), speed (4.46), production (was the SEC’s all-time leading receiver) and is a high-character guy. That seems like the resume of a top-15 guy. What I saw/heard was that Matthews isn’t particularly shifty. He’s not going to be a make-you-miss player. And his timed speed didn’t always show up on film.
Again, I like Matthews and think he will be productive, but I’m not ready to go all-in just yet.
2. I was thinking recently about how Chip Kelly might change the Eagles’ offense in 2014. And the conclusion I came to was: He’s unlikely to do anything dramatic. In fact, Kelly pretty much has said as much.
“We’re going to run the same offense we ran when Nick [Foles] was in there last year,” he said recently.
The tools are in place to do many of the same things. The ground game should once again be prolific with LeSean McCoy and a strong offensive line. The inside zone will be the Eagles’ bread and butter, but they’ll mix in other run plays depending on the week and the opponent. Assuming health, there’s little reason to believe Kelly will make major changes with the running attack.
The biggest challenge will be maintaining the success with the downfield passing game now that DeSean Jackson is gone. A key phrase you’re likely to hear a lot from Kelly is contested catches. He seems to believe it’s not always about creating separation. When faced with man coverage and talented cornerbacks, wide receivers sometimes have to go up and get the football. That means leaping ability, toughness, body control and the ability to track the ball.
We’ll see if those things can make up for the absence of elite speed that Jackson brought to the table.
3. We’ve written plenty about how Kelly’s focus this offseason has been on beating man coverage. I asked Foles about that recently, and his answer revealed a lot about the coach’s philosophy.
“That’ll be something we always work on, but we’re not just going to see man throughout the course of a game,” Foles said. “We’re going to see quarters, quarter-halves, drop eight, zero blitz, they’re going to show us everything. The most important thing is understanding when this play is called, do I have an answer versus every coverage? What would I do? So therefore, if it does happen in the game versus that coverage, I’ve rehearsed this in my mind, I’ve got this and we have to execute like this.”
That’s one of the best descriptions of Kelly’s offensive philosophy you’ll see. Last year, Kelly dubbed the Eagles’ attack the “see-coast offense.” But really, what he hopes to implement is an “answer offense.”
That means options for the quarterback depending on the look of the defense. It means limiting the number of times you run into unfavorable matchups and attacking the weakness of the opponent on a snap-by-snap basis.
The Eagles will work plenty this summer on beating man coverage, but Kelly’s ultimate goal is to arm Foles with answers for every look he sees.