Eagles Offense: Report Card At the Bye
With six games in the books, now seems like a good time to take a position-by-position look at where the Eagles stand. We’ll do the offense today and continue with the defense later in the week.
No one was expecting Nick Foles to repeat the 27 TD/2 INT performance from a year ago. And while the circumstances have been less than ideal, the Eagles’ starting QB has labored through the first six weeks, completing 59.5 percent of his passes while averaging 6.9 YPA.
Among QBs who have attempted at least 50 passes, only eight have completed worse than 60 percent and averaged lower than 7.0 YPA. From Pro Football Reference:
Foles also leads the NFL in turnovers (seven interceptions, three turnovers).
The two main issues, as I see them, have been accuracy (specifically on deep balls) and decision-making. Foles has been on-target with 35.4 percent of his downfield throws (20+ yards or more), according to Pro Football Focus. That ranks 22nd in the NFL. Last year, he was at 45.5 percent (13th).
Perhaps there’s an undisclosed injury that has affected Foles’ accuracy, but that wouldn’t explain some of his shaky decision-making. Of the 34 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 75 passes, only six have a worse interception rate than Foles (3.0 percent).
He has played well in spurts. Foles demonstrated true toughness in the win against Washington and looked good at times against the Giants. The injured offensive line and a struggling run game have been factors, but there have been too many instances where Foles has looked jittery in the pocket and missed on big plays downfield.
Foles is young and clearly working through some things. If he can bounce back after the bye, hit on some of those plays and take care of the football, this team really has a chance to make some noise in the NFC.
RUNNING BACKS: C
The biggest sign of encouragement to come out of the win over the Giants was that the run game finally got going. LeSean McCoy eclipsed his totals from the previous three weeks combined, totaling 149 yards on 22 carries. On the season, McCoy’s fourth in the NFL in rushing with 422 yards, although he’s only averaging 3.6 YPC.
The offensive line issues have hampered the run game more than the passing game. Overall, the rushing offense ranks 26th according to Football Outsiders after finishing first a year ago.
Darren Sproles has been fantastic with 211 yards on 32 attempts (6.6 YPC). He also has 198 yards receiving on 16 catches and is averaging 12.4 YPR.
This was a difficult evaluation because if you look at the run game as a whole through six games, it has not been good, but I’m not sure how much of that has to do with the actual running backs. I could easily see McCoy start to put up monster numbers in the second half of the season when the entire starting offensive line is expected to return.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B-
This is another tough evaluation, but for different reasons. Jeremy Maclin has exceeded expectations. Returning from an ACL injury, he has 27 catches for 445 yards and four touchdowns. That puts him on pace for 72/1,186/11. Maclin is one of only three receivers (Steve Smith and Alshon Jeffery are the others) who has 25+ catches and is averaging at least 16.0 YPR. Maclin’s catch rate is only 46 percent, but that has more to do with the quarterback and offensive line than the receiver. The offense has left a lot of plays on the field where Maclin has been open downfield.
Riley Cooper, meanwhile, has not been the big play threat he was a year ago. In 2013, Cooper averaged 17.8 yards per reception, third in the NFL. He did a good job of tracking deep balls downfield even when he wasn’t necessarily open.
We haven’t seen that in 2014. Among the 49 wide receivers who have been targeted at least 35 times, only Kendall Wright (8.8), Jeremy Kerley (8.6), and Rueben Randle (8.8) are averaging fewer yards per reception than Cooper (9.0). He’s dropped two touchdowns and has just one catch of 20+ yards on the season. On film, there haven’t been nearly as many missed opportunities to Cooper as there have been to Maclin.
Jordan Matthews, meanwhile, has nearly identical numbers numbers to Cooper. Cooper has 24 catches on 38 targets for 217 yards and a touchdown. Matthews has 23 catches on 38 targets for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
But the two receivers are obviously being used differently. Cooper plays on the outside and has been on the field 29.1 percent of the time more than Matthews.
Matthews is lining up in the slot 89.5 percent of the time. He has been used a lot in the short game; 65.8 percent of his targets have come within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. That number is 47.4 percent for Cooper. Matthews is playing 58.7 percent of the snaps, and while Kelly has made it clear that he’s not going to be moved outside as a rookie, he could see more targets in the passing game in the second half of the season.
Brad Smith is out with injury, and Josh Huff has taken over as the fourth receiver. He looks like an asset as a blocker in the run game and a special teams contributor.
TIGHT ENDS: A-
This group gets the highest mark for a few different reasons. Zach Ertz has 306 yards receiving on the season. That’s second on the team and seventh among tight ends. His 16.1 YPR are tops among tight ends who have caught at least 10 balls, and no one at the position has more grabs of 20+ yards (7). Ertz has played 56.5 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps; he’s gone out in pass routes on 67.8 percent of those snaps.
Ertz has been putting in extra time after practice with Jason Peters to improve on his run blocking, but that’s what’s limiting him from playing even more. Still, he’s been a weapon in the passing game and is taking a nice leap in his second season. Ertz is on pace for 51/816/5. Don’t be surprised to see the Eagles give him more opportunities to win one-on-one matchups in the red zone in the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, Brent Celek is playing 69.2 percent of the snaps and has been used in the opposite way of Ertz. He’s been a run blocker on 52 percent of his snaps. Celek played his best game against the Giants, and the Eagles need him on the field to get the ground game going. He’s not the receiver he was in the past, but Celek is effectively playing his role.
James Casey’s playing time often depends on the game plan and the run game specifically. He’s playing 15.9 percent of the snaps, but has been a factor the past two weeks. Casey is also a key special teams contributor.
Rookie Trey Burton doesn’t see the field much on offense, but has been a pleasant surprise on special teams.
Overall, the four guys here have defined roles and are meeting expectations.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-
Realistic expectations have to be factored in here. Through the first six games, the Eagles have had 11 different offensive linemen take snaps, and they’ve only had the same five guys start consecutive games once. Those are staggering numbers when you consider only seven offensive linemen took snaps all of last year, and the Eagles started the same five guys in all 16 games.
Based on overall performance, the offensive line has been a weakness. But because of injuries, expectations have to be lowered.
Jason Peters has been fantastic. In the past two games, he’s been matched up with Robert Quinn and Jason Pierre-Paul and didn’t allow a sack or a QB hit. I realize neither of those guys is among the league’s sack leaders, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless. Peters is always great in the run game, and he stuck up for his QB when Chris Baker took Foles out in the Washington game. If anyone on the squad deserves an A+, it’s Peters.
Matt Tobin has been a disappointment at left guard. Experience will help, and I fully understand it’s tough for a second-year undrafted free agent to step in and start, but he’s had a lot of issues filling in for Evan Mathis. Tobin was fantastic during the summer, but he clearly could use a lot more reps under his belt.
No one will ever confuse David Molk for Jason Kelce, but he looked good on several occasions blocking out in space on sweeps last week. He has issues in pass protection and at the point of attack because of his lack of size, but finding an adequate backup center is not easy. Molk will have to hold down the fort for a couple more weeks until Kelce returns.
Todd Herremans played well at the start of the season, filled in at right tackle for a game and has had some issues the past couple weeks in pass protection. He’s still playing at a starter’s level and has made some impressive blocks in the run game. Herremans just turned 32. He played better in the second half of last season. We’ll see if that’s the case again this year.
Lane Johnson is playing his way back into football shape, but he’s a clear upgrade over the backups at right tackle. Don’t be surprised if he starts to play really good football down the stretch.
Like I said, overall this unit has been a weakness, but there have been difficult circumstances. With Kelce and Mathis scheduled to return in Week 10, the offensive line should be a strength by the time December rolls around.