10 Burning Questions About the 2015 Philadelphia Eagles Season
After two 10-6 seasons, no playoff wins and an action-packed offseason, anticipation for the Eagles this year couldn’t be much higher.
Chip Kelly traded away the NFL’s leading rusher in 2013, only to sign the league’s 2014 rushing champion. He traded his quarterback, Nick Foles, for a former No. 1 overall pick who can’t stay healthy. And he let the team’s best receiver, Jeremy Maclin, leave in free agency.
Will Kelly’s plan come together? Or will it crumble before our eyes?
The Eagles have a Super Bowl-caliber team this season, but the first step down that path comes tomorrow night as Philadelphia opens their season in Atlanta.
1. How worried should we be about Sam Bradford’s injury history?
Don’t be worried. (At least not more than you would be for any other quarterback.) Why? We had a conversation with Dr. James L. Carey, director of the Penn Center for Advanced Cartilage Repair and assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
According to Dr. Carey, Sam Bradford doesn’t have an increased risk for a knee injury even though he has already suffered two ACL tears. Chip Kelly and the Eagles have done their own research on the subject, and concluded that there is a 10 to 12 percent chance of re-injury. The odds, in other words, are in favor of that knee holding up.
Bradford also has a quick release and will throw behind a good offensive line who won’t let him get hit much. —J.P.
2. If Bradford does stay healthy, can he be an elite quarterback for this team?
Yes. Bradford was the first overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft for a reason. He has pinpoint accuracy and fits Chip Kelly‘s system very well. He gets rid of the ball quickly and has plenty of weapons surrounding him.
One of the biggest reasons Bradford could have a big year, however, has nothing to do with him. Because the Eagles have the best group of running backs in the NFL, teams will be forced to focus on the ground game. That will open up throwing lanes for Bradford and allow him to take advantage of play-action passes.
Once the Eagles get down into the red zone, Bradford can throw the ball to any of his running backs out of the backfield, receiver Jordan Matthews or any one of his three tight ends. Expect him to be one of the top-10 quarterbacks in the NFL this season. —J.P.
3. How much will the Eagles miss LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin?
The Eagles won’t miss McCoy at all. Although he led the league in rushing yards in 2013, the Eagles replaced him with DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL in rushing in 2014. The Eagles signed the free agent running back to a five-year, $42 million contract this offseason. Murray, who played the first four years of his career for the Dallas Cowboys, set a franchise record last season by rushing for 1,845 yards.
The Eagles also signed Ryan Mathews, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, during the offseason. Although Mathews has had trouble staying healthy, he is a talented running back who made the Pro Bowl in 2011. Both Mathews and Murray fit Kelly’s system well.
As for Jeremy Maclin, his departure will certainly be felt more. Although Jordan Matthews appears poised for a big season this year, it’s unclear who the Eagles’ second weapon at wide receiver will be. Josh Huff has had a quiet training camp and preseason, and Nelson Agholor is a rookie who has shown big-play ability while also dropping several catches. —J.P.
4. What should we expect from new defensive players Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso?
Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear much about Maxwell during this season. I don’t expect quarterbacks to throw at the cornerback often because of Maxwell’s skill and the weaknesses at other spots in the secondary. He’s clearly the best defensive back in coverage the Eagles have, so offenses will look elsewhere to attack. When you do hear about him, however, it will probably be because he’s following around the other team’s best receiver and limiting — although not completely shutting down — his opponent’s production.
As for Alonso, expect him to make the Pro Bowl. Although we saw him in coverage in the preseason only twice, the Eagles’ tight ends rave about his coverage ability. He has a unique blend of size and speed that allows him to play receivers tight while fighting to break up passes. Before missing all of last season due to injury, Alonso ranked third in the NFL in tackles with 159, so expect him to be effective in stopping the run as well. —J.P.
5. How much has the defense improved overall this offseason?
The defense has improved a lot. Last season, the Eagles were tied for 22nd in the NFL in points allowed, giving up an average of 25 a game. Expect them to jump into the top half of the league this year in that ranking.
The Eagles will have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL because of their talent and depth. Fletcher Cox, who was a second-team All-Pro selection last season, is one of the best defensive ends in the league. Bennie Logan, the Eagles’ nose tackle, has shown significant improvement and seems likely to make the Pro Bowl this season.
Behind the defensive line, the Eagles have a lot of talent at linebacker. Kiko Alonso, who Kelly traded LeSean McCoy for, is one of the best young inside linebackers in the league. Meanwhile, outside linebacker Connor Barwin ranked fourth in the NFL in sacks in 2014.
However, the biggest question mark remains the secondary. Philadelphia had the second-worst pass defense in the NFL last season, but made several efforts to improve. They signed free agent cornerback Byron Maxwell to a six-year, $63 million contract. They also drafted cornerback Eric Rowe in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft and will likely play the rookie right away.
It’s clear the Eagles’ defense will be better than last year, but the success of the secondary will determine how much better they are. —J.P.
6. What grade would you give Chip Kelly as a G.M. so far?
A solid ‘B’. Kelly was met with a good deal of skepticism after blowing up the front end of the roster, jettisoning guys like Nick Foles, McCoy, Trent Cole and Todd Herremans and bringing in players with injury histories — most notably Bradford.
But the more exposure you have to the new-look roster, the clearer Kelly’s vision becomes. Bradford appears to be a very nice fit for this system, and the same can be said for the new running back group. The talent is now more evenly distributed (it was slanted more in the direction of the offense before) and the players that were brought in are good culture fits.
7. What players are poised for a breakout year?
Jordan Matthews is a great candidate on offense. He finished with 67 catches, 872 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie — numbers that would have vaulted him into the national spotlight if he wasn’t part of such an incredibly talented and productive receiver class (see: Odell Beckham). Matthews has a crazy work ethic to go along with a top-notch skill set. He should continue his ascent.
On defense, look for Fletcher Cox to make the first of many Pro Bowls. Brandon Graham has a chance to elevate his game as well now that he’s in a starting role. —T.M.
8. Where are the areas of concern on offense?
The offensive line is an area to watch. Three of the five starters (Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce) are top-end. The starting guards will be Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner. They acquitted themselves pretty well during the preseason but still have plenty to prove. It’s crucial that the interior line holds up, especially while Bradford attempts to build confidence while testing out his surgically repaired knee early on. —T.M.
9. How about defense?
Defensive coordinator Billy Davis still hasn’t settled on a slot corner to replace Brandon Boykin. It could take a little while for that situation to stabilize. There are plenty of new faces on that side of the ball (and in the secondary in particular), so it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if there were a few hiccups early on while the group figures out each another’s styles and tendencies. The front seven is stacked overall but there are some questions about outside linebacker depth behind Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin. Vinny Curry has been moved outside and could play an important role. —T.M.
10. Can this team realistically get to the Super Bowl?
There is reason for optimism. This is arguably the most balanced and talented roster that Chip Kelly has had to work with, and the one that best suits him from a schematic and culture standpoint. The Eagles’ schedule does not appear to be terribly daunting. The division is winnable. They have a great chance to make the playoffs, and from there, who knows?
To be legit contenders, though, Bradford is going to have to stay upright and shine. He has looked fantastic during training camp and the preseason. If that can carry that over to the regular season when the hitting and intensity ratchets up, the Eagles might have something here. —T.M.
The Eagles open their season on Monday, September 14th, at 7:10 p.m. against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta.