This is the most confusing football team ever.
The offense is completely misfiring. Nick Foles led the league in long throws (over 20 yards) last year; in 2014, he’s 4 for 31, with three interceptions. Sunday was his personal low point in a miserable season; scrambling for a first down, he fumbled away the ball untouched as he rolled forward to the ground instead of sliding (photo above).
LeSean McCoy went from leading the league in running in 2013 to ranking #15 today, averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. Zach Ertz has disappeared despite predictions of a breakout year, and Brent Celek is even disappeareder. The offense didn’t score a single point against San Francisco, and only 14 against the woeful Rams.
By the way, the Eagles lead the NFL in scoring.
What? Yeah, the offense has generated only 77 points all year. Only Jacksonville (67) and Oakland (51) have fewer total points. But the defense and special teams have outscored the guys who are supposed to score by two (79), tying the Eagles with Indianapolis for the league lead with 156 points.
So the defense is great? Well, not exactly. The Birds were up 34-7 at home against St. Louis and let them close within 6, with a final drive to win that fell short. Cornerback Cary Williams gives up lots of big plays, and was joined by Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, and Bradley Fletcher in pass porousness on Sunday.
The pass rush has suddenly appeared out of nowhere though — eight sacks in the last two games, after zero in the two before that — and the key is Billy Davis’ deceptive fronts.
In other words, he’s only rushing four on most downs, keeping coverage tight, but whether he sends 4, 5 or 6 men, the offense never knows which ones it’s going to be. And pass rushers had three forced fumbles Sunday, one for a touchdown.
Several players line up for rushing, and one or two drop into coverage after a stab step. The result is many plays where a blocker is standing around, looking for someone to impede, while an Eagle on the other side side of the field has an open path to the quarterback. It’s similar to the way that the zone read play blocks a defensive end without touching him.
Special teams have been excellent — the Rams game featured another blocked punt for a touchdown (two in two games!), and more great Sproles punt returns. James Casey got credit for the stuffed punt, but #47 Trey Burton — the rookie tight end who blocked the punt against San Francisco — did him one better.
Burton not only got his hand on the ball, but he pulled it back toward the center of the field so it wouldn’t go out the back of the end zone. Chris Maragos, who the Eagles signed away from the Seahawks just for special teams, picked it up and ran it in ten yards for a touchdown — 23 seconds into the game.
So yes, special teams have been very special, but the main strength of this squad is balance. There are eight ways to score a touchdown in the NFL, and the Eagles have nailed seven of them.
If they get a touchdown off a blocked field goal, they’ll be the first team in NFL history to hit all eight in a season.
Already crossed off their To Do list: rushing, receiving, kickoff return, punt return, blocked punt return, fumble return, and pick-six. Since Chip scored the rarest way of all at Oregon — a blocked extra-point-kick safety, for one point — a blocked FG return TD should be easy.
Mix it all together and what do you get? The Eagles are 4-1, tied for the best record in the NFL.
Just to confuse matters further, the NFC East is the best division in football (by record, anyway). The New York Giants have won three straight, and Dallas is tied with Philadelphia (and San Diego) on top at 4-1.
Only the continuous suckitude of the Washington LOLSkins (1-4) has been true to form, and even they played very tough against the champion Seahawks. DeSean Jackson had a great individual game in a losing team effort, as was to be expected.
Philadelphia plays the Giants on Sunday night, with their bye week immediately after. If the Eagles can grind out a win against a suddenly tough New York team in Philly, they’ll be 5-1 with two weeks for their wounded front line and inside linebackers to heal. That would be a result far better than they have any right to expect.
Yet they keep winning. And it’s not a fluke. Chip Kelly could not have stressed special teams any harder, and he’s getting a bigger payout than he could have imagined. He’s been training the defense to go for forced fumbles and batted passes, and they got both against the Rams (including a touchdown on a fumble recovery by Cedric Thornton after a strip sack).
No one really believes this is the best team in the NFL — the many NFL Power Rankings tell us that directly. (No surprise, the consensus picks Seattle.) But it’s interesting to see the comments, and where people think the Eagles do stand. Each power ranker goes on and on about all the weaknesses in this team. But no one ranks them lower than 8th in the NFL, and many put them at 3rd or 4th. (The average ranking is 5.33.)
That should give you a sense of how great this team could be if they heal and put together a complete game.
(Updated to correct math error — h/t Dristone and Xyanks3819x at /r/Eagles)
feature photo from video
Mark Saltveit’s newest book is “Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution” (Diversion Books, NY) has been recently released. He is the author of “The Tao of Chip Kelly” (2013) and writes on science, religion, wordplay and political scandals. He is also a standup comedian and the world palindrome champion.
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