The Eagles Still Aren't Great, But That's OK

Before the season started, I set my expectations for 2013 at a reasonable level: an improvement from last year's disaster squad and a foundation built for future growth. As I said then, most teams as bad as the Eagles improved, on DVOA terms, by an average of about 12%. I anticipated something along those lines, with a slight record improvement but certainly no mention of playoffs.

Obviously, I was wrong. Before Sunday's loss, the Eagles had improved by nearly 33% in DVOA, one of the best turnarounds ever. That will cool slightly this week, but the team still has the inside track on a playoff spot, something most people (including Jeffrey Lurie) never expected to happen so soon.

But Sunday's game reminded us that this squad -- or at least half of it -- is still a work in progress. Chip Kelly's offense is gangbusters, even if it can sputter out for stretches. On a "bad day," Nick Foles threw for 428 yards on 30 for 48 attempts, 3 TDs and 1 INT. Plus he ran the ball 5 times for 41 yards to boot. LeSean McCoy only got 8 carries, but still finished with over 100 yards from scrimmage. DeSean Jackson had nearly 200 receiving yards plus an end-around touchdown called back due to penalty. Oh, and rookie tight end Zach Ertz ended the day with 57 yards on 6 receptions, including a one-handed TD grab. No big problems here.

The defense is still messy, though. As I've said before, you don't have to be an elite quarterback to find the holes in Billy Davis' scheme (Hint: look for the safeties). A smart, patient, accurate player will pick this secondary apart. That's what happened when the Eagles D was skinned alive during the three-game stretch against Philip Rivers, Alex Smith, and Peyton Manning. Since then, during the team's 7-2 run, opponents never scored more than 21 points. 

The great nine-game run leading up to Sunday seemed to be the defense gelling, but most of it was the horrendous, mistake-prone quarterbacks the Eagles faced. Only two of the QBs the Eagles faced in that span have positive DVOA on the year, and they played one of those in a blizzard. Matt Cassel could easily have been another one of those lightweights, but he did his best 2008 impression, throwing for the 4th-most yards of his career. That came despite the Eagles front seven holding the Adrian Peterson-less Vikings to just 2.4 yards per carry.

Worth noting: Football Outsiders never bought into the Eagles defensive turnaround. While they were bend-but-not-breaking their way to sub-22 point totals, the defense allowed over 350 yards in all but two of the last 9 games. Coming into Sunday, the team ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency, versus 3rd on offense. Even with Denver and Kansas City as past opponents, the Eagles faced the 27th-weakest schedule and registered the highest level of inconsistency in the league prior to this week. Including week 15, the Eagles have the lowest point differential of any division leader.

So again, the Eagles aren't great. If their schedule weren't so easy, including six games against the criminally ugly NFC East, I imagine the team would have finished closer to my "return to 1999" prediction than their current possible outcome of 8-10 wins. If the Eagles win the division, which I now expect them to do either against Chicago with the Cowboys losing again, or in Dallas the week after, they will have vastly overperformed -- despite being only a mediocre overall team.

But that's OK. Even if the Eagles get rolled over by a better wild card team like San Francisco, Carolina, or New Orleans, the season will have been a smashing success, and one to build on in 2014. Kelly's offense still has room to grow next year, and the defensive reconstruction will continue. Until then, enjoy this #housemoney season.

Best Case Scenario

Spags to Philly, Juan to Minnesota. I don’t have any faith that this will actually happen, but Andy Reid managed to find a nice landing spot for Sean McDermott, too.

(via Jason Hutt)

The Sad Decline of Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb Vikings

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about Donovan McNabb.

Take a gander at the chart below. It’s an updated variant on the graphs I put together back before McNabb was traded to the Redskins.

Yuck. The last two years have not been kind to McNabb. Both in Washington last year and with the Vikings this year, he’s scored solidly at the bottom of NFL quarterbacks.

You can read the graph two different ways, although neither are positive for Donovan.

First, you can just plot a steady decline in performance since 2006. In that season he put up numbers akin to the Super Bowl year. Afterward, even through Brian Westbrook’s masterful season of 2007 and the emergence of the young guns in 2008 and 2009, McNabb could never again match those peak years.

Before he was traded there were warning signs of his decline. 2009 saw his lowest DVOA performance since 2002 and his lowest EPA since 2005. Perhaps that trend would have continued in Philadelphia.

The second understanding of the graph comes instead from the sharp dropoff in 2010. From 2007-2009 McNabb largely hovered just above average, as the 10th- to 15th-best quarterback in the league. As soon as he started in Washington, however, he plummeted to 25th-best. Every notable stat fell.

There is no doubt that the difference is large between the Eagles offense and those in Washington and Minnesota. That’s a potential excuse for McNabb, if you’re looking for one. If he came back and started with the Eagles his numbers would probably look better. But the fact that he couldn’t elevate those teams and perform at least close to he did in Philadelphia doesn’t lend to any argument in his favor. Maybe Andy Reid was propping him up.

Or maybe it’s just age catching up to McNabb. 35 is old for an NFL player. This year only Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, and Kerry Collins are seeing significant playing time among quarterbacks over age 32. Since he came into the league, McNabb has gained about 20 lbs and has lost his trademark speed.

No matter the reason, it’s sad to watch.

Photo from Getty.

Will the Real Eagles Please Stand Up?

Can anyone say with any certainty that they know how the Eagles will play on Sunday against the Packers? I’m not talking about the outcome of the game, but rather how the team will perform, relative to their talent and their recent games.

We know the 2010-11 Eagles can be a dominant bunch. They didn’t win six of seven games during the stretch run from Halloween to Christmas for nothing. Football Outsiders ranks the Eagles number five overall in the league, with the third best offense — one that is capable of scoring 28 points in just under eight minutes against the Giants a few weeks back.

But this team can also look woeful. The first three quarters were ugly in that Miracle in the New Meadowlands game as the Giants mounted a three touchdown lead. And the Joe Webb-led Vikings took down the Birds in a sloppy team effort with a first round bye on the line. You don’t see football played much worse than that…

Eagles Lack Fundamental Hunger to Win

Two supposedly elite NFL teams played games this week against opponents that were widely considered inferior. Each had already clinched its division and was looking to secure better playoff positioning. But while one team, the Patriots, took care of business to the tune of a 34-3 beatdown at the lowly Bills, the other, our hometown Eagles, got whupped by the Vikings 24-14.

What’s the difference between these two teams? It surely isn’t talent. Both the Patriots and Eagles have legitimate Most Valuable Player candidates under center — Tom Brady and Michael Vick — and a good supporting cast. Is it coaching? Perhaps Bill Belichick is the best coach in the NFL, but despite his many detractors, Andy Reid isn’t far behind.

So what really separates these two clubs, both of whom came into their Week 16 games as overwhelming favorites? A hunger to win…

Vick-Jackson Connection Broken in 1st Half

The first half of the Eagles-Vikings Tuesday Night Football showdown was exceedingly sloppy in all areas, but that theme was especially evident in the most explosive connection on the field: Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson.

Up to this point in the season, the Vick-Jackson link has been perhaps the best thing the Eagles have had going for them. Jackson has six receiving touchdowns and has averaged over 22 yards per catch this year, a career high, even for the most explosive wide receiver in the NFL. The long-ball heroics just earned dynamic duo starting nods for the NFC in the Pro Bowl.

But Tuesday night? DeSean was targeted nine times — more than any other Eagles player. But instead of exciting, the results were disastrous in the first half…

In the Press Box: Vikings-Eagles!

Thanks to some awesome folks at NBC Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Eagles media relations crew, I’ll be in the press box Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field for the first time, breaking down the action, the post game press conference, and the locker room quotes — in person!

Obviously I have some ideas about things to cover and questions to ask, but I’m opening up the floor to you, my small cadre of followers. What should I do? Who should I talk to? What should I look into? Are there stories you wish were covered or perspectives you feel are missing?

Send me an email, post something in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter. I look forward to seeing what we can come up with, Eagles fans.

The Updated Odds on McNabb Destinations

Donovan McNabb Odds on Trade Destinations Rumors

A lot of quarterback moves in the NFL since free agency began. The Seahawks got themselves a new, if unproven, quarterback of the future. The Browns exchanged two mediocre quarterbacks for two more. In fact, 15 of the league’s 32 teams have made some sort of change at the position.

So with all that change, some have suggested that the market for McNabb is drying up. Maybe to a degree, but there are still a number of teams who still seem like they would be interested at the right price. It’s been awhile since we last examined the options. Let’s give them a quick look, in rough order of likelihood:

  • San Francisco 49ers — I still think the 49ers repesent the most likely destination for McNabb. They have the need, the means, and a demonstrated interest. With Kurt Warner’s retirement, San Fran is a good quarterback away from being the class of the NFC West. The defense is solid, the offense has talented playmakers from Gore to Crabtree to Davis. Last year, the Niners made a strong push for Warner — and despite their declarations of support for Alex Smith and commitment to David Carr as a back-up, McNabb would be a huge upgrade. Additionally, the team has two first round picks (13 and 17), which makes McNabb’s price tag feasible. Even McNabb would probably be happy there. The only big question I have is how their chaotic front office situation will affect their decision-making process.
  • Buffalo Bills — I can see where McNabb would be hesitant to go up to moribound Buffalo, but the Bills are one of the few teams actually broadcasting a need for quarterback. Coach Chan Gailey and company have been open to the idea of a trade, and the team has already been burned twice by mediocre draft picks.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars — Jack Del Rio has not been quiet about his disappointment with current starter David Garrard, and McNabb would be a big step up. He (or Michael Vick) would also boost attendance figures.
  • Carolina Panthers — While the team is outwardly fine with going into 2010 with Matt Moore as their starter, that still would be a large risk for a coach and front office on the hot seat. Also, Moore is the only quarterback with any experience on the roster. Trading for Vick as a back up and possible challenger might make more sense, but McNabb could immediately put them back into playoff contention. They don’t have a 1st round pick, which hurts their chances at McNabb, but also at getting a QB of the future.
  • Minnesota Vikings — Only jump back in to this discussion if Favre decides he’s not coming back, which seems like a longshot from here.
  • Cleveland Browns — They’ve got two veterans for back-up/keep-the-seat-warm duty while they groom a mid-round QB prospect who catches Mike Holmgren’s eye.
  • Seattle Seahawks — Found their guy in Charlie Whitehurst, apparently.
  • Arizona Cardinals — McNabb’s dream destination appears to be a competition between Derek Anderson and Matt Leinart.
  • Denver Broncos — Kyle Orton is the present. Brady Quinn (gag) is the future.
  • Oakland Raiders — Don’t really see McNabb ever approving a trade to Oakland.

Certainly there are a lot of teams now out of the running. Sound off in the comments where you think McNabb will end up, if anywhere.