My last column about the Eagles wasn’t the most flattering or complimentary since it dealt with the current state of the cornerback position. I was very quick, and rightfully so, to criticize and critique the spotty and apathetic play mainly from CB Cary Williams. While I still feel uneasy about the type of defensive player he is, he had a good game this past week. However, this column is going to focus on the positives we’ve seen from this Eagles team. I can’t recall a time when a team with a 5-1 record received such scrutiny from the press and fans. It’s okay to have concerns, but they shouldn’t dominate the conversation.
As I said on our recent podcast show this past week, I liked what Philly Daily News writer, Marcus Hayes, said in his column about QB Nick Foles. He indicated that the fan base has a thought that Foles, “should become a ‘franchise quarterback,’ and he should be pretty close to that now. Absurd.” Hayes is right. Let’s put this into context, people. Did Peyton Manning become dominant after playing 16 games? Did Drew Brees come out and understand the game almost perfectly when he was wearing a Chargers jersey? Peyton Manning was learning the speed of the NFL during his first few years in the league, as was Drew Brees. Both threw interceptions and made lousy reads and decisions on the field. At this point, Foles has just over one full season under his belt as a starter. Even with his 27-2 TD to INT numbers from last season, we should not think for a moment he’s remotely close to being the dominant franchise quarterback we want. Do I think he’ll get there? Yes. Let’s try our best to put the impatience aside and give him some more time to develop.
While the 10 touchdowns and 7 interceptions numbers (and some of those interceptions were plain awful to watch) aren’t the prettiest to look at on paper, he has completed just about 60% of his passes, is averaging 6.87 yards per completion and his QB rating is an 82. Peyton Manning’s first full year stats look like this: 26 TDs, 28 INTs, 56% completions, 6.5 yards/completion, QBR 71.2. Drew Brees’ first full year stats look like this: 17 TDs, 16 INTs, 60% completions, 6.2 yards/completion, QBR 76.9. Compare these numbers to Foles and you’ll see that Nick is still going through a learning curve in his first “full season.” By the way, he’s 5th in the league in passing yards.
Another group that is going through a learning curve is the offensive line. Jason Kelce is the best center in the league and Evan Mathis is a beyond solid guard. Losing these two players early in the season to injury has obviously hurt, but the “patchwork” o-line that played like college freshman for the past few weeks continued to develop. That, in turn, has allowed a dismal running game, especially in weeks 3, 4 and 5, to resurface. RB LeSean McCoy has 422 yards on the ground and 74 yards receiving (amazingly enough, he’s ranked 4th in rushing). We should expect to see more games in the future much like he had this past week against the Giants. McCoy rushed for 149 yards, but we also saw him hit holes, run more north and south and exercise the patience we know he has. As a result, I expect to see his rushing touchdown numbers to steadily rise. He’s only has one on the year, but the rushing game is now coming together. While they’ll likely only have a few more games to play as starters, G Matt Tobin and C David Molk are grasping the schemes. Things are clicking for the run game. And by the way, the o-line has only given up two sacks in the last five games. Digest that.
Now let’s take a look at the defense. First, I want to go back in time and take a look at last season. After week four I was calling for defensive coordinator Bill Davis’ head and hoping he’d be fired. I can readily admit when I’m wrong, and I most certainly was last year. I should have been patient (ie. Foles…take note, people). Davis has done an exceptional job with a group of players that aren’t by any stretch of the imagination “top-tier” caliber players. LB Connor Barwin is tied for 3rd in the league with 6 sacks. S Malcolm Jenkins is tied for 1st in the league with 3 interceptions. The defense is tied for 2nd in the league with 19 sacks, tied for 1st in the league with 10 forced fumbles, 1st in the league with touchdowns off of fumbles at two.
We live in a football world where it takes teams years upon years to build strong, solid and consistent defenses. We’re now seeing Bill Davis’ scheme, in its second year, taking shape and becoming a dominant force. Like many fans, I’m very surprised at how forceful and in-your-face the rushing defense has become. Over the past five weeks, here’s how many rushing yards this defensive group gave up: Jaguars 64, Redskins 84, 49’ers 22, Rams 125, Giants 85.
Aside from the Rams, these are fantastic numbers. Plugging the gaps, taking away the run and forcing pass plays has been consistent and ongoing weekly. Pressure on the quarterback with the linebackers and even the d-line getting into the backfield has allowed the defensive backs – especially this past week – for an easier time in coverage (you’re not completely off the hook, Cary Williams…pressure on the QB made your job less painful this past week). Be happy with where the defense is, and where it’s heading in the weeks to come.
Lastly, I’d like to drool over the Eagles special teams. I cannot remember a time when special teams was this dominant. They’ve helped the team win games this year and continue to defy expectations. K Cody Parkey has missed only one field goal giving him 93.3% for field goals made. He’s 2-2 on 50+ yarders. P Donnie Jones still remains one of the best punters in the league. He’s averaging 44 yards per punt and has booted 14 of his 30 within the 20 yard line. Two blocked punts on the year have put either points on the board or given the offense great field position. Overall, we’re seeing an average of 30.9 average yards for a kickoff return. Eagles opponents only average 22.5 yards. On punt returns, RB Darren Sproles has been a gem averaging 15.6 yards. Opponents are only gaining on average 7.4 yards. The Eagles have not given up a touchdown on special teams this season. A true testament to solid coverage.
It’s a glowing picture here, right? Rainbows and unicorns are everywhere at The Linc? Not exactly. Demonstrated this season without a doubt the Eagles have shown grit and perseverance. Let that be the subject that fills our Eagles conversations, not just the concerns and nitpicking negativity. The NFC is wide open as the Eagles are currently 4th yet again in power rankings across the Internet. Does this mean we’re going to see more shutouts and dominance 100% of the time with the games remaining on the schedule? Of course not. But what it does mean is that the Eagles are very much a part of the NFL’s “successful teams conversation.” As fans, let’s enjoy it.