NFL 2015 Season Preview: Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles head coach. (Matt Slocum/AP)

The NFL is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to kickoff on Thursday, Sept. 10. Today, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Last year’s record: 10-6
Head coach: Chip Kelly
Core players: Sam Bradford (QB), DeMarco Murray (RB), Jordan Matthews (WR), Jason Peters (LT), Fletcher Cox (DE), Connor Barwin (LB), Kiko Alonso (LB), Byron Maxwell (CB), Malcom Jenkins (SS)

2015 is about… Proving Chip Kelly’s 2015 off-season wasn’t a huge mistake. No team went through more of a roster turnover than the Eagles. In fact, that type of change has almost never been undertaken by a returning head coach. According to Michael Safino of the Wall Street Journal, Brian Billick is the only other returning coach to send his top quarterback, running back and wide receiver packing in the same off-season, and the 2002 Baltimore Ravens went 7-9. If the Eagles don’t improve on 2014’s result (meaning playoffs is a must), angry Philly fans will be calling for Kelly’s head.

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They lost… Where do you even begin? The Eagles enter the 2015 season with a whole new look, especially on offence. In maybe the most shocking transaction of the off-season, star back LeSean McCoy was dealt to the Buffalo Bills, which was followed by Nick Foles being shipped to the St. Louis Rams. Then the team’s leading receiver in 2014, Jeremy Maclin, left in free agency. Oh, and both offensive guards—Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans—were cut. On defence, Trent Cole was released, along with three of the four starters in the secondary (which was expected given the Eagles allowed the second-most passing yards last season).

Yeah, but they got… Again, the list is long. Most notably, Kelly lured DeMarco Murray away from the division-rival Dallas Cowboys. And if bringing in 2014’s leading rusher wasn’t enough, the Eagles also signed former San Diego Chargers back Ryan Mathews. Sam Bradford was the key acquisition in the Nick Foles deal, and will start this season should his knees hold up. On the other side of the ball, Kelly brought in two former members of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom”—Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond—to shore up that woeful pass defence, and promising young linebacker Kiko Alonso came to Philly in the McCoy blockbuster. And who can forget Tim Tebow!

Growing from within: Look out for second-year wide receiver Jordan Matthews. The six-foot-three pass catcher had an impressive rookie campaign (872 yards, eight TDs), and should feature prominently in Kelly’s fast-paced offence with Maclin out of the mix. Also keep an eye on rookie wideout Nelson Agholor, drafted 20th overall out of USC. The Nigerian-born receiver set special-teams records at Southern Cal, and has already shown off his blazing speed this pre-season.

On defence, second-round cornerback Eric Rowe is already making a strong impression (just ask the famously chatty Steve Smith), and should make an impact in the Eagles’ new-look secondary in 2015.

Why this team? There’s potential to contend. The Eagles are chock-full of playmakers on offence and boast one of the NFL’s most dangerous defensive front sevens. Should everything come together on both sides of the ball, Philadelphia will be a top team this season. Early signs from pre-season play are good: The Eagles offence has scored 115 points in three games, and Bradford was 10/10 with three touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers, including this perfect touch pass to Darren Sproles.

Why not? This team could fall apart just as quickly as it’s been put together. As I mentioned above, if the drastic off-season changes don’t work out, the Eagles could soon be undertaking another roster overhaul and no fan likes going through that. See: 2011 “Dream Team”.

Perfect for fans of… Up-tempo offence. I don’t even know if “up-tempo” does Kelly’s offence justice. The Eagles’ fifth-ranked offence had the most plays in the NFL in 2014 (1,127), yet their average drive time was significantly shorter than any other team, coming in at just two minutes and six seconds. Jacksonville was the next shortest, with an average drive time of 2:14, and that’s because the Jaguars were awful. In sum: The Eagles run a lot of plays, really fast. But with the good comes the bad. Sure, the Eagles’ offence is fun to watch, but it also means that, because many of those drives go nowhere, Philly’s defence is on the field more than any other team’s. The Eagles were last in time of possession last season, with the offence on the field just 26:40 per game.

How much hope? 7/10. The Eagles’ short-term success comes down to a lot of “ifs.” IF Sam Bradford can stay healthy; IF DeMarco Murray can contribute in a big way after a grueling 2014; IF the young receiving corps can step up; IF the secondary can make a marked improvement. If all (or even most) of these question marks work out in the Eagles’ favour, the 2015 season could be a good one in the City of Brotherly Love.

Will you be mocked for front-running? You’ll be mocked, but probably not for front-running. It’ll be more like, “Oh, the Eagles? What is Chip Kelly doing?! Seriously. Getting rid of DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and letting Jeremy Maclin walk?! Good luck with that.” Kelly is a divisive figure. Be ready to pick a side when conversing with other Eagles fans.

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