Philadelphia Eagles 2013 Team Review: Soaring Above Expectations

Rebuilding or Contending? This year, it was hard to tell.

The 2013 season was deemed a rebuilding year for the Eagles from the start. Philadelphia hired a rookie head coach from the college ranks, Chip Kelly, and were trying to best their 2012 campaign where they finished 4-12. In truth, most Eagles fans had expectations of a six- to-eight-win season.

After Michael Vick went down, expectations became even more tempered. But then, Nick Foles happened. It started with a game that sent his cleats to Canton, throwing seven touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders. The Eagles didn't look back, winning seven of their final eight games en route to the NFC East title.

Optimism abound, the Eagles exceeded all expectations for the 2013 season and then some. The bar has been raised for next year, and nothing less than another division title coupled with an extended playoff run will satiate the fan base.

As we look back on the season that just came to a screeching halt, let's take a peek at areas where the Eagles succeeded, where they failed, and where they can improve in the off season.

The Good

Coming into the season, the quarterback position was a hot button issue throughout the Philadelphia area. There were people who seemed to believe in both Michael Vick and Nick Foles, which seemed to separate those who wanted to win now and those who wanted to win in the future. Foles looked mediocre at best last year, and a lot of people were unsure whether he was NFL starting quarterback material.

Now we all know how the story goes: Vick gets injured, Foles rides in on a white horse and the Eagles season is saved.

Saving the season is probably an understatement, to be honest. Foles finished fourth in the league in Passing Net Expected Points without starting a good chunk of the season. The only passers who finished higher? Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Phillip Rivers.

The first counter argument to this might be that, because the Eagles ran more plays than an average team, we should discount this ranking - one that's cumulative in nature - slightly. However, his NEP was not a result of higher volume, as Foles finished fourth in Passing NEP per drop back as well. The passers ahead of him in this category were Peyton Manning, Josh McCown (Read more about this phenomenon here), and Aaron Rodgers.

Lastly, Foles had the ninth-highest Success Rate, which measures the percent of drop backs that he contributed positive NEP on any play.

The group of wide receivers were a pleasant surprise for Philadelphia this season as well. DeSean Jackson had a career year, and Riley Cooper emerged from the ashes with the help of Nick Foles. Both finished high in our efficiency metrics, too.

PlayerTarget NEPRankRec NEP/TargetRank
DeSean Jackson76.873rd.9010th
Riley Cooper46.3214th.8711th

Target NEP measures the contribution from each player added on all targets throughout the year. This accounts for more than just simple statistics like receiving yards and receptions, taking into account things like first-down catches, third-down conversions and catch rates.

The Reception NEP per target is more of an efficiency score, looking at how many points a player is contributing for his team on a per target basis. In all, both receivers finished very high in these categories due to their versatility.

The running back position was even more solid, as LeSean McCoy finished at the top of the league in Rushing NEP with a score of 37.12. Keep in mind that it's extremely difficult for a running back to have a high score in this statistic due to how much less efficient it is to run than to pass.

For some perspective, Demarco Murrray finished second with 21.42 score, and an example of someone who you would assume finished in the top five or at least top 10, Marshawn Lynch, finished with a Rushing NEP of 4.81.

McCoy was more efficient than just about everyone by leaps and bounds as he still finished third in the league in Rushing NEP on a per rush basis despite seeing such high volume.

The Bad

Everything wasn't all rainbows and unicorns for this Eagles team. Every NFL team has a weakness, and the Eagles are no exception.

The Philly defense has been getting chastised for most of the year, although they had a nice stint during Philly's winning streak late in the season. Sure, they allow a ton of yards and seem to have more than their fair share of defensive breakdowns, but is this criticism really fair?

TeamAdj. DNEPRankAdj. DPNEPRankAdj. DRNEPRank
Philadelphia Eagles22.2111th61.8224th-32.504th

The table above shows the Eagles ranks in terms of Defensive Passing and Rushing NEP, adjusted for strength of schedule. From a cumulative standpoint, Philly ranked as the 11th-best overall defense, with the number 24 pass defense and 4 rush defense.

The defense was on the field more than any other unit in the NFL due to the speed of Chip Kelly's offense, but despite this, was able to play above average.

What can't go unnoticed is the improvement the squad made. After Week 9, the defensive unit ranked 24th in the league in total defense. Clearly, this ranking jumped 13 spots by season's end. Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Billy Davis, was preaching patience all along, stressing the fact that it would take time to fully convert to a 3-4 defense.

Regardless of improvement, the fact remains the defense let the team down on many occasions early in the season. It will need to be addressed in the offseason as the talent simply is not equivalent to what other teams are able to field, especially when you consider the fast-paced offense will force other teams to see the field on more plays.

What Should They Do?

The Eagles will need to look to make massive upgrades to the secondary through the draft or free agency in the offseason, specifically safety, a position that was the glaring deficiency all season long. There is definitely uncertainty around the wide receiver position as well. Both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are free agents and DeSean is asking for more money. Again. This is a situation worth monitoring as we head into the offseason. It'll be important that the Eagles resign at least one of the two and look to add a big-body receiver who can go over the middle in the off season to complement DeSean who makes most of his catches on the outside.

In all, the Eagles have a lot to look forward to, as long as the offense can continue to produce at the levels they did in 2013.