Philadelphia Eagles 2014 Season Review: The Anticlimactic Ending
Finishing the year 10-6 and collapsing down the final stretch of 2014, the Philadelphia faithful were sent home with their hopes of advancing in the postseason in complete disarray after losing three of their last four games.
Entering the year with high expectations to advance beyond last year's Divisional Round loss at home to the Saints made missing the playoffs sting substantially. According to our metrics, the Eagles had a 52.2% chance of making the playoffs entering the preseason. Following a divisional win Week 13 against the Cowboys, their playoff odds soared to 88.9% before their late-season meltdown eradicated all hope.
Let's review both the good and bad that encompassed the Philadelphia Eagles' season and what may lie in store for them in 2015.
What Went Right in 2014?
We see it happening more and more often lately -- Joe Flacco immediately comes to mind in 2012 -- where players are gambling on themselves on either the last year of their contract or on one-year prove it type deals in hopes of reaching that big pay day. After missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin did just that on a one-year deal. He's soon to reap the rewards of this gamble after posting a career high 85 receptions for 1,318 yards and tying a career high 10 touchdowns.
Accruing the ninth-highest Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) in the league this year, Maclin's production this year was the highest Total NEP by any of Philadelphia's skill players dating back to 2000, surpassing the monstrous campaigns of DeSean Jackson in 2013 and Terrell Owens in 2004.
The Eagles rushing defense continued to be a strength for the team in 2014, as players became more comfortable in their second year in a 3-4 defense.
|Adjusted Defensive NEP||22.21 (12th)||13.77 (8th)|
|Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP||61.82 (24th)||58.85 (20th)|
|Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP||-32.50 (4th)||-42.87 (3rd)|
To first put those numbers into some context -- negative NEP scores are good on defense as they indicate points that were prevented versus expectation. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has put together two great seasons stuffing the run in his 3-4 defense. Complementing a youthful front defensive line with veteran linebackers, Davis' squad was tied for the fourth fewest rushing yards allowed per carry at 3.7 yards per rush attempt. This stifling run defense led to an oft-tested (and failed) pass defense that I'll touch on in further in a moment.
The Eagles also fielded a spectacular special teams unit that scored a league-high seven return touchdowns via kickoffs, punts, and blocked punts all returned for scores. The Philadelphia front office made it clear last offseason they wanted to improve all three phases of their team, and by signing special teams stalwarts Darren Sproles, Chris Maragos, and Bryan Braman, they lived up to their word prioritizing special teams while reaping the benefits.
Trading for rookie kicker Cody Parkey during the preseason was another shrewd move that paid off substantially, as the Eagles' kicking woes from 2013 were soon forgotten. Parkey regularly delivered touchbacks and was 4-for-4 on 50-plus yard kicks providing stability for Philadelphia. Punter Donnie Jones tied for the league lead in punts downed inside the 20 rounding a very effective unit.
What Went Wrong in 2014?
Injuries affect every team in the National Football League, and Philadelphia's offensive line was hit hard by them in 2014. In 2013, left tackle Jason Peters had the lowest snap count at 92.3% out of all the starters. In fact, last year's offensive line featured all five starters in every single game. This year, however, the Eagles were hit with both injuries and suspensions as the starting unit never started a single week together.
Philadelphia had 10 different starters along the line this year, as the offensive line lacked the cohesion that head coach Chip Kelly's offense leaned on in 2013. This inconsistency led to a drop in production in both their rushing and passing attack.
|Adjusted Offensive NEP||112.34 (5th)||45.64 (15th)|
|Adjusted Offensive Passing NEP||70.04 (9th)||59.21 (12th)|
|Adjusted Offensive Rushing NEP||55.97 (1st)||-13.61 (18th)|
Kelly's previous success in 2013 regressed towards the middle of the pack in offensive ranking. Last year's NFL rushing champion, running back LeSean McCoy, was unable to to find the lanes that led to last year's success as the offensive line struggled. Out of the 43 running backs with over 100-plus carries this year, McCoy ranked 20th in Rushing NEP, as he was only able to cross the pylons on five different occasions this year.
A year after throwing 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions, quarterback Nick Foles had eclipsed 14 total turnovers by the time he was injured Week 8 after breaking his collarbone. Foles struggled with accuracy and decision-making in his second year under center for Kelly. On a per drop back basis, Foles ranked fourth in 2013 in Passing NEP -- a number that plummeted to 24th in 2014. Prior to the season, Eagles fans were brimming with optimism based on Foles' historic touchdown-to-interception ratio, but are now left with more questions and uncertainty as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
Which finally brings me to the defensive secondary. As noted earlier, the pass defense once again was the weak spot for this defensive unit after ranking 20th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP. After allowing the most passing yards in the league in 2013, Philadelphia "improved" to 31st this year as the Atlanta Falcons took that honor. Tack on allowing the fourth-most passing touchdowns (30), and it quickly becomes clear just how desperately the Eagles need some reinforcements this offseason.
What's Next in 2015?
Expect some changes to occur in the defensive backfield this offseason. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Nate Allen both have expiring contracts and are not likely to be resigned. Cornerback Cary Williams has one year remaining on his contract but may become a cap casualty with an $8.167 million cap hit. Revamping the entire secondary in one offseason may be asking for trouble, but as the last two years have indicated, the only direction is up for this unit.
Long-term Eagle Trent Cole may be released with an $11.625 million cap hit if he isn't willing to restructure, and young playmaker Brandon Graham may be looking to sign with a 4-3 team to better utilize his pass rush. The Eagles currently have $15.7 million in cap space and may need to do some roster tinkering if they hope to improve their defense in 2015.
There's a lot of uncertainty for 2015 with the Eagles as they have quite a few directions they could go. Will they make the big move up the draft board for Chip Kelly's former protege in the statistically dominant Marcus Mariota? How will they attack free agency? Will a healthy offensive line revert the offense back to 2013's efficiency? The Eagles are in a better position than a lot of NFL teams, but in order to become one of the best NFL teams, a lot will hinder on how they attack this offseason.