So Far, So Good

LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy
Posted: November 25, 2013

The Eagles reached the bye week with a winning record and sole possession of first place. Coach Chip Kelly’s first season in Philadelphia will include meaningful December football, and it comes after an entertaining first three months. Here’s what happened and what’s ahead:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

OFFENSE

LeSean McCoy

No one has benefited more from Kelly's arrival than McCoy, who leads the NFL in rushing and has already topped 1,000 yards. When asked what it means to eclipse that mark in Week 11, McCoy said it means there are a lot more yards to gain.

He'll have a chance to do it.

McCoy's on pace for the most carries of his career. He is running behind a healthy offensive line, which is a big change from last season. But his value goes beyond his production. Some opposing defenses have tried to clog the box to stop McCoy, leaving more man-to-man coverage on the outside for the wide receivers to try to exploit.

DEFENSE

DeMeco Ryans

Ryans has taken 97 percent of the defensive snaps, which is the most of any player on the defense. The 28-year-old inside linebacker has 30 more tackles than the next leader on the team and nearly 50 more total tackles. He also has two sacks and two interceptions and has been given leeway to adjust defensive calls.

"I cannot overstate what DeMeco means to this defense," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.

Ryans' Pro Bowl-caliber season has come amid questions of how he'd transition to the 3-4 defense. The defensive line has done a good job occupying blockers, giving Ryans space to roam. He has also been durable, avoiding injury and substitution.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

OFFENSE

Nick Foles

Foles had supporters among the fans entering the season, but few could have predicted the way he's playing. As a rookie, Foles was 1-5 as a starting quarterback with more turnovers than touchdowns. He's 4-1 as a starter this season and plus-17 in turnover differential. Foles has not thrown an interception.

Foles has taken command of the quarterback job, which he could not win out of training camp. There have been questions for months about who will be Kelly's quarterback of the future. Those questions have not been put to rest, but if Foles keeps this production going in the final five games, it will be hard to replace him.

DEFENSE

Cedric Thornton

Thornton has progressed from undrafted player to practice squad member to reserve to starter. In his third season with the organization, Thornton has emerged as a key player on the defensive line. Kelly said earlier this season that Thornton was playing as well as anyone on defense, and he's one of two defensive linemen who have taken more than 30 percent of the defensive snaps. Thornton has been on the field 62 percent of the time, remaining stout against the run and totaling 58 tackles. He did not have much of a resumé entering the season, but he's likely going to be part of the Eagles' core.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

OFFENSE

Michael Vick

Vick played inspired football during the preseason, when he won the quarterback job and appeared an ideal fit for Kelly's offense. But Vick has had a hard time staying healthy, continuing a trend that has lasted throughout his Eagles tenure. His hamstring injury was a noncontact injury, and questions about his durability remain.

Vick has stayed true to his word and not been a distraction, maintaining a positive presence in the locker room and remaining a big supporter of Foles. But missing five starts during a season in which he needed to show he could stay healthy was a disappointing development.

DEFENSE

Patrick Chung

A free-agent acquisition with starting experience, Chung had the potential to help fix the Eagles' safety issues. He was a Day 1 starter who took the most snaps at the position early in the season, when Nate Allen and Earl Wolff rotated. A shoulder injury then kept Chung off the field, and when he reinjured the shoulder, Allen and Wolff played well enough to keep starting spots. Chung became a rotational player and has been inconsistent. He's back in the lineup after Wolff suffered a knee injury, but he's not the answer at safety.


REST OF THE SEASON

Dec. 1, vs. Cardinals

The Cardinals are 6-4, so they'll visit Philadelphia with a winning record. Former Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles runs the NFL's No. 9 defense, and Arizona's coach is former Temple coach Bruce Arians.

Dec. 8, vs. Lions

The Eagles' No. 31 pass defense will be tested by a dangerous passing attack, including star receiver Calvin Johnson. When Detroit visited Philadelphia last year, the Lions came from behind to pull off an overtime victory.

Dec. 15, at Vikings

The only team remaining on the schedule that has a losing record, the Vikings have used a rotating stable of quarterbacks, causing a playoff team to regress. But they still have talent, and the ghost of Joe Webb could haunt the Eagles.

Dec. 22, vs. Bears

Both teams could be in playoff contention when Chicago visits. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has not been able to stay in the lineup, but coach Marc Trestman has kept the offense moving.

Dec. 29, at Cowboys

This might turn into a de facto NFC East championship game. The Cowboys have played for the division crown in Week 17 the last two seasons and lost, although they'd finally be the home team if it happens this season.


THREE KEYS TO THE FINAL FIVE GAMES

Foles doesn't catch the turnover bug.

He has avoided turnovers, but he struggled with them in 2012 and in the preseason. The quarterback has emphasized decision-making, but the margin for error is small. He has had throws that could have gone the other way, but instead went for Eagles touchdowns. There have been sacks in which Foles could have lost possession but kept his grip on the ball. The Eagles are plus-10 in turnover differential in their six wins and minus-6 in their five losses. Foles is a big reason.

The defense doesn't break.

The bend-but-don't-break defense has worked in recent weeks, although yards could eventually lead to points. The Eagles allow 417.9 yards per game, which is No. 31 in the NFL. But the 23.6 points allowed per game is No. 15, and the defense has not allowed three touchdowns in a game in the last six games.

Big leads stay that way.

Kelly liked the way the Eagles closed out the games against Tampa Bay and Green Bay. But they surrendered big leads in both Washington games, despite winning both.

"We need to do a better job in terms of overall finishing people off when we have leads and making sure that even if we do go for it on 4th and 1 and don't convert ... that when our defense goes on the field it's not a one-play score," Kelly said.

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