By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—When you’re in the playoffs or making a run for the postseason during the latter stages of the regular season, the loss that ultimately ends your season often exposes the weakness or weaknesses that’s bothered you all season.
That was definitely the case with the Eagles who will be spending January watching the playoffs on TV with the rest of us thanks to last Saturday’s loss to Washington and the Dallas Cowboys win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Dallas wins the NFC East while the Eagles, who will close out the 2014 season on the road against the New York Giants, will be spending the offseason trying to figure out what went wrong.
The Eagles season came down to losses in their last three games and was reflective of the shortcomings that all knew were there, but were hoping they can somehow overcome. In the end, they couldn’t get out of the way themselves enough when it counted.
Even before Nick Foles season-ending injury, the Eagles struggled for consistency at the quarterback position. After Foles tossed 27 touchdown passes against two interceptions last season, he was inconsistent in the eight games he started. He had 13 touchdown passes and 13 turnovers 10 interceptions and three fumbles.
At times, Foles has held the ball too long and made pump fakes that gave opposing defensive that extra split second to make a play on the ball.
Sanchez, too, was a turnover machine in the seven games he started this season with 13. Eagles’ quarterbacks have committed a combined 26 turnovers including 20 interceptions. The Birds lead the league in turnovers with 35 and are 25th in the NFL in takeaway-giveaway ratio at minus-eight.
When your quarterbacks are committing nearly 75 percent of your team’s turnovers, you are not going to be a playoff team or if you do get to the playoffs, you’re not going to be there very long.
In the three-game losing streak that ultimately bounced them out of the playoffs, the Eagles committed eight turnovers.
In defense of Eagles quarterbacks, especially Foles, the offensive line had its share of injuries early in the season and had problems protecting the quarterback. Center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis have missed time due to injury. Veteran guard Todd Heremanns is currently on the injured reserve list.
All that said, some Eagles fans are beginning to doubt their faith in Foles as the starting quarterback and are hoping the team can move up in the NFL dream so they can draft Oregon star Marcus Mariota or Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
While Mariota and Winston would fit Chip Kelly’s offense quite well, I don’t think it’s going to happen because I don’t think the Eagles are interested in giving up the kitchen sink or the entire front office’s first born to get either one of those guys.
For now, they are invested in Foles and the Eagles certainly have justification for doing so. Foles has done quite well in Kelly’s tenure as head coach.
“Yeah I think we know what we have in Nick,” said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “And we’ve seen a guy that I think, by last count, he’s 14-4 as a starter. So that’s really how you judge a quarterback.”
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the back end of the Eagles defense. Some of those guys can and should be replaced.
Since the departures of Brian Dawkins, Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, the Eagles secondary haven’t quite put the fear of God into the hearts and minds of opposing receivers.
At the cornerback position, the Birds are very average at best and just plain awful or worse at times. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher, a decent player, has been the weak link in the secondary for the last two weeks. He has been burned for three touchdowns and has given up at least four plays of 25 yards or more.
In Fletcher’s defense, he was going one-on-one against Dez Bryant and the speedy former Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson. Some safety help would have been nice. At the same time, the secondary has been a weakness masked by the solid play of the Eagles front seven. The Birds are second in the NFL in sacks with 49.
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said the Eagles defense has improved since he took over last year, but the deep ball has been an Achilles Heel.
“In a lot of categories, yes and in a very important one, the deep pass, the vertical ball, the plus 20-yard passes, we’re not,” Davis said. “I’ve got to get that fixed.”
The Eagles aren’t a bad football team now, but in order for the team to go forward and really be a contender they’re going to make some personnel changes on the defensive side of the ball.
In the wake of the Eagles not making the playoffs, fans and a few local media people are questioning the release of former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, whose ability to stretch the defense made the Birds offense one of the most dangerous in the NFL last season.
Some observers are saying if Jackson was with the Eagles along with Jeremy Maclin, rookie Jordan Matthews, and Riley Cooper—the Birds offense would be even more dangerous. Running back LeSean McCoy, who is fourth in the league in rushing, would have even more yards on the ground.
While you might have a legitimate argument on one level, it may not have mattered if Jackson was there given the struggles of the quarterbacks with turnovers and the injuries to the offensive line.
If you’re still mad about the Jackson trade, consider the following:
Coming into Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Giants, Maclin has 82 receptions for 1,269 yards and 10 touchdowns. McCoy has 1,220 yards rushing—not as good as last year, but he’s still in the league’s top five.
Darren Sproles had more touchdown passes than Jackson with eight and gave defenses more than something to think about. If not for New York Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, Matthews might be in the NFL Rookie-of-the-Year conversation-he caught 59 passes for 767 yards and seven touchdowns.
What really bothers fans about the Jackson release was that the Eagles got nothing of equal value or better on either side of the ball. That was the real tragedy of letting go of your best receiver.
During this offseason, the Eagles have to get better if they want to be in the postseason in 2015.