Sunday, December 28, 2014

Man Up: State of the Eagles' offense

There is no game to review this week, but with the Eagles beginning to prepare for their final 10 games, here's a look at what I've seen from each player so far, along with expectations going forward.

Man Up: State of the Eagles' offense

Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson is quietly having a career year. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)
Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson is quietly having a career year. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)

There is no game to review this week, but with the Eagles beginning to prepare for their final 10 games, here's a look at what I've seen from each player so far, along with expectations going forward.

I'll do the offense on Monday and the defense on Tuesday. Every player who's been on the field will be included.

Michael Vick - There are two specific areas the Eagles need him to improve in: avoiding turnovers and beating the blitz. Vick has thrown an interception once every 25 pass attempts. Last year, he was picked off once every 62 pass attempts. While the turnovers haven't all been his fault, Vick has gotten lucky on some throws too, with defenders dropping easy picks. He has also fumbled seven times, having lost three. The Eagles are close to being a very good offense, but they need to take care of the football, and that starts with Vick. The second thing I mentioned is the blitz. By my count, teams are sending extra defenders at him about 41.5 percent of the time. Vick has done a better job of recognizing those blitzes, but he's not burning them with big plays. Overall, he's averaging 7.87 yards per attempt, but that number drops to 5.54 when teams send six or more rushers. The Eagles have the weapons to burn those big blitzes, but they need to show they can do so consistently.

Vince Young - Being a backup quarterback is kind of like being a pinch-hitter. You are expected to produce when called on, and if you don't, get ready to be criticized. Young had thrown 1,190 passes before this season, but he looked shaky on the only two snaps he played in an Eagles uniform. Young ran for no gain on one play and then was intercepted against the Redskins. Vick has failed to play every snap in three of the Eagles' six games. At some point, Young will be called on and will have to prove he can deliver.

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Mike Kafka - He looked good against the Falcons, completing 7 of 9 passes for 72 yards, but Jeremy Maclin dropped a fourth-down pass that was in his hands to end the game. The next week against the Giants was not so pretty for Kafka as he was intercepted twice. He was inactive against Buffalo and doesn't figure to have much of a role the rest of the way, although you never know with injuries. There's a good chance Kafka could be in line to be Vick's primary backup in 2012.

LeSean McCoy - He leads all NFL running backs with 23 carries of 10+ yards and is averaging a league-best 9.9 yards per carry in the fourth quarter. McCoy is carrying the ball more than ever before, averaging 17.5 attempts per game, which is 12th-most in the NFL. He has not been much of a factor as a receiver, averaging just 5.9 yards per reception. McCoy has not had a single reception that's gained more than 16 yards. As a blocker, he's been up and down. Still, McCoy's provided no evidence that he will wear down if the Eagles really lean on him. Given the turnover issues in the passing game and the struggles on defense, McCoy should continue to get a lot of work.

Ronnie Brown - He's been unimpressive as a runner, a receiver and a blocker. And, of course, Brown's fumble on the run/pass option against the 49ers has come to symbolize this team's issues through the first six games. Since the loss to San Francisco, Brown has played three snaps in two weeks, and the Eagles tried to trade him to the Lions. Overall, 13 carries for 38 yards and a 2.9 yards per carry average. Take away the one 15-yard run, and he's picked up 23 yards on the other 12 carries (1.9 YPC). This is a long way of saying: Don't expect him to be on the field much the rest of the way, barring injuries.

Dion Lewis - He's only played 12 snaps, but looks like a better option than Brown to spell McCoy at this point. Lewis has seven carries for 31 yards (4.4 YPC), and despite his small frame, he looks like a willing blocker in blitz pickup. As a kickoff return man, Lewis hasn't done much.

Owen Schmitt - The Eagles inexplicably gave him four carries against the Giants, even though Schmitt had not run the ball in an NFL game since 2008. He has only two catches for 24 yards, but had some very good lead blocks for McCoy against the Redskins. Schmitt's been on the field for about 13.2 snaps per game; last year, he averaged about 20.2 snaps (not counting Week 17 against Dallas).

Brent Celek - As a receiver, the numbers are not pretty. Celek's on pace for just 35 catches and 307 yards. He has an abysmal 43 percent catch rate, meaning Celek and Vick have just not been on the same page. And Celek is averaging just 8.8 yards per catch. I don't really know if we're going to see any of those numbers improve dramatically. Having said that, Celek has been valuable as a blocker, drawing tough one-on-one assignments like Brian Orakpo and Jason Pierre-Paul and holding up well for the most part. His blocking performance against the Redskins might have been the best of Celek's career. That's a good sign going forward, as he'll likely be asked to stay in and block more than ever before. Celek's been on the field for over 90 percent of the team's offensive snaps, proving the coaches believe they can depend on him. Click here for my detailed post from last week on Celek.

Clay Harbor - His best game as a receiver came against the 49ers when Harbor had three catches for 55 yards. He's been on the field for about 28.7 percent of the team's offensive snaps. On those plays, Harbor has been used as a blocker about 68 percent of the time and a receiver 32 percent of the time. Most of his work has come as a run blocker, where Harbor has had good moments and bad.

DeSean Jackson - He's on pace to set career highs with 64 catches and 1,216 yards. Jackson's tied for fourth in the NFL with seven catches of 25+ yards, and his 19.0 yards per reception is sixth-best. If you like catch rate (receptions divided by targets), Jackson's at 55 percent, which would be a career best if it holds up. Despite his durability constantly being questioned, Jackson's been on the field for over 89 percent of the team's offensive snaps and has now missed just two of a possible 58 games in his NFL career. Still no contract though.

Jeremy Maclin - It's amazing to think that we didn't know if he would even play this season as the Eagles gathered for training camp at Lehigh. Through six games, Maclin is averaging 6.17 catches per game, second to only Wes Welker among NFL wide receivers. He's on pace for 98 catches and 1,304 yards, both of which would be career bests. If Maclin keeps performing at this level, Brian Westbrook's single-season franchise record of 90 catches will be in serious jeopardy. He's had a couple mistakes at the end of games - dropping a pass against Atlanta and fumbling against San Francisco - but overall, Maclin is having an outstanding year.

Jason Avant - Career year for him also. Avant's on pace for career highs in catches (69) and receiving yards (901). Overall, he's been excellent working the slot, but Avant's fumble and drop that led to an interception against the Bills proved costly in the Eagles' loss.

Steve Smith - He has not made much of an impact, having only played 10 snaps in the last two games before the bye. Overall, Smith has just five catches for 63 yards. The consensus was it would take awhile for Smith to be effective, but what's been surprising is that his playing time has actually decreased. He played 33 totals snaps in Weeks 2 and 3, but has spent more time on the sidelines since. If he's healthy and knows the offense, the Eagles could use Smith, but recent indication is that this could be a lost year for him.

Riley Cooper - He figured to have the most to lose when the Eagles signed Smith, and Cooper is without a catch (or even a target) through six games. Unless the Eagles suffer an injury, his role figures to be purely special teams the rest of the way.

Todd Herremans - His value has probably been underrated this season. When the Eagles ran out of options at right tackle, they plugged Herremans in. And even though he didn't play there at all in the preseason, Herremans performed at a high level in the first three games. He had some issues against Buffalo and San Francisco, but overall, played well. Then in Week 6, the Eagles asked him to move to left tackle, and Herremans was a beast against Washington. The assumption is that he'll move back to right tackle if Jason Peters is healthy, but Herremans' versatility cannot be overstated.

Danny Watkins - He was inactive for three of the first four games before starting the last two at right guard. Watkins has been OK. He had his share of issues against the Bills, but showed improvement against the Redskins. The Eagles could have a really good line if he performs at an above-average level.

Kyle DeVan - He was just too inconsistent in the first four weeks and played poorly against the 49ers, prompting the Eagles to make a move and replace him with Watkins. DeVan's role will be to serve as a backup the rest of the way, barring injury, although it should be noted that he was inactive altogether against the Bills.

Jason Kelce - He and Herremans are the only offensive linemen who have played every snap, but the Eagles need Kelce to improve in pass protection. We've seen many times, mostly on running plays, why Howard Mudd likes him so much, but Kelce's struggles on pass plays have hurt the offense. He started the season well, but really struggled against Buffalo and had issues against Washington. Potential is there, but performance has not always followed.

Jamaal Jackson - A few of you brought up a good point. If Saints center Olin Kreutz decided to leave the team a week earlier, maybe the Eagles could have sent Jackson to New Orleans. Instead, the veteran quietly remains on the sidelines with Kelce getting all the action at center.

Evan Mathis - He's held up well overall, and perhaps the most encouraging thing about Mathis is that his best game came right before the bye against the Redskins. In other words, he's still improving. I didn't know what to expect from him as a run blocker, but Mathis has really opened up a lot of space for McCoy. He's had some issues in protection, but overall has been a pleasant surprise.

Jason Peters - He sat out the last two with an injury, but was playing well before that. Peters has really been a beast in the run game and has held up in pass protection also. With him at left tackle and Herremans at right tackle, the Eagles have themselves a pretty good set of bookends for the next few years.

Winston Justice - He was active for the second time all season against Washington and was shoved into the starting lineup at right tackle. Justice battled and held up fine in protection; the coaches helped him with the gameplan also. We'll see if the Eagles need him to play in the next couple weeks or if Justice goes back to serving a backup role.

King Dunlap - He played well at left tackle against the Bills before going down with an injury. The Eagles have good depth at tackle with Dunlap and Justice when both are healthy.


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Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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