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Grading the 2014 Eagles: Defense holds Birds back

The Eagles fell short defensively despite a record-setting offense in 2014.Getty Images

Two years removed from 4-12, it’s hard to imagine Eagles fans being disappointed with a 10-6 record in Chip Kelly’s second NFL season.

But there aren’t many other ways to describe the 2014 season aside from “disappointing.”

“We didn’t make the playoffs,” Kelly said. “You’re all measured by one thing: Did you win a Super Bowl or did you not win a Super Bowl? So we didn’t make the playoffs and don’t have the opportunity to compete for the Super Bowl.”

The Eagles set a team record for points, shattering last year’s mark by posting 474 (last year they scored 442).

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The Eagles also set team records by scoring 54 touchdowns, completing 390 passes, compiling 4,581 passing yards and 356 first downs.

But it wasn’t enough as the club was buried by turnovers (they led the league) and a defense that allowed the 28th most yards in the NFL.

They were also plagued by over 1,000 yards worth of penalties.

So as we watch the playoffs, turn the page on the 2014 Eagles and anticipate a rejuvenated and contending squad in 2015, here’s a look at the Birds’ season report card — not quite good enough to make the honor roll, and certainly not the playoffs.

Quarterbacks C+

Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez posted huge numbers offensively, combining for 300-yard games eight times in 2014. The two combined for 27 touchdowns but also threw 21 interceptions. Sanchez, believe it or not, had a better passer rating than Foles with an 88.4 mark. But the former Jet was also sacked with abundant frequency, 23 times to just nine for Foles.

“I thought our quarterbacks, when you look at their rating … I thought they played good football,” Kelly said. “The turnover part of it hurt us.”

The Eagles managed to throw for the most yards in team history and had the highest completion percentage. But none of that mattered as the team lost too many close games.

“I’ve never been on a team or coached a team that has had this many turnovers,” Kelly said.

Running backs B+

The only reason the Birds don’t get an A in this department is due to a few games midseason where the run-game was nearly non-existent (namely vs. the 49ers). The lack of consistency and whirlwind of offensive line woes hurt the running game at times, but more than 1,300 yards from LeSean McCoy is nothing to thumb your nose at.

The Eagles had a three-headed monster behind the line of scrimmage, as Shady was assisted by the nimble but shifty Darren Sproles and his 329 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and six touchdowns, and the goalline power of Chris Polk (who scored four TD’s on just 46 carries).

Wide receivers and tight ends B

The primary receivers certainly earned their keep this season, as Jeremy Maclin exploded as a bona fide No. 1 pass-catcher (1,318 yards, 10 TD) and Jordan Matthews became a rookie sensation (872 yards, 8 TD).

Tight end Zach Ertz was also dynamic and useful down the stretch, setting an Eagles record for receptions (15) in a game against the Redskins in Week 16. He gained 702 yards in all.

There was a big drop off, as Riley Cooper proved to be much less of a red zone threat than he was last year catching just three touchdown passes.

Offensive line B-

If the Eagles’ offensive line had been healthy all season long and the same result transpired on the field, this group would have garnered a considerably lower grade.

But the O-line was resilient, produced a pair of Pro Bowlers (Jason Peters and Jason Kelce) and allowed just 32 sacks (compared to 49 on defense).

Three main anchors on the line, Lane Johnson, Evan Mathis and Kelce missed a considerable number of snaps in 2014 but the line overcame and was ultimately reliable.

A healthy line in 2015 will be key for a “bounce back” year.

Special teams A

Typically a special teams unit is considered a success if it doesn’t screw up. Throw in a touchdown or two and a solid kicker and you’ve got a decent third phase.

The Eagles’ special teams in 2014 were perhaps the best in recent NFL history.

Ten different Birds reached the end zone on 11 different return touchdowns, the latter the third most in NFL history and former an NFL record.

The Eagles punt return unit was responsible for five touchdowns (three blocked punt returns, two punt returns) in 2014 while Sproles ran for the second most punt-return yards in team history.

All that without giving credit to punter Donnie Jones, who routinely pinned opponents inside the 20, and Cody Parkey, who set NFL and team records with his 32 field goals and 150 points.

Linebackers/defensive line B+

Connor Barwin reeled off 14.5 sacks, Vinny Curry burst onto the scene with nine while Brandon Graham (5.5) and Fletcher Cox (4.0) each made quarterbacks quiver all season long.

Though many knew the Eagles 3-4 front was talented, few knew how effective the unit would actually be. In addition to 49 sacks, the group also held opposing running backs to just 3.7 yards per carry.

Mychal Kendricks proved to be formidable at linebacker, filling in for the injured DeMeco Ryans, a player Kelly is hoping returns healthy in 2015.

“We need DeMeco,” the coach said. “I’m a big DeMeco Fan. As a group, he really sets the tone for everybody on the defensive side of the ball. So it’s just a matter of getting DeMeco healthy again.”

Perhaps in 2015 Marcus Smith, the Eagles first round pick last spring will be able to crack the lineup as well. The rookie did not make a tackle in 2014.

Secondary D-

That the Eagles still managed to win 10 games with their blundering, penalty-committing incompetent secondary is a testament to the rest of the team.

Nate Allen led the group with four interceptions (the defense had just 12, compared to 21 surrendered on offense) while Malcom Jenkins proved to be a positive locker room force while picking off three passes of his own.

But that’s about it for bright spots.

Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams could rarely keep up with the top receivers in the league, guys like Odell Beckham Jr, Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson.

The group allowed just over 264 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks, 7.8 yards per reception and 30 passing touchdowns, as well as the most plays over 50 yards in team history.

Major changes must come for the Eagles’ thin and lackluster secondary heading into next season.

 
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