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The Eagles Have Too Many Questions and Not Enough Answers

As year two of Chip Kelly's tenure comes to a close, the team faces some tough questions.

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Year Two of the Chip Kelly Era is essentially over, and regardless of the outcome of the Giants game, it will leave an incredibly sour taste because the team failed in two must win games, in gut punching fashion. They were total team failures. A special teams unit that was so dominant in the first half fell apart in December. What seemed like an improving defense lost its smoke and mirrors. The offense sputtered and stalled. A season that began with so much optimism turned, quickly, into one that will finish with many more questions than answers.

How are they going to fix the secondary?

Last year’s defense struggled at rushing the passer and in the secondary. Thankfully the pass rush has been quite good this season. The secondary however, is still a huge problem. Never consistent players to begin with, the relative highs of Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams weren’t as high as last year, and the lows were, frustratingly, somehow even lower. Nate Allen wasn’t able to build upon his improved 2013 season, and Earl Wolff rarely saw the field. Brandon Boykin has been invisible for most of the season, though in his defense it’s hard to make a play when the QB is throwing at the players Williams and Fletcher are supposed to be covering. And because the team refuses to try him outside in relief of struggling players, we’ll never know if he can handle that role. Malcolm Jenkins was a breath of fresh air but he can’t solve the problems on his own, and Nolan Carroll was good enough in a dime role but not much more. Making matters even worse, the coaching staff was painfully slow to react to the obvious limitations of their players. Fletcher was kept in against his nightmare games against the Packers and Cowboys, and only when it was too late was he benched against the Redskins. Williams has struggled all season and played just about every meaningful snap. Magnifying those performances, the coaches never gave them any help. Their rigid philosophy of preferring size over talent has burned them multiple times, and their near inability to make in-game adjustments has done just as much harm. Because of these, a quick fix is not in the cards. Billy Davis isn’t about to be fired, and because many of the defensive philosophies and preferences come from Chip anyway, a reversal in policy is unlikely. The free agent market doesn't look fruitful, and rookie DBs generally don’t make an impact. A quick turnaround won't be easy.

What is going on with the WRs?

Jeremy Maclin is a free agent to be because he bet on himself to have a very good year and get a better long term contract this off-season than he was offered last off-season. Needless to say, he won that bet. The Eagles certainly would like to bring him back, but the decision is ultimately his, unless the Eagles decide to Franchise Tag him. If he does not return, the Eagles have a lot of work to do. Riley Cooper is, unsurprisingly, a massive disappointment from his outlier 2013 season and costs more to cut than to keep. Jordan Matthews exploded on to the scene when Mark Sanchez took over, then quieted down as Sanchez’s play dropped off. Josh Huff has made a couple of exciting plays and more than a couple of turnovers. The future is very bright for the two rookies, but it's uncertain. The lazy members of the media can question all they want about how the Eagles would have done with DeSean Jackson but it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if he was still on the team. And maybe it wouldn’t make much of a difference if Maclin wasn’t either, the QBs have trouble getting the ball to everyone, they’re too busy running from pressure that isn’t there, throwing the sideline instead of to open receivers, throwing off their back feet and under throwing deep passes and turning the ball over, or sailing passes, not even attempting deep throws, taking sacks and turning the ball over.

What’s the future at running back?

All of these problems were amplified by the cratering of the previously dominant running game. The revolving door of OL starting lineups due to suspension, injury and ineffectiveness appeared to be the problem, but when it eventually settled down to four of last year’s five starters, the running game didn’t return to its dominant form. LeSean McCoy hasn’t been the Shady of before, coming off a massive workload of carries last year certainly didn’t help. And he's about to hit the age when RBs begin to decline. McCoy is due $8.75M in non-guaranteed money, releasing him saves $7.55M. Not being on the 2015 Eagles is a very real possibility. But there are no in-house solutions. Chris Polk is a fine short yardage back, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Darren Sproles has been a steal but is not an every down back.

Where did the aggressive, innovative Chip Kelly go?

Despite all these struggles, the Eagles will finish 9-7 at worst. There are plenty of teams around the league that have similar uncertainties and problems and they don’t come close to a winning record. That’s a testament to outstanding coach that Chip Kelly is. When the team has played well, it has been the embodiment of his vision: the fast pace of the offense has created plenty of scoring chances and worn down the opposition. Special teams and defensive turnovers have won games, and an outstanding run defense was a big part of decisive victories. But when it has gone wrong, when the offense struggled to move the ball in big gains, when defense couldn’t catch a break, when the defense had answers to the offense, the Eagles couldn’t get out of their own way. Sometimes you have to make the breaks, and Chip hasn’t done that. Where has the aggressive approach that helped Chip make his mark at Oregon gone? Multiple times he has sent out the kicking team when going for it on 4th down was prudent. Letting Washington score to get the ball back with time wasn't even considered. The Swinging Gate has apparently been buried under concrete after its lone, failed attempt last year. They haven't attempted a single two point conversion to try to "steal" a point. With the passing game struggling he generally hasn’t put the best pass catching lineup on the field to give his QBs a better chance. No coach is perfect, but Kelly hasn’t done the best job he could in helping his team out.

But all of these issues are secondary to the one that looms over this franchise.

Who is the next great Eagles QB?

This question will dominate the off-season. The next great Eagles quarterback isn’t on the roster, and likely won’t be on next year’s. Nick Foles is not the answer, top shelf QBs don’t play as poorly as he did this year no matter what the circumstances--the ability to overcome a shuffling OL and struggling WRs is what separates QBs who can win a Super Bowl from QBs who can win a division. Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley never were the answer. Barring a miracle, Tennessee or Tampa Bay will have the #1 pick and both need a quarterback in a draft with only two first round talents, a trade for Marcus Mariota appears impossible. The only apparent options at QB this off-season are acquiring turnover machine Jay Cutler; continuing with Nick Foles and a discarded former first rounder in Sanchez, Jake Locker or possibly Robert Griffin and/or a very raw rookie such as Brent Hundley or Charles Sims. All of these options have their issues. The Eagles appear to be trapped in a web of QB mediocrity. When the stars align you can win a Super Bowl with an above average QB, but to be a perennial Super Bowl contender, you need better than that. The Eagles need better than that.

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