In 2013, Philadelphia featured one of the league's best offenses. In 2014, the Eagles led the NFL in turnovers. What went wrong?
One of the biggest contributing factors to the Eagles' struggles last season was due to getting away from their identity. In Chip Kelly's inaugural season, the Eagles were a run-heavy juggernaut. That team ran the ball on 47% (sixth most) of their offensive plays. Kelly was known for running the ball a lot at Oregon, so it wasn't a surprise to see him reach NFL success with the same philosophy.
In 2014, however, the Eagles only ran the ball 42.2% (12th most) of their snaps. It wasn't a huge drop off, but it certainly made a difference. The Eagles were forced to rely on moving the ball through the air more often and both Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez struggled.
Looking ahead, the Eagles know they need to get back on track. Running back coach Duce Staley said as much in a recent media session.
"We want to get back to running the ball," he said. "We want to get back to just taking on the line of scrimmage. You do that, of course, with the offensive line, and you do that with good running backs."
Part of why the Eagles had to get away from the run game is because they weren't doing it efficiently. Whereas LeSean McCoy averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2013, he only finished with 4.2 last year. Philadelphia obviously felt the need to upgrade from a personnel standpoint. Financial reasons were relevant when it came to McCoy's departure, but the reality is that the Eagles could have kept him if they really wanted to, and they didn't.
There's also been a lot of talk about how McCoy didn't fit Chip Kelly's offense. Staley denied that notion, and McCoy did obviously have a lot of success under Kelly. But it's no secret that the Eagles head coach has preferred a more physical style of runner, as recently highlighted in a Kelly lecture from 2008:
"We want [our running back] to jam the ball into the hole and be a tough runner. We do not want a jingle-footed back trying to hit a home run. We want him to hit the ball into the line and get the tough yards. We are a blue-collar guy going to work."
With McCoy gone, the Eagles addressed the running back position in free agency. Staley raved about the team's biggest signing: 2014 NFL leading rusher and former Dallas Cowboys offensive centerpiece DeMarco Murray.
"He’s a perfect fit for us," said Staley. "Exactly what we want to do. Full steam [ahead], down hill. That’s what we’re preaching every day. One, two, three, four yards and a cloud of dust. All the backs we have, they’re able to do that."
"His passion for the game. His leadership … in the classroom, in the weight room, on the field is second to none. He’s driven by that. He’s driven by going out there and not making mistakes. He’s driven by showing others how he works. I’m just excited to have him."
Staley also seemed excited by the team's signing of former first round pick Ryan Mathews. Mathews could have had an opportunity for more playing time elsewhere, but he chose to sign with Philadelphia even knowing Murray was in the fold.
"Same thing as [Murray]," Staley said. "I didn’t realize [Mathews] was that big and strong, man. I mean, wow, and still fast. When you go back and you look at him, this is one of the things I did, I went back and looked at some of the [NFL] Combine numbers and it was pretty ironic. Ryan Mathews, a little bit bigger by six or seven pounds, ran a 4.37 [40 yard dash]. So you look at DeMarco, a little bit smaller, a little taller, ran a 4.37. It was just kind of ironic to see those guys’ times the same."
As if the combination of Murray and Mathews wasn't impressive enough, the Eagles still have veteran offensive weapon Darren Sproles. There's no question Philadelphia has one of the most talented backfields in the NFL. There is question, however, about how the Eagles are going to get all three players on the field. Is it going to be difficult to get a rotation going?
"No," said Staley. "That’s my job. I was able to do it, of course, last year a little bit. We didn’t have those three dynamic guys, but it won’t be hard at all.
"I’ll rotate the guys. It won’t be hard. You want to keep a fresh guy in there. You want to keep a good rotation."
It remains to be seen exactly how snaps will be split. The Eagles haven't really used a strong running back rotation under Kelly arrived. McCoy shouldered a significant part of the team's carries the past two years.
It's also curious that the Eagles don't really use a lot of formations with two running backs on the field at the same time. In 2013, the Eagles ran out of more single back sets than any other team in the NFL. When asked if Staley plans to use two running backs at once, he merely responded: "Hmm … let’s wait and see."
The Eagles seriously committed to improving the run game this offseason. It could go a long way towards helping them be successful in 2015.