Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is under fire. (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Five things you have to know about the Eagles, who visit Foxboro Sunday for a date with the Patriots.
1. Head coach Chip Kelly is feeling the heat.
It’s been tough sledding the last month-plus for Kelly, who has seen his team lose four of their last five, with the last three defeats by a combined score of 110-50 against three teams that won’t come anywhere near the playoffs. (If it weren’t for the free-falling Cowboys, the 4-7 Eagles would be basement-dwellers in the pathetic NFC East.) As a result, it’s easy to see why the coach is under fire. Even after buying himself some goodwill with back-to-back 10-6 seasons in his first two years at the helm in Philly, the mess that the 2015 season has become for him and his team have people calling for his removal. Part of that is that after winning control of personnel decisions in the offseason and adding the likes of Sam Bradford, Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell and Miles Austin, the majority of his additions have had bad years. As a result, it’s not premature to say that, starting with this weekend against the Patriots, Kelly begins a five-game stretch where he could very well be coaching for his job.
2. No one is sure what the Eagles are going to do at quarterback right now.
The Philadelphia quarterback situation is up in the air: there’s a school of thought that after suffering a concussion and a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder earlier in the year against the Dolphins, Sam Bradford (64 percent completion rate, 2,297 passing yards, 11 TDs, 10 INTs, passer rating of 82.4) has rehabbed enough to a point where he would return to the starting lineup against the Patriots. (Early reports out of Philly seem to indicate that Bradford will be a go against New England.) Bradford hasn’t been a Pro Bowler, but there was some improvement shown over the course of the season until the injury against Miami. With Bradford on the sidelines, backup Mark Sanchez (65 percent completion rate, 616 passing yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs, passer rating of 80.7) has struggled mightily, turning the ball over five times and throwing only four touchdowns. Whoever has been the quarterback hasn’t gotten much help from the ground game: DeMarco Murray (155 carries, 545 rushing yards, 4 TDs, 3.5 yards per carry) has been underwhelming at best for the Eagles in his first season in Philly. Meanwhile, Ryan Matthews (75 carries, 427 rushing yards, 5 TDs, 5.7 YPC) and third-down back Darren Sproles (47 carries, 168 rushing yards, 1 TD, 3.6 YPC) offer some support out of the backfield.
3. On paper, they appear to have a deep passing game.
It’s debatable who has the capability to get the ball to them, but the fact that the Eagles have six guys with 20 or more catches is worth noting. It’s a group led by wide receiver Jordan Matthews (58 catches, 89 targets, 625 yards, 3 TDs), but it’s a collection that also gets a ton of help from backs and tight ends. Murray (39 catches, 295 receiving yards, 1 TD) and Sproles (36 catches, 58 targets, 258 receiving yards, 1 TD) have proven to be effective at times out of the backfield, while tight ends Zach Ertz (38 catches, 62 targets, 394 receiving yards) and Brent Celek (20 catches, 27 targets, 294 receiving yards, 3 TDs) are also part of a nice package of pass catchers.
4. You can run against them.
The Eagles are 12th in the league when it comes to run defense, having yielded an average of 114.5 rushing yards per game. Philly was fairly stout against the run in the early going this season, as it held three of its first six opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. But those numbers have spiked over the last five games — in that span, the Eagles have allowed an average of 165.6 rushing yards per contest. That includes two games where opponents ran for more than 200 yards on Philly (Tampa Bay had 283 yards on the ground, while Carolina had 204 rushing yards). If there’s ever been a week where the relatively dormant New England ground game can wake up, it might be this weekend against the Eagles.
5. Their punt and punt return units are the best things about their special teams.
The strength of the Eagles’ special teams is punting and punt coverage: Punter Donnie Jones has had a good year — his 47.1 average and his 42.0 net are both good enough for eighth in the league. The 4.7 average on opposing punt returns is the best total in the league. On the other side, veteran Darren Sproles works as the primary punt returner, and his 10.9 yards per return is fifth in the league. (That includes a return for touchdown earlier in the year against the Jets.) The rest of the special teamers are middle-of-the-road at best: Kicker Caleb Sturgis is 13-for-17 (76.5 percent) on field goal attempts and 18-for-20 (90 percent) on extra points. He has 23 touchbacks, tied for 26th in the league. Kick returner Josh Huff has also had some good moments this season — in his eight kick return attempts (tops on the team), he’s averaged 26.1 yards per opportunity, with a 40-yarder being his best effort of the year. Teams average 23 yards per kick return against the Eagles, 11th best in the league.
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