Shutdown Countdown: Philadelphia Eagles' offense will be strong, again

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per day in reverse order or our initial 2014 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 2, the day before the preseason begins with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton.

In Chip Kelly's first year as Eagles head coach, Philadelphia led the league in yards per rushing attempt. Oh, and they also led the NFL in yards per passing attempt too.

That sweep during a season in which offenses continued to get better, including the highest scoring offense in NFL history is remarkable. It also speaks to the Eagles' potential under Kelly.

If you like the Xs and Os of football, the Eagles are incredibly fun to watch. They take simple concepts, put pressure on a defense by speeding up the pace, and masterfully create space by alignment and motion to take advantage of defensive soft spots. (NFL Films' Greg Cosell presented it well here and here.)

Chip Kelly congratulates Nick Foles after a touchdown pass (AP)
Chip Kelly congratulates Nick Foles after a touchdown pass (AP)

The thing is, the Eagles took some time to get used to Kelly's scheme. They were just 3-5 at the midway point. Then it started to click. A switch at quarterback helped too. Philadelphia went 7-1 down the stretch. It averaged 437.4 yards and 33.3 points per game in the second half. The Eagles hype train got off the tracks a bit when the Saints, who were not very good on the road last season, came into Philadelphia and beat the Eagles in a wild-card game.

But that doesn't mean the Eagles shouldn't be even better in Kelly's second season.

The big loss of the offseason was receiver DeSean Jackson. The reasons for the move have been discussed plenty this offseason let's just agree that right or wrong, the Eagles believe they will be better off without him.

Philadelphia added running back Darren Sproles, drafted receiver Jordan Matthews and got back receiver Jeremy Maclin from a knee injury, so overall the offense should be fine even with right tackle Lane Johnson serving a four-game suspension.

If you want to make a case that the Eagles are ranked too high, it's because the defense isn't great. Sure, I'd feel a lot more confident in their ranking if they had acquired a veteran pass rusher this offseason. But the Eagles' hopes aren't pinned to the defense being great. It's all about that offense that clicked so well in the second half of Kelly's first season, and should keep that rolling right into 2014.

2013 review in less than 25 words: At 3-5, nobody was all that excited about the Eagles. But a 10-6 final record and NFC East title was a nice result.

Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: It depends what you think about Jackson and his role in the offense. If you think Jackson's unique ability as a deep threat can't be replaced, you probably think the roster is worse. And that's fair.

If you think Sproles, Maclin and Matthews and their abilities can replace Jackson's production, you probably think the roster is better. Also, getting Malcolm Jenkins will help the defense, which struggled to find consistent safety play.

I'll say the roster is better, but I'd understand if you think that losing Jackson makes it worse.

Best offseason acquisition: Sproles' addition is interesting and exciting. Kelly is an offensive genius. Some people have a gift for calling a game, and he's one of them. Sproles is one of the toughest players to defend in the NFL, and he's a matchup nightmare under the right coach (like he was in New Orleans with another offensive genius, Sean Payton). LeSean McCoy will be fantastic once again in a rather traditional tailback role. It'll be worth tuning into Eagles games just to see the different ways in which Kelly uses Sproles.

Achilles heel: The Eagles' entire defense could be listed here, but let's focus on the pass rush. The only Eagle with more than five sacks last year was Trent Cole, who had eight and will turn 32 this season. Also, his eight sacks came in four games, which means that he was shut out in 12 games.

The team doesn't have a pass rusher offenses need to fear. First-round pick Marcus Smith from Louisville might help some, but the track record of rookie pass rushers tells us that he won't be much better than what the Eagles have already.

Position in flux: Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, was coming on strong at right tackle late last season. A four-game suspension for violating the PED policy is a big blow for one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The right tackle job goes to Allen Barbre, a 30-year-old veteran who has just seven NFL starts, all with the 2009 Packers. The Eagles are talking up Barbre, even opening the door for him to stay in the starting lineup, perhaps at right guard, when Johnson returns. But no matter what the Eagles say, going from the promising Johnson to Barbre should be a downgrade for the first month.

Zach Ertz (Getty Images)
Zach Ertz (Getty Images)

Ready to break out: The Eagles took tight end Zach Ertz in the second round last year, figuring he'd take over for Brent Celek as the team's top tight end sooner than later. It probably happens this year. Ertz came on late, with 15 catches for 195 yards and three touchdowns in five December games. He also caught a touchdown in the playoff loss to the Saints. The strong finish should be a hint of things to come, as the Eagles can move the versatile Ertz all around the formation and create matchup issues. 

Stat fact: Nick Foles had the third highest rating, third-best interception percentage (0.6 percent of his passes) and 19th highest yards per attempt for a single season in NFL history. We all thought Michael Vick was the perfect fit for Kelly's offense, but he wasn't for whatever reason. Foles is.

The Eagles were 8-2 in games Foles started and 2-4 in games he didn't. The Eagles were a different team with Foles, which is why there should be so much optimism about this year's squad. Foles will not repeat his unbelievable 27-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but he fits great in the offense.

Schedule degree of difficulty: Getting to play the NFC East and AFC South gives the Eagles a nice path to repeat as division champs. The Eagles play just one 2013 playoff team in their last six games, a very interesting Week 14 home game against the Seahawks.

Burning question

This team’s best-case scenario for the 2014 season: The Eagles are like most of the other good NFC teams very strong but probably not strong enough to defeat either of the two beasts from the NFC West come playoff time. Still, the Eagles should be shooting for a first-round bye. The way the team played in the second half, after it committed to Foles at quarterback, hints at its potential. The defense still needs work, but there should be plenty of optimism in Philadelphia.

And here’s the nightmare scenario: Regression is going to hit Foles, and hit him hard. Now, he could regress and still put up very good numbers. But two interceptions in 317 attempts is not happening again. Combine that with a defense that looks average, and maybe the Eagles will struggle more than anyone expects. If all the Giants' offseason moves pay off, perhaps they can upset Philadelphia and win the NFC East.

The crystal ball says: I think the Eagles win the East easily. There's a reasonable scenario in which they're the only decent team in that division, which would set them up to post a really good record and get that first-round bye. And, at that point, you're just one home win away from playing for a conference title. The Eagles don't have the defense to match up with the 49ers or Seahawks, but a trip to the NFC championship game would be a pretty good season. It would also be enough to get Eagles fans thinking big, especially with another offseason to add a couple impact pieces on defense.

Previous previews:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
31. Oakland Raiders
30. Washington Redskins
29. Cleveland Browns
28. Minnesota Vikings
27. Buffalo Bills
26. Tennessee Titans
25. Houston Texans
24. Dallas Cowboys
23. New York Jets
22. Atlanta Falcons
21. New York Giants
20. Miami Dolphins
19. Kansas City Chiefs
18. Baltimore Ravens
17. Detroit Lions
16. San Diego Chargers
15. Arizona Cardinals
14. St. Louis Rams
13. Carolina Panthers
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
10. Cincinnati Bengals
9. Green Bay Packers
8. Indianapolis Colts
7. Chicago Bears

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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