September 09, 2015
Each week throughout the season, I'm going to be posting some over/unders for the Eagles' upcoming matchup -- this week's for the Falcons game will be coming Saturday -- as a way to preview each game.
But before we can get into breaking down one specific game, it seemed appropriate to post a few for the entire season. For example, how many sacks will the Eagles defense record this season or how many games will Sam Bradford start?
Some of these will be wildly inaccurate, but that's to be expected when trying to predict something as unpredictable as a Chip Kelly team. Others will be much closer to the final number, but we have four-plus months until we figure out which is which. And no matter what the final result -- even if I get them all wrong, which I very well may -- I'll repost these after the season so you can laugh at just how wrong they were.
And if they turn out to be pretty accurate, well, even a blind squirrel...
It's not hard to imagine a scenario in which Sam Bradford starts 13 or fewer games. But, it's also quite possible he starts all 16 -- and that would be great news for the Eagles, their fans and Bradford's wallet.
In his five NFL seasons since being the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, here's a year-by-year look at how many games the former Heisman winner's started:
If Bradford can stay healthy, he'll obviously start all 16 games.
However, a minor injury, something completely unrelated to his twice-surgically-repaired ACL, could easily sideline him for a week or two. A concussion, an ankle sprain, bruised ribs -- there are a lot of ways a quarterback can get hurt. And in his two seasons with the Eagles, Kelly has never had a QB make it through an entire season healthy. And what if the Eagles wrap up the division prior to the regular season finale? Bradford could easily rest that game prior to the playoffs.
I'm not saying I think all -- or even any -- of those things happen. And even if Bradford misses a game or two or three, it won't spell the end of the Eagles' season. What I am saying is this: There are far too many variables for me to comfortably say Bradford will start 14 or more games.
Do I think it's possible? Of course. Probable? Still, yes. Would I put money on it? No way.
Last year, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez combined for a 84.8 passer rating in Kelly's offense. In 2013, led by Foles' 27 touchdowns and two interceptions, the Eagles QBs (Foles, Michael Vick and Matt Barkley) combined for a 102.7 passer rating. The gulf between the two makes it difficult to predict what Bradford -- a new QB in Kelly's system with a higher pedigree than any other mentioned above -- will be able to do this season.
In his rookie season, with current Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur in charge of the Rams, Bradford posted a 76.5 rating. Shurmur left following that season, and Bradford's rating took a hit the following year. He'd bounce back in 2012 and 2013 (before getting hurt) by posting an 82.6 and a 90.9, respectively.
If Bradford looks anything like he did in his limited action this preseason, I don't think it's a stretch to envision him posting a career-high passer rating, mainly because the bar (90.9) just isn't all that difficult to reach, especially in Kelly's offense.
Murray led the NFL with over 1,800 rushing yards in 2014. But that was with the Cowboys, and he got 392 of the team's 508 carries (77 percent). This season, he not only has two veteran rushers alongside him in the backfield, but also the Eagles will be careful not to overuse him.
Sure, Kelly likes running the ball, but look for something closer to a 50-40-10 split between Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. Last season, the Eagles ran the ball 474 times, and McCoy (who didn't have someone like Mathews behind him) still only carried the ball 66 percent of the time. In his first two seasons as coach, Kelly's team has averaged 487 rushing plays per year. So let's say they run the ball 500 times this season (the same amount they did in 2013), Murray is looking at something like 250-275 carries.
In 2013, Murray carried the ball 217 times, but rushed for 1,121 (5.2 ypc). And if he gets 250 carries this season, which seems extremely likely (barring injury), I think he'll rush for closer to 1,200 yards.
As a rookie, Matthews caught 67 passes on 103 targets. Now, he's the Eagles top receiver following the loss of Jeremy Maclin, who left as a free agent this offseason. That would seem like a good thing for Matthews, but be careful.
He'll now draw more attention from the defense, even while working out of the slot. But add Bradford, who is a much better passer than Foles or Sanchez, to the mix and it begins to clear things up. Instead of hauling in close to 70 percent of the passes thrown his way, Matthews could pull in something closer to 80 percent.
When you think about it, it's only really five catches per game.
The Eagles had just one drive over eight minutes long last season and two over seven minutes, as far as I can tell. It's hard to imagine they won't have at least one scoring drive over this length, especially now that they have better red zone weapons in Murray and Mathews to punch the ball in during goalie situations.
Their secondary allowed 18 plays of 40+ yards last season. That can't happen again.
I mean, it can, it just wouldn't bode well for their season if it does. With the additions of Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond and the emergence of Nolan Carroll, I think they get much better at eliminating those extra-yardage plays.
If you do the quick math here, you'll see they need to average one attempt every other game in order to hit the over. And even though the NFL moved back the extra point to the 15, Kelly was adamant this preseason that they weren't going to try for two more often. And then he confused us all by trying a few with Tim Tebow at quarterback.
In the past, Kelly has only gone for two out of necessity, namely in the Snow Bowl vs. the Lions and late in a loss to the Vikings that same year when the team needed points quickly. And that seemed to be the case again this preseason, as kicker Cody Parkey was a late scratch in the game Tebow tried -- and failed -- to go for two.
Still, if he was on the roster, I'd be reconsidering this number.
The Eagles had 49 sacks last season, tied for second-most in the NFL.
While that seems great, it becomes decidedly less so once you consider the fact that their defense was on the field more than any other team in the league last year. That's a product of the pace at which they play, and I don't foresee that changing anytime soon. But I also don't see them replicating that sack number. I think they get somewhere around 40-45, which would still put them near the top 10 in the league.
The Eagles led the NFL with four return TDs last season, twice as many as the next closest team. While that number could be difficult to reach again, they have all the pieces back in place to do so.
They also have Kenjon Barner, who returned two punts in the first two preseason games, back after he spent 2014 on the practice squad due in large part to an injury. Call me optimistic, but I'm taking the over.
All I'm really going to say here is that I'm taking the over. To find out how many games over, you'll have to come back tomorrow. Jimmy Kempski, Rich Hofmann and I will all be posting our predictions for the Eagles season, and it'll be much more thorough than anything I can write here.