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November 10, 2015

Five reasons to believe the Eagles will be better in the second half

Eagles NFL
121914_Carroll_Stock_Eagles-2010 Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

A young Eagles fan gets excited before the start of the December 14th game against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Philadelphia Eagles may not have looked like the team we were expecting to see after such a strong performance this preseason — expectations are funny like that — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few reasons to be hopeful now that we’ve seen Chip Kelly’s team play out the first half of the 2015 schedule.

After starting the season 1-3, which included a pair of bad losses to NFC East opponents like Washington and Dallas, the Eagles have gone 3-1 over their last four games with their only loss coming to the 8-0 Carolina Panthers. And now, they’re staring down a pair of very winnable home games against the Miami and Tampa Bay.

After beating the Cowboys on Sunday night to get back to .500, the Eagles odds of making the playoffs jumped to 58.9 percent — a 9.9 percent increase over last week — according to They also have a 54.9 percent chance of winning the division, despite the fact that the Giants (33.4 percent to win division; 38.8 percent to make playoffs) currently hold a half-game lead in a weak NFC East.

Because things seem to be trending up for the Eagles, let’s focus on the positives surrounding this team, specifically why you should be hopeful of their chances to make the playoffs and possibly accomplish something Kelly’s failed to in each of his first two seasons at the helm: win a playoff game. And if you think I’m being overly optimistic, don’t worry. I’ll be back tomorrow with five reasons you should worry about the Eagles.

They have a favorable schedule

Here are some bullet points on the Eagles remaining schedule:

•  Up next, they have a pair of home games against sub-.500 teams (MIA, TB).

•  Their eight remaining opponents are a combined 33-32 so far this season, but that's a little misleading.

-  Take out Patriots and record falls to 25-32.

-  Take out Patriots and Cardinals, record falls to 19-30.

•  They play five of their final eight games at home.

•  They control their own destiny.

The offense* is starting to gel

*Especially the new players

All season, Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur have continually expressed their confidence in quarterback Sam Bradford. They've also said they've seen continued improvement from the former first-overall pick. Here's what Kelly said on Monday following the team's 33-27 win over Dallas:

“I think everything in Sam’s game has gotten better," Kelly said Monday. "As I’ve said before, I’ve seen Sam improve on a weekly basis here. We’re in Game Eight — he’s better in Game Eight than he was in Game One. I think he’s more comfortable in terms of what we’re doing."

“I know in terms of where we are as an offense with a lot of these guys, it’s like a movie’s being shown, and he showed up halfway through it. And then he’s supposed to figure out what’s going on and what did I miss in the first half of the movie, because he hadn’t been with us the same amount of time Brent [Celek] has been here, and [Jason] Kelce and some of those other guys.

“So, it’s just something you have to get through reps; it’s not something that can be forced. He works extremely hard at it. He’s in this building all the time; he’s watching film; he’s studying; he’s working at it. But we’ve seen constant improvement out of Sam. And I hope he continues to play even better as we move forward.”

Kelly's right that we should've expected more of a learning curve from Bradford. Not just because he missed most of the last two seasons with injury, but also because he had to learn another new offense while also getting acclimated to his new teammates and a new organization.

In a way, this season is similar to the 2013 season.

Back then, Kelly was the new kid on the block and the entire team had to get used to his style, which probably took some adjustment after more than a decade with Andy Reid in charge. The Eagles started the season 3-5, but went on to win seven of their last eight en route to a division title. Last season, they seemed to pick up right where they left off until injuries, specifically to QB Nick Foles, sent their season into a tailspin.

This year, much like two years ago, there was an adjustment period over the first eight games. Sure, it was the quarterback and two running backs (among others) that were the new pieces, but the result was essentially the same. And that's why the fact that the offense has looked better as of late could be a sign of things to come, rather than an aberration.

Will they run off five straight again, like they did in 2013? Maybe not -- they do play the Patriots in a few weeks -- but with the division as weak as it is, they may not need to.

The secondary is no longer a huge liability

No, they're not the Legion of Boom. But they also don't need to be.

Malcolm Jenkins is the only starter that remains from last season's secondary, and when you look at the unit as a whole, it's like night and day compared to the 2014 team. All four starters -- Jenkins, Nolan Carroll, Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond -- all have at least one interception this year. They're also holding opposing QBs to 6.1 net yards per attempt, which is down a half of a yard from 2014 and 2013, when their defense ranked in the bottom third of the league. This season, they're ranked 10th. 

It won't take much for them to outperform Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams and Nate Allen the rest of the way, but they've already proven to be much more of a commodity than a liability. That frees up the rest of the defense to attack the quarterback or crowd the box when necessary.

Their running backs are going to be fresh

As running backs all across the NFL continue to go down, the Eagles don't have to worry about such an injury crippling their offense. So far, they've been relatively healthy there -- knock on wood -- and even if Murray and/or Mathews were to miss extended time due to an injury, they'd still have plenty of talent in the backfield with Darren Sproles.

Furthermore, they have the luxury of running three talented backs out there each game, meaning none is exposed to the number of carries many of there peers are forced to shoulder throughout a 16-game season. A year after leading the NFL with 392 carries, Murray is on pace for just 212 this season. He's currently 18th in the NFL with 106 carries through eight games. His backfield mates are on pace for even fewer. Mathews (67) is 40th in the NFL and on pace for 134 carries this year. Sproles (36) is on pace for just 72 carries, which ties him Chiefs QB Alex Smith for 64th in the league.

All of that means that running back coach Duce Staley will have a stable of fresh running backs -- two of whom have previously been full-time starters -- to rotate in and out of games down the season's home stretch. That's luxury that many of their opponents won't have.

The Eagles don’t really have a glaring weakness

There's really not one singular thing that the Eagles have excelled at this season, but they also don't have an area that has become a real problem. Here are their current NFL ranks (and don't forget that some of these are skewed because the Eagles play at a faster pace than most other teams):


And because the Eagles have been climbing these rankings in recent weeks -- for example, they had the worst-ranked rushing attack after the first two games -- it means the Birds are on the right track.

So there you have it -- a few reasons to be hopeful about what's to come for the Eagles in the second half of the season. And since their 4-4 record suggests that there's been just as much bad as there's been good, we'll be back tomorrow to examine some concerns going forward and dash whatever hope the above post instilled.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin