Every week, we try to get an inside look at the Miami Dolphins' upcoming opponent through the eyes of a fan of that team. This week, that opponent is the Philadelphia Eagles, and those fans hang out at Bleeding Green Nation. Brandon Lee Gowton was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer my five questions about the Eagles. A big thank you to Gowton for taking the time to give us a look at the Eagles.
Here are my questions, in bold, and his responses:
1. It seems like every couple of weeks we all hear about how the Chip Kelly experiment is not working in Philadelphia, yet the team is 4-4 on the year, and just a half game back in the NFC East. There seems to be constant speculation that Kelly believes in his genius maybe more than the results are showing - especially with the apparent roster purge this year - and that maybe the NFL has caught up to Kelly. With the Dolphins having grabbed former Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor as their offensive coordinator a couple of years ago, there is interest in exactly how the NFL is evolving to handle Kelly's offense, because there are elements of it down in South Florida. What are your impressions of Kelly, particularly with how he is doing the job now that he has all the power for the club, and do you think the league has caught up to his offense?
Chip Kelly caught a lot of criticism earlier this season when the team got off to a 1-3 start. He was being outcoached and the roster moves he made in the offseason (trading for Sam Bradford, signing DeMarco Murray, not acquiring an offensive lineman, etc.) weren't looking so great. Some of those moves still don't look so awesome, but it seems like he's turned things around as a coach in recent weeks. Kelly has made some minor tweaks to the offense and they've paid off. The Eagles are actually good at running the ball again and the passing attack looks less awful than it had been.
I don't buy the narrative that the NFL has caught up with Kelly's offense. I never really thought that was the issue early on in the season. I think the issues we saw early on in the season had to do with execution errors. Offensive linemen weren't communicating well. Receivers weren't catching passes. Sam Bradford was failing to throw accurate passes to wide open receivers. And so on. Since the Eagles have cleaned up some of those executions errors, the offense has started to improve.
2. Unfortunately, I cannot remember where I heard this (Tosh.O maybe?) but I found it funny, "Sam Bradford moving to Philadelphia finally allowed him to blossom into a worse version of Alex Smith." That may be a little harsh, but Bradford does not appear to be a fit with the Eagles. What seems to be the biggest issue with Bradford, and is there any chance Mark Sanchez or Thad Lewis are eventually pushed into the starting lineup or is there hope Bradford is finally starting to put it together in Philadelphia's offense?
Bradford certainly hasn't been good. Based on how much he's struggled, it's hard to think he's the long-term answer at quarterback. With that said, there are still eight games left so there's time for him to turn things around down the stretch. Bradford is coming off one of his best games of the season by helping to deliver a clutch win in Dallas. Maybe Bradford is finally getting more comfortable in Philadelphia's offense after looking out of sorts earlier in the season. Or maybe not. It's hard to give him the benefit of the doubt right now.
The only way I can see Mark Sanchez and/or Thad Lewis playing is if Bradford gets hurt. Kelly already saw what he had in Sanchez through nine games last season, and Lewis isn't anything more than a third string quarterback. The Eagles are going to sink or swim with Bradford.
3. DeMarco Murray was supposed to come in and give the Eagles running game a new element, something that would make fans forget about LeSean McCoy. Something happened along the way, however, and, while Murray has not been awful, Ryan Mathews clearly outplayed him so far this year. What is causing Murray's decline from the running back we saw with the Dallas Cowboys? The Dolphins have struggled stopping the run this year, allowing 142.1 yards per game so far this year, 31st in the league. What should we expect to see from the Eagles' ground game, and how can Miami hope to actually slow down the rushing attack?
Murray has been better recently. He's rushed for 343 yards and three touchdowns on 77 attempts (4.5 average) in his last four games. You're not wrong, though, Mathews has definitely been the more productive back. One of the issues with Murray is that he's seemingly been hampered by injury. He missed time in training camp/preseason before then suffering a hamstring injury in Week 3 that kept him out of the Eagles-Jets game. Another reason why I think Murray has struggled is because the Eagles are getting him running to the edge too often. Murray can have success on those plays, but he seems better suited to pound the rock up the middle.
The Eagles have been the second best rushing team in the NFL since Week 3. They're averaging 151 yards per game on the ground. Kelly will definitely be hoping to rely on the run in this week's game. Miami can hope to stop Philadelphia's rushing attack by winning in the trenches. It sounds simple, but that's what made the Eagles struggle early on in the season.
4. The Eagles defense leads the league in takeaways so far this season (though the team has just a +5 turnover ration thanks to 15 giveaways from the offense). What are the Eagles defenders doing that is allowing them to get their hands on the ball so often?
A lot of it has to do with having talented players. They have a number of players who always seem to be making plays on the ball. Safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond are really good on the back end. Fletcher Cox is a stud who can create havoc. Rookie inside linebacker Jordan Hicks was playing well enough to be Defensive Rookie of the Year before he got hurt last week.
5. The Philadelphia defense seems to be hovering just below average in most categories this year (save that takeaway thing). They allowed Matt Cassel to throw for 300 yards (okay, 299 officially) with three touchdowns, giving him a 105.0 passer rating while Darren McFadden gained 117 yards. How are teams attacking the Eagles defense this year, and how can Miami have success?
The Eagles' defense has actually been the strength of the team for most of the season. They rank ninth in opponent yards per play. Football Outsiders ranks the unit at No. 6 overall. It's true the defense has faltered a little bit in recent weeks. I think the absence of DeMeco Ryans has hurt them to some extent. He expects to be back this week.
If I was in charge of the Dolphins, I'd be planning to attack the Eagles through the air. Philadelphia's run defense is usually pretty strong. Jarvis Landry could be Miami's best bet to cause problems for the Eagles. Malcolm Jenkins, who has been having a good season, struggled to cover Cole Beasley last week. The Dolphins should try to get Ryan Tannehill and the passing attack going.