The Philadelphia Eagles lost a close one to the New Orleans Saints last Saturday, 26-24, bringing their impressive season to end. The game remained tight until Shayne Graham sealed the victory for the Saints on 32-yard field goal as time expired.
Both Nick Foles and Drew Brees were efficient, yet somewhat limited, as Brees completed 20 of his 30 pass attempts for 250 yards and a touchdown and Foles went 23-33 for 195 yards and two scores.
The Saints found their success against the Eagles’ defense on the ground as the former Heisman trophy winner, Mark Ingram, rumbled his way to 97 yards rushing and found the end zone for a big touchdown to put the Saints up 20-7 midway through the game.
The Eagles came surging back on behalf of a 1-yard touchdown run from the league’s leading rusher, Lesean McCoy, and then a 3-yard touchdown reception by tight end Zach Ertz.
However, playoff football often times comes down to the final seconds and whoever is fortunate enough to have the ball last. In this case, the Saints had the ball with time winding down and Drew Brees at quarterback. Not such a bad situation to be in.
Brees and the Saints took advantage by melting the clock and setting Shayne Graham up for the game winner. Graham was kicking in place of Garret Hartley, who was released just a few weeks prior to the start of the playoffs. He surely earned his respect within the Saints locker room after capping off the Saints road playoff win by putting a clutch kick through the uprights.
Although the Eagles were defeated on their home turf, in front of their home crowd, Chip Kelly and his squad have no reason to hang their heads. The future is bright in Philadelphia, probably brighter than just about any other team in the NFL.
After struggling to find a quarterback whose trust could be gained from teammates and coaches ever since the departure of Donovan McNabb, Nick Foles has emerged as a more than satisfactory predecessor. Foles’ 27-2 touchdown to interception ratio was an NFL record. For a young quarterback to lead the NFL in a statistic such as this one, which requires composure, intelligence, and precision, speaks volumes about Foles rapid maturity over the course of his three-year career.
The offense is only going to improve over the off season. However, a big decision is to be made by the Eagles front office. That is whether to bring back pro bowl wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, who missed the entire 2013-2014 season due to a torn ACL, or stick with who many believe to have been Foles’ favorite target this season, Riley Cooper. Cooper had an outstanding season, displaying his sure handedness and chemistry with Nick Foles.
On the other hand, Jeremy Maclin is no slouch.
Maclin was widely recognized as one of the best receivers in the NFC prior to his injury and was a terrific compliment to Desean Jackson in the Eagles’ passing game. While it seems like a bone headed move to change anything on the offense after having such extreme success offensively, Maclin has been a vital component of the Eagles’ offense for a couple of years now.
Jeremy Maclin is undoubtedly more naturally talented than Cooper. Nonetheless, one cannot under value the tremendous chemistry displayed between Foles and Cooper, which resulted in 8 touchdowns.
Maclin has expressed his interest in remaining an Eagle and has also spoken about the progress he has made in rehabilitating his injury. Cooper’s breakout season is sure to draw attention from teams around the league, but given a substantial reward in the form of cash will most likely keep Cooper in Philly.
The best scenario would be to keep both Maclin and Cooper, which would envision a receiving corps of the speedy Desean Jackson, athletic Jeremy Maclin, and reliable Riley Cooper. However, Cooper’s hopeful reward may take a bit of a hit if this were to occur.
Amidst figuring out Cooper and Maclin’s contract situations, Chip Kelly and Eagles management will be looking toward the draft and free agency to improve a defense that improved as the season progressed, but never solidified themselves as a top tier defensive unit.
The Eagles had a stretch of consecutive games during which they held their opponents to under 21 points, but also had games where the defense seemed depleted. Denver went for 52 points against the Eagles during the regular season, which was the worst of their efforts.
Both safeties Patrick Chung and Nate Allan, who struggled defending above average aerial attacks this season, will become free agents this offseason.
Cary Williams, who was a staple at cornerback and one of the out spoken leaders of the defense, will also become a free agent along with fellow cornerback Bradley Fletcher. Aside from Williams, who came over from the Superbowl winning Baltimore Ravens this past offseason and will most likely be in an Eagles uniform next season, the Eagles will have to find new talent to fill the rest of the secondary.
On a positive note, Mychal Kendricks, who proved to be a beast and possible future defensive player of the year candidate, along with defensive end turned linebacker, Trent Cole, will get another year under their belts to learn the 3-4 defense employed by defensive coordinator Bill Davis.
The road to the Super Bowl is just beginning for the new look Philadelphia Eagles. Lincoln Financial Field is undoubtedly going to be the site for many crucial games in January for the near future. With a few fixes on defense and another year for Chip Kelly and Nick Foles to channel their inner “Belichick/Brady” relationship, the Philadelphia Eagles are destined for success.