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Searching For Answers At 3-5

Posted Oct 27, 2013

This isn't what the Eagles had in mind when they returned home two weeks ago at 3-3, primed to move in the NFC East. Two losses, three points, three quarterbacks and a slew of questions have surfaced ...

Sunday's 15-7 loss to New York represented an incredibly frustrating and futile 60 minutes for Chip Kelly's Eagles. The Eagles offense has scored a total of three points in the most recent eight quarters of football. The quarterback situation is a huge question mark, and the offensive production has been, obviously, ineffective.

The Eagles are 3-5 at the midway point of the season, and there are a lot of areas for Kelly and is coaching staff to address in the short week ahead with a road trip to Oakland waiting.

In no particular order, here is what at the top of the list ...

WHO IS THE QUARTERBACK IN OAKLAND?

Kelly said after the loss that "it could look that way" for rookie Matt Barkley to make his first NFL start in Oakland, but the situation is far from definite. Nick Foles hasn't been cleared to practice since suffering a concussion in the Dallas loss, Michael Vick showed on Sunday that he's still a ways away from being able to play with his usual speed and burst, so Barkley could be thrown into a very tough situation.

The position continues to be the focal point for the here and for the future. Vick came out and ended the first series with a poorly thrown pass intended for Brent Celek that safety Antel Rolle intercepted. It was a harbinger of things to come for Vick, who completed only 6 of 9 passes for 31 yards in nearly two quarters of action.

Vick said he "felt good going in," but he was clearly a shell of himself. Practice can't simulate the speed of a game, and that was very obvious from the start. When will Vick be healthy? He doesn't know. 

Kelly termed the quarterback position as "unstable" and said that "we're not getting good play at the quarterback position" and that the coaching staff needs to find a solution. How the Eagles tinker with the scheme is something to watch in Oakland. A strength of the team for much of the opening six games, the running game has been shut down in the losses to Dallas and Detroit. Which leads to ...

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE RUNNING GAME?

Nineteen carries and 48 yards is all the running game had to show on Sunday. This is shocking stuff for the No. 1-ranked rushing offense in the league, led by LeSean McCoy. Those gaping running lanes have been reduced to a sliver of light here, a quick-closing hole there. The Eagles running game is stuck in neutral. This is bumper-to-bumper congestion for what has to be the bread and butter of the Eagles offense.

It isn't on McCoy all that much, although he looked tentative on Sunday trying to find some running room. McCoy was more intent on taking what the defense gave him, but the problem was that the New York defense gave the Eagles' ground game -- including Bryce Brown, who had 3 carries and minus-1 yard -- very little.

The offensive line has not provided much of a push these last few weeks, starting when the Eagles met New York at MetLife Stadium and the interior of the Giants defense stuffed McCoy in the second half. He followed with an outstanding performance against Tampa Bay, but the running game has been null and void against Dallas and New York.

Adjustments must be made, and so this is a chance for the coaching staff to gather the troops and reconfigure some philosophies.

Oakland is anything but a gimme game. The Raiders have a tough defense and they're going to key on McCoy, especially if Barkley starts at quarterback. New York didn't respect Barkley as a running option on Sunday and the defense crashed down on McCoy when the Eagles ran the read/option plays.

WHERE IS THE DOWNFIELD PASSING GAME?

The Eagles tried to get the ball to DeSean Jackson a lot on Sunday, targeting him 11 times and completing 8 passes to No. 10. Those 8 completions, though, gained just 63 yards, a 7.9-yard-per-catch average. The Eagles got the ball to Jackson screens and stop routes, but New York completely took away the deep ball.

This is a challenge the Eagles have faced all season -- defenses playing in man coverage, with a safety high and a concentration on Jackson -- and the success rate has been hit and miss. In three losses in particular, to Kansas City, Dallas and New York, the defense has taken the deep ball away.

The tight ends, who we all figured would be major factors in the offense, have had sporadic production. James Casey caught one pass for 11 yards on Sunday, Zach Ertz had a catch for 5 yards and Brent Celek made two receptions for 17 yards. Totals for the tight ends: 4 catches, 32 yards.

WHAT CHANGES CAN KELLY MAKE TO HELP THE OFFENSE?

So the Eagles are 3-5 at the midway point in the season. There is a lot of football to be played in 2013, and the division remains there for the taking. Dallas snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Sunday in Detroit and have just a one-game lead in the NFC East.

That's one of the messages for everyone to remember. Another is that Kelly has to do something to get the offense going. Does he make some personnel changes? Is there a receiver who can add some spark (B.J. Cunningham, anyone?). Are there some tweaks that can be made to the play calling, which Kelly blamed himself for after the loss to New York?

In the course of eight games the Eagles have seen their offensive production drop significantly, and have worked hard defensively to build something promising. The goal is to get both units, along with special teams that produced Philadelphia's only touchwdon on Sunday on a fumble that came from a botched snap over the head of punter Steve Weatherford, on the same page and moving in a positive direction together.

Kelly has some hurdles to clear here. He knows it. The next step is the one he makes along with a coaching staff that must find some way to prevail in Oakland on Sunday to lead the Eagles out of a two-game rut offensively.



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