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How Eagles Addressed "Achilles Heels"

Jeffrey Lurie stood before the cameras and microphones and reporters following the Eagles' 2014 season-ending win over the New York Giants and talked about the "Achilles heels" that doomed a team that once stood atop the NFC East at 9-3.

"It was the three obvious things throughout the season," Lurie said in the locker room at MetLife Stadium after a win gave the Eagles a 10-6 record. "Turnovers, No. 1. You can't be a Super Bowl team if you're going to lead the league in turnovers. Two, red zone offense, from the beginning, especially harkening back to San Francisco (loss to 49ers) and Arizona (loss to Cardinals). We had a chance to have the best record in the NFL at that point. That would have given us a cushion to go 12-4.

"Thirdly, giving up the big play on defense. Great, great front seven and outstanding improvement on D overall, except giving up the big ball. You can't do it."

That is some retrospective on how the Eagles felt heading into the offseason, one that, as we've seen, included some major roster turnover. And all of those moves -- the trades of running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Nick Foles, the roster subtraction of some well-known veterans, the additions in free agency -- have dominated the conversation since March.

How have they addressed the voids that cost the Eagles in a 2014 campaign that included three straight losses after a 9-3 start and, ultimately, a whiff in the postseason dance?


This remains to be seen, of course. Sam Bradford is projected as the starting quarterback, and his on-field activity will ramp up in August. Bradford's history suggests that he's careful with the football. He had a streak of 174 consecutive passes as a rookie in 2010 without throwing an interception. He had a 14-touchdown, 4-interception stat line in 2013 before his first ACL injury. Bradford has thrown 59 touchdowns and 39 interceptions in his NFL career, but how much of that is valid? The Rams didn't have a lot of offensive weapons and the offensive line was not strong and the coaching picture wasn't exactly stable in his years as the starter there.

Head coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who had the same role in St. Louis in 2010 before he became the head coach in Cleveland the next season, have spoken highly of Bradford's decision-making and his accuracy, as well as his quick release.

It's going to come down to more than Bradford and Mark Sanchez, who will battle for the starting quarterback job. The Eagles have more depth at running back than they've had now that they've added DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews to team with Darren Sproles. The wide receiver corps appears to be more versatile and even deeper than last year's group, even if there is no apparent single "star." We know the offensive scheme works and helps would-be receivers -- tight ends and backs included -- create space.

It's going to come down to good decision-making, a commitment to wrapping up the football and an offensive line that has to come together with some changes at the guard positions, for the Eagles to significantly reduce their giveaways. Just think how scary the offense can be with a sizeable slice in turnovers.


Placekicker Cody Parkey was a revelation as a rookie in 2014, but less of him is more for the Eagles' offense in 2015. Parkey made all 10 of his field goal attempts from 20-29 yards last season. He had another 16 attempts (making 14) from 30-39 yards. While Parkey was reliable and while he remains a huge plus for this season, the Eagles would rather have him kicking PATs than field goals in those situations.

Lurie pointed out missed opportunities inside the 10-yard line in losses at San Francisco and Arizona. The Eagles just couldn't get the yards they needed inside the 20-yard line. Their touchdown percentage of 49.15 ranked 23rd in the NFL and dropped a handful of points -- from 52.23 percent -- in 2013.

Murray and Mathews should help inside the 20-yard line. Murray's 13 rushing touchdowns in 2014 tied for the most in the league, while Mathews is a hard-charging 225-pounder who will get to and through the hole. Both are in the "downhill" style of running that is necessary in tight quarters.

The Eagles also have gotten quite a bit bigger at wide receiver in the last couple of seasons. Jordan Matthews is 6-3 and long armed. Josh Huff is a powerful and explosive 5-11. Riley Cooper is a big body at 6 feet 4. Miles Austin can go up and snatch the football. Rookie Nelson Agholor is the same size -- 6-0, 198 pounds -- as the departed Jeremy Maclin.

The Eagles can use the strong tight end duo of Brent Celek and Zach Ertz here more, too. Ertz had three touchdown catches and Celek one in 2014. We may see that number increase.

It comes to, as well, the play of the revamped offensive line and the play at quarterback. If the Eagles can get better play up front than they did last year and if Bradford and Sanchez are accurate and make good decisions, the offense should be much improved in the red zone.


Who are these guys? We're going to find out very quickly in Training Camp. The Eagles changed out the coaching staff in the secondary to open the offseason and then added players and more players. Cory Undlin and Matthew Harper have been pleased with the what they've seen in the spring, and when the pads go on they will have a much deeper understanding of the players here.

Cornerback Byron Maxwell is the headline addition. He signed in free agency and the Eagles will look to him to curb those big plays allowed last year -- 72 passing plays of 20-plus yards, as you know. Maxwell is one of six players the Eagles added to the roster in free agency and the NFL Draft. Another free agent signee, Walter Thurmond, has a chance to start at safety. A draft pick, Eric Rowe, taken in the second round, will compete for playing time at cornerback. JaCorey Shepherd opened some eyes in the spring at cornerback.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins is the lone returning starter and he's a good one. Nolan Carroll took the reps as a starter at one cornerback spot across from Maxwell. But the depth chart is not established and we know how it changes when the pads go on.

The Eagles feel good about the secondary. They feel encouraged. It's a whole new day in the secondary, and hopefully one that much improved over a serious "Achilles heel" that hampered the Eagles in 2014.

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