By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles have plenty of room for improvement as they come off a bye week. The start of the season has not gone according to plan, but there is still time to rebound and take advantage of a weak NFC East. The first half of the season has not been all that bad, with some positives to balance out the negatives. To be fair, there are some pretty large issues the Eagles need to address, and the positives to take from the first half of the season are not enough to make up for them, as the Eagles record would suggest.
Rising: Ryan Mathews, Running Back
When the Philadelphia Eagles signed two new free agent running backs this season, few thought Ryan Mathews would end up being the more productive of the two new backs. Mathews has carried the football 32 fewer times than top running back DeMarco Murray, but he has been far more productive or efficient with his carries with a team-high 342 yards at the bye week. Mathews is tied with Murray for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with three, and his longest run is more than twice as long as Murray’s longest run of the season.
Mathews generated a spark for the offense in Week 3 against the New York Jets by rushing for 108 yards on 24 carries. Murray was out of action due to an injury, but Mathews was more than equipped to pick up the running game, and he thrived so well many fans began to think Mathews might be the better fix for the Eagles offense.
Rising: Jordan Hicks, Linebacker
With the Eagles linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso battling injuries for much of the first half of the season, Jordan Hicks has stepped up in a big way to be one of the more dependable players on the team. At the bye week, Hicks is tied for a team-high in total tackles with 43, tied with Malcolm Jenkins. The rookie out of Texas, a third-round draft pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, had a 10-tackle performance in a win against the Jets, but his production has been reduced since that Week 3 contest. Hicks had an interception in that game to go with his early career-high 10 tackles. He may not be ready for a full-time starting gig just yet, but he has shown enough potential for what he may be capable of doing for the Eagles defense in the future.
Rising: Mychal Kendricks, Linebacker
Kendricks may have battled through some injuries in the first part of the season, but when he is on the field there is no doubt he is one of the top players out there. In four games played, Kendricks has recorded 25 total tackles. In the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Kendricks recorded 10 tackles. Last week in his return to the field after missing a couple of games, Kendricks got right back in the mix with eight tackles and a sack.
Falling: Sam Bradford, Quarterback
Among the big offseason roster changes was the trade of quarterbacks with the St. Louis Rams. Gone was Nick Foles and in came Sam Bradford, a former number one overall draft pick. The injury-plagued passer from the Rams was supposed to be a Plan B to a Plan A involving the drafting of Marcus Mariota. Safe to say, it has been a bit of a letdown. Bradford has been picked off 10 times with just nine touchdowns thrown, and his red zone miscues have ruined the offense’s outlook on more than one occasion. even in wins, Bradford leaves something to be desired. In a recent win against the New York Giants, Bradford had just one touchdown pass and was intercepted three times, which led to the thrill of victory and the agony of hearing about it the next day.
Falling: Jordan Matthews, Wide Receiver
Sure, the second-year player is leading the team in receiving, but he has had more than his fair share of dropped passes as well. With the Eagles letting Jeremy Maclin sign elsewhere (Kansas City), Matthews was thrust into the go-to receiver role in just his second season in the NFL out of Vanderbilt. Matthews has put together 398 receiving yards with one touchdown. In the last two games – losses to the Giants and Panthers – Matthews has been targeted 18 times and caught just nine of passes in his direction. He has taken the blame for his results the past couple of games and could be expected to turn things around after the bye week.
Falling: Byron Maxwell, Defensive Back
Another off-season addition that has failed to deliver is defensive back Byron Maxwell. the former Seattle Seahawks defensive back came to Philadelphia with the expectations of creating Philadelphia’s own Legion of Boom, but instead Maxwell has time and time again shown an inability to make a solid tackle. Do not be fooled by his 36 tackles, good for fourth on the team at the bye week, because Maxwell is being picked on by opposing offenses and that leads to tackles after he fail to shut down his receiver. His one half-hearted flailing attempt at a tackle against Carolina sums up his season so far in a nutshell.
In the bye week, the Eagles have plenty to work on. The offense needs to get in sync with each other. Adding in as many new ingredients on an offense as the Eagles did can take time to gel, and the Eagles did not utilize the preseason as they probably should have with Bradford. Still, the offense is too often a slow starter, so getting in rhythm during the bye week will be key. Receivers finding ways to hold on to the football when it comes their way would be critical as well. The defense has been OK, but cracking down on the basic fundamentals of tackling would be a good area to focus.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.