We all know and love to hate the Philadelphia Eagles. They won the division last year, and were the preseason favorites to do it again this year. But the season has not gone as planned, and now they have slipped into 2nd place in the division after losing at home to the Dallas Cowboys last week. They have two road division games to finish out the season and try to take the division back from the Cowboys. Can the Redskins play spoilers for the Eagles this week, and do they even want to if it means guaranteeing Dallas goes to the playoffs? I once again asked Brandon Lee Gowton(BLG) from Bleeding Green Nation a few questions about the team and the season.
1) Nick Foles predictably did not repeat his performance from the 2013 season, and has now missed significant time due to injury. Who is the Day 1 starting QB for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015? Foles? Sanchez? Barkley? Mariota? RG3?
BLG: That's a million dollar question. The safe answer is Foles. He's still under contract for 2015. The Eagles "could" find a quarterback in free agency or the draft, but there's really no obvious option. Whether trading the farm for Marcus Mariota is a good/bad idea, it's just not realistic. Mark Sanchez might be re-signed as a backup but who knows. Matt Barkley will probably be competing for a backup spot if he isn't traded. RG3 would be an intriguing option. There's a good chance it wouldn't work out, but taking a flyer on him couldn't really hurt.
So Foles is probably the guy, but the Eagles would be smart not to put all their eggs in one basket. They need to do something to address the position, even if it's just taking a flyer on a reclamation project.
2) Is Marcus Smith II a bust, or is he just a really slow learner? He's seen (practice) time at ILB and OLB, where do you see him playing in the future?
BLG: I would say I'm not a fan of using the "bust" label for any rookie. I'm a big believer in the fact that players can make a significant jump between Year 1 and Year 2. I think the benefit of a full NFL offseason can really help.
It's also worth mentioning that the players in front of him have been playing well. Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, and Brandon Graham are all having good seasons. The Eagles really only used three outside linebackers all of last season (the fourth was Casey Matthews, in a very limited role). So it's not a total shock he hasn't been able to get on the field. Still, he's a first round pick, and you typically want to see those players have some kind of an impact. He hasn't.
I see him playing mostly at OLB in the future. I really see him in the mold of Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin: an athletic guy who can set the edge and drop into coverage while being an effort pass rusher than a dominating force. But he has a long way to go before proving he can do that. He could get started this week because Trent Cole will be out and he will get some snaps in a limited role.
3) The Eagle's defense seems to have improved, with Connor Barwin racking up 14.5 sacks, and Fletcher Cox getting attention from the adult film industry. What's changed from last year, and what is holding them back?
BLG: The fact that the team was transitioning from a 4-3 wide nine defense to a 3-4 two gap defense in just one offseason probably had a lot to do with the slow start last year. This year they've had the benefit of #continuity. None of the starters were required to change their positions.
The talent has also improved, especially in the front seven. Bennie Logan has been a real solid nose tackle. Fletcher Cox, as you mentioned, has really taken a big step forward. Mychal Kendricks is playing at a very high level. Philadelphia's secondary has struggled, but Malcolm Jenkins has been a huge upgrade over Patrick Chung on the back end.
The thing that's holding them back is better cornerback play. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are average starters at best, and often times worse.
4) The Eagles were tabbed by many, including myself, to win the division this year. How the hell are the Cowboys in first place? How much can be blamed on Mark Sanchez taking over at QB?
BLG: The Cowboys are in first because they have a model that works. They run the ball well and that opens up their passing game. Their clock-controlling run game also prevents their defense from being exposed. Tony Romo is having heck of a season despite dealing with injuries. He's easily the best quarterback in the NFC East right now and it's not even close.
Mark Sanchez was a big reason why the Eagles lost to the Cowboys, yeah. He missed a number of throws and made bad decisions. He's just not much more than a backup quarterback. And as Washington knows, it's hard to win without good quarterback play.
5) Is it too soon for the Chip Kelly statue in Philly, and in 5 years will Chip be the most popular boys and girls name for Pennsylvania babies?
BLG: People love Chip, but it's definitely too early for a statue. As for the baby question, I really wouldn't doubt it if he finds a way to win a Super Bowl.
6) Bonus: DeSean Jackson...and go.
BLG: "If you hang out with chickens, you're going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you're going to fly."
Thanks to Brandon for the motivational gang quote, and for answering the rest of my questions.