Berman breaks down just how much the Eagles have missed running back LeSean McCoy through their 5-7 start, Chip Kelly's look back at the trade, Kelly's system on offense and where Philadelphia is weak on defense.
Q: How much do the Eagles miss LeSean McCoy right now?
Berman: They miss his talent -- it's hard to say how much, but McCoy is a special player. He's the franchise's all-time leading rusher and flourished in Kelly's system. I laugh when I hear he didn't fit the offense — he ran for 2,926 yards in two seasons. Those yards didn't come by accident. Plus, he was so durable here. McCoy didn't miss a game during the past two seasons with the Eagles.
And then the other part of that question is that DeMarco Murray hasn't worked as well to date. His 3.5 yards per carry are the fewest of any player with at least 150 carries. He was supposed to be a better fit for the offense, but the numbers simply aren't there through 12 games. Ryan Mathews has been effective, so perhaps the conversation would be different if Mathews was the lead back.
There are other factors at play. The offensive line has been inconsistent this season. The Eagles don't have a receiver on the outside that threatens the defense the way DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin did in the past two seasons. Those must be taken into consideration.
When judging the trade, one must consider how Kiko Alonso progresses and the salary cap space that the Eagles opened with the move. But when focusing specifically on McCoy, the bottom line is he was perhaps the best running back in franchise history, produced in the scheme and remained in his prime. And when comparing Murray's production in Philadelphia to McCoy's production, it's not even close.
Q: Do you think Chip Kelly sincerely regrets how the trade went down?
Berman: In terms of the process, I do. I think Chip was genuine with the sentiment about wanting to speak with McCoy before the news leaked. He's been consistent throughout his time in Philadelphia about the protocol for a transaction and talking to the player. Kelly gave a speech at a local event the night the news came out, and you could tell something was amiss that night. So I believe his comments were sincere.
Whether he regrets the actual trade, it's hard to say. He said this week it was the right move to make.
Q: Is Kelly's system the problem on offense or the personnel?
Berman: I think the personnel has been the bigger problem of the two. I hear arguments about the offense's predictability and how defenses have adapted to the Eagles, but I think the biggest difference this season compared to the first two years has been talent/production in certain areas.
The Eagles had a wide receiver (DeSean Jackson in 2013, Jeremy Maclin 2014) on the right side during the past two seasons who reached the Pro Bowl and produced career numbers. That spot averaged 83.5 catches for 1,325 yards and 9.5 touchdowns during the two season. They drafted Nelson Agholor in the first round, but Agholor has only 16 catches for 163 yards this season. He splits time at that right wide receiver spot with Josh Huff, who has 20 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. So that's been a problem area compared to the past two seasons.They don't threaten teams on the outside like they did with Jackson and Maclin, and most of the passing yards go to the inside targets (slot WR Jordan Matthews, TE Zach Ertz), or to the running backs out of the backfield.
And then the offensive line has been too inconsistent. Both guards are full-time starters for the first time in their three years with the team, and they don't have much depth at the position because they haven't drafted an offensive lineman during the past two seasons.
At quarterback, Bradford struggled early in the season, but he's been playing much better during his recent games. They're 5-2 in the last seven games he's finished. So I don't think quarterback is a big problem at this point, but I'm not sure it's the solution, either. I'd focus on outside wide receiver and offensive line.
Q: Where is Philadelphia susceptible on defense?
Berman: Inside linebacker, which is a surprise considering the attention the Eagles paid to that position. They returned DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, but both players have had injuries and have not played as well as past seasons. They acquired Alonso from the Bills, but he dealt with knee injuries during training game and the season, and he has not played like the player who starred for Buffalo in 2013. The best inside linebacker for the Eagles this season was third-round pick Jordan Hicks, although he's now out for the year with a torn pectoral. The Eagles have talent and depth at the position if the players play to their reputations, but they need more from Alonso/Kendricks/Ryans.
Q: What's your prediction for Sunday's game, and why?
Berman: This one is difficult to predict. The Eagles looked awful in the two weeks before beating New England in Sunday. It's hard to say whether they turned the corner, or if it's a one-week anomaly. The NFC East is wide open -- the Eagles are somehow tied for first place at 5-7 — so this game is significant for both times. If you look at point spread, it doesn't seem like Vegas has a good sense of this game, either.
I expect it to be close. I think McCoy has a big game. The question is how the Eagles do against Sammy Watkins, who's been scorching of late, if the play-action is effective because of the attention on McCoy. Bradford has gone three games without a turnover, and the Eagles badly need that to continue. The offense is not explosive enough at this point to overcome turnovers. I picked Bills 24, Eagles 23, but it's not a pick made with much conviction.