The Super Bowl shine is beginning to come off the Philadelphia Eagles, who have had a concerning start to their title defence.
At 2-3, Philadelphia don’t look like a team that is a serious threat to repeat as champions, with issues on both sides of the ball plaguing them through the first five weeks of the season.
Fortunately for the Eagles, they’re in the only division in football that doesn’t have a team with a winning record, as Washington, Dallas and the New York Giants are all flawed sides in their own right.
But if reigning Super Bowl winners hope to legitimately contend and not just eke out a playoff appearance, Thursday’s NFC East clash with the Giants would be a good place to start turning things around.
Offensively, the return of Carson Wentz hasn’t magically returned Philadelphia’s attack back to the heights of last year.
It was fair to assume a regression for Wentz after he put up otherworldly numbers in an MVP-worthy campaign, which included a 7.5 per cent touchdown rate, and so far in his third season, the Eagles quarterback has had his ups and downs.
The inconsistencies have reared their head in the red zone, where Philadelphia are converting touchdowns at a rate of 38.5 per cent over the past three weeks. In 2017, that mark was 64 per cent, ranking second-best in the league.
Now, the offence will also have to deal with a major injury as running back Jay Ajayi has been lost to a torn ACL.
Super Bowl hero Corey Clement and fellow back-up Wendell Smallwood should see their roles increase, but the Eagles could also make a play for Pittsburgh Steelers hold-out Le’Veon Bell or Buffalo Bills back LeSean McCoy in a trade.
Philadelphia’s offence, however, has been just half the problem.
On the other side of the ball, the secondary has mightily struggled to contain the pass.
Upon further review: Carson Wentz is not holding the ball any longer than he was last year. The pass rush is not the issue on defense.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) October 9, 2018
The Eagles are giving up too many sacks and can't cover. It really might just be that simple. https://t.co/1Vy0hKPFLo pic.twitter.com/XfWQ2kMuDb
The Eagles have one of the best front fours in the league, but when that group fails to generate a pass rush – they rank middle of the pack with 12 sacks – the defensive backs haven’t held up in coverage.
As such, 80.6 per cent of the yards Philadelphia’s defence is allowing this season is coming through the air – the highest figure in football.
With Rodney McLeod now done for the season due to an MCL tear, the Eagles have little choice but to hope cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills improve as the year goes on.
RIPE FOR THE PICKING
The Giants aren’t exactly a team that strikes fear into the hearts of opponents, but Philadelphia, considering their current predicament, won’t be glad to see them this week.
Between Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley, Eli Manning has three dangerous weapons at his disposal in the passing game.
Tight end Evan Engram will be sidelined with a knee injury, but Beckham in particular will be licking his lips in a match-up against Mills, who is graded 99th among cornerbacks this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Both Beckham and Manning are also coming off their best games of the year, with the former hauling in eight of his 18 targets for 131 yards and a touchdown, while the latter threw for 326 yards and two scores.
Even though New York fell to Carolina this past weekend, they finally ended their streak of 37 games without scoring at least 30 points, which shows the offence is at least heading in the right direction.
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Here are five players to target on the waiver wire this week, who could be useful in your lineup going forward.
It doesn’t really need to be said after his performance on Sunday, but Anderson will be the most sought-after pickup this week.
The New York Jets wideout is a classic boom-or-bust player who is dependent on the long ball, but when it connects, it can yield a plethora of points – as it did against Denver who he burned for 123 yards and two touchdowns on just three catches.
This is obvious, but if Matt Breida misses time due to his ankle injury, Morris in line for a greater workload, like the one he received this weekend when he had 18 carries and five targets.
The 49ers offence isn’t setting the world on fire right now, but opportunity is king in fantasy.
And for those in PPR leagues, fullback – that’s right, fullback – Kyle Juszczyk is a sneaky play for his work as a receiver.
Speaking of running backs who have value in PPR leagues, Richard should garner attention for what he’s doing as Derek Carr’s safetly valve.
He’ll give you almost nothing in the ground game – he has five rushing yards on four attempts the past four games – but his 24 receptions on 29 targets for 205 yards makes him a potential flex play, especially with bye weeks starting to hit.
It’s unclear if Brandin Cooks or Cooper Kupp will be available for the Los Angeles Rams this week after suffering concussions on Sunday, which could thrust Reynolds into immediate fantasy relevancy.
The Rams offence isn’t going to suddenly shy away from what has worked so far, and Reynolds stands to benefit if he sees starter-level snaps. Make sure you monitor Cooks and Kupp’s status though.
Remain patient with Josh Reynolds, dynasty players pic.twitter.com/DS0ypCQuRr— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 8, 2018
The Indianapolis Colts wide receiver has come to the fore the past two weeks, hauling in eight passes on 11 targets in two straight contests.
The first of those performances was with T.Y. Hilton on the field, so it’s not as if Rogers’ value is completely dependent on whether or not Andrew Luck’s favourite target is healthy.
That said, it would help if Hilton doesn’t play this week, which is a possibility.
Through the first five weeks of the season, there has been a clear divide between the top two teams in the league and everyone else.
It’s no coincidence that these two teams are the only unbeaten sides remaining, as the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams have looked like the unmistakable favourites in their respective conferences.
Talk of whether or not they can go undefeated is still premature. If they’re perfect ahead of their showdown in Week 11, then that’s worth a real conversation. But that’s no sure thing with the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals next on the schedule for the Chiefs, while the Rams have to travel to face the New Orleans Saints in Week 9.
Regardless, it seems like Kansas City and Los Angeles are on a collision course for the Super Bowl. Here’s a look at how they stack up right now and how they’ve taken the league by storm through the first third of the season.
Both are at the top of the list of MVP candidates as Goff is averaging 345 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions for the league’s best passer rating at 119.7, while Mahomes is throwing for 303 yards per game to go with 14 scores and two interceptions for a passer rating of 112.7, ranking fifth.
Jared Goff is on pace to set a new single-season record for passing yards and is averaging 10.4 yards per attempt with a 119.7 passer rating— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) October 8, 2018
The reason Mahomes and Goff have been so efficient is because of their downfield passing, which has picked up chunks at a time and led to quick-strike scores. Goff and Mahomes rank one and two in the league in most 20-plus yard completions, with 28 and 25, respectively.
Part of that has been coaching – more on that coming – but their arm talent and ability to put the ball where it needs to be is undeniable.
The run game has been a secondary form of attack for both offences, but it’s been more than just a change-of-pace option.
Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt rank second and fourth in the league in rushing, at 415 and 376 yards respectively, and their impact has extended beyond the instances when they’ve touched the ball. By forcing defences to respect their ability as ball-carriers, they’ve allowed the passing game to flourish off play-action.
Heading into the Seattle game, the Rams used play-action on 40% (!!) of Jared Goff's dropbacks.— Anthony Amico (@amicsta) October 8, 2018
He was averaging 13.3 (!!) YPA on play-action.
Jimmy G btw ranks second in PA%.
I love good coaches.
And because both offences like to use jet sweeps and end-arounds to leverage the speed of their receivers, the threat of Gurley and Hunt between the tackles has opened up running lanes on the outside.
The Rams and Chiefs will never be power offences built on the run, but they have just enough balance to keep defences guessing.
SCHEME EM UP
As touched on earlier, coaching has been instrumental in unlocking both these teams’ potential, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Andy Reid has always been considered a quarterbacks guru, but in Mahomes he has arguably his most talented weapon yet – and he’s unleashing the gunslinger while at the same time putting him in the best position to succeed. The college-like spread concepts the Chiefs are employing has managed to somehow give Mahomes simpler reads and plenty of options at once, in part due to the dangerous pass-catchers he has at his disposal. Because Mahomes can hit every blade of grass on the field, Reid’s play-calling has taken advantage of space beautifully.
Corner routes to your FB. Andy Reid is crazy. Also, LASER. pic.twitter.com/8KetWufVYP— Clay Wendler (@ClayWendler) October 7, 2018
The Rams, meanwhile, similarly put a concerning amount of pressure on defences by building off simple concepts. It’s not that Sean McVay is calling intricate plays that are designed to beat any defence – it’s that the plays are fungible enough to beat specific types of coverages. It also helps when your trio of wide receivers – Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp – can be used in indistinguishable ways to keep defences from keying in.
Reid and McVay are putting on coaching clinics week after week, and while the talent they’re working with allows them to do so, they’re getting the most out of it.
As dominant as Kansas City and Los Angeles have been, it’s not as if they’re without flaws – nearly all of which reside on defence.
The Chiefs are far more one-dimensional as their defence has been one of the worst in the NFL, allowing a league-worst 461.8 yards per game and an average of 25.8 points. They had an encouraging performance against Jacksonville this past weekend, forcing five turnovers to take the pressure off the other side of the ball, but they still have issues to work out. The play in the secondary has been particularly bad, but if they can get Eric Berry back at some point this season – the star safety is dealing with a heel injury – that could go a long way in getting the defence up to average. With that offence, average is all they need.
Los Angeles’ defence hasn’t been bad, per se, but it’s underperformed considering the talent the unit possesses, which created high expectations. They rank ninth in yards allowed (341.4) and seventh in points (19.6), but they’re surrendering the fourth-most yards per rush (5.0) and are tied for the fifth-fewest sacks (10). That last stat is troubling because a defensive line featuring Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh should be eating quarterbacks alive, but that hasn’t been the case. And the loss of Aqib Talib in the secondary has hurt a group that has been burned too many times. Still, the pieces are too good for the unit to significantly hamper the team, but they are vulnerable right now.