IT'S HARD TO DO a meaningful midseason report card on a team that just lost its starting quarterback and its defensive leader.
The main purpose of these evaluations isn't so much to recap what happened, but to assess where the team is going, to take its temperature at the midpoint. We were getting ready to do that, going into Game 8, and then the Eagles bit through the thermometer.
Nevertheless, here are some ideas on where the NFC East leaders stand halfway through 2014:
Stuff that is way better than we'd dared to hope when the season began:
* Special teams. Wow.
* Jeremy Maclin. He's a Pro Bowl receiver if the quarterback can get him the ball enough.
* Fletcher Cox. Yes, he was worthy of the 12th overall pick in the draft.
* The rest of the defensive line: One of the deepest, toughest groups in the league.
* Malcolm Jenkins. Leadership, poise and interceptions.
* Darren Sproles. Can't imagine what the hell the Saints were thinking.
* The pass rush. Big worry early on, not at all lately. Sack numbers (seven so far) ought to get Connor Barwin into the Pro Bowl, as long as he doesn't have to run with Arian Foster on any more wheel routes.
* Cody Parkey. It was an astute trade with the Colts, but also a gigantic stroke of luck, finding what looks like a Pro Bowl-level, long-term kicker in the bargain bin at the end of the preseason. That's not always the best time to shop.
Stuff we find reassuring:
* Bill Davis' adjustments. If the Eagles ever give this guy top-end secondary talent, he'll be unbeatable. But he'll probably be a head coach somewhere else before that happens.
* Jason Kelce's recovery, and the fact that up until DeMeco Ryans went down Sunday in Houston, none of the injuries to key Eagles was season-ending.
* The running game's reemergence, once Lane Johnson returned from suspension. This should only continue, with Kelce and now Evan Mathis back, even with Todd Herremans going on IR.
* Jordan Matthews: Wondered for a little while there if speed was a problem. It isn't. On pace to be most productive Eagles rookie receiver since Keith Jackson in 1988, and franchise's most productive rookie wideout ever. Has work ethic, maturity, will only get better. Excellent connection with Mark Sanchez during training camp; Matthews should benefit from having Sanchez as the starter.
* Mychal Kendricks: Monster day Sunday in Houston, in his first full game since returning from that calf strain. Kendricks was again the guy who looked like the Eagles' best defensive player before going down in Week 2 at Indianapolis. Kendricks will need to be healthy and dominant to get the Eagles into the playoffs without DeMeco Ryans. Can be a little too California new-agey at times. Needs to channel Ryans' direct, visceral leadership style. Smart guy.
Stuff that isn't the end of the world but definitely could be better:
* Zach Ertz's blocking: Ertz wants to be a Pro Bowl, record-setting tight end, and he has that ability. But in this run-based offense, Ertz is going to have to become a reliable blocker to get on the field enough for that to happen. He thinks he has made huge strides in this area, said recently it was mainly a media perception that he doesn't block well. He got 24 snaps Sunday out of a possible 83, and Chip Kelly didn't poll the press box on which tight ends to use. It'll be interesting to see the Sanchez effect here, and with other receivers. In every QB change, there are guys whose totals go up and guys whose totals go down.
* The overall injury picture: Depending on how they cover for the loss of DeMeco Ryans, the Eagles haven't hit critical injury mass yet. Nearly every team loses important players along the way. But last year's triumph of sports science was a bit of a fluke, it seems, and with Ryans down, the Eagles are without one of their five most important players for the rest of the year. You don't want to lose more than one guy from that group.
* Riley Cooper: Thought he was getting back on track in the Giants and Cardinals games, especially with the 50-yard catch at Arizona, but at Houston we were back to two catches on six targets for 26 yards. No drops, but some receiver-QB mixups, and Cooper's usually dependable blocking was up and down. The Eagles might have given a starting-quality contract to a guy who's just a good fourth receiver. As with other receivers, it'll be interesting to see how he fares in the QB switch.
* LeSean McCoy: It was the shaky offensive line that caused those ridiculously bad numbers for a few weeks there, but I also think Shady let the situation get to him and tried to do too much. I've been impressed by his team-first focus in a situation where he clearly is not going to post the kind of numbers that allow him to claim "best in the NFL" turf; such things do matter to McCoy, who can probably tell you exactly how many dollars he lost getting drafted in the second round in 2009 instead of the middle of the first, where he thought he belonged. Want to see where his head is at season's end.
Stuff that is a major concern:
* The loss of DeMeco Ryans: Yes, Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho improved markedly during their stint replacing Mychal Kendricks - this coaching staff is good - but Matthews and Acho had Ryans next to them, and they weren't out there for eight games. Plus, the whole defense has rallied around Ryans' personality. Somebody needs to fill that void, quickly.
* Quarterbacking/turnovers: Nick Foles might have been the biggest reason the Eagles went 6-2 in the first half instead of 8-0. He wasn't as bad as some of those fleeing the bandwagon want to make him sound, but he sure wasn't championship level. Mark Sanchez has a good chance of playing at least as well as Foles played in the first half - but that probably won't take the Eagles very far in the playoffs. He needs to be better than the first-half Foles, and in Sunday's victory in Houston, Sanchez was pretty 2014 Folesian. Maybe that was just rust, and maybe Rex Ryan's Jets weren't the place to develop a young franchise QB, but 70 touchdowns and 71 picks is a troubling stat - more troubling than Foles' 13 TDs and 10 interceptions this season, because it represents a much more extensive sample size. The overall turnover thing just is unsustainable, as many people have noted. Another minus-10 over these last eight games will not produce a playoff berth.
* The secondary:
Nate Allen isn't as bad as some fans let on, but he isn't a Pro Bowl candidate, either. Allen's tendency to get tricked could bite the Eagles at exactly the wrong time. But the bigger problem is at corner. Sunday at Houston showed the Eagles' corners at their best; against a journeyman QB, with the pass rush working and with plenty of contact allowed downfield, they can be very effective. Chances of all those conditions being present in the playoffs? Very slim.
Overall conclusion stuff:
* This is a better team than I thought it was going into the season. If Chip Kelly gets the quarterbacking situation straightened out long-term, I think he will win a Super Bowl here, but probably not this season. Advancing to the playoffs and winning a round would be a very acceptable outcome, given the holes that remain to be filled in the 2015 offseason. Especially if the team comes out of 2014 sure it has the right quarterback on hand, whether that turns out to be Sanchez or Foles.