Standing pat was not an option for Eagles
Chip Kelly needed to make offensive changes to keep up with NFC East foes' defensive upgrades.
YOU KNOW who had a surprisingly good offseason? The Redskins, which looks strange when you write it on paper, but they did. And they did it in a way that could be interpreted as a direct counter-movement to some of the changes that Chip Kelly has wrought upon this Eagles roster over the last few seasons. And that's interesting, because as the Redskins' 27-24 win over the Eagles in Week 16 reminded us, there is a very thin line between 4-12 and 10-6 in today's NFL.
This column is more about that thin line than it is about the Redskins as a 53-man unit. We're still talking about a team that went 4-12 last year and is coached by Jay Gruden. This is more about the existential threat the Redskins represent, the one Kelly is constantly running from, the belief that if you aren't constantly plodding forward, then you are effectually moving backward, because the other guys aren't going to stop until they track you down.
Take Pot Roast, for example. You may know him as Terrance Knighton. On second thought, you probably know him as Pot Roast. The former Temple Owl is the Redskins' nose tackle now, and he's a darn good one, one of the best in the league. He will be joined up front by Stephen Paea, who doesn't have the same name recognition but who is a 27-year-old run stopper who did yeoman's work at defensive tackle in Chicago and will slide outside to defensive end in Washington.
Paea will be joined by Ricky Jean Francois, a 295-pound veteran who will provide some depth behind pass-rusher extraordinaire Jason Hatcher. The Redskins also used the No. 38 overall pick in this year's draft to grab Preston Smith, a defensive end at Mississippi State who will challenge for time at outside linebacker, and they added a new strong safety in Jeron Johnson, who formerly backed up Kam Chancellor in Seattle.
Along with former 49ers starter Chris Culliver at cornerback and former Bucs safety Dashon Goldson, the Redskins' defense should have seven or eight new starters, all of them upgrades, most of them significantly so.
No one is suggesting that you run out and register BurgundyPeopleEaters.com (although you might have a better shot at that trademark than the Redskins do at their own). Keep in mind, Washington was one of only seven teams to allow more than 125 rushing yards in seven-plus games last season. The Eagles, for comparison's sake, allowed three such games. Among the stinkers: 225 (Seahawks), 174 (Cowboys), 171 (Cowboys), 154 (Giants), 134 (Eagles), 131 (Rams), 126 (Colts).
But they got better. So did the Giants, who added an edge-setting run stopper in George Selvie and a rookie strong safety in second-rounder Landon Collins. Factor in the continued improvement of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a 2013 second-rounder who blossomed last season, and the Giants are in a better position to slow down the Eagles than they were a year ago. The Cowboys added Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory (although Hardy faces a 4-game suspension and Gregory is a rookie second-rounder).
The point, then, is this: The Redskins made significant improvements to their defense. The Giants and Cowboys didn't get any worse (at least until the Fourth of July), and they likely got at least marginally better (with the potential for significant improvements out of some young players). If all three teams in the division aren't any worse defensively than they were last year, which is true, and at least one is significantly better, which is true, and if the Eagles went 10-6 and failed to win the division last year, which is true, then it would make sense to conclude that the Eagles' best course of action wasn't sitting back and hoping that the gang would pull through if given another go-around.
You can argue that they certainly weren't making themselves better when they allowed Jeremy Maclin to walk, or when they cut Evan Mathis, or when they traded a healthy quarterback for Sam Bradford. You can argue that DeMarco Murray isn't an upgrade over LeSean McCoy. But you'll have a very difficult time arguing that nothing needed to change, and even if every single one of these moves blows up in Kelly's face, there is a certain logic behind them. Murray and Ryan Mathews have the potential to improve the team's performance in third-and-short and goal-to-go situations. The money that would have been spent on Maclin has the potential to improve the secondary with the additions of Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond. Sam Bradford has the potential to be something Nick Foles never could.
Kelly looked at last year's roster and saw a ceiling that wasn't high enough. And he saw everybody else scrambling up the stairs behind him.