The Eagles did retain the rest of the starting offensive line, but that hasn’t stopped that unit from struggling mightily through two weeks. According to Pro Football Focus, Eagles halfbacks averaged an NFL-high 2.43 yards per carry before contact in 2013. Last year, Philadelphia halfbacks averaged 2.29 yards before contact, good enough for a third-place ranking. Eagles running backs were the beneficiaries of lots of space before getting hit over the past two seasons, which helped the team rank second in rushing yards, second in yards per rush and first in touchdowns during that time.
This year? Philadelphia ranks last in the NFL in both rushing yards and yards per carry. The main culprit: Eagles halfbacks are averaging just 0.97 rushing yards per carry before contact, the third worst rate in the NFL (ahead of only Miami and St. Louis). According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Philadelphia has been stopped for a loss or no gain on 13 of 33 carries. That translates to a league-high 39 percent of all runs; and while the Denver Broncos are also at 39 percent, no other running game has gained zero or fewer yards on even 30 percent of their carries.
The passing offense hasn’t been much better. Bradford is averaging an NFL-low 3.25 yards through the air on completed passes; other than wide receiver Jordan Matthews, most of Bradford’s passes are going to his running backs or tight ends, and for only a few yards. To succeed with that style of passing game, Philadelphia would need Bradford to be hyper-accurate and the Eagles targets to rack up yards after the catch; right now, neither is happening.
But it’s too early to bury Chip Kelly or the Eagles: not when they’ve been through worse. In 2013, Philadelphia won its opening game before losing three straight, the last of which being a 52-20 blowout at the hands of the Broncos. That prompted some to wonder whether Kelly would leave the NFL altogether after just one season. The Eagles responded by winning nine of the team’s final 12 games after that sluggish start. As for 2015? Despite going on the road to face the 2-0 Jets, Vegas oddsmakers opened betting set the line at just 2.5 points in favor of New York.
Those Jets are coming off an impressive performance, particularly on defense, on Monday Night Football in Indianapolis. Which brings us to the other question of the day: what is going on with the Colts?
Quarterback Andrew Luck has a passer rating of 58.9, ranking him dead last among 34 qualifying passers. A year after leading the NFL in touchdown passes, Luck currently leads the league in interceptions, while his average gain per dropback has fallen from 7.15 to 5.57.
Much of this is likely due to the schedule: Luck has played the Bills and the Jets, two teams that seem likely to finish as two of the best pass defenses in the NFL. There’s also some history of Luck struggling against these defenses: two of the worst games in his career came against the Jets in 2012 and the Cardinals in 2013, facing defenses coached by Rex Ryan (now Buffalo’s head coach) and Todd Bowles (the Jets new head coach), respectively.
But even if Luck and the Colts offense gets back to normal against lesser opponents, the offensive line in Indianapolis is a real issue. During the Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis, Jeff Saturday was a mainstay at center, forming a legendary quarterback-center battery for over a decade. But Luck has played his career with a rotating cast of characters at that position (A.Q. Shipley, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn, Khaled Holmes, and Jonotthan Harrison), with the type of results you’d expect — a lot of defensive pressure.
And it’s not as though center has been the only weak spot along the offensive line. From 2012 to 2014, quarterback Andrew Luck took 368 hits, by far the most in the NFL according to Football Outsiders. This year, it’s been more of the same: he’s been under pressure 38 times according to Pro Football Focus, the most in football through two games.
Indianapolis has tried to address the offensive line, both through the draft and free agency, but only with half-hearted efforts. Indianapolis has allotted $16.8M in 2015 salary cap dollars to the offensive line, a figure rank ranks just 27th in the league according to Over The Cap. And over half of that amount is on Anthony Castonzo (a first round pick in 2011, the year before Luck arrived) and dead money on Gosder Cherilus, the one big-name splash at the position who was released in July, two years into his five-year contract. And by trading high draft picks for Trent Richardson and Vontae Davis, Indianapolis has lost some of the draft capital it could have used to rebuild the line. Meanwhile, spending on free agent signings Frank Gore and Andre Johnson have yielded little.
But like Philadelphia, it’s far too early to bury the Colts, a team that started 0-2 just a year ago in a season that ended with an AFC Championship Game appearance. Luck has had ups and downs before: he’s a star quarterback but a streaky one, who threw seven interceptions in back-to-back games in the 2013 NFL playoffs. But as currently constructed, it’s fair to wonder how far Indianapolis can go with an offensive line that is overmatched against top defenses.