I know he missed a bunch of time with a knee injury, and is now dealing with playing time issues, but when he's been on the field, how has Kiko Alonso performed for the Eagles this season?
Gowton: Alonso hasn’t been what Eagles fans expected. Outside of his incredible one-handed interception in Week 1, he hasn’t done a whole lot. He’s too erratic. He gets lost in coverage at times and misses tackles. He doesn’t look like the playmaker he was as a rookie. Last week against the Patriots he merely fell down while covering a running back and allowed New England to get an easy conversion on fourth down. Alonso was easily being outplayed by rookie third round linebacker Jordan Hicks before Hicks went down with a season-ending injury.
It's been a tough season for the Eagles that might end in a third straight season without the playoffs, so: how much latitude will Chip Kelly have with fans in the event that Philly can't snag the NFC East this month? How much goodwill does two 10-win seasons out of three garner him?
Gowton: The Eagles’ 2015 season has been disappointing and it’s no secret that Chip Kelly to blame. He’s both the coach and the (de facto) general manager. Fans aren’t happy with him. Kelly will be able to earn some of that goodwill back by finishing this season out strong and finding a way to win this awful division. If he’s unable to do that, however, questions will continue to be raised about his future. Even prior to the Patriots win, reports indicated that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is still high on Kelly. So it seems like he’ll definitely be back next year, especially after the Birds beat New England. But the pressure will really be on for next season. The 2016 season marks the fourth year of Kelly’s five-year contract, so it could be a make-or-break situation.
On several levels, Philadelphia's offense has been a disappointment this season. Out of, I'm sure, several factors, what do you consider to be the biggest holding that unit back?
Gowton: Yeah, the offense has been pretty awful to watch. It’s really hard to just pin-point one thing, though. Sam Bradford has shown progress recently but he’s hardly inspiring defenses to be afraid of him. DeMarco Murray looks slow and has been ineffective at running back. The wide receivers aren’t really threatening at all and most of them drop passes when the ball comes their way. The offensive line has been banged up and hasn’t been a top notch unit. Chip Kelly’s play-calling and personnel utilization hasn’t always been great. So there are a lot of reasons why this offense has been bad, and a lot of the issues play into each other. It’s a chain reaction.
If I had to select one thing holding the offense back, it would be the lack of a viable run game. The team essentially benched Murray last week and that seemed to be a great move. Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner were much less worse than Murray. The Eagles might be getting Ryan Mathews back this week, which is big for them since he’s been their best rusher this season.
What do you make of Herm Edwards' little tirade about LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray? Do you believe that the focus on those two running backs is as distracting for the players and fans as Edwards believes?
Gowton: I think Herm makes some fair points, but I typically don’t put a lot of weight into the whole "distraction" thing. I do think it’s unfortunate for the Eagles that they’re coming off a big win over the Patriots and the story this week has been about Murray’s lack of playing time instead of how the Eagles might be able to build off their success. But I don’t think that’s going to have a big impact on the team’s performance.
Beyond just generally wanting to see your team win in a critical situation, how much of a must-win is this for Philly in the crazy NFC East? Is winning mandatory, or is there also a sense that Washington, New York, and Dallas will keep the Eagles around even if they lose another game or two?
Gowton: I don’t think this game is a must-win in order for the Eagles to win the NFC East. According to the New York Times’ playoff simulator, there’s actually a 71% chance the Eagles can win the division even if they lose to the Bills this week *and* the Cardinals in Week 15. The Birds might be able to clinch by merely taking care of business against Washington in Week 16 and the Giants in Week 17. With that said, I think at least one win of out these next two games puts the Eagles in a great spot. The Bills and the Cardinals are both tough opponents, but Buffalo is obviously the less threatening of the two based on record alone.
Beyond the NFC East standings, I just think Eagles fans want to see the team build off the team’s big win in New England. That could help restore their faith in this team.