Gardner is bigger loss than you think
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - NFL teams are often like political campaigns in that they can push a narrative in the hopes of drawing your eye away from what's really going on.
The Philadelphia Eagles' identity is supposed to be offense under head coach Chip Kelly but that group hasn't been nearly good enough in any of the team's first three games. And that's an issue because Kelly the general manager believed Kelly the coach wasn't given the proper pieces despite the fact that the Eagles cobbled together top-five offenses in back-to-back seasons.
That mindset signaled change. Sam Bradford for Nick Foles, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews in place of LeSean McCoy, and rookie first-round pick Nelson Agholor instead of proven veteran Jeremy Maclin.
To be fair, the simple size remains small but all of those high-profile moves haven't worked out just yet and the organization would like to obfuscate that fact, at least until the new "stars" get used to their surroundings.
With that in mind the offensive line has been thrown under the bus at least a bit, particularly new starting guards Andrew Gardner and Allen Barbre.
It's an easy spin because Gardner and Barbre are both journeyman with no real pedigrees and aren't supposed to be the key building blocks of this offense.
Conversely, Bradford is a former No. 1 overall pick who has been sold as having the accuracy of Aaron Rodgers, coupled with the quick release of Dan Marino and the decision-making skills of Peyton Manning. Murray, meanwhile, is the NFL's reigning rushing king and the one-cut runner Chip has always wanted, while Agholor was supposed to be a younger-Maclin without the injury history.
The film tells a far different story, however.
Of the Eagles' core contributors on offense, only four have been playing at a plus level and three are on the offensive line -- tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters, as well as Gardner. On the other hand, Barbre has been as poor as advertised but just a tick worse than supposed, top-tier center Jason Kelce.
According to the player-rating website Pro Football Focus, Bradford has been the worst offensive player the Eagles have and Agholor has been an abject failure as a rookie starter. To no surprise Murray also has a negative grade to this point as does Bradford's other supposed big-time targets, Zach Ertz, Jordan Matthews and Brent Celek.
It's not that Kelly doesn't care that Gardner has been unfairly criticized, it's just that he doesn't want people digging too deeply and figuring out his sacred cows, almost to a man, are laying an egg.
Sunday was more of the same. In his 41 snaps before leaving with the foot injury that ended the season, Gardner was one of three Eagles offensive players playing at a high level, along with Peters and a revitalized Celek. His replacement, Matt Tobin, had a negative effect, along with eight other players, a list Bradford, Agholor, Barbre and Kelce were headlining again.
So, while you may not realize it, losing Gardner is a significant blow for the struggling Eagles.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen