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Chip Kelly's lowest moment as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles came on Sunday.
With Sam Bradford sidelined, Kelly turned to Mark Sanchez as his starting quarterback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite the change at the quarterback spot, expectations for the Eagles weren't low. The Buccaneers aren't one of the better teams in the league, so the Eagles will feel that they could have won the game with Sanchez. Instead, they were blown out at home.
Sanchez threw the ball 41 times and finished the game with 261 yards. He had two touchdowns to three interceptions, but most significantly, he completed just 10 passes to receivers for just 105 yards. Of those 105 yards, Josh Huff accounted for 39 with his only reception of the day.
Although it was Huff's only reception of the game, it was a very impressive one and it came after what was the most impressive display of his career last week. Huff only caught three passes for 23 yards and a touchdown last week, but his production alone didn't do the quality of his play justice. Huff also added a 38-yard pass interference penalty and a 12-yard reception that was negated by penalty.
Even considering those hidden yards, Huff still wouldn't have had a huge game, but he was making the most out of his targets while getting first downs.
In the Eagles offense this year, the receiving corps has consistently struggled. An inability to create separation or consistently catch the ball has worsened the plight of a passing game that has struggled for a variety of reasons outside of the individual players' control. The Eagles have used their depth at the position, but Huff and Agholor appear to be the brightest options moving forward. Jordan Matthews has regressed this season after overachieving in an easier role as a rookie.
Matthews lacks the explosiveness or technical precision to transcend the problems that surround him in the Eagles offense. Huff and Agholor appear to be more fluid, explosive athletes with the ability to create more separation and yards after the catch. They should be the team's outside starters over Miles Austin, Riley Cooper and Matthews. Huff needs to establish his consistency on a larger sample size, but the flashes of his potential that he has shown off should excite the Eagles.
Against the Buccaneers, it wasn't just that Huff scored a long touchdown, it's how he scored that touchdown. Huff caught the ball comfortably in stride but it wasn't a perfectly thrown pass. He showed off natural ball skills to reach up for the ball and snatch it out of the air while on the move. Instead of running straight into the arriving safety, Huff bent his trajectory to drift away from the incoming safety before extending a hand to push further away. This movement negated two potential tacklers.
Huff was moving sideways at this point, not gaining any yards, before being confronted by Alterraun Verner.
The Buccaneers cornerback was in position to tackle Huff if he ran down the middle of the field, so Huff looked to shake him. He did that by making a sharp, decisive cut with his right foot to work the long way around the Verner to the outside. He put himself in position to be caught from behind, but relied on his acceleration to pull away before he could be dragged down. From there, Huff had the long speed to make his way into the end zone from 30 yards away.
Of the Eagles weapons on offense, only Huff, Darren Sproles, Ryan Mathews and Agholor have the ability to make this kind of play. Sproles and Mathews typically aren't on the field together, so they essentially only have three receivers with this kind of ability.
In previous seasons, this wouldn't have been an issue because the Eagles built their offense around their north-south running game while receivers ran deep off of play action. This season, Kelly has altered his approach to more of an east-west running game while throwing more short passes that rely on yards after the catch to get first downs. Huff fits both versions of the offense, but the current one should feature him more.
Against the Miami Dolphins in Week 10, Huff scored the Eagles' first touchdown of the game again, but this time it came from just two yards out. Huff is just 5'11, so he's not likely to be targeted on fade routes against press coverage. As such, he found his way to scoring the first touchdown of the game by working in his route when Sam Bradford extended the play. Huff was smart as he initially lined up to the right of the formation and ran a crossing route towards the other side of the field.
When Bradford broke to the right side, Huff recognized it. He allowed a defensive back to work across his face as he dropped to the back of the endzone before setting down and waving his hands to attract his quarterback.
Bradford found Huff with an impressive throw. The receiver still had to work somewhat to leave his feet and pull the ball in, but it was a relatively straight-forward reception for him to make. Huff's intensity and effort level is something that consistently stands out. He is constantly working through his routes, which highlights his elusiveness in his routes and with the ball.
When he was playing a featured role in the offense at Oregon, Huff consistently showed off impressive strength. He may not be a big receiver, but he is stout and has deceptive power to work his way through contact. On this Third-and-5 play against the Dolphins, Huff catches the ball short of the first down marker over the middle of the field. He has to break one tackle before he can even get close to the line of scrimmage. Once at the line of scrimmage, he has to fight his way over a defender to get the first down.
This play only resulted in a five-yard gain, but the quality of the play from an evaluation perspective is very high. Huff created the first down with his ability after the catch and his resiliency against contact.
Huff's strength is what allows him to work outside and still show off his speed. A lot of smaller receivers in the league struggle to deal with the physicality of bigger boundary cornerbacks. Huff still needs to prove his longevity in this area in particular, but he has a skill set that suggests he should be okay releasing from the line of scrimmage and working through tight coverage.
On this play, Huff doesn't face press coverage, but Zackary Bowman lines up in close proximity. Huff relies on his acceleration and quickness to get inside of Bowman before pushing his route to the point that he is level with the cornerback. Huff holds his positioning as he runs down the seam. Bradford's pass leads Huff downfield, so the receiver has to work his way through Bowman to try and get to the ball.
As he attempts to do that, Bowman interferes with him. This creates the 38-yard pass interference penalty for the offense.
There's no doubt that the Eagles have underachieved this season. They've underachieved in every possible way and it's very unlikely that you are satisfied with your returns from any of the pieces from the offense if you drafted them in fantasy. At this point of the season, it's not as much about who is producing now as much as it is about who will be worth investing in moving forward. Josh Huff should be one of the Eagles players who you are cautiously optimistic about next season.
Huff and Agholor are the most talented receiving options in an offense that should move on from Miles Austin and Riley Cooper. Agholor will be a more expensive investment than Huff, but the former Oregon receiver could provide greater value after a price-killing 2015 season.