We’re mere days away from launching into one of the most unpredictable Philadelphia Eagles campaigns since Andy Reid’s early years. Let me just say that I’m with you folks—let’s play this first game already.
Unfortunately, while most of the league will have its fun over the weekend, Birds fans must wait a whole extra day. The season doesn’t kick off for Philadelphia until Monday night in Washington.
That gives us one last chance to throw some crazy predictions against the wall and see what sticks, though. We’re talking about the kind of statements that would get you responses ranging from raised eyebrows and inquisitive looks to outright laughter if you happened to actually say some of these things out loud to your friends.
Personally, I don’t think any of these thoughts are too outrageous, and one or one-and-a-half are bound to come true. So without further adieu, here are the five boldest Eagles predictions I had any confidence in admitting are my own.
This isn’t really that much of a stretch when you stop to think about it. Philadelphia had a top-five offense as recently as 2011 (fourth), and the personnel isn’t all that different other than the Eagles are without Jeremy Maclin (63 REC, 859 YDS, 5 TD in ’11).
Losing Maclin to a torn ACL was huge, but the Eagles have some young players who could help pick up the slack. Bryce Brown is capable of going the distance any time he touches the ball. Second-round pick Zach Ertz is a big tight end who runs routes like a wide receiver.
Even last season the Birds finished 15th in total yards, and that was with between 60 and 80 percent of their offensive line laid up with injuries, not to mention doctor’s notes for DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick as well.
But the main reason the Eagles are going to have a top-five offense—top-10 at minimum—is sheer volume. In Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense, where the ball is snapped roughly every 20 seconds, Philadelphia will undoubtedly be at or near the top of the list in plays from scrimmage.
In 2012, seven of the top eight offenses in plays from scrimmage also finished in the top 10 in total offense. The Eagles were the lone exception.
So it is possible for a team to run a lot of plays and not necessarily be a prolific offense—it simply isn’t likely. You can count on these Birds posting some big numbers.
One of the main beneficiaries of Jeremy Maclin’s unfortunate injury figures to be two-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson. While Maclin’s targets will be distributed throughout the offense to a certain degree, DJacc is essentially the only weapon the Eagles have on the perimeter.
This is not simply another case where more opportunity equals more production, however—although it can’t hurt. Jackson has the talent to be an elite receiver in the NFL, and Chip Kelly has the vehicle.
Under Andy Reid, the Eagles offense had become so predicated on the downfield attack, Jackson increasingly began to feel like little more than a decoy running fly patterns all day (45 REC, 700 YDS, 2 TD in 11 games in ’12). Chip Kelly’s approach will use more quick and intermediate routes designed to get the ball to the explosive wide receiver in space.
A steady dose of LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown pounding the rock might draw opposing safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, too. Defenses have been cheating deep against Jackson for years, knowing the threat of a sustained ground attack was essentially non-existent.
Most of all, the six-year veteran just seemed rejuvenated this summer. Jackson caught six passes for 123 yards in preseason action—including a 47-yard strike for a touchdown—and seemingly every day at training camp there was another highlight-reel grab.
Jackson hasn’t been invited to Honolulu since 2010, but he’ll have every opportunity to end that dry spell this fall. It’s never been a question of talent, that’s for sure.
This one is a little out of nowhere considering Zach Ertz didn’t exactly light the world on fire during the preseason. The 35th overall pick in the 2013 draft hauled in six receptions for 63 yards on 10 targets this summer, which is fine but not necessarily indicative of a player who’s primed to dominate in the red zone.
Just for starters, touchdowns are conspicuously absent from that line. Well, I guess we’re not calling them bold predictions for nothing.
For one thing, Chip Kelly promises to make plenty of use out of his tight ends. Based on what we saw during training camp, he has no problem deploying three of them at the same time and even experimented with four in one exhibition game.
And if we go by the pecking order established during the preseason, Ertz was targeted exactly as much as Brent Celek, who looked like the clear No. 1.
This is mainly a gut feeling, though. The Eagles may ease the rookie into the offense, but even if that’s the case, the area to design packages for Ertz would be in the red zone. At 6’5”, he’s the tallest skill player in the offense, so the advantage should be obvious.
It’s not like Ertz needs to eclipse double digits to lead the Birds. If he records seven or eight scores this season, that could be more than enough.
There is at least a chance I am just picking on Cary Williams because he’s been kind of a jerk pretty much since the moment he signed as a free agent from the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens this offseason. Maybe Bradley Fletcher is the starting corner who will cede his position to Brandon Boykin.
Let’s go with Williams, though, because at least Fletcher has been at practice at every day. Regardless, Boykin’s role in the defense is poised to expand.
When the Eagles drafted Boykin in the fourth round last year, the skinny was he’s exclusively a slot corner due to his size (5’9”). What a lot of people didn’t realize since the Georgia product missed the NFL Scouting Combine with a lower leg fracture is he can run, and, in particular, he can jump with anybody.
So while Williams was nursing a hamstring injury and picking out sconces, Boykin was clearly having the best camp of any cornerback. Still, it’s anticipated the second-year corner will play only in nickel packages at the beginning.
Meanwhile, Williams has demonstrated a poor attitude, and it’s not like he’s so good the Eagles should simply put up with him. If something called a burn rate is to be believed, he’ll surrender his share of big plays.
It will be interesting to see how many before he’s replaced. Boykin could still slide into the slot in nickel and dime packages, but in two-receiver sets, the 23-year-old should be lined up outside. He’ll get his due eventually.
Let’s face it—most Eagles fans don’t think the team will be much of a threat in 2013, never mind what “experts” overwhelmingly believe. Coming off of a 4-12 season, who can blame anybody?
In all honesty, it’s not fair to expect a Super Bowl run, but that doesn’t mean this season is doomed to failure, either. There must be some middle ground. Okay, so reaching the postseason may not be “middle ground,” but hear me out for a second.
The Eagles are starting with an advantage in that nobody around the league knows precisely what to expect from Chip Kelly’s offense.
The NFC East lacks any true powerhouses. Dallas, New York and Washington are all flawed, so nine or 10 wins could reasonably be enough to win the division.
And then there is typical postseason turnover to account for. Since 1996, on average, half of the NFL’s 12 playoff teams from the year prior will not make the cut the following season.
None of this guarantees the Eagles are going to be good enough to earn a berth, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility, either. Heck, if they wind up having a top-five offense, it would be an even bigger surprise that they don’t get in.
The fact of the matter is the nature of the NFL allows for teams to turn their fortunes around quickly. With a new head coach, their offensive players largely healthy and accounted for and an influx of talent through free agency and the draft, the Eagles should at least be able to shoot for .500. And if you agree with that, and nine or 10 wins could win the division…
Hey, you gotta believe.