Why the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles Can (or Won't) Go All the Way

Lou DiPietroAnalyst IMay 15, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 18:  Quarterback Donovan McNabb #5 of the Phildelphia Eagles walks off the field after losing to the Arizona Cardinals during the NFC championship game on January 18, 2009 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Eagles 32-25 to advance to the Super Bowl.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

With the Flyers and Sixers now both out of their playoffs, it will definitely be at least one calendar year between championships for the city of Philadelphia. But if the Phillies don’t repeat as World Series Champions, fans in the City of Brotherly Love might not have to wait too long to see another trophy.

Coming off a solid season that saw them reach the NFC Championship Game, the Philadelphia Eagles have tremendous confidence that they can do it again -- and this time, reach (and win) Super Bowl XLIV.

Despite a roller-coaster 2008, the Eagles were minutes away from Tampa before the Arizona Cardinals snuck victory from the jaws of defeat. And that team remains mostly intact, with only four major subtractions: Stalwart free safety Brian Dawkins, offensive tackles Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas and tight end LJ Smith.

But even those subtractions may end up being minor. Outside of perhaps Dawkins, all vacancies have been quickly—and excellently—filled.

The Eagles traded for Buffalo left tackle Jason Peters and signed right tackle Stacy Andrews away from the Bengals, seriously bolstering their offensive line. And as for Smith, well, Brent Celek played very well as his replacement during an injury-plagued 2008 and the Eagles drafted Florida’s Cornelius Ingram in the fifth round, so they have a pair of capable tight ends.

The Eagles also made a couple other big additions in the draft, selecting Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and Pitt running back LeSean McCoy with their top two picks.

Maclin adds a dimension to the offense that it hasn’t had very much of: Raw speed. DeSean Jackson is a burner, yes, but Maclin is that much better. With his deep threat and Jackson’s play-making skills on the e field at the same time, Donovan McNabb will have an amazing arsenal at his disposal.

Plus, Maclin’s emergence can allow Kevin Curtis—who did have a career year as the Eagles’ top wideout in 2007—to move back to his natural position as a number two or even a slot guy; as such, his excellent route-running and ability to slip behind zones will be of even more importance.

As for McCoy, he was best described by draft pundits as “Brian Westbrook lite,” and that’s exactly what the Eagles offense needs.

The offense looked lost at times without Westbrook last year, struggling to run the ball effectively and in turn cramping their ability to pass the ball. If McCoy can fill the backup role with a similar style as Westbrook, the Eagles won’t lose much if anything when their star back is out of the game.

But of course, there are pitfalls that could send the Eagles packing to their second last-place finish in three years.

For one, the loss of Dawkins is quite huge. Not only was he still a solid play-maker, but he was the heart and soul of the Eagles defense—if not the whole team. He was a fan-favorite, and the longest-tenured athlete in all of Philadelphia sports until bolting to Denver this off-season.

With Sean Considine also gone to Jacksonville, the Eagles are thin at safety. Both Sean Jones and Rashad Baker were signed, with Jones expected to replace Dawkins at free safety.

But as good as they are, they are new to Jim Johnson’s complex defensive scheme—and of course, they’re not and probably never will be Dawkins.

Combined with Quentin Demps’ struggles as a rookie, this is a shaky unit led by a player in Quentin Mikell who was a backup himself on opening day 2008.

And when you look outside, you’ll find a disgruntled corner in Sheldon Brown, a new addition in Ellis Hobbs and a guy in Joselio Hanson who was rewarded with a huge contract extension even though he’s never been more than a third corner.

With this group, they will badly miss Dawkins’ leadership.

And, of course, there’s Andy Reid’s much-maligned, often suspect play calling. Last season, Reid made himself look like an amateur at times: Running the ball on both 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1, throwing in the red zone late in a half when they should be milking the clock, etc.

Even with Maclin, McCoy and a true power fullback in Leonard Weaver now aboard, making decisions like that could backfire and cost the Eagles possessions, points and eventually games.

Finally, there’s the fan perspective. Philly fans are notoriously hard on their team, and the boo-birds rained down at Lincoln Financial Field quite often last season. Even though they finished 9-6-1 and made the NFC Championship Game, the Birds executed terribly at times.

If they do so again, the fans will once again be all over their backs—and a second Donovan McNabb benching is not what this team needs.

But pitfalls be damned, expectations are high. The Giants weren’t the same team without Plaxico Burress last year, and now that they’ve lost Derrick Ward as well, their offense is somewhat ordinary.

The Cowboys lost a significant part of their offense as well in Terrell Owens, and even with the Redskins’ huge contract to Albert Haynesworth, they still have all the same issues they had in 2008. If the Eagles can maintain and improve thanks to their new weapons, an 11-win season and division championship aren’t far-fetched goals.

And if they can’t, well…even 8-8 usually finishes last in the NFC East.