The Philadelphia Eagles Battle To Be the "Beast from the East"

Leo PizziniAnalyst IMay 29, 2009

Every team in the NFC East is a 2009 playoff contender with potential to run deep into the postseason.  With the resurgence of divisional competition, the once dominant Eagles, had been supplanted by the Dallas Cowboys and New York Football Giants in the 2007 and 2008 regular seasons.

In 2009, the Eagles have become a favorite to take home the NFC Championship, implicitly becoming the favorite to win the title of "Beast from the East."

Favorite or not, the division and conference will not surrender easily.  Fortunately for Eagle fans, the team is not lacking in talent or depth.  The Eagles deserve all of the preseason hype. 

Now the Eagles must take it to the field and hold off a slightly diminished New York Giants, a disheveled yet explosive Dallas Cowboys and a competitive and improved Washington Redskins who swept the birds in 2008.

Here is a quick look at the NFC East divisional race:

(In Order of 2008 Regular Season Record)

1. New York Giants (12-4)...427 PF - 294 PA

1-2 vs. Eagles (61 PF - 74 PA)

1-1 vs. Cowboys (43 PF - 34 PA)

2-0 vs Redskins (39 PF - 14 PA)

The Giants finished first in the division in 2008.  Coming off an incredible Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots, the Giants appeared to be nearly unstoppable in the first three quarters of the season, boasting an 11-1 record. 

Without Plaxico Burress, the Giants seasonal fourth quarter realized a 1-3 record, losing in their first playoff game. 

The Giants need Hakeem Nicks or Ramsees Barden to play really big.  The good news is these guys are possibly just what the doctor ordered. 

There is good reason for Giants fans to be excited about their receivers.  Youngsters Steve Smith and Domenique Hixon also showed flashes of something special last season.

In the backfield, Brandon Jacobs will need to stay healthier than usual.  Even though Ahmad Bradshaw showed he was a capable back in 2008 when called upon, it was Derrick Ward who carried the load.

The Giants defensive line is a little bit stiffer in 2009.  The addition of Chris Canty to Osi Umenyiora, Jason Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka is formidable to say the least.  These monsters are backed up by linebacker Antonio Pierce who is always around the ball.

The defensive concerns the Giants had last season was their secondary.  Sam Madison, Sammy Knight and R.W. McQuarters were all getting very old and in 2009, they are all very gone. 

The secondary is still a concern, despite being loaded with very young talent that includes vastly underrated cornerback, Corey Webster.

Without Plaxico Burress, the Giants just didn’t seem to have any balance on offense.  Unless they adapt, the Giants could be leaning exclusively on their defense and struggle.

The Eagles need to disrupt the Giants run blocking schemes, shut down Brandon Jacobs before he gathers inertia and force Eli Manning into passing situations with his unproven receivers against the Eagles elite secondary.

At the end of last season, the Eagles did an outstanding job against the Giants running game in the absence of Plaxico Burress.  They also had Brian Dawkins coming up hard to put a fearless heart inside the box. 

Mikell, Jones or Demps will have to do the same in 2009 and these guys are more than capable of getting it done.

Westbrook can be effective running against the Giants, but McNabb will need to beat the pass rush and take advantage of the check down options and intermediate routes to beat the vulnerable secondary with quick passes.

The powerful offensive line of the Eagles should provide McNabb enough time to make a play.

My prediction is the Eagles sweep the Giants in 2009 in two well played games.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1)...416 PF - 289 PA

2-1 vs. Giants (74 PF - 61 PA) 

1-1 vs. Cowboys (81 PF - 47 PA) 

0-2 vs. Redskins (20 PF - 33 PA)

The Eagles finished second in the division in 2008.  In the last five games of the season the Eagles amassed a division best 4-1 record, earned a playoff berth, advancing to the NFC Championship game. 

Game day consistency is the primary area in need for improvement for this franchise to win the division.  If they play like they finished in 2008, they could have an incredible year.

The Eagles need to see their young linebackers and defensive line fully mature in 2009.  This defense has flown under-the-radar a bit despite its third overall ranking.

The defense is well rounded with a few stars and a bunch of players that look poised to “break out.”  The secondary is strong, the linebackers are strong and defensive line is strong.  As a unit, they have the potential to be highly elite. 

There is a question about who will replace Dawkins at free safety.  Obviously no one really replaces Dawkins, but the Eagles have several good looking options at that position.

The offense is filled with new faces.  Two new bookend tackles in Jason Peters and Stacey Andrews (or Shawn Andrews perhaps), the return of guard Shawn Andrews (or Stacey Andrews perhaps), and fullback Leonard Weaver figure to change the lack of short yardage success.

Rookies Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Cornelius Ingram all expect to be significantly involved in the offense.  This trio will work to be the answer to the off season issues of depth behind Westbrook, tight end and the need for another dangerous and highly touted offensive weapon for McNabb.

National media has largely pinned the Eagles as the early offseason favorite to win the division and the conference.  On paper this looks like a dream team. 

If the rookies and young veterans contribute and emerge as they should, the Eagles will live up to the hype.  

3. Dallas Cowboys (9-7) 362 PF - 365 PA

1-1 vs. Eagles (47 PF - 81 PA)

1-1 vs. Giants (34 PF - 43 PA)

1-1 vs. Redskins (38 PF - 36 PA)

The Cowboys finished third in the division in 2008.  Everything was unraveling as the playoffs approached and the team became mired in drama.

The drama has already carried over into this year with the ongoing media antagonization of Terrell Owens and company. 

Tony Romo must forget about the seasons past and play to his full potential in 2009.  That’s a pretty high level to demand, but he has to loose his “Mr. September” cloud.  If he fails to look good throughout the season, particularly in the late season crunch, the Cowboys may have something to think about.

Defensively this team lost some proven talent in five time pro bowl safety Roy L Williams and solid defensive tackle Chris Canty.  Zach Thomas is also gone.  That’s not going to help, but DeMarcus Ware is a game changer all by himself.  

There is still a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball even without Terrell Owens. 

Roy Williams is a great receiver with a really positive attitude.  He should work well with Romo.  Of course, Jason Witten and Marion Barber III return with their contribution to the offense.

I would look for young receiver Miles Austin to get an opportunity.  He has looked really good in camp and when afforded playing time in 2008.

Last years first-round draft pick, Felix Jones looks to return healthy after being put on injured reserve last season.  Jones was a highly explosive running to complement to Marion Barber III.

The Cowboys don’t look quite as good on paper as they did at the start of last season, but this is a dangerous team.  All intangibles aside, this team has the potential to be a sleeping giant. 

The Eagles need to get a handle on Felix Jones.  Jones looked like he was going all the way every time he touched the ball in the first match up.  Tashard Choice played well, but a healthy Felix Jones was a bit scary to be honest.

They will have to watch Roy Williams, but without having to worry about Terrell Owens means they can still put more effort against the run.

The Eagle linebackers are going to need to continue to show improvement in passing situations to lock down Jason Witten and Marion Barber III.

This is the divisional game in which the Eagles should be able to open up more running for Westbrook.  With the departure of defensive tackle, Chris Canty, the Eagles should be able to punch more effective holes with their big line.

A good balanced attack should wear down the Cowboys defense.  As long as McNabb can stay away from DeMarcus Ware.  There is no reason why he shouldn't have opportunity to dissect the secondary. 

My prediction is the Eagles sweep the Cowboys in 2009 in one closely contested match and one where the Eagles show their superiority.

4. Washington Redskins (8-8)...265 PF - 296 PA 

2-0 vs. Eagles (33 PF - 20 PA)

0-2 vs Giants (14 PF - 39 PA)

1-1 vs. Cowboys (36 PF-38 PA)

The Redskins respectably finished fourth in the NFC East.  The 'Skins played the first half of the season like they were emerging as a new look NFC East powerhouse. 

Unfortunately for skins fans the success abruptly ended midway through the year.  In the end, they just didn’t have enough to get it done as the playoffs approached.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Redskins got aggressive to the tune of $100 million in the well publicized free agency signing of Albert Haynesworth.  They also drafted Brian Orakpo, Kevin Barnes and Cody Glenn to bolster the defense.

Orakpo is a highly touted defensive end and was selected with the 13th overall pick.

Second year safety Chris Horton could emerge to be a dominating safety in 2009.

The offense hinges on the consistent success of quarterback, Jason Campbell.  Campbell has a great target in Santana Moss and solid complements in Antwan Randall El and Chris Cooley.

If Campbell can find and maintain his game, he could be a very threatening weapon.  The problem is, confidence is getting low and it seems like the clock is ticking on his longevity as a starter.

Clinton Portis is a fantastic running back who needs a little help from the passing attack.  When Campbell is on fire, Portis tends to run wild without injury.  If Campbell cools off, defenses key on the run and Portis inevitably gets bang up or becomes far less effective.

The Redskins are a fairly well rounded team that could really impose themselves defensively and has the potential of being a highly dangerous offense.  The problem is that it is still all potential.

The Eagles will need to play well against the Redskins.  Short yardage killed the Eagles in 2008, especially against the skins. 

That problem should be fairly well resolved on the Eagles side of the ball with better trench and lead blocking options, but the Redskins balanced the Eagles moves on the offensive line with their own blockbuster move on the defensive line.

McNabb should be fairly effective with his receiving weapons against the skins and that is how they will need to win the game.  An improved and healthy running group in 2009 should find more success to set up McNabb to tear into the defense.

The linebackers for the Eagles need to be ready for the Redskins.  Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley are skilled players that cause plenty of problems for the birds.  If they play well, the defensive backfield and line should at least hold their own.  They also need to contain Campbell in the pocket, he killed them with his legs in clutch moments of the 2008 games.

For some reason, I say the Eagles and the Redskins will split the series in a pair of tough matches.

I am also going to predict the Redskins lose to the Eagles in the playoffs. 

Did you say playoffs?

Division Overview

This is a great division with loads of interesting player match-ups and team grudge matches from 2008.

Whatever any analysis reveals or projects, the Eagles will have to be firing on all cylinders to be the “Beast from the East.”  They have the talent and coaching.  They need to play.  There is no opportunity for sleeping at the wheel. 


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