Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles clinched a playoff spot in one of the most bizarre ways we could have imagined.
With back-to-back wins against the Vikings and New York Giants, the Eagles surprised the world by reaching their fifth NFC Conference Championship game in eight years as a six seed.
Despite falling just short of the Super Bowl by losing 32-25 to the Arizona Cardinals, the Eagles were impressive toward the end of the season, winning six of their final eight games.
After a strong finish to last season and an offseason in which they took advantage of free agency and the draft, the Eagles are suddenly considered by some analysts as favorites in the NFC this season.
For some, this is an easy statement to believe considering the way the Eagles played at the end of last season. However, the road to the Super Bowl for the Eagles may be more challenging than people realize.
Sure, the Eagles were nothing short of impressive this offseason when it came to signing players through free agency and the draft. However, there were other moves made that may cause the Eagles to make adjustments they never thought they’d have to experience come September.
Whether they were for the best or for the worst, the Eagles offseason was filled with numerous changes that will have an impact on the upcoming 2009 season.
Jim Johnson takes leave of absence for chemotherapy
No matter what team you play or cheer for, we all hope for the best for Jim Johnson and his family during these difficult times.
In 1999, Jim Johnson was recruited by Andy Reid to take over as defensive coordinator for the Eagles. Ten years later, the two are still working together and have had plenty of success with the Eagles.
For the first time in his coaching career with the Eagles, Reid may have to start the regular season without Johnson by his side as defensive coordinator. In January, Johnson was diagnosed with melanoma for the second time since 2001.
He spent the final two games of the 2009 playoffs coaching from the press box since he was in too much pain to be on the field.
A few weeks ago, Johnson announced that he would be taking a leave of absence from the Eagles to undergo his second round of chemotherapy. Whether or not he will be able to return before the start of the season remains unknown.
Secondary coach Sean McDermott will take over the defense until Johnson’s return.
At issue is whether or not Johnson’s absence will have an impact on the Eagles’ defense. Johnson is known throughout the league as the coordinator who loves to blitz the quarterback on a consistent basis, and he has had the Eagles defense ranked near the top of the league each season.
In 2001, Johnson and the Eagles became the fourth team in NFL history to give up 21 points or less in 16 straight games in a season. Last season, his defense finished fourth in the league by giving up just 18.1 points per game.
Hopefully Johnson can make another full recovery and return to the Eagles as soon as possible. However, this is one of those situations where Johnson’s health is more important than whether or not he is on the sideline.
As much as the Eagles and their fans would love to see him back as soon as possible, we all want the best for Johnson. If this means his leave of absence is longer than expected, than the adjustments will be made.
The rest of the Eagles staff has adjusted to Johnson’s style of play on defense the last 10 years. McDermott should do a solid job as far as taking over the defense in the meantime.
Filling in the void at safety left by Brian Dawkins
For the last 13 seasons, Brian Dawkins, also known as Weapon X, was the heart and soul of the Philadelphia Eagles. Words can’t describe his passion for the game of football and the city of Philadelphia loved him for that.
Before the offseason, any Eagles fan would have laughed if you asked them if they thought Dawkins would ever play for a team other than Philadelphia. When March rolled around, those fans weren’t laughing anymore.
After 13 seasons that consisted of 545 total tackles, 21 sacks, and 34 interceptions, Dawkins and the Eagles went their separate ways when he signed a five-year deal worth $17 million.
The city of Philadelphia has seen its fair share of fan favorites depart over the last couple of decades. However, no departure of a fan favorite hurt more than Dawkins leaving for Denver.
Does this mean the city of Philadelphia will be mad at Dawkins? Of course not. The reasons behind his signing with the Broncos were fair. The Eagles front office felt that his gas tank was running out and weren’t going to offer him the contract he thought he deserved. The Eagles have 100 percent support behind Dawkins' move.
Still, it’s hard to replace the leadership Dawkins provided for the Eagles during his 13-year career. The way he would flex his muscles after a tremendous hit on the opponent would send goose bumps to anyone, no matter where they were watching from.
The Eagles can search all they want for Dawkins’ replacement. No matter how many players try to fill his void, no safety will ever be able to fill his shoes in the city of brotherly love.
All the city of Philadelphia can do now is accept the fact that they have to adjust to life without Dawkins starting at safety every Sunday. Wish him the best of luck with his new team and welcome him when he returns to The Linc on Dec. 28.
The signing of Leonard Weaver at fullback should provide enough blocking to improve the running game
One of the most frustrating things about the Eagles last season was there third and fourth down plays for short yardage. Most of the time, they failed to convert in these situations simply because nobody was blocking the way for the running back.
This season, things should be a little different for the Eagles when they find themselves in these types of situations.
Last March, the Eagles signed former Seattle Seahawk Leonard Weaver to a one-year deal to provide the Eagles with the type of fullback they haven’t seen in years.
The most exciting feature about Weaver is that he is a fullback that can do whatever is necessary to help his team win. He can block the way for running backs. He can run and catch the ball.
Last season with the Seahawks, Weaver finished with 130 yards rushing and 222 yards receiving.
Weaver should be an immediate improvement for the Eagles at the fullback position this season. He may be seen by some as the “triple-threat” as he can provide help in any way possible on offense. Not to mention he will make a great fit for those third and short/fourth and short situations, an area where the Eagles struggled last season.
The one Eagle who should benefit the most from the signing of Weaver is Brian Westbrook. Weaver should provide excellent blocking for Westbrook and help him find the necessary holes to gain that extra yardage.
If everything goes according to plan, the Eagles may be looking to sign Weaver to a long-term deal after next season.
McNabb may not have landed the big name receiver he desired, but he has weapons.
During the offseason, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb made a statement that he would not negotiate a long-term deal until he saw what the team did in the offseason.
For most of his career, McNabb has been known to play without that “big name” receiver. Ever since the departure of Terrell Owens, the Eagles have made numerous attempts to land that big name wide receiver to play alongside McNabb.
Some of the receivers whose names have been thrown around include Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Obviously the Eagles have not landed that big name wide receiver. However, this may not be the worst thing in the world after the recent draft.
When Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was still available late in the first round, the Eagles knew they needed to take advantage of the opportunity and find a way to draft him.
After trading with the Cleveland Browns to move up two spots, the Eagles selected Maclin with the 19th overall pick. Maclin would be joining an Eagles receiving corps that consisted of DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis.
McNabb may not have landed the big-name wide receiver that he wished for in the offseason, but he was still happy with the moves the Eagles made in the draft.
All of a sudden, McNabb appears to have a group of weapons at the wide receiver position, which is something he isn’t used to having.
Jackson and Curtis have both proven they are capable of being 1,000-yard wide receiver. Maclin has the potential to have a similar rookie campaign we saw with Jackson last season. Now that McNabb appears to have a talented group of wide receivers, it’s up to him to show the rest of the league what he can do with them.
Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews should have an immediate impact on the offensive line
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to see a family member go on to the NFL—it takes even more work to see two.
Ronde will always be separated from his brother Tiki as the Barber brother who had the opportunity to win the Super Bowl.
Whether they are brothers or cousins, it’s always fun to compare members of the same family who play in the NFL. This is what happened for the last two years once offensive lineman Stacy Andrews was drafted by the Bengals. He and his brother Shawn would always be seen as the brothers who played on two different teams.
That is until this offseason.
Shawn and Stacy Andrews will share an experience that most brothers will never experience during their NFL careers—they will play together for the first time in their football careers by protecting Donovan McNabb.
Not only did the Eagles sign Stacy to a six-year deal this offseason, but they also traded for another offensive lineman in Jason Peters, who is seen by some as one of the best offensive lineman in football.
The Eagles surrendered the 28th overall pick and a fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills in last April’s draft to acquire the rights of Peters, who was threatening another holdout in Buffalo if he didn’t receive the contract extension he desired.
After the Bills made the trade, the Eagles immediately signed him to a six-year extension worth $60 million.
It might not seem obvious now, but the signing of Andrews and Peters should have an immediate impact on the offensive line. McNabb will have more protection in the pocket to find his open receivers. Running back Brian Westbrook should be able to find more holes to escape down field.
Offensive lineman in the NFL never receive all of the credit they deserve. Most of the time, the people watching the game couldn’t even tell you the names of the linemen in the game.
One thing is certain: people should know the names of Stacy Andrews and Jason Peters once they start watching the Eagles games come September.
"Dan Parzych covers the Eagles for NFLTouchdown.com."