Identifying Philadelphia Eagles' 4 Biggest Road Blocks to NFC East TItle
Fans and pundits seem to unanimously view the Philadelphia Eagles as the favorite to win the NFC East in 2014. But a lot can change within one season. In 2013, many did not expect the Eagles to finish with more than seven wins. What surprise could be in store for Philly in 2014?
While the Eagles are a good team overall, at least on paper, they are not without their flaws. The team must find a way to address or at least reduce the impact of its weaknesses if it is to repeat as division champions.
Following are four of the biggest roadblocks the Eagles must overcome to reclaim the NFC East title.
1. Lack of Consistent Pass Rush
Last season, only Trent Cole was able to generate pressure on the Eagles defensive line. He finished the season with eight sacks, but he was held in check against Dallas in Week 17 and the Saints in the Wild Card Round.
The Eagles added talented outside linebacker Marcus Smith in the first round, but Smith is still a work in progress. According to Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Smith is running with the second-stringers and seems most likely to start 2014 backing up Connor Barwin. Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com also noted that defensive coordinator Billy Davis stated Smith had talent but still lacked experience on the defensive side of the ball.
The Eagles will be going into 2014 with more or less the same group at D-line and pass-rusher, only Trent Cole will be one season older. The pass rush remains an area of great concern.
2. Question Mark at Backup Quarterback
Last year, the Eagles had the best backup quarterback situation in the NFL. It was so good, in fact, that the backup ended up taking the starting job completely.
This year, the backup signal-caller position is much less certain. According to NJ.com's Shorr-Parks, Mark Sanchez is taking the majority of the second-team snaps and seems poised to win the backup QB job. But it's unclear how effective Sanchez will be if Nick Foles were to miss significant time in 2014.
No matter how good Sanchez may look in practice, it's hard to place too much faith in a quarterback with a career 71.7 passer rating. The Eagles better pray Foles remains healthy next season.
3. Lack of a Reliable Kicker
Every elite team needs a clutch kicker on the roster. Alex Henery has had a few years to develop, but he has yet to prove he is capable of being that kind of player. He consistently missed crucial field goals in his NFL career, the most notable of which being his missed 48-yard field goal in the 26-24 Wild Card Game loss to the New Orleans Saints.
So far, Henery appears to be winning the training camp battle. McLane of The Inquirer stated that he is performing better than Carey Spear on kickoffs. Still, for kickers it is all about in-game performance, as the pressure of a game-winning kick cannot be simulated in practice.
If Henery cannot prove he can turn his career around, the Eagles could be in trouble if they face close games against divisional opponents.
4. Subpar Secondary
The Eagles may have added Malcolm Jenkins and retained Nate Allen this offseason, but this remains a question mark. Jenkins is a good player, but he is not a game-changing playmaker. He also struggles with consistency, missing 16 tackles in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus (h/t Sheil Kapadia of Birds 24/7).
It certainly doesn't help that the Eagles likely won't see an improvement in the area of pass rush, which would take pressure off the safeties. Letting go of Patrick Chung was a great example of addition by subtraction, but the safety position is still a question mark.
Will the Eagles be able to keep DeSean Jackson out of the end zone twice in 2014? Even with Jenkins it will be a challenge.