The Eagles could easily finish first in the division. So, I thought that I would do my best to give an honest evaluation of the Eagles from the perspective of an outsider.
First of all, this might be the best offense the Eagles have had since their Super Bowl year. They have quality wide receivers, running backs and offensive linemen. Most importantly, they have a healthy Donovan McNabb. To start the evaluation, let's start with the foundation of the offense, the line.
The acquisition of Jason Peters is potentially the most important in the division. Left tackle was becoming a problem for the Eagles. Tra Thomas was getting old and Winston Justice is just not good enough to play.
Justice nearly got McNabb killed two years ago against the Giants. Justice is no longer listed as a left tackle on the Eagles depth chart. Peters on the other hand, was a pro bowl tackle two years ago. Last year, he was out of shape and he stunk.
The Eagles gave him a huge contract to reflect the pro bowl player that he was two years ago. For the Eagles to contend for the Super Bowl, he needs to play at a pro bowl level.
Between Osi Umenyiora and DeMarcus Ware, the NFC East has the top two pass rushers in the NFC. If Peters cannot protect McNabb's blind side, then the team will not contend. If he can stop Ware and Osi, then the Eagles are a true contender.
Peters is that important. He might actually be the MOST important Eagle this year. I assume that he is healthy and motivated. If so, the Eagles will be able to score points on everyone.
Herrmans is solid, but nothing special. He is the weak link on the line. The Redskins in particular will be a tough matchup as a result because of Haynesworth. However, if Peters plays up to his ability, then Herrmans can get help from Jackson. Jackson is a good center, but is slightly overrated.
It seems that big centers get rated higher than their play by the pundits. Jackson is better than Gurode, but he does not appear especially mobile which hurts the Eagles when they run wide, as he does not pull well in the games that I have watched.
As a general rule, the Eagles line is huge. The Andrews brothers add to the size. This will help their power blocking schemes. It will hurt them against speed rushers.
Shawn Andrews will need help against Justin Tuck and injuries and mental well being are a concern for him. Having his brother next to him should help.
The ironic aspect of the Eagles line is that it is built to play power football, but the Eagles do not play that style of offense. It is an unintended weakness that the offense is not well suited to the skills of its line.
A power back like Brandon Jacobs would do great. It is a testament to how good Brian Westbrook is that he excels behind a line whose talents do not match up with his skills. Westbrook is an exiting back who creates space and has the speed to run away from defenders.
His main problem is that because he is small, he gets hurt a lot. The Eagles hope that McCoy will be an adequate fill in when Westbrook misses time, but that is a lot to expect from a rookie in the West Coast offense.
When Westbrook is healthy, he is the best combination of runner and receiver in the NFC. Unfortunately for the Eagles, he enters camp hurt. If Peters is the most important Eagle, then Westbrook is second.
McNabb is a stud QB. He is accurate and patient, is still mobile, but no longer a threat to run.
He excels in the short passing game that is the West Coast offense. His ability to throw the ball short and accurate makes him hard to defend. He depends on Westbrook to make the offense work.
When Westbrook is healthy, McNabb has an extraordinary threat for dumpoffs and handoffs. McNabb's major weaknesses (which are minor) are that he does not run a two-minute offense efficiently (he needs four minutes) and he does not take enough chances on offense.
So, unless Westbrook or DeSean Jackson make plays, the Eagles have trouble scoring quickly. On the other hand, give the Eagles a lead and McNabb is as good as anyone at running down the clock to give the Eagles the win.
Jackson gives McNabb a potentially great WR to throw to. Jackson is supremely talented. He has speed that enables him to get separation in his routes. He has a good shot at making the pro bowl this year. He is a major matchup problem for opposing defenses.
Kevin Curtis is fast and runs solid routes though he has been slowed by injuries, but overall is a good second WR opposite Jackson. Avant, Baskett and Brown are just OK.
Brown never really developed, but these three should rarely see the field because the Eagles landed a stud WR in the draft. Jeremy Maclin is a tremendous athlete. In a few years, he and Jackson could be almost impossible to stop.
Fortunately for my Giants, Maclin is a rookie. Recent NFL history suggests the rookie WRs that rely on speed have a harder transition to the NFL. Maclin falls into the category of a speed WR.
Of course, with Jackson and Curtis starting, the Eagles could use Maclin on go, fly and deep post routes and he would help. It also hurts that he missed a week of training camp. Still, this is the best group of receivers that Andy Reid has coached.
The tight ends are average. Celek and Schobel are solid. They have no major plus skill, but they do their job. Ingram is the big hope. He is young and talented, but just a rookie.
If he develops quickly, then the Eagles will have a TE that might cause other teams to think about. Otherwise, defenses are not going to worry about the tight ends of the Eagles.
The three biggest losses suffered by the Eagles were all on defense. First, Jim Johnson lost his battle and passed away. Johnson was the best defensive coordinator in the NFL.
He somehow managed to take a team with average linebackers, mostly interchangeable defensive linemen and great defensive backs and mold them into a feared unit.
Johnson would use his great cover corners, hard hitting safeties and not worry about the pass. His secondaries were so good that he could unleash his entire front seven on opposing offenses.
This strategy made it extremely difficult to run or pass.
Johnson preferred smaller defensive linemen who were quicker so that they could get to the QB faster. This strategy required him to rotate the line, but he always had seven or eight capable bodies to employ the strategy well.
Johnson's feel for in-game adjustments made the Eagles a team to fear. He will be sorely missed by all football fans. It will be next to impossible to replace him.
The second big loss was unnecessary and as a Giants fan, it made me happy to see the Eagles let Dawkins go. Dawkins was fearless, tough and a little dirty the way all great safeties should be.
Dawkins could blitz, run support, and cover. Even though he had started to slow down, he was still great because of his football IQ. I know Reid thinks Quintin Mikell is ready to start, but there is no way that he could ever be as good as Dawkins. Kevin Boss and Jason Whitten and Chris Cooley all thank Andy Reid for this decision.
The last big loss was unfortunate. Stewart Bradley just tore his ACL and will miss the entire season. Bradley had turned into a stud MLB who could cover up the mistakes of others. He was big, fast, smart and tough.
Without Bradley, the Eagles defense will just not be as good against the run. I am quite sure that Brandon Jacobs and Marion Barber were secretly smiling at the thought that Bradley will not be there to hit them on runs up the middle. This loss will hurt.
The Eagles have a very talented line on defense, particularly in the middle. Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley and very good and there is solid depth with Trevor Laws. Dan Klecko is a bit small for a DT, but he is the fourth man in the DT rotation.
Trent Cole is a very good pass rusher. He requires double teams on most passing plays. The remainder of the ends do not scare anyone. They are solid, but do not require any special game planning like Cole does.
The key with the Eagles is that they rotate the line so that everyone stays fresh. Thus, they are able to continue to pressure the QB in the fourth quarter.
The linebackers are now slightly below average. Bradley was a stud who made the outside backers look good by shortening the field. Gocong and Jordan just do not provide any plus skills.
The defensive line will have to play even better now that Bradley is hurt. Omar Gaither and Joe Mays are OK players, but should not be starters. Without Bradley, the Eagles do not possess a LB who is better than a replacement level player. This is the weakness of the defense and a good running team should be able to exploit it.
However, the Eagles have a very talented secondary. Every player is above average even without Dawkins. Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown are Pro Bowl caliber corners and Ellis Hobbs is a top notch nickel.
The Eagles have the best CBs in the division. The only potential chink in their armor is Brown's dissatisfaction with his contract. If it affects his play, that could be a big problem.
I doubt that it will be a problem as he knows that if he wants big money, then he needs to show that he is worth it on the field. Mikell and Quintin Demps are good athletes who have shown the ability to play well. They are both largely untested though.
Dawkins was the leader and made sure everyone knew where to be. The big question is how the secondary will react without Dawkins' steady leadership.
Akers is a quality kicker although he is starting to get old. Rocca is not a punter that scares other teams. This is the best team that the Eagles have had on offense on paper under Andy Reid. The defense looks good, but without Dawkins and Bradley, is probably only 3rd or 4th best in the division behind the Giants and Redskins. The Cowboys might even be better if their corners develop.
Overall, I think that the Eagles have the look of an 11-13 win team if they can remain healthy. However, the loss of Bradley will probably be too difficult to overcome in the playoffs.
I think that the Eagles are just a little too short on defense to be a true Super Bowl contender. Bradley was that important. With him, a Super Bowl was possible.
Without him, they will have to use more schemes to defeat the top notch opponents and that is where the loss of Jim Johnson will prevent the Eagles from winning a championship.
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