Having reached the NFC Championship game once again last season, the Philadelphia Eagles are hoping to finally nab a Lombardi trophy in 2009. Only this will calm the quelling masses known as the Eagles fan-base.
For the first time in the Andy Reid and Jeffrey Lurie era, the team has gone out and made the moves that the fans called for. As opposed to the fundamentally sound ones that the fans usually question. Will these acquisitions be the final push that puts the Eagles over the top?
Well then, shall we see if this is the case by breaking down the Birds by unit?
Donovan McNabb is the starter and nothing, aside from a severe injury, can change that. The Eagles have finally acknowledged this and have rewarded McNabb with his franchise Quarterback contract extension. McNabb is easily a top 10 quarterback in this league. He still has the athleticism to make a play when the pocket collapses, even if he is reluctant to do so.
Though his accuracy isn’t the greatest, McNabb has the arm to make a throw on any part of the field. McNabb alone warrants the score of nine out of 10, but I don’t know if he can win the big game. He has trouble hitting his wideouts when running out routes.
The Birds have just brought in Michael Vick to compete for the No. 2 job, and the “new” Andy Reid loves to please the fans. What I mean by this is Vick, while getting a limited number of snaps, will be utilized on end-around type plays to make use of the offense’s speed.
However, don’t expect the Wildcat to be utilized frequently, if at all. Michael Vick wasn’t as successful in this role as the national media would like to pretend, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry around the league last season. Moreover, the NFC East was the most successful against it. Most importantly, Vick must return to football shape to be ready to make reads. Bottom line is Vick was brought in to predominately be a passer who can step up in the event of injury.
Feeley and Kolb are behind Vick. Neither should expect to see the field this year for reasons other than injury. An excellent starter combined with good depth warrant a strong score coming into this season.
The Eagles secretly have the league’s best all-purpose backfield in the National Football League. Brian Westbrook—despite being on the wrong side of thirty this season—is one of the five best halfbacks in the league.
I expect him to have a great season due to the wealth of talent around him that will cover him when he becomes fatigued or hurts a little. He won’t put up his typical 1,500+ yards from scrimmage and double-digit touchdown totals, but he will still be the guy that commands 22 eyes on him in every play.
Second round rookie LeSean “Shady” McCoy has taken over Correll Buckhalter as cover for Westbrook. McCoy was an all-purpose “beast” in his collegiate days and has looked great in training camp and the pre-season.
Westbrook has taken a shining to McCoy and has begun teaching him the NFL tricks of the trade for an All-Purpose back. Spelling Westbrook and McCoy will be former Dolphin Lorenzo Booker, who may not be as talented as the other two, but can still do a job. He is very athletic and will make his mark with the limited carries he gets.
New addition of Leonard Weaver joins the back-field, and is the first commendable fullback that the Birds have had in quite a while. What makes Weaver note-worthy is that—as Bob Cunningham pointed out—he will be utilized in a h-back style role where he could line up in the backfield or on the line of scrimmage.
In doing so he can run, catch, and block all over the field, making a multi-faceted impact akin to cross-division rival Mike Sellers. Four players with all-purpose skills normally would yield a perfect score, but none of them are dominant runners—at least yet—and they therefore come in at a nine.
Offensive Line: 9/10
The Eagles have one of the best lines in the league on paper. Their interior consists of the ever-underrated mainstays Jamaal Jackson and Todd Herremans—both of whom are very good and underrated by the fanbase—as well as newcomer Stacey Andrews, who is talented but has a penchant for underachieving. Lining up at the tackle positions are former All-Pros Shawn Andrews and Jason Peters—both these men have weaknesses.
Andrews has a questionable mentality and is transitioning to the right tackle position—which he hasn’t played as a Pro yet. Though a good pass blocker and good run blocker, Andrews wasn’t dominant at either. He would need to be, presumably, as a right tackle.
At the more important tackle position is Jason Peters, who hasn’t looked good so far as a Bird. He had an excellent—though slightly overrated—2007 campaign, but became lazy and greedy in 2008. Last year he was one of the the worst tackles in the league. If Andrews can adjust to the new position and Peters can play like he did prior to 2008, then the Eagles could very well field a line worthy of a score of 10 out of 10
On the flipside these problems could lead to a score of seven out of 10. The depth of the Eagles field redeems them slightly.
The Eagles backups along the offensive line include; Max Jean-Gilles, Nick Cole and Winston Justice. These three players are talented and capable of starting on a lot of the teams in the league. Jean-Gilles is, quite possibly, the best backup guard in the league, and Cole is capable of playing guard and center at a commendable level. Justice is known for his bad 2007 game against Osi Umenyiora, but he has graded out well in the eyes of numerous general managers.
This immense depth is a staple to the Reid era in Philadelphia, and allows them to continue to grade out well here.
Receiving Corps: 7.5/10
First of all, let me explain that I understand the immense potential that this Eagles corps holds, but I’m a skeptic due to the history of Eagles wideouts over the past decade and a half.
You may recall—if you follow my blog—that on Aug. 10th, 2006, I stated that the Eagles receiving corps, though appearing weak, would be strong enough to aid the team due to its immense depth. Well, this group is much better than its 2006 counterpart, and as a result I expect it to be better, due to the aforementioned potential. But the possibility of stagnation remains.
At the starting flanker and split end positions are DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis, clearly the Eagles’ two best receivers. If you ask the average Eagles fan, they are sold on this duo’s All-World potential. Based on Jackson’s rookie campaign and Curtis’ 2007 campaign—but most outside of Philadelphia don’t see it this way.
These two have high levels of talent. Yet Curtis’ campaign was helped by the Week 3 slaughtering of the Lions, and Jackson still has steps to take beyond merely saying it. Can both avoid the “Eagles wideout curse” that has plagued receivers during the Reid-McNabb era—in that no wideout has caught for more than one 900+ yard season?
The secondary pass catchers for the squad are wideouts Jason Avant, Hank Baskett, and Jeremy Maclin, as well as starting tight end Brent Celek. Avant has developed into one of the league’s most reliable third down slot receivers, bringing in 15 receptions for 203 yards with 13 of the receptions going for fist downs.
Hank Baskett, despite a poor 2007 campaign, remains one of the league’s best wideouts 20+ yards down the field, capable of making a big play when needed. Jeremy Maclin, though a rookie, is considered to have “playmaking ability” according to many scouts and general managers and should look to contribute as a receiver throughout the season. Finally, Celek should contribute a lot, as the tight end in Philly is always a major contributor in the McNabb-Reid era.
However, I don’t think he’s the long term answer at the position.
I should note that this corps has the potential to be a high eight or low nine. I don't think they will live up to the hype—if there is any hype at all.
Defensive Line: 9/10
The Eagles have, for the first time in the Reid era, an elite defensive line. In the past they have had lines that put up great numbers, but that was more due to Jim Johnson’s scheme. Sean McDermott, however, doesn’t have to worry about that.
More excellent scouting by the Eagles have nabbed them the second best defensive tackle duo in the league in Patterson and Bunkley. Backing up Patterson and Bunkley is Notre Dame Alum Trevor Laws, who could be something special.
Playing next to these guys is perennial All-Pro Trent Cole. While I feel Cole did not play as well as his statistics suggest last season, I fully expect him to return to his 2007 form in which his statistics didn’t do him justice. The final piece of the defensive line is a rotation of four players at the left defensive end position; Juqua Parker, Darren Howard, Chris Clemons and Victor Abiamiri.
Clemons and Abiamiri are merely role players who can make a splash play here or there, but Parker and Howards are the ones that truly matter at the left defensive end position. Juqua Parker has been known by Eagles fans as the guy who can only put together an eight-game season, but you can bet your rear-end that he will have an effect in those eight games. Darren Howard has the potential for a double-digit sack season; but he’s merely a situational rusher.
Two elite starters combined with two good starters and immense depth that is unrivaled grades out to a nine out of 10.
Linebacking Corps: 6/10
The loss of Stewart Bradley knocked the Eagles down from six-and-a-half to six. It’s clear that this part of the team is the biggest weakness on either side of the ball, but they don’t have to be strength. Unless Sean McDermott is going to shake things up, I don’t expect them to have key playmakers outside of the eventual blitz.
Akeem Jordan is very fast for a Linebacker, but his speed doesn’t seem to help him when lining up against Tight Ends as he seems lost. Chris Gocong is underrated by Eagles fans in my humble opinion as, while not possessing superstar talent, is an excellent role player.
Joe Mays and Omar Gaither will replace Bradley and I'm not keen on either of them. However, in 2007 Gaither showed he can play MIKE for the Birds, and Mays simply is desperate to impress. However, this linebacking corps is easily one of the lesser ones in the league.
Let me just say that Eagles fans should “hate” Quintin Demps for this rating. If not for the projected starter at the strong safety position, the Eagles would grade a perfect 10 out of 10. That is down to the Eagles having the league’s best secondary, and it starts with their cornerbacks; Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel.
Sheldon Brown has been underrated by numerous casual Eagles fans for years, but even some of them are starting to see the light. Brown doesn’t have the greatest set of hands—which is why he doesn’t get praise—but he is one of the five best man coverage corners in the league. Despite being disgruntled, he has worked on his hands this off-season. On the other side is Asante Samuel, who is arguably the league’s best zone coverage corner and is one of the best playmakers at the position.
Together these two easily grade out as the league’s best cornerback duo.
Filling out the rest of the projected starting roles in the secondary are second year starter Quinten Mikell and second year player Quintin Demps. Mikell received one vote for the All-Pro team last year, allowing him to become a second team All-Pro as he took over Brian Dawkins’ role as the do-it-all free safety.
Admittedly, he deserved such a nomination. Demps, however, is a huge question mark. He has been given the benefit of the doubt by many in Philadelphia because the late Jim Johnson saw something special him. Until he can prove himself over a 16 game season, he remains a doubt, thus eliminating the perfect score that the Eagles were sitting on.
Depth-wise, the Eagles are still special. Joselio Hanson continues the Eagles’ tradition of having a pretty darn good nickel cornerback. Competing with him for that spot is veteran Ellis Hobbs who could be No. 1 on some teams in this league. Finally, the Eagles can field Jack Ikegwuonu or “Jack Ike” as the fans have grown to call him in nickel or dime situations.
“Jack Ike” has excellent press coverage skills for a young guy. The Eagles began to employ a “three-safety-look” last season, and Sean Jones appears to fill that third safety role this year. Jones is a playmaker who should, and probably would, start on numerous teams. With that kind of depth, the Eagles easily have the best secondary in the league.
I know this is kind of weird, but the one thing I think that could hold this team back next season isn’t their wideouts or linebackers; it’s their coaching staff. Sean McDermott is no Jim Johnson and I doubt that he will ever be. Jim Johnson was an NFL legend and while McDermott inherits a talented defense, I don’t think he could work with virtually nothing and succeed. That said, I can’t grade him out because he hasn’t been a defensive coordinator before.
Andy Reid will be calling the plays offensively and I have no problem with that. Reid is an excellent coach with an excellent mind for inventing plays. Despite being a top five head coach, Reid has a penchant for making the team lose games that it shouldn’t.
Reid will refuse to stop throwing the ball in a game because this has worked in other games, or will fail to make necessary adjustments because of overconfidence in his personnel. Reid’s hubris has cost the Eagles quite a few games over his tenure, but he is still a 10+ win head coach.
Prediction: 8-8 to 12-4
How can a team with such high grades have such a low record prediction? Despite being what I consider “14-win talent” the Eagles have one of the toughest schedules in the league, whether it is based on last year’s standings or what might happen next season.
The NFC East is a tough division with some very strong rivalries, that include the Eagles having to play the Redskins and Giants, both of whom look to be competitors. Additionally, the Cowboys should not be slept on.
The Panthers return a lot of their team from last season and match up well with the Birds. Finally, the Falcons, Saints and Chargers look to be competitive this season and the Bears were capable of matching up with the Eagles in 2008.
When you throw in what I said about Andy Reid costing the team a close game or two, then the Eagles could very well underachieve and miss the post-season. Conversely, they could be playing on Feb. 7th, 2010.