Glaring Issues Face 2010 Eagles
Some want to call it a rebuilding year. Others are dubbing 2010 as a new era in Eagles' football. Regardless of what you think of many new faces wearing Hunter Green or the popular veterans that have been jettisoned over the past two years, one thing is certain. Come September the Eagles will have 17 weeks and 16 games to prove that their oftten scrutinized moves will show dividends.
Is Kevin Kolb the savior?
Will the O-line provide the protection both the passing and running game desperately need?
Is the Eagles defensegoing to take large steps in it's second season removed from revered defense coordinator Jim Johnson?
So many issues but only four are burning and require immediate answers come Week 1.
The Men In the Trenches
Andy Reid will one day write a treatise on the importance of a great Offensive Line; however, his has been in transition for two years now. Important cogs like Jon Runyan and William (Tra) Thomas are long gone and Shawn Andrews is getting his "Michael Phelps on" in the UFL.
Jason Peters was the much lauded, marquee pick-up of last season but has a lot to prove to Eagles' fans after a sub par 2009 campaign. There are many analysts who believe that Peters is one of the best lineman in the game. Eagles fans will hope his second season in Reid's system will give them reason to believe those high expectations.
Winston Justice turned a corner last season and seemed to give people confidence that his turnstyle performance 2008, particularly his performance in which he allowed five sacks to Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora is nothing but a fading memory. It is fair to say he was the most consistent Eagles offensive lineman last year.
Peters and Justice should provide a solid bookend for first year starter Kevin Kolb.
The big question area? The Interior
Max Jean-Giles showed signs of improvement last year but is he ready (after offseason surgery) to function as both an everyday pass and run blocker?
While Jamal Jackson continues to recover from major knee surgery, can Nick Cole function as a reliable regular Center? If not will Andy Reid turn to Penn State All-American and Rimington Award winner A.Q. Shipley?
With a first year QB under center and thin backfield led by second year man LeSean McCoy, it goes without saying that the offensive line will be pivotal to the Eagles offensive production.
The Young Heir; Sean McDermott
He was given the unenviable job of taking over for a Philadelphia legend. After the sad passing of defensive guru Jim Johnson, McDermott was handed the reigns to a defense that had been among the best in the NFL for a decade.
That defense could best be described as inconsistent in McDermott's first season with the headset.
-The run defensive was a great improvement to prior years. It ranked 9th in the NFL and did not allow a 100-yard runner til week 15 against Frank Gore and the 49ers.
-Led by Trent Cole the Eagles ranked third in the NFL in sacks
-Due to injury McDermott was forced to use nine different linebacking combinations. As a result, opposing tight ends averaged 5 catches and about 60 yards per game.
-The secondary finished 17th in passing defense and finshed that high largely due to their high frequency of interceptions; however it was feast or famine. For Every INT they gave up just over one TD. (More on this later)
With the return of Stewart Bradley at MLB and the addition of Ernie Sims (coverage LB) and first round pick Brandon Graham the defensive front-seven should again be the strength of this defense.
As for McDermott, in his second year at the helm he must create a stronger identity for himself and this defense. Whether they choose the aggressive approach popularized under Jim Johnson or something more conservative, McDermott has to come into his own and bring this defense with him.
Asante Samuel / Nate Allen / Quintin Mikell / Ellis Hobbs
Houston we have a problem!
Last year the Eagles ranked in middle of the pack finishing a respectable 17th overall in the NFL in passing. They finished fourth in interceptions.
Those facts alone would create the impression that there should be little reason for angst in regards to the Eagles secondary, still they allowed QBs to complete better than 61% of their passes and allowed an average of 215+ yards per game in the air.
Remove the most reliable tackler (Sheldon Brown) and you are left with a highly explosive but highly combustible defensive back unit.
Eagles fans know what to expect of Asante Samuel; a ballhawk with the tackle ability of a punter.
Quintin Mikell is work horse and leader in the secondary but his ability to cover and tackle in the open field leave much to be desired.
Now factor in an unproven Ellis Hobbs and rookie safety Nate Allen. Hobbs played in eight games last year and came away with just eight tackles. Those are his stats for 2009. Seriously they are!
Nate Allen is a athletic and talented rookie taken with the pick acquired in the Donovan McNabb trade. All reports are that he is a disciplined, agile, hard worker. One must assume growing pains will occur once he straps on the gear in his first Real game, but he is a player with a lot of potential and reason for Eagles fans to hope.
Round the DB's out with a cast of characters including Macho Harris, Joselio Hanson, Quintin Demps, rookie Trevard Lindley, etc, etc. and there isn't much room for excitement in the secondary.
Eagles fans will have to hope the defensive line and linebackers can create enough pressure on QB's to cause erratic passes. If the front seven can force QB's to throw before ready it will cause fewer completions and therefore fewer chances for our poor tackling secondary to be exposed, if not look for teams like the Cowboys who are deep at WR and TE to exploit the Eagles' defensive backs.
It would be unfair to place the weight of the team solely on Kevin Kolb just as it is unfair to place all the burden on Andy Reid.
A coach is only as good as his QB and vice versa.
The Reid/McNabb duo were like the couple your friends hate. They laughed and joked endlessly with each other and yet you (the fans) never could understand why as they consistently came up short together.
Reid a West Coast Offense Protege and McNabb a run and shoot QB in the purist form were not a good combination and yet like that odd couple, they seemed to get along perfectly.
However, the divorce is complete and from the outside it appears this marriage should be a better fit.
Kolb has the accurate short game absolutely necessary to operate the West Coast game. He has the work ethic, practical thinking and demeanor that the city loves in a QB. There will be no moonwalking or Thriller renditions by a Eagles' QB this year.
Still as well as Kolb seemingly should fit the Andy Reid system, it will be up to Reid to game plan efficiently.
Reid should avoid passing 40+ times per game (typical with McNabb) and especially cognizant of the number of deep balls he asks Kolb to throw.
If Reid is a true West Coast guy and Kolb and a perfect fit for that system, Reid will have to rely on Kolb to complete primarily 5-10 yard passes and complement it with a run game (as well as screen and flank pass game) that can gain enough yardage to put the offense in 3rd and short situations.
Andy Reid is a offensive genius (look at the numbers and consider aside from 2004 and most recently he had second and third rate receivers) but sometimes one's genious is its own enemy. Reid can get overly agressive and grandiose in his offensive schemes.
Eagles fans must hope Reid's greatness can be checked by Kolb's pragmatism and shrewd attention to detail.