2011 NFL Predictions: The Philadelphia Eagles' 7 Possible Weaknesses
It’s difficult to ignore the fact that there is one NFL team on everyone’s lips at the moment.
After splashing the cash to grab some of the most sought after players in the business, the Philadelphia Eagles have already been coined the "Dream Team."
The Eagles swooped in for quarterback Vince Young, running back Ronnie Brown, defensive end Jason Babin and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in an epic week of deals.
Not only that, but the Philadelphia hierarchy then capped off the week by revealing themselves to be the sleepers in the race for the most prized possession of this year’s free agency—cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
So will the Eagles fit the bill? The weight of expectation on the shoulders of Eagles coach Andy Reid has just intensified, more so than usual for a man who is yet to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home to the Linc. However, this offseason, it appears as though the front office has decided to pull out all the stops to help the team win now, rather than continue to build for future success.
But the question is, have these offseason deals made the Eagles unbeatable? Surely there is a downside to so much talent; sometimes players might just not fit the scheme.
Can they be compared to the NBA’s Miami Heat, a team that was built on expensive free agency acquisitions? Here is a look at some of the weaknesses that could act as a spanner in the works of Andy Reid’s master plan.
1. Linebackers Show Their Youth
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Although the Eagles have brought in some big names, they have also let some key ones go. The loss of MLB Stewart Bradley could prove costly ahead of the 2011 season. Despite Bradley history of injury problems with the Eagles, he was, without a doubt, a sure tackler with great vision and strength.
In his place, it appears as though new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is likely to employ rookie linebacker Casey Matthews, a fourth-round pick out of the University of Oregon. Casey has already shown signs of power and tenacity, similar to that of his older brother Clay, but is it too much to ask from a rookie?
When you think of the MLB, you associate him with being the leader of the defense, and it is questionable whether, at such a young age, Casey is ready to be the man who calls the plays and acts as the defensive pillar.
But Casey isn’t the only inexperienced linebacker in the Eagles defensive corps. The majority of linebackers set for preseason all have less than three years of experience—five-year veteran Akeem Jordan being the exception.
Last year, the defense gave up over 1,700 rushing yards and there has to be worries that the figure could rise this season as a result of the team’s inexperienced linebacking corps.
Obviously Castillo has his work cut out, otherwise, come the first week of the season, the Eagles might find themselves being run all over by the Rams’ Steven Jackson.
2. New Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo
Chris Gardner/Getty Images
Mentioning the group of linebackers as a potential weakness leads us to another source of concern for the Eagles "Dream Team," Juan Castillo.
He has been part of the Eagles coaching setup since 1995 and replaced Sean McDermott as the new defensive coordinator this past offseason. Castillo began as an offensive assistant, and most recently, was coaching the offensive line.
Although Castillo has a vast amount of experience coaching offensive lines, I believe the transition from the offense to defense could be a bumpier ride than most imagine. The Eagles tried a first-time defensive coordinator just two years ago in Sean McDermott and that definitely did not work out.
Granted, he now has a star-studded group of cornerbacks to make him look good, but will the youthfulness of the defensive schemes he is intending to utilise pay off? Castillo has never coached a defense in the NFL. In fact, the last time he was in charge of a defense was way back in 1989 at Texas A&M.
Many believe that after spending so many years working with offensive lines, he will be able to manipulate the Eagles defense to counteract the opposing threats. Only time will tell, I guess. Still, one advantage of having a young defense is that it gives him the opportunity to mould them into something truly great.
3. Playoff Problems
Al Bello/Getty Images
Despite continued regular season success, the Eagles seem to have a habit of falling to pieces when it matters most.
They have been one of the most consistent teams in the NFC East in recent years but have only made it to one Super Bowl during Andy Reid’s tenure. Every time they look invincible, the team goes into meltdown mode, even on their own turf.
Last season, the Eagles were hotly-tipped to make the Super Bowl after boasting the league's most explosive offense. But their defensive red zone woes—which had dogged the team all season long—came back to haunt them against eventual Super Bowl winners, the Green Bay Packers.
Although many are tipping the Eagles for the Super Bowl again this season, they must overcome their past playoff ghosts if they want to be in Lucas Oil Stadium come next February.
4. A Real Safety Issue
Al Bello/Getty Images
Now that the cornerback issues have been addressed, hopefully the team’s red zone struggles from last season will be a thing of the past. But is there cause for concern elsewhere in the defense?
Having already mentioned the linebacker issues, another question that has to be asked is how well the rookie safeties can protect the secondary.
After the departure of Brian Dawkins, the Eagles looked to Quintin Mikell to come up with big defensive plays and pass-play prevention. With his departure to the Rams, the Eagles now look like they will be dependent on Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, both entering their second years.
Despite picking up three interceptions in his first four games, safety Nate Allen sometimes fell victim to the more experienced players of the league, leaving the Eagles exposed at the back.
Now, as it seems Juan Castillo plans to make Nate Allen the strong safety and Coleman the free safety, in what is a rather curious switch, will there be more problems against the big pass plays?
5. No More Akers or Rocca
Eric Francis/Getty Images
Despite the buzz of picking up some big names in free agency, it was sad to see a couple of long-serving veterans move on to new pastures.
When the Eagles drafted Nebraska Cornhusker Alex Henery in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and more recently picked up Chas Henry in free agency, questions were asked regarding the futures of clutch kicker David Akers and punter Sav Rocca.
Two of the Eagles’ most reliable and experienced players, Akers and Rocca were always there when the Eagles needed them most, but Andy Reid decided it was time to make a fresh start.
Henry has already shown composure and maturity with the Cornhuskers, which is why Coach Reid must feel comfortable with him. But there is a good chance that at a critical moment, hopes will be placed on the rookie to come up with the goods. Will he prevail?
One of the reasons that Akers was so good was because he was clutch. He still holds the record for the most consecutive postseason field goal conversions, so Henry has some big shoes to fill if the Eagles are to have any hope of reaching the big one.
The risks associated with losing Rocca is that the Eagles also lack a bonafide holder for place kicks. We all know that it doesn’t take fans long to lose trust in kickers, so could the rookie connection be an accident waiting to happen in the latter stages of the season—when the pressure is at its peak?
6. Dream Team Pressure
Robert B. Stanton/Getty Images
Now that everyone is talking about the Eagles, they have a lot to live up to—and with great expectation, comes great pressure. Most Eagles fans don’t need reminding that they have never won a Super Bowl, and with the new title that has been bestowed upon them, they are now more hungry for success than ever before.
Being labelled the "Dream Team" is without a doubt the worst thing that could have happened to Andy Reid’s men and could be their biggest weakness.
Now it is expected that every week Vick will excel, along with big playmakers DeSean Jackson and Nnamdi Asomugha—a tall order to live up to. What if Vick can’t replicate his performances from last season?
Even if you are a "Dream Team," it doesn’t mean success is set in stone. We all know how the Miami Heat's season turned out...
7. Element of Surprise Gone?
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Last year, no one could have predicted the impact Michael Vick would have on the league. In the offseason, most would have been preparing to defend against Kevin Kolb, but with his injury, in stepped Vick with an impressive comeback season.
This offseason, teams will be more prepared to bottle up any running opportunities for Vick. It was already happening towards the end of last season, and unless a new method of gaining clutch first downs is achieved, we might see far fewer touchdowns this season from last year’s most electrifying offence.
Everyone is now aware of the threat speedsters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin pose, as well as the resourcefulness of LeSean McCoy, so will attempting to recreate big plays lead to the offense’s downfall this season?