Philadelphia Eagles: The 5 Biggest Concerns Going into the 2011 Season
The Philadelphia Eagles have put their chips on the table and gone all in with a monster offseason.
The Eagles brought in one of the top cornerbacks in the game, Nnamdi Asomugha, to improve upon a right cornerback spot that was a serious issue in 2010.
The Eagles have also brought in proven veterans Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown, Vince Young, Jason Babin and Steve Smith.
The time to win is now, but are the Eagles a serious contender going into 2011?
No team in the NFL is perfect, and Philadelphia certainly has its weaknesses.
The Eagles struggled to give Michael Vick adequate time to throw the football in 2010, giving up 49 sacks total. Head coach Andy Reid refused to ignore this problem and brought in one of the best offensive line coaches in the game, Howard Mudd.
Mudd's blocking scheme uses leaner, more athletic linemen, as opposed to the the 350-pound behemoths Juan Castillo used when he was the line coach. A more athletic line will be a better matchup against teams running the 3-4 defense, which 10 of the Eagles' opponents will run in 2011.
The offensive line has not only gone though a major scheme change, but an entire makeover as well.
Jason Peters is still at left tackle, but every other position has a different player than 2010. Last year's left guard, Todd Herremans, has moved to right tackle after both Ryan Harris and Winston Justice failed to stay healthy. Veteran starting center Jamaal Jackson has been beaten out by 280-pound rookie Jason Kelce, and the right guard spot will be manned by the Eagles' first pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, Danny Watkins.
The offensive line has gone through some major changes in a very short amount of time and will go through some growing pains. The line is more athletic and is led by a coaching legend.
Expect the line to struggle with communication early on in the season, but it will continue to get better each and every week. This group should be clicking on all cylinders by December, it's just unclear if the Eagles' new $100 million man, quarterback Michael Vick, will still be in one piece.
No other positions for the Eagles have gotten more criticism than their linebackers.
Starting linebackers Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou have a combined 17 regular-season starts between them. All three have a high amount of potential, but all three still have a lot of room to grow as players.
Fokou, an outside linebacker, has 15 career NFL starts, but has never been the starter going into a season. He started the final four games of his rookie season in 2009 and 11 of the final 12 in 2010. Both seasons the Eagles saw a major improvement in their run-defense.
Matthews will be the Eagles' middle linebackers despite being a rookie taken in the fourth round last April. He is a natural linebacker just like his father and brother, Clay Matthews.
Matthews' football instincts are off the charts for a rookie, and he also posses outstanding coverage skills. His biggest weakness is clearly against the run, where he got eaten alive by Steelers linemen in the Eagles' second preseason game in Pittsburgh. Matthews has to figure out how to make an impact against the run with or without the help of his defensive tackles.
Chaney will be the Eagles' other starting outside linebacker despite starting in place of Stewart Bradley in 2010 at middle linebacker. Chaney also possesses excellent coverage skills and will be matched up one-on-one against opposing tight ends in man coverage the majority of the time.
The linebackers will be a lot like the offensive lien early on. They will have their struggles, but will gel as the season goes on and will get better each week.
Michael Vick had a true comeback story in 2010, going from incarcerated in a federal prison for two years to throwing more than 3,000 yards in 21 touchdowns in 2011. Vick made the comeback official Aug. 29, signing a six-year, $100 million deal with the Eagles.
Vick was able to evolve into more of a pocket-passer in 2010, but he still has some concerns going into the 2011 season.
Vick took way too many shots in 2010 and hasn't proven to be durable enough to make it through a full season. With a rebuilt offensive line and opposing teams' main objective being to knock Vick to the ground for four quarters, he will have to find a way to avoid hits and stay healthy. Vick played in just 12 games in 2010.
The Eagles had some serious red zone woes in 2010.
The defense allowed opponents inside their 20-yard line 43 times in 2010 and gave up a whopping 30 touchdowns. The offense didn't fare much better, as the Eagles attempted 24 field goals under 40 yards in 2010.
The red-zone defense should fare much better with an improved pass-rush and inexperienced Dimitri Patterson replaced by both Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The offense still has some question marks, though.
The Eagles passed on Plaxico Burress, a proven weapon inside the 20, but they did sign a proven veteran in Steve Smith. Smith has 10 touchdowns the past two seasons and is an excellent slot receiver the Eagles can play opposite to Jason Avant in four-wide receiver sets.
Ronnie Brown, the Eagles' free-agent pickup from Miami, should add a little power to the running game as well. Brown has scored 38 touchdowns in his career, while also running the original Wildcat formation for the Dolphins. His versatility and his 230-pound frame should add another dimension to the red-zone offense.
The Eagles also added Donald Lee to complement fellow tight ends Clay Harbor and Brent Celek. All three tight ends should be used in the red zone and other short-yardage situations.
A much-improved red-zone offense should help the Eagles score even more than their 439 total from last season.
The Eagles' secondary is almost perfect.
They have three Pro Bowlers with Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, along with three more promising young studs in Trevard Lindley, Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes. Philadelphia also has a new defensive leader in second-year safety Kurt Coleman.
But opposite Coleman, the Eagles have a problem.
Nate Allen isn't fully recovered from a torn patella tendon he suffered from last December and most likely won't be starting come Week 1. The Eagles have already been giving five-year veteran Jarrad Page most of the reps with the first-team defense. Page has been the starter before, but picking up a new defense in a short amount of time won't be easy.
The Eagles' secondary will only be as strong as their weakest link, and if Page becomes a liability much like Dimitri Patterson was in 2010, it could offset the rest of the unit.
Expect Page to be used more in run support early on until the coaching staff feels comfortable with his grasp of the defense and his coverage skills. The position should go back to Nate Allen once he is back at 100 percent, but when that will happen is still very unclear.