The expectation for the Eagles is obvious. After making big splash after big splash this offseason, it's Super Bowl or bust in Philadelphia. Andy Reid cannot survive as the Eagles head coach for much longer without bringing the Lombardi Trophy to Philly.
The NFL is a very competitive league. Everybody knows what everybody else's strengths and weaknesses are and no coach can win in this league without making some clever adjustments. What will and what should the Eagles do differently to continue to keep everyone guessing?
DeSean Jackson is on that rare level as a punter returner that only he and Devin Hester are on. Jackson has four career punt returns for touchdowns with a career average of 11.2 yards on 99 career returns.
Jackson's opportunities as a punter returner have decreased dramatically since his rookie season in 2008 when he had 50 punt returns. In the past two seasons he has had 49 returns in both seasons combined. Andy Reid has elected to keep DeSean primarily on offense.
In the NFL you can never settle. Having Jackson field punts will greatly benefit the offense. He will take at least two returns to the house and punters will have to kick away from Jackson much like they do against Devin Hester. That extra 10 yards of field position can really make a huge difference. It also forces teams to really commit more guys to covering the punt rather than blocking, allowing the Eagles to come after the punt on occasion with a greater chance of success.
Jackson was the difference in "The Miracle at the New Meadownlands" last season and will be the difference in at least two games in 2011 as a punt returner.
When the Eagles signed Ronnie Brown they didn't get backup to LeSean McCoy, they got a great compliment to McCoy in the backfield. Both players can run up the middle or bounce it to the outside. Both players are also both great receivers out of the backfield as well. Andy Reid would be a fool to just let Brown ride the bench this season.
Brown has amassed 184 receptions and just under 1,500 career receiving yards in his six year career. McCoy also proved to be a great receiver in 2010, racking up 76 receptions for 592 yards. Both players are very versatile out of the backfield and are complete mismatches for linebackers.
Having two versatile backs on the field at the same time would give quarterback Michael Vick two safety valves to throw to against the blitz and also open things up in the middle of the field for slot receiver Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek.
Ronnie Brown signed a one year deal and the Eagles can't afford to waste this opportunity. Getting Brown and McCoy on the field would just add another element to an already explosive offense.
The Eagles have come up short time and time again under Andy Reid in both short yardage and red zone situations. More two tight end formations would greatly benefit the Eagles in the red zone.
Most people believe that two and three tight end sets are obvious running formations but they are actually very useful in the passing game if your tight ends are good receivers. Both Eagles tight ends Brent Celek and Clay Harbor are more of receiving tight ends than they are blockers, although they have improved their abilities as blockers in 2010.
Having Celek and Harbor on the field at the same time will give the Eagles two physical receivers in the middle of the field and will open things up on the outside for both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
The Eagles need to keep being creative in the running game as they aren't physical enough to just run over people for four quarters. They have three very capable rusher on their roster now with McCoy, Brown and Dion Lewis. The Eagles need to continue to find ways of putting them in position to succeed.
The Chiefs were a great running team under Dick Vermeil in the early 2000s. The Chiefs had a good offensive line but they also had a great blocking tight end, Jason Dunn. Dunn was like an undersized offensive tackle that was far too strong for defensive ends and linebackers hold up against the run.
The Eagles don't have a Jason Dunn on their roster at tight end but they have a very good reserve tackle. King Dunlap is a more than capable blocker int he running game, especially against defenders that a tight end would typically be called on to block.
Dunlap is massive in size at 6'9, 330 pounds. His long wingspan negates the speed that linebackers and quicker defensive ends could use against him.
Team will eventually start to overload on his side but that just opens up counter plays on the weak side. McCoy is a dangerous runner in the open field. It's crucial for the Eagles to continue to find ways of getting him in the open field so he can turn those five yard runs into fifty yard runs.
Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is an absolute weapon on defense. His height allows him to matchup with any receiver on the field but it's his speed that truly makes him a dynamic player.
Because of his speed, Rodgers-Cromartie is nearly impossible to beat deep. He ran a 4.3 40 at the NFL combine in 2008 and even that doesn't do him justice.
The Eagles would be wise to blitz Rodgers-Cromartie periodically throughout the season. If unblocked the opposing quarterback would have zero time to get off a clean pass. He would have to be accounted for on every play and that would allow him to show blitz and sneak back into coverage in order to throw off the opposing teams blitz pickup.
Blitzing a guy like Rodgers-Cromartie just gives an opposing defense just one more thing to worry about for an already loaded defense.
Keenan Clayton and Brian Rolle are truly special linebackers. Neither is your typical every down linebacker but both posses safety like abilities at linebacker.
Both Rolle and Clayton should be used in nickel packages as the two linebackers. The Eagles would get two players that are physical to play the run in an obvious passing situation but athletic enough to cover almost anyone.
Clayton saw a lot of action in the nickel defense last season and Rolle could see a lot of action in that role in 2011 as well, Both players are also capable blitzers and posses excellent coverage skills.
Rolle finished preseason with 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks while finished nine tackles and 0.5 sacks.
Ronnie Brown is one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL. Not only is Brown a great runner and receiver out of the backfield, but Brown is one of the best weapons in the wildcat offense.
Brown has thrown for over 68 yards and two touchdowns in the last three seasons running the wildcat offense for the Miami Dolphins. He doesn't have the arm strength that a typical NFL quarterback has, but does have an accurate arm and makes good decisions.
The Eagles have continued to struggle in the red zone in the past few seasons under head coach Andy Reid. Having a play like Ronnie Brown run the wildcat in the red zone will both give the defense something else to prepare for but will also prevent quarterback Michael Vick from taking anymore unnecessary shots than he has to.
The Eagles have one of the deepest receiving cores in the NFL. They also have on of the worst red zone efficiency ratings year after year. They put themselves in position to score, but too often settle for field goals when they need touchdowns against some of the better defenses in the NFL.
Why not let one major strength help out one major weakness?
The Eagles receiving core is lead by two Pro Bowl caliber players in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. They also have two of the best slot receivers in the league with Steve Smith and Jason Avant. Add physical, jump ball type receiver in Riley Cooper and the Eagles have by far the most versatile group of wide outs in the game.
Why not get all of them on the field at once.
When they get in the red zone, they can put Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper on the outside. Maclin had 70 receptions and 10 touchdowns in 2010 and proved he was more than just another vertical threat. Cooper had just seven catches in 2010, but proved he is a physical receiver with his 42 yard catch over Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed in the opening week of preseason.
Steve Smith and Jason Avant would be the obvious slot receivers. Both players have a combined 374 career receptions and both posses great route running and hands.
Where does that leave the most dangerous receiver DeSean Jackson? Put him in the backfield. This would really open up the offense. Vick can hand the ball off or toss it to Jackson. Vick can fake the ball to Jackson and just run it himself or they can run one of hundreds of possible passing plays out of this wide receiver set.
When you put five talented receivers like these on the field at the same time, there is going to be mismatches all over the field. Not even the Eagles would have enough corners to cover everybody.
Both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are ideal punt returners. They both have good hands. They both are lightning quick and both are capable of making a defender or two miss in the open field.
Why not have them both field punts, at the same time?
DeSean Jackson alone is a dangerous return man. He has four punts returns for touchdowns in his first three seasons in the league including "The Miracle at the New Meadownlands". Maclin is a great return man as well, but did most of his damage in college at Missouri.
Having both players fielding punts would allow for reverses and fake reverses to keep the coverage team guessing. It wouldn't be ideal for every punt, but just when the offense needs a spark or a big play.
Nnamdi Asomugha is that special breed of player that you can move all over the field and he can be just as successful wherever you put him. Asomugha can cover both on the outside and in the slot and is physical enough to play safety as well.
Asomugha is a true shut down corner. He has the wing span to jam any receiver at the line and has the speed to cover anybody in the league. He is also an excellent tackler as well.
Asomugha's skill set allows defensive coordinator Juan Castillo to move him all over the field much like the Packers do with Charles Woodson.
Moving Asomugha all over the field will allow the Eagles to blitz him all over the field. Instead of leaving him at the right cornerback spot like the Raiders did throughout his career in Oakland, quarterbacks will have to account for Asomugha on every single play.
The Eagles don't have any well known safeties on their roster just, but they have three young players with a lot of talent.
Kurt Coleman has gone from a seventh round draft pick in 2010 to the starting free safety going into 2011. He racked up 16 tackles in the final two preseason games. Nate Allen is listed a strong safety but is more of your center field type of free safety. Allen was the rookie of the month last September and had a very solid rookie campaign before tearing a patella tendon in his knee. The Eagles drafted another safety in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Jaiquawn Jarrrett. Jarrett is an outstanding tackler who is pretty solid in coverage as well.
Allen is still recovering from offseason knee surgery stemming from his tendon tear and may not start in Week 1. Allen should be at 100% by October and is expected to win back his starting job as soon as he is, Currently he is splitting reps with the first team defense with Jarrad Page.
The Eagles could benefit from getting all three of their talented young safeties on the field at the same time. All three players can line up in the box and play the run. They also are excellent against the pass in zone and man coverage.
No one stood out more in preseason for the Eagles than Dion Lewis did. Lewis was the Eagles fifth round draft pick last April and wasn't a lock to make the team coming out of the draft. A strong preseason has changed all that.
Lewis finished preseason with 148 rushing yards and 102 receiving yards as the Eagles third string running back. He showed but elusiveness and a great deal of strength for someone that stand just under five feet and eight inches.
He showed far too much ability to just sit on the bench for the entire season. Andy Reid needs to find ways of getting Lewis the ball.
He can pound the ball up the middle or bounce it back to the outside. Lewis is also a terrific receiver for a rookie running back as well. Lewis will start the season as the Eagles kickoff return man, but needs to get touches on offense as well.
Reid will have no choice but to give yet another talented running back out of Pittsburgh the ball. He has proven to be too dangerous a runner to ride the pine all year.
Riley Cooper has learned a lot since Michael Vick under threw him in the end zone in last years playoff defeat. In his first reception of preseason, Cooper positioned himself favorably against future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed and caught a 42 yard bomb from Vick. That play alone showed that Cooper has learned to come back to the ball rather than waiting for the pass to come to him.
The Eagles have to get him one on one coverage deep. He is a mismatch with his 6'3, 220 pound frame and athletic ability.
With both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles have two speedy wide outs that safeties have to help out over top as no corner is fast enough to stay with deep. Cooper should get plenty of single coverage deep with both those players taking away extra help deep.
Cooper got a lot of work with Vick early on during training camp when Maclin was sick and Jackson was holding out. Let's hope he put the time to good use and can make a major impact in the passing game.
Andy Reid loves going deep to DeSean Jackson early and often. Teams have adjusted to this by moving their safeties back 15 to 20 yards. The Eagles need to take advantage of this.
Reid would be wise to use Jackson as more of a decoy early on in game in order to open up the short and medium yardage routes. When you can take the safeties out of play, it opens things up for players like LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin on shorter routes. Both players can be almost as dangerous in the open field.
Decoying Jackson also allows a lot of single coverage over the middle for receivers like Brent Celek, Jason Avant and Steve Smith. All three players are quality possession receivers that will get favorable match ups with linebackers in the middle of the field.
Forcing the safeties to play deeper also opens things up in the running game. You force the defense to keep just six or seven guys in the box which allows to more runs to bounce to the outside and get into the open field.
Every player but Jackson will benefit from this. Eventually the safeties will have to cheat up a little bit which will set up for the long bomb to Jackson.
Having three outstanding cover corners in Asante Samuel, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha allows defensive coordinator Juan Castillo to really attack on third and long type situations.
Receivers routes usually take longer to develop on third and long, and having three stud cover corners will make the routes take even longer. This allows the Eagles to blitz two or three extra players and force early throws that will lead to many interceptions.
It will also force quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quicker and prevent quarterbacks from throwing the ball deep down the middle of the field where most third and longs are converted.
Add two extra blitzers to an already outstanding pass rushing line and you have a potential nightmare for quarterbacks on the Eagles schedule.