Will 2009 Finally Be The Eagles' Time To Shine?

Thomas CasaleCorrespondent IJune 27, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 15:  Quarterback Donovan McNabb #5 of the Philadelphia Eagles hands off the ball to Brian Westbrook #36 against the Cleveland Browns on December 15, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It’s the plight of every Eagles' fan: so close, yet so far away.

For much of the decade the Philadelphia Eagles have dominated the NFC East and to a large extent, the conference in general. Yet, at the end of the day, they have nothing to show for it.

Last season may have been the most frustrating of all the Eagles shortcomings in recent years.

The back-to-back home losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game certainly ranks right up there, but after defeating the New York Giants on the road it certainly looked as if lady luck was finally on the side of the Eagles.

Seriously, how many people thought the Arizona Cardinals were actually going to the Super Bowl? It had to be the Eagles year, right? Sadly, it was not to be.

For whatever reason, the Eagles can’t seem to get over that proverbial hump. It’s odd because on the surface the Eagles appear to have all the ingredients of a championship team.

Philadelphia is a great sports city with a rabid, devout fan-base.

The Eagles have one of the NFL’s best owners in Jeffrey Lurie, who has built a top notch football operations department around him to help run the team.

Despite some recent criticism from Eagles fans, how many coaches out there are better than Andy Reid?

Reid hasn’t been able to win the big one yet but guys like Tom Landry, Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy used to have the same moniker attached to them until they finally won a Super Bowl.

Then there is Donovan McNabb. No athlete in my lifetime has received more unfair criticism, both from his own fan base and from others, than McNabb.

I never felt that McNabb was in the elite class of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning because he has always struggled with his accuracy on those short-to-intermediate throws across the middle.

But after Brady, Manning and maybe one or two other guys throughout the years, who would you rather have playing quarterback for your team besides McNabb?

I hear some Eagles fans saying it’s time for a change at quarterback. A change to who?

Have you seen the quarterback play in the NFL these days? So other than the two or three elite quarterbacks in the NFL, I don’t know who you would take over McNabb.

Then you toss in one of the best defensive minds in the NFL. Actually, I think Jim Johnson may be one of the best defensive coordinators of all-time.

We are always hearing about Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh but I believe he gets more recognition only because the Steelers have won Super Bowls recently.

When you look at the schemes Johnson has put together to stop some of the best offenses in the NFL since coming to Philadelphia in 1999. His success is remarkable. He truly is one of the great defensive minds to ever walk the sidelines.

Johnson will obviously be missed while he is recovering from melanoma but if he fights the disease the same way he coaches, the cancer doesn’t stand a chance.

So it’s almost inconceivable that the Eagles haven’t won a Super Bowl title. They have virtually every piece of the puzzle needed to do so.

A great owner that doesn’t meddle, one of the smartest football operation departments and scouting staffs in the league, an elite head coach, a potential future Hall of Fame quarterback and a nasty defense created by a mad scientist.

But for some reason, when it comes to a big game, the Eagles have yet to put it all together. When the defense plays well, the offense underachieves. When the offense plays well, the defense can’t make a crucial stop.

Even Andy Reid, one of the most aggressive play callers in the NFL, seems to approach big games much more conservatively for some reason.

But with a new season comes new hope and because the Eagles are one of the best franchises in the NFL, they have put themselves in position to make another Super Bowl run.

First I want to talk about the draft because I’m so excited about one particular player. I love college football. I haven’t missed a day of college football in 20 years. I watch it religiously from noon until the Hawaii game is over with, so draft day in the NFL is like Christmas for me.

In my opinion, the Eagles, Patriots and Ravens are the three best drafting teams in the league. Watching these three teams work the draft board and pick players is a pleasure and this year was no different.

I think Philadelphia got by far and away the biggest steal in the draft and his name is LeSean McCoy.

People who don’t watch a lot of college football may look at some of McCoy’s numbers and not be blown away (YPC). That’s a big mistake.

McCoy played with some of the worst college quarterbacks in the country. Bob Stull and Pat Bostick would have trouble starting at good 1-AA schools.

I watched games last year where opponents had nine men in the box to stop McCoy. Plus, it’s not like Pitt made any adjustments, seeing that Dave Wannstedt is arguably the worst coach in all of college football.

Still, McCoy was able to rack up yards and touchdowns even with defenses totally committing to stopping him. This guy is the real deal and he was the best back in this year’s draft.

Oh, and McCoy’s biggest strength is that he’s a tremendous goal line runner. He almost always bounces off the first defender and gets that extra yard, kind of like the Cowboys' Marion Barber.

McCoy was the nation's second-leading scorer last season. See where I’m going with this Eagle fans?

Brian Westbrook is one of the best pound-for-pound players in the NFL but the Eagles do so many different things with him. It allows for another back to be a factor in Philly’s offense. Look at what Correll Buckhalter was able to do. McCoy is going to be a flat-out stud with the Eagles.

Then you look at what else the Eagles did on draft day. They brought in a spectacular offensive weapon in Jeremy Maclin.

I love hearing the criticism about this guy. Philadelphia drafted him at No. 19. Are you telling me a player with Maclin’s talent and upside isn’t a smart pick at 19? Sure he is and that’s why the Eagles are a great drafting team.

Then selecting Florida tight end Cornelius Ingram in the fifth round was pure genius in my opinion. Once Ingram is 100 percent healthy, you are talking about a second-round talent, according to most scouts.

That’s how you draft. It’s called value and the Eagles may have gotten themselves a future stud tight end in Round 5.

Also, don’t sleep on sixth-round pick Brandon Gibson. I watch a lot of Pac 10 football and this guy fell off the map last year because Washington State was so pitiful but Gibson can play. Keep a close eye on him this preseason. Gibson may surprise people.

It’s the same story every year when you go over the Eagles' draft. That’s why they are always in contention.

Now look at the Cowboys' draft in comparison. It’s nothing but a bunch of reaches and players that will be out of the NFL in a couple of years. That’s not my opinion, it’s a fact.

Go back and look at Dallas’ last twelve drafts under Jerry Jones and see how many of those players lasted five years in the league. It’s comical. That explains why the Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game in over a decade.

Of course, I didn’t even mention the acquisition of left tackle Jason Peters, which is a huge upgrade on the Eagles offensive line.

Peters’ play did fall off a bit last year but when you have a chance to get a left tackle of his caliber and bring him into your system, you have to take it.

There just aren’t that many quality left tackles in the NFL and now the Eagles have one. Trading for Peters was a no-brainer.

One final reason that makes the Eagles contenders year in and year out is they make the tough decisions.

When I worked for the Patriots I heard a phrase over and over again, “Football decisions.” No team does a better job of making tough football decisions than New England. Bill Belichick makes personnel decisions with his head, not his heart.

Everyone associated with the Eagles loved Brian Dawkins. Just like everyone associated with the Broncos loved John Lynch. It’s a nightmare for any organization to have to part ways with those kind of players.

Dawkins is still a leader and he does have a year or two left in his tank. However, he has lost a step and I believe the Eagles made the right decision in letting him go. It was a tough decision but speaking purely in football terms, the right one.

So as we enter the upcoming NFL season, the Eagles are set for another run at that elusive Super Bowl title. Philly fans have experienced a lot of heartache in recent years but there is still hope.

Because of the way the Eagles have set up their team for prolonged success, they are once again expected to be major contenders for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Philadelphia has all the pieces in place. Now if everything comes together at the right moment, it could finally be the Eagles and their fans time to shine in 2009.


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