Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fast and Furious: Philadelphia Eagles Season Preview

2008 Record: 9-6-1
After drafting Jeremy Maclin (WR-Mizzou), LeSean McCoy (RB-Pitt), and Cornelius Ingram (TE-Florida), many have anointed the Philadelphia Eagles and the 2009 NFC East Champs before the season has even been played. But let's not kid anyone, this is the team that tied Cincinnati last year. This is the team that, when they desperately needed a win in Week 16, lost 10-3 to the Redskins. People have been quick to crown the Eagles as the gem of the NFC East, but not so fast. The Eagles were 2-4 in Divisional games last year, including a 1-2 mark at home. As we are well aware, the NFC East is one of the toughest divisions in football, but you have to be able to defend your home turf. In non-divisional home games, the Eagles were 5-0. In the same vein, the Eagles were 3-4-1 on the road last year before their run to the NFC Championship game.
Let's not forget though, their run to the NFC Championship was through a Minnesota team that can't pass, and a Giants team without No-Catch-ico, which basically meant they were down to a passing game without WRs (Manning was 15/29 169 yds, 0 TDs, 2 INTs). Manning had as many completions to the Eagles defense (2) as he did to each of his own wide receivers in that game. The Eagles put up a valiant effort in the NFC Championship game, storming back against Arizona's mediocre defense to take the lead back in the 4th quarter, before ultimately surrendering it.
The Eagles are stacked on offense with a load of weapons. Donovan McNabb, while not an "elite" quarterback by any means, has the weapons to do some damage. Speedster Jeremy Maclin joins burner DeSean Jackson for the fastest 1-2 reciever combo in the league. However, Maclin's route-running ability has been questioned, and Jackson has some room to improve. Before we go and anoint Donovan McNabb with the NFC Offensive Player of the Year award, let's not forget that he has an injury-stricken past and this team is one injury away from reverting to their 6-10 form of 2007, which was evidenced when Andy Reid benched McNabb in favor of backup Kevin Kolb in the 36-7 ass-handing by the Ravens last year. Kolb is likely the quarterback of the future in Philadelphia, but he has to prove that he can actually compete at big-league levels before the Eagles make a serious push for him as a starter. Kolb's stat line from last year, in the limited action he saw in relief of McNabb, was to the tune of 17/34 144 yds, 0 TD, 4 INT, and a 21.8 passer rating. Numbers like that, even though 26 of his attempts came against the Steelers and Ravens, don't exactly inspire confidence in an offense if the starter goes down.
Brian Westbrook is getting up there in years and, entering the 8th year of his career, has yet to play a full 16-game season. The Eagles drafted LeSean McCoy in lieu of losing Corell Buckhalter to Denver (huge upgrade here), making McCoy not only the heir apparent to Westbrook, but also giving them a bit more stability in the backfield. With Westbrook set to miss all of training camp recovering from offseason surgery, it is entirely possible that McCoy becomes the starting back on opening day. If the Eagles commitment to the running game and protecting McNabb wasn't apparent, their signings of two offensive tackles (Jason Peters and Stacy Andrews) in free agency, along with bruising fullback Leonard Weaver, should be enough to show that this team, as long as McNabb is healthy, can maintain their 2008 numbers as one of the top 10 offenses in the league.
The Eagles blitz-blitz-blitz defensive scheme was incredibly hit-and-miss (as can be expected) last year. Their greatest success was the bruising they put on the Steelers in week 3, a week after Tony Romo and they Cowboys had lit them up through the air to the tune of 312 yards and 41 points. The Eagles front 7 is aggressive and very good against the run. Their secondary looks like an Association of Former Patriots Players, with Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbes. Samuel and Sheldon Brown will likely be the starting corners, as the team traded disgruntled corner Lito Shephard to the Jets this offseason. Former anchor/ageless wonder Brian Dawkins was signed to a 5-year deal by the incredibly stupid Denver Broncos. The Eagles picked up two safeties in free agency, Rashad Baker (Oakland) and Sean Jones (Cleveland), which might be some cause for concern considering how bad Oakland and Cleveland's pass defenses were.
The Eagles safeties (Quintin Demps & Quintin Mikell) may be in the running to start their own reality show after this year, or at least give Mike & Mike a run for their money. We'll be keeping an eye on Eagles blogs for "Quintin & Quintin" photoshops, or at least a better nickname than "Quintin-squared."
Last season, McNabb outpassed his opponent in 12 of the Eagles 16 games. Six of those performances were over 250-yards, with 3 over the 300-yard barrier. McNabb also broke 250 in the Week 2 game against the Cowboys when he was outpassed by Tony Romo. The Eagles were 7-4-1 in games when McNabb outpassed his opponent. Eagles running backs (Westbrook and Buckhalter) were the leading rusher in 10 games last season, with the Eagles posting an 8-1-1 record in those games. Interestingly, for as much name-recognition as Westbrook gets, he only posted 3 100-yard games last season. As one should expect, Philly was 3-0 in those games.
Ian's Prediction: 9-7
This team is still one injury to McNabb away from a 6-10 year. But the team also has a tremendous upside with the potential to post a 12- or 13-win season. With the drafting of McCoy, Westbrook's injury problems have found a temporary cure. But McCoy was also far from an "elite" back in college (see: Sun Bowl). Last year's version of the Eagles was maddeningly inconsistent until their Thanksgiving night pounding of Arizona, which sparked a 4-1 finish, surging their way to the last playoff spot. Philadelphia was one of three teams last year (NYG and NE) to finish in the Top 10 in total offense (9th) and total defense (3rd). In spite of this, they still only managed 9 wins and only had a +3 turnover differential. The name of the game in Philly next year will be consistency and keeping McNabb healthy. If he goes down, this team is screwed. The gauntlet of the Eagles schedule comes in the middle of the season, and if they lose one game, it becomes a slippery slope and they could very easily find themselves sitting at
5 or 6 losses when the calendar flips to December. The string of games from October 26 to December 13 (@WAS, NYG, DAL, @SD, @CHI, WAS, @ATL, @NYG) will dictate whether the Eagles will have a Top 10 pick or be playing in late January. All that being said, the Eagles are the most talented team in the NFC East, and with the departures of TO and No-Catch-ico, this is a wide open division for their taking. However, no one knows the art of choking like a team from Philadelphia.
John's Prediction:

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