Philadelphia Eagles Preview
Jase Patrizio, one of my best friends and an Eagles fanatic, was kind enough to preview the Eagles for me.
Health is such a commodity in the NFL today. If your playmakers can’t avoid injury it obviously changes the shape of your team’s season. Last year for the Philadephia Eagles there were injuries to many key players. Brian Dawkins (11 games), Lito Sheppard (10 games), L.J. Smith (10 games) and the oft-injured Donovan McNabb missed 3 games due to an ankle injury in Miami. However this is all part of the game unfortunately. It can get pretty stressful when coupled with the difficult family situations Coach Reid had to deal with in both of his sons poor judgement. Since it’s Philadelphia there’s even more urgency for the team to get back to the Super Bowl. It will be a tough road but it can be done. The New York Giants have proven just that last year. It’s simply critical that the team’s elite stay healthy this year or it could mean big changes.
WR Kevin Curtis is already on the shelf until at the very least October with a sports hernia injury which kept McNabb off the field last year. The team finished up strong with big wins over Dallas and New Orleans but went 8-8 and missed the playoffs and finished in last place in an extremely competitive NFC East. There were a few concerns last year which I believe the Eagles covered in the draft and in free agency. Last year the return game cost them a few close games and really didn’t put the offense in the best position it could be in. The team was ranked in the top ten in both passing and rushing but couldn’t finish off drives while in the red-zone. Defensively they were last in the league in takeaways and had a league low 11 interceptions. We all know that a good defense can be a good offense. There is some concern also with the offensive line, veterans Jon Runyan (13th season) and William Tra Thomas (11th season) aren’t getting any younger and we saw what happened when Winston Justice filled in…Osi Umenyiora collected 6 sacks. I am not sure this issue has been addressed though.
The Birds landed one of the biggest defensive free agents on the market in Assante Samuel (22 interceptions in 75 regular season games, and five more in 14 career postseason). I think this was a great move with concerns about the health of the secondary and as far as increasing opportunities for takeaways. Now they have great depth at CB with Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard. Pair them with healthy safeties Brian Dawikins and Quintin Mikell and this could be a very dominant defensive backfield. This will also allow Jim Johnson to be aggressive against any offensive line with defensive ends Trent Cole and Juqua Parker, who replaces the disappointing and departed Jevon Kearse. Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson are big run stoppers who will be aided by a young but fast LB corps of Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley and Omar Gaither. The Eagles didn’t make any significant moves on the offense front in free agency. They tried to get Randy Moss and there were many rumors swirling about a Lito + draft picks for an elite WR like Ocho Cinco or Larry Fitzgerald.
The draft is where the Eagles could have gotten some nice talent. They picked up LDT Trevor Laws from Notre Dame with their first pick who will take reps with Mike Patterson. Laws led Notre Dame with career highs in tackles (112) and sacks (4.0), while adding three blocked kicks on special teams. His 112 tackles were the most by a defensive lineman in the major college ranks, and one shy of Notre Dame’s single-season record among defensive linemen, (Steve Niehaus, 113 in 1975). With their second round pick which has the whole city buzzing is WR/PR DeSean Jackson. The 5’10″ – 175llb product from Cal who scored 29 total touchdowns in 36 career games as a wide receiver and return specialist. He also set a Pac-10 Conference record with six punt returns for touchdowns in his career. He will contribute immediately as Curtis and WR Reggie Brown are dealing with injuries. Jackson is lightening fast, has good hands and is not afraid to go across the middle. He will most likely be playing with a chip on his shoulder due to his size and weight. I don’t know about you Eagles fans out there, but I am excited to see this guy play.
Even more exciting is that the Eagles have an explosive weapon in HB Brian Westbrook. He is one of the league most dangerous players. He is truly an elusive back with his speed, hands and smarts. Westbrook lead the NFL with 2,104 yards from scrimmage, was 3rd in rushing yards, second in touches and had 7 touchdowns (8 if Jon Runyan didn’t tell him to kneel on the goaline against the cowboys). He’s also proven that he’s a durable back too missing only 1 game in the last 2 seasons. Correll Buckhalter will continue to back him up, behind him is Lorenzo Booker acquired via trade for a 4th round draft pick. This is interesting because this is a guy who has westbrook-like characteristics and could be a threat when paired with him in split back sets.
At tight end LJ Smith gets the franchise tender and will try to stay healthy this season so he can help the eagles improve scoring inside the redzone. Brent Celek filled in admirably for him late last year and has been moved up the depth chart as #2 TE in front of Matt Schobel.
Philly Phans are already calling for the Kolb Era to begin, Personally I think McNabb will be healthy this year and return to Pro Bowl form as long as he can deliver the ball accurately and quickly. I think he needs to work on his timing and that will boost his confidence and make him more comfortable. I would also like to see him go deep like he was doing two years ago with Donte Stallworth (which DeSean Jackson could fill). He has one of the stronger arms of all the quarterbacks but needs to have his WRs Curtis (also another burner when he returns), Reggie Brown, Hank Baskett, Jason Avant and Greg Lewis focused on catching balls and beating the press and taking advantage of the playaction. They can line Westbrook up anywhere and open up coverage and create mismatches which should allow for this.
If the Birds as a whole can stay healthy, if the defense can be solid by generating turnovers and if the offense can resolve its red zone inefficiencies I believe that the Eagles have a chance to make the playoffs and to challenge for the NFC title. I can see them going 10-6 this year and winning two games in the playoffs.
Fantasy wise: Westbrook is your best bet for an elite first round RB before LT and AD. Donovan McNabb has the ability to be a top ten quarterback who can has the potential to be a starter when the matchup is favorable. He may be a more solid started when Curtis comes back. When he does return expect Curts to be a low-end #2 or a solid #3 WR. Reggie Brown could be a solid #3 WR. LJ could be a nice backup TE and worth a bye week replacement or if the matchup is ripe. The defensive unit could be a top 10 unit and is looking to turn things around this year. David Akers is a decent fill in for your starting kicker is on bye.
Excellent job Jase. I too have the Eagles making the playoffs.