Okay, I have proven that even our "friendly" rivals from the City of Brotherly Love have a few redeeming aspects, so this is the last of the eye candy from me. Enjoy it, gentlemen! From now on it is time to get serious.
My last two posts have focused on the New York Football Giants and the defending division champion Washington Redskins, and what the 2013 editions of our foes will look like. Today, I will conclude by looking at our feathered friends, the Philadelphia Eagles. More than any other team in the NFC East, the Eagles will enter the season with a whole new look. Lets take a look an see what the Cowboys will have to contend with this season.
It was an off-season of out with the old and in with the new for the Eagles. Long time coach Andy Reid has finally been replaced by former University of Oregon head man Chip Kelly. Not a whole lot is known about how Kelly's first professional team will look, but it is fairly certain he will bring the fast pace of his Ducks offense to the NFL. A big question waiting to be answered is will Chip bring in the spread option under Michael Vick, or will he run a West Coast variant under either Nick Foles or rookie Matt Barkley. Regardless, Kelly is working to change the culture of the Philadelphia Eagles. He is focused on reforming the teams mindset, developing a high energy environment, and promoting a total player development program that not only includes strength and conditioning but serious commitment to player nutrition. It remains to see if Kelly will revolutionize the professional game; but he is clearly trying to do so.
New defensive coordinator Billy Davis will bring some version of the 3-4, but will it be a true 3-4 or a 4-3 under like he ran with the Arizona Cardinals? The one thing that is clear is that the nose tackle will be former San Francisco 49er Isaac Sopoaga, who struggled in 2012 and was a liability in stopping the run. He will be joined by Fletcher Cox, who should be a stud as a 5-tech for the Eagles. Beyond this pair, Cedric Thornton, Clifton Geathers, and rookie Bennie Logan should see time in the rotation. If the team runs the 4-3 Under, Brandon Graham could be the fourth down lineman.
Graham, Trent Cole, and off season acquisition Connor Barwin should be the primary pass rushing linebackers. Moving inside, Demeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks will be the inside linebackers. Ideally, Ryans plays better in the 4-3 under, but he should be decent in a true 3-4 as well. Kendricks is a talented guy who should recover from last year's late season struggles.
The Eagles will have new starters at all four secondary slots this year. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are gone; replacing them will be former Baltimore Raven Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, a former St. Louis Ram. Neither is a top of the line corner, but perhaps they might gel into a decent pair although I wouldn't count on it. At safety, Kenny Phillips, late of the New York Giants, and one time New England Patriot Patrick Chung will start. Questions about depth abound, both safeties and Fletcher have battled a series of injuries during their careers. If the front seven cannot generate heat on the passer, better teams will be able to exploit the Eagles secondary at will.
The Eagles added Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick in 2013, and will let him get his feet wet at right tackle this year. This move will allow Todd Herremans to move inside to right guard, which is a more natural position for him. At center Jason Kelce will be making his return from a knee injury that cost him the vast majority of his 2012 season. One of the best in the game, Evan Mathis returns at left guard where he will be flanked by left tackle Jason Peters who is attempting to come back from Achilles tendon issues. At 32 years old, Peters has stated that if he experiences issues with his return; he intends to retire from the game. That would likely move Johnson to the left side earlier that what the Philadelphia brain trust has anticipated.
Receivers and Tight Ends
The Chip Kelly scheme puts less emphasis on the pass than the Andy Reid offense did; this should be a good sign for Eagles fans. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will be the primary outside receivers for the team. Both should benefit from a more balanced attack, since they will not be asked to do as much in the offense. Kelly favors a lot of two tight end sets, so both James Casey, a former Houston Texan, and rookie Zach Ertz should get plenty of looks in the passing game. Much like what Jason Garrett is trying to do with the Cowboys, Kelly likes to use a 12 package to create mismatches for his tight ends to exploit.
Kelly has a history of favoring the running game, so look for Philadelphia to run early and often. This new offense should put a smile on LeSean McCoy's face. He stands a great chance of surpassing the 1300 yard season he had a couple seasons ago, and he will almost certainly rebound from last season's diminished totals. Bryce Brown and former Cowboys first round pick Felix Jones will serve as his back ups. The biggest question being asked is who will be the Eagles QB? Veteran Michael Vick is most suited to a spread option scheme; while second year man Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley would be better served if Kelly leans to a controlled passing game and West Coast offense. Will Kelly let the offense dictate his starter, or will the starter influence the scheme? Nothing is clear at this point, and if the staff has a preference they are definitely playing it close to the vest.
The changes in Philadelphia will be easy to see; but will they succeed? With the talent on offense, the Chip Kelly era could easily be a high scoring one for the team. That should cause defensive coordinators to lose some sleep this season. What should cause the same questions for Eagles fans is the question will they be able to stop anyone on defense. I think, just like with Jason Garrett, a multi-season process will be needed to change recent history in Philadelphia. There will be plenty of positives, but also many setbacks. One thing is for sure; it should be exciting to see what develops. I don't see the Eagles as a serious contender this season, but as they complete the journey they have embarked on; they could become one of the elite teams in the league.