Philadelphia Eagles: Week 17 & Offseason Preview

“Dream Team”

The Philadelphia Eagles had skyrocket expectations and deservedly so. Philly was coming off another NFC East-Division title, made the playoffs, and then proceeded to sign prized and big-name free agents. Usually this team sits back on their cap space, which is usually among the league’s cheapest, leaving boat loads of money in their pockets.The Eagles were “all win” to win a Superbowl.

We are all aware of the cons this season has revealed unfortunately for them, but there were some pros as well and let’s take a look at the season::

Today, the Eagles played the final game of the season at the link. With LeSean McCoy inactive, the Eagles led 10-0 at the half. The game was ugly, but Philly opened things up in their final half of football. Vick ended up with 335 yards passing, and DeSean Jackson caught a long ball for a score. It was good to see DeSean get one and we must not overlook Brent Celek with yet another strong performance. The passing game was successful today, Maclin led in receiving yards.

Philadelphia before the bye went 2-4, after the bye they went 6-4. They finished with 4 consecutive victories. They beat defensive teams in the Dolphins and Jets, and defeated the rival Cowboys and Redskins.

Since defense wins championships, we’ll start on that side of the ball.

Defensive Line

The defense seemed to catch on, and they finished leading the league in sacks believe it or not. Beyond the consistent Trent Cole and the Pro Bowl season for Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins should gets his due credit as well. He became the vocal leader of not only this unit, but one of the leaders of this defense and the team as a whole. From the defensive tackle position, he was involved on running plays and passing plays, notching 6 sacks in the process. He is a very active player, and something the defending Superbowl Packers is missing. With that said, Trent Cole was heavily missed when he went down to injury. Cole draws double teams and extra attention, and was part of Jason Babin’s success of  his career-high 18 sacks. Babin is a monster under Jim Washburn and the wide-9, he has turned his career around and become an elite pass rusher in the NFL.

It helped to have a healthy Juqua Parker, who showed what he can do when he is in the lineup. Regardless of age and popularity, he made plays down the stretch and will be a free agent this offseason. I was disappointed that the team decided to cut Derek Landri after the preseason, but was sure glad to see him perform at such a high level when he was resigned and got playing time. Phillip Hunt was another addition on this stacked defensive line and, I just think they should have allowed him to spell Trent Cole more. He is another speed rusher that did some good things in limited action. Darryl Tapp quietly had himself a good season, getting 2.5 sacks and applying constant pressure when on the field.

Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws played their roles well on the inside, at the defensive tackle position. These guys rotate with Jenkins and Landri, but don’t forget about the injured Antonio Dixon and Brandon Graham that should also factor into the line’s rotation next season. As for Victor Abiamiri, he is as good as gone, or  one would think. Rookie Cedric Thornton got to play near the season’s end and stuff the middle in the running game,k we get to see if he can play himself into a very crowed Jim, Washburn rotation.

Linebacker

The season ended with this starting lineup at the linebacker position: Akeem Jordan, Jamar Chaney, and Brian Rolle. They played a rotation with hybrid linebacker/safeties in the game, as well as situational players: Casey Matthews, Keenan Clayton, and Moises Fokou before he was lost for the season (he was a starter).

Jamar Chaney is the team’s best linebacker at this point, and he played better at the middle than he did on the outside. He is originally a strongside linebacker, but was positioned on the weakside to begin the season. He led the team in tackles with his sideline to sideline ability, and made 3 interceptions while defending 8 passes.

Evidently, Matthews improved over his rookie season after a rough start, as he was trusted into the starting lineup. He manifested his growth when inserted into some packages the 2nd half of the season. He was reading screens and cutting off the edges when it came down to stopping running backs and tight ends. He has more to learn, more to do to prepare for his sophomore season.

Brian Rolle had a nice stint after being named a starter. Good against the pass and solid against the run, his speed and energy helped this defense get things together. Keenan Clayton played a more hybrid linebacker/.safety role, as well as on the weakside. He is a fast player. This was his 2nd season and Rolle’s rookie season. The Eagles were definitely young at the position. Fokou is a mediocre player at best, solid against the run and a special teams player. Akeem Jordan is a veteran that’s been around, he is solid against the run and the pass and was there when they needed him to fill injury voids.

Secondary

The star-powered secondary wasn’t what it was thought to be, but as the team built chemistry the stronger the back end played. Asante Samuel (3 interceptions, 10 passes defended) had the better season of the 3 Pro Bowl cornerbacks, and his status with the team will be in question. Will they keep him alongside Nnamdi Asomugha (3 interceptions) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie? I hope they do, because rookie defensive coordinator Juan Castillo had a bright ideas despite their bumpy ride. He had Samuel at safety early in the season, with the bigger corners on the outside playing man-to-man. The downfall, was that they didn’t have a stud linebacker on the inside to overcompensate for the wide-9 up front. I believe the defense would have gelled quicker if they had a Patrick Willis or Brian Urlacher running that defense. This should be the #1 priority on the defensive side of the football for Philadelphia. All 3 were nicked up and missed a game or 2, but they should return to form with familiarity of their respective roles next season.

Joselio Hanson is one of the better inside corners in football. He covers slot receivers and received a contract to stay in a Eagles uniform to do so. Brandon Hughes got some playing time and Curtis Marsh we didn’t get to see enough of, but for good reason. Nate Allen has struggled with youth and injuries, but he ended the year on a positive note. He is a very good player with the potential to be a mainstay on this defense for years to come. Kurt Coleman likes to rough it up and make tackles, and he picked off 4 balls this season. Rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett came out and it looked like he performed fairly well. He seemed to be around the ball, we just didn’t get to see him enough to grade him. Colt Anderson is a guy that may work his way up, much like Quentin Mikell did. He is the best special teams player and will get spot snaps here and there at safety. He was put on injured reserve after he got hurt.

Special Teams

Perhaps Philly is trying to emulate the success the Oakland Raiders have reaped. Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler were selected in the same draft years ago and have formed an elite kicker/punter tandem. As for the Eagles, they drafted Henry and Henery. It’s not easy to replace David Akers (who kicked for a record amount of field goals for the 49ers this season), but I’ll say Henery did a good job going 24/27. Henry punted for a 42.4 average, long of 60 yards, 18 punts inside the 20, and 6 inside the 10.

Bobby April’s special teams’ unit had good coverage all season long, but they struggled to return kicks and punts all season long as well. Part of that might involve DeSean Jackson’s contract situation, but they had no answer at kick returner. The best returner was Chad Hall. He is a guy that plays hard and surprises you. He may not be the typical running back or wide receiver, but he is a football player (the Patriots have a handful of those, maybe this guy has a future here).

Offensive Line

The youth was a concern. The fact that only one starting lineman was in the same position as last season was also a concern. But that one lineman happened to be Jason Peters at left tackle, the best in the business. Todd Herremans flashed his versatility in the past, and started the majority of the season at right tackle for the Birds. He had himself a good season, and should improve as he gets used to blocking speed rushers instead of the bigger tackles. Veteran Evan Mathis was a backup for the Bengals, and he came here and played well for Howard Mudd. Speaking of Howard Mudd, his impact on the offense was felt, starting rookie Danny Watkins at right guard and the center Jason Kelce, also a rookie, played at a Pro Bowl level. They paved the way for LeSean McCoy, the NFC’s leading rusher (2nd in NFL) and NFL’s leader with 20 touchdowns.

Running Back

Shady McCoy will be getting a new contract soon after his record-breaking season. This kid has been sensational all year long and, should be the focal point of this Eagles offense going forward. Dion Lewis has supplanted Ronnie Brown as the team’s 2nd best back, and Brown will probably move on via free agency. Lewis had kick returning duties as well as getting spot carries throughout the season. He is speedy with playmaking ability, and will most likely be McCoy’s primary backup next season. He had himself a good season finale.

Quarterback

Vince Young would be nice to retain and keep on the roster as a backup, but Mike Kafka seems more than capable and will be competing. Young is a free agent and we shall see if he moves on, or if the Eagles even want him back. This was Kafka’s 2nd season and he has become the project quarterback for Reid and Morningweg. He did have an opportunity to lead a comeback against the Falcons (when Vick got hurt and Young was inactive), but Maclin dropped a 4th and 4 pass resulting in a loss.

As for the franchise quarterback, Michael Vick, it was a roller coaster season in terms of turnovers and record. My money is on Vick for this overlooked reason: this offseason will be the first time Vick has as the starter of the Philadelphia Eagles. That will be very crucial in his continued development, and that’s a scary thought!

Tight End

Brent Celek has been revitalized and the team rediscovered their offensive key to success. How can you forget to use the quarterback’s best friend? This guy can block, catch, break tackles, and move the chains whether it’s down the field or on a screen. Clay Harbor is a serviceable backup, this was his 2nd season and he has good hands.

Receiver

This is a good core of receivers: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Riley Cooper. Steve Smith will be a free agent and most likely, on his way out the door. Chad Hall, as mentioned before, is a football player that can do a little of this, a little of that. Jackson is a free agent and his contract situation has been a distraction for him and the team all season long. He didn’t give his all every play of every game, and Vick looked the other way even when he was open. This is their vertical threat and one of the most explosive players in the game. If he stays, a contract should refresh their punt returner and dynamic wide receiver, that remains to be seen.

Maclin is a good receiver with tools, but he will need to continue his development as well. Between Jackson and Maclin, they need to get over the big hits and make the tougher plays over the middle. And when you think middle of the field, if it’s not Celek it’s Jason Avant, one of the better slot receivers in the league. He is a possession receiver with great hands, and he mixes it up in the running game with his blocking. Riley Cooper is another young player. He played when Maclin was out and had a couple nice games, and he gave this team a different dimension with his leaping ability on fade routes.

Coaching

Andy Reid scripts the first 10-15 plays of a game. Reid calls the shots in terms of challenges and timeouts, but Morningweg calls the offensive plays. I love the addition of Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn. Juan Castillo showed his worth at the end of the season, and we will find out if it’s enough to keep his defensive coordinator job. Bobby April is one of the better special teams coaches in the league.

If you ask me, Andy Reid is the right man for the job. He is in charge and although it took awhile, this team has momentum heading into next season. They missed the playoffs with Superbowl aspirations, but you can point the blame at the players on the field as much as the coaching staff. Reid needs to be in Philadelphia next season for them to right the ship and make a run. I liked the progress Castillo and the defense made, but if a better coach for the job became available, you gotta do what you gotta do…

The number one coach on my chopping block is without a doubt, Marty Morningweg. If it wasn’t for Howard Mudd, LeSean McCoy, and Jim Washburn getting on Marty for the playcalling, this season could have been worse believe it or not. He neglected the leading rusher and it’s amazing that he finished 2nd in all of football. The Eagles pass, pass, pass, and don’t do their defense any justice. I would love Norv Turner if he became available, but other teams such as the Jets and  Bears might pay him more to fix their offenses. In that scenario, I’m hoping Reid focuses on the playcalling like he used to, or Marty actually gets a clue how to use his personnel.

Offseason

This team has the coaches, the talent, and the draft picks to make a legitimate run at the Superbowl next season. I think they can work with their young safeties, they are talented and around the ball enough. Their young offensive line became elite by week 10. Vick gets to work on the reps and watch film as a starter for the 1st time in 6 years! The defense will be better prepared and game ready, and the #1 receiver issue will get taken care of. What they need is a linebacker, by draft and/or free agency. They should also look into getting another big receiver through the draft, there are plenty of options there. This team isn’t far off, just a couple of tweaks away, but they must be done.