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NFL Preview: Philadelphia Eagles Prediction

September 11, 2010

In case you hadn’t heard, the Philadelphia Eagles traded starting quarterback Donovan McNabb, and the team is now in the hands of third year man Kevin Kolb.  Does this mean that the team is rebuilding, and they shouldn’t be counted on to contend this season?  Not necessarily.

Reasons for optimism

People seem to forget that this team was 11-5, and had they merely avoided an upset loss to the subpar Oakland Raiders, they would have earned the NFC’s #2 seed.  Instead, they suffered back-to-back dominating losses at the hands of their division rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.

While they might have taken advantage of a soft schedule in 2009, they are returning the majority of an 11 win team.  So it isn’t like the team doesn’t have any good players.

In fact, the Eagles might have some of the best young talent in the league.  The wide receiver group of DeSean “The most exciting player in the NFL” Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant should be among the best in the league.  They’ve added a big target in rookie Riley Cooper, who might provide the team with a much needed large red zone target.  Complementing the wideouts is TE Brent Celek, who has already established himself as a top receiving threat.

LeSean McCoy showed flashes of talent in his rookie season.  His job was made tougher by the constant uncertain status of former starter Brian Westbrook.  McCoy seemed to play better when he knew he would be the starter and would have a full week of practice with the first team.  He also seemed to wear down a bit as the season progressed, but this is nothing unusual for a rookie.  McCoy has a long way to go before he can match Westbrook’s production, but he certainly seems to have the ability to do so.

Michael Bell was brought in from New Orleans to be McCoy’s backup and provide a larger presence in the backfield, but he has had injury problems throughout his career, and missed most of training camp, so it isn’t certain how much can be expected out of him.  More is expected from fullback Leonard “Part Six” Weaver who had an excellent year last season, providing a nice change of pace.

The Eagles defense in its first year under coordinator Sean McDermott disappointed a bit last year.  Other proteges of late former coordinator Jim Johnson have suceeded upon promotion, so there is hope that given a year of experience, McDermott will fare much better.

Of course, McDermott needs players in order for his defense to succeed.

The Eagles have added quite a few players on the defensive side.  Most importantly, MLB Stewart Bradley returns from injury which should provide a huge lift.  He looked like a future star two years ago, and they couldn’t adequately replace him last year.  To complement him, they brought in Ernie Sims from the Lions, who they hope can provide some toughness and coverage ability.  If these two live up to their billing, the linebackers will go from a weakness to a strength.

They’re also counting heavily on two rookies.  First round pick DE Brandon Graham impressed in training camp, and could provide a solid option across from established star Trent Cole.  And second round pick Nate Allen is hoping to solidify the free safety spot.  Last year, after loingtime star Brian Dawkins left, they tried to use several different players in that spot, and none looked especially good.  If Allen can play solidly, it would be a huge upgrade.

And finally, there’s Kevin Kolb.  The coaches obviously think he’s ready, and he looked good in his two starts last year.  If his accuracy is as good as the Eagles claim, then the receivers should be in position to make plays.  And if these receivers are given the chance, good things should happen.

Reasons for pessimism

The problem with young talent is that they sometimes make young mistakes.  Last year, McNabb said that the team “showed its youth” after a loss.  While that didn’t go over well with everyone, it was unfortunately true.  For the team to succeed, guys are going to have to step up this season.  Graham and Allen may be future stars, but they’ll also likely have some bad games along the way.  Those bad games might cost the team a couple of victories.

Another potential problem is the offensive line.  This unit seems quite unsettled, and didn’t look very good in the preseason.  LT Jason Peters can look like an elite player…or he can commit a lot of penalties.  LG Todd Herremans is a solid player, except he is coming off of a foot injury and barely played in the postseason.  C Jamaal Jackson is steady…and only eight months removed from a torn ACL.  He didn’t play one snap in the preseason, and it is questionable how well he will hold up for an entire game.  RG Nick Cole spent most of the preseason at center, and has been battling injuries of his own.  RT Winston Justice may be the least questionable, but there is doubt as to how good he truly is.

Even if they can all stay healthy, the line may need some time to mesh.  That isn’t a good thing for a team relying on a new quarterback.  Kolb needs all the time he can get, and due to his inexperience, it is a good bet that opposing defenses will blitz him heavily.  If the line can’t pick up these blitzes, the offense won’t go anywhere.

The red zone has been a trouble spot for the Eagles in recent years, and in the preseason, that didn’t look to be any different.  Last year, the biggest problem was that the Eagles offense was designed for big plays.  Once the field shortened, their options were more limited.

But the Eagles would seem to have the right personnel to succeed in the red zone.  It might help if Reid made teams think that the run was an option.  At times, they became too one-dimensional, and that probably hindered them.

Ultimately, the biggest potential pitfall for the season may be Kolb.  While the Eagles’ coaches expect him to be good, he is still unproven.  He could turn out to be a complete bust, and it will be near impossible for this team to succeed if the QB isn’t up to par.  An Andy Reid led offense is going to be pass-happy, so Kolb needs to be able to get the job done.

Prediction

Personally, I was OK with the McNabb trade.  The combination of Reid and McNabb was not going to get the Eagles to the Super Bowl, and if they were both brought back, another 10 or 11 win season that ended in playoff defeat seemed likely.  At least with Kolb, there is some optimism that things will be different.

After watching the Kolb-led offense in the preseason, I don’t really expect the Eagles to look much different.  Kolb seemed to make the same kind of plays that McNabb did. 

Kolb may be able to succeed more in the short passing game than McNabb, but he was also probably throw more interceptions, which is something McNabb rarely did.  Much like with any inexperienced QB, I expect some games where Kolb looks skillful, and the West Coast offense is carried out to perfection.  There will also be some games when a defense completely confuses Kolb, and the offense goes nowhere.

I expect the defense to improve somewhat, based on the influx of new talent alone.  The secondary could be a bit of a concern though.  I could see some games where the team gets lots of pressure and dominates opposing offenses.  I can also see some games where they break down and give up a lot of big plays.

It’s hard for me to know what to expect, so I’ll split the difference and predict 8-8.  The playoffs aren’t out of the question, but it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see them finish with a losing record either.  At the very least, I expect this team to improve as the season goes on.  If they don’t look like a real contender at this time next year, it will be a huge disappointment.

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