With all of talk about the Philadelphia Eagles being a “dream team” (thanks Vince Young) and a favorite for being the NFC’s representative in the Super Bowl, you might think the Eagles are almost flawless.
Well, that’s not the case. All of that dream team talk is nonsense. The Eagles still have much to prove and much to do to put themselves in a position to compete this season. I have high hopes for them this year but they do have some issues to figure out.
Here’s a look at five of them…
1. The Offensive Line: If you told me back in January that our starting right tackle in 2011 was going to be King Dunlap, I would have given you a tongue lashing.
I thought for sure the Eagles were going to draft a tackle within the first three rounds of April’s draft. It turns out they actually did, but he’s slated to be the right guard instead.
There’s no question that Danny Watkins should be an upgrade over Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles but he’s still a rookie and will likely have some growing pains.
We are also starting sixth-round draft pick Jason Kelce at center this week. According to the Eagles, he “has earned the opportunity” to get a chance to see what he can do with the starters.
This is the third preseason game coming up and the starters typically play almost three quarters in what is their last tune-up before the regular season. This means that Kelce is seriously being considered as a starter.
So let me summarize, on opening day we could have two rookies and a 7th-round afterthought of a right tackle starting on the offensive line.
For those of you who remember Arsenio Hall, this is one of those things that make you go “hmmmmm.”
The line is still unsettled and that has me feeling a bit unsettled too. Will it be Kelce or Jamaal Jackson at center? Will it ultimately be Dunlap, Winston Justice or Ryan Harris at right tackle?
Questions still linger and cohesiveness along the line is certainly a concern. This more than anything else could be what derails the Eagles’ season.
2. The Linebackers: Juan Castillo recently proclaimed that the Eagles’ linebackers “will be ready to win the Super Bowl.” My first question would be: Which Super Bowl? 2011? 2012? 2018?
Castillo may be right in that they “will be” ready but the better question is “are they capable this year?” As it appears right now, that answer is a big NO.
They’ve moved Jamar Chaney to the strong side where they feel his size and athleticism will be good for matching up over tight ends. They moved last year’s strong side ‘backer Moises Fokou over to the weak side. Rookie Casey Matthews is the starting middle linebacker.
Is that a Super Bowl-caliber linebacker corps? Or is Juan Castillo just trying to put lipstick on a pig?
I’ve speculated several times about the Eagles adding a veteran to the mix and while it could still happen, with every passing day it seems less likely.
Maybe the linebacking unit will surprise us over the course of the season but right now all I see is a gaping whole in the middle of the defense.
3. The Secondary: The secondary you ask? The same area we just addressed by signing the Holy Grail of free agency in Nnamdi Asomugha and traded for talented CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to team with Asante Samuel to form the Eagles’ version of the three aces?
Yes, the secondary.
The secondary also includes the safeties. Nate Allen had a horrible game against Pittsburgh and is coming off a torn patellar tendon towards the end of last season.
The other safety is second-year man Kurt Coleman who was a seventh-round pick last year. They also drafted Jaiquawn Jarrett and signed veteran Jarrad Page.
As it stands right now, Allen and Coleman are the starters. But they haven’t exactly inspired yet this preseason and the Eagles may have designs on inserting Jarrett at some point.
The position is still a little bit in flux and could ultimately see a change or two either before, or during, the season.
There is also the matter of how the Eagles plan on using Asomugha, DRC, and Samuel. Who will go cover the slot in nickel situations? They’ve tried both Asomugha and DRC in that position so far so it still appears undecided.
Having three pro bowl corners is a problem any defensive coordinator would like to have but they still need to figure out the best way to utilize them to produce maximum effectiveness.
Otherwise there may be confusion and confusion may lead to lapses in concentration by the players.
Castillo has his work cut out for him between the secondary and linebackers. Let’s hope he’s up to the task.
4. The Run Defense: Against Pittsburgh, the all-to-familiar deficiency in run-defense reared its ugly head again.
The Eagles typically start off slow against the run and tighten things up as the season progresses. Last season they ended the year ranked 15th versus the rush, allowing an average of 110.4 yards per game.
Allowing over 100 yards per game initially sounds pretty bad but then you have to take note that the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers actually ranked worse than the Eagles.
There’s no question that the NFL has become a passing league in general but you still have to stop the run.
Seeing the Eagles line up in Jim Washburn’s “wide 9″ technique, it makes the Eagles defense look susceptible to the run. The Steelers took note when on one play Ben Roethlisberger just took the snap and ran 9 yards before being touched.
Not that run defense is primarily Washburn’s responsibility, but it does start with the defensive line play. In looking at how the Titans ranked against the run during his tenure there, they appear to have been all over the board in ranking as low as 30th to as high as 6th.
Defending the run becomes extremely important in the playoffs, especially in cold weather games. If you allow a team to control the game by having the ball ran down their throat, your playoff appearance will be very brief.
Case in point, the Packers controlled last year’s playoff game against the Eagles by running the ball 29 times for 134 yards. It was a cold day and passing the ball was difficult. In comparison, the Eagles only ran the ball 13 times for 49 yards,
That, of course, leads me to the next issue…
5. Running a balanced attack: Ah, couldn’t read an article about problems for the Eagles that doesn’t include the age-old Andy Reid issue with running the ball more, huh?
Nope. That’s because no matter how much you’ve heard, it still rings true. And no matter how much you’re tired of hearing it, it is still a problem that must be fixed if Reid ever hopes to win a championship.
Don’t be mislead by any statistics you might see that have the Eagles ranked as the fifth best rushing team in 2010. Michael Vick greatly skews those numbers.
I wrote an article back in May where I broke down the Eagles’ rushing attempts by a running back and compared that to recent Super Bowl champions. Take a look here if you wish.
What it boils down to is that if you consider the Eagles’ run/pass ratio when it appears to be “called plays” (designed runs by a running back), it is extremely lopsided at 70 percent pass, 30 percent run.
That is simply not going to get it done in the playoffs and in cold weather.
Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg seriously need to realize that come playoff football, a truly balanced attack is necessary. Against quality defenses, the Eagles offense struggles at times.
That’s expected because obviously a good defense can stifle anyone. But with the Eagles it seems to be more because they are too one-dimensional. A quality defense will not fear the Eagles’ rushing attack and just tee-off on rushing the passer.
That is exactly how the Packers defended them in last season’s playoff game. They had no fear of a non-existent Eagles running game and solely focused on getting to Vick.
And don’t expect the Eagles offense to just be able to flick a switch in the playoffs and all of a sudden have a run game. It needs to be developed over the course of a season so that the offensive linemen don’t forget how to actually run-block.