The 2017 NFL season is right around the corner and after a big offseason, Eagles fans are hoping that this is the year to snap their 3 year playoff drought. There are still several burning questions that loom over this Eagles squad as they enter the season: Is Dougie P. a legitimate NFL coach? Is Carson Wentz able to improve on a promising rookie season? And finally, and probably most important, who the hell is going to play at cornerback? With those questions in mind, lets look at the Eagles strengths and weaknesses
- The offensive line, anchored by tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters, should be incredibly helpful to Carson Wentz development. At times last season, Wentz took a pounding with the combination of Johnson’s absence to due a 10 game suspension and Doug Pederson’s head scratching play calling, like when he dropped Wentz back to pass over 60 times. This season, barring injury, look for Wentz to feel more comfortable in the pocket with a fully loaded O-line.
- The defensive line should be another area of strength for this Eagles squad. Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan have the potential to be incredibly disruptive against the run and rookie Derek Barnett and pass rush savant Brandon Graham will look to provide some heat on opposing QBs off the edge. Because of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s refusal to blitz it is crucial that this Eagles D-line gets into the backfield. The drafting of Barnett in addition to signing Chris Long and Jernigan should make this D-line one of the best in the league.
- Offensive weapons for Carson Wentz were clearly a priority for GM Howie Roseman this offseason. Signing Alshon Jeffrey to a one year deal was the most impressive of his moves. Jefferey provides a down field threat with strong hands and a fearless nature to attack the ball at its high point which Eagles fans will fall in love with instantly. Roseman also went out and signed Torrey Smith, who despite a few down years in San Francisco, has looked like his old self early on in training camp burning cornerbacks on home run balls. Smith and Jeffrey on the outside should allow other Eagles receivers such as Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor much more space in the middle of the field to operate. Darren Sproles returns in the backfield and he still is one of the most versatile weapons in the league. Legarrete Blount will provide much needed short yardage help and will most likely take the lion’s share of the backfield touches. Zach Ertz looks primed to have a big year and it will be interesting to watch some of the younger players the Eagles drafted in the later round including Donnel Pumphrey and Mack Hollins.
- Once again it seems that the Eagles’ biggest weakness is their cornerback play. Second round pick Sidney Jones is expected to miss the entire season as he recovers from an achilles tear, veteran Patrick Robinson has looked awful in training camp so far, and Jalen Mills has potential, but plays more like a safety then a corner and is a liability in one on one coverage down the field. The only way this situation improves for the Eagles is if they somehow swing a trade or sign a veteran such as Darrelle Revis before the season gets underway or Rookie Rasul Douglas is the next coming of Champ Bailey. Barring those things happening, expect the Eagles cornerback play to be extremely disappointing… again.
- Doug Pederson’s play calling hamstrung the Eagles many times last season. The December game against the Bengals in which he dropped a rookie quarterback back to pass 60 times was mind numbingly idiotic. His aggressiveness on 4th downs also set the defense up in bad situations and left points on the board. Now to give Doug a pass it was his rookie season as a head coach, but if you look back at his time in Kansas City you realize his play calling has been equally as head scratching. Pederson primarily called the second halves of games for the Chiefs. In his Rookie year as Offensive coordinator, his play calling contributed to the largest second half comeback in NFL playoff history when the Colts came back from 28 down in the third quarter. Doug doesn’t deserve all the blame for that loss but it shows a pattern of poor play calling and a lack of game management that has plagued Pederson’s mentor, Andy Reid, his entire career both in Philly and in Kansas City. If Doug Pederson’s play calling does not continue to develop along with Carson Wentz and the offense then look for the Eagles to have another losing season.
- The 3rd biggest weakness for this Eagles team is one they have no control over. They drew one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. Playing the Cowboys and Giants twice is already no picnic, but when you add in back to back west coast games at Seattle and LA (Rams) along with home games against Denver, Oakland, and Arizona this Eagles schedule may be there downfall.
This Eagles team has the talent to make the playoffs. They have weapons all over the place on the offensive side, arguably the best combined O-line and D-line in the league, and they have the gunslinger from Bismarck, North Dakota, Carson Wentz. Doug Pederson’s play calling will hopefully improve and with another year of working with Wentz and more weapons to work with expect Doug to open up the playbook more this season. Although the cornerback situation appears untenable there is some hope that it will not be this teams achilles heal. If you look at the top 10 passing defenses in the NFL by YPG, only three of the teams in the top 10 had winning records (Denver, Seattle, and Houston). Only Houston and Seattle made the playoffs. Obviously a lot of other factors go in to a team’s passing defense then just quarterback play, but the Eagles pass rush and strong coverage from Safety Malcolm Jenkins and Linebacker Jordan Hicks can help cover up the flaws of a truly awful cornerback group.
NFL win-loss records are so hard to predict. Injuries shape the landscape of the league every season. Looking through the schedule I know there are at least two Eagles opponents that I am underrating and two Eagles opponents I am overrating. That being said, I think this Eagles team will go 9-7 good enough for third in the NFC East behind the Giants and Cowboys and just shy of the playoffs.