2010-11 NFL Team Preview: Philadelphia Eagles

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Between now and the September 9th season kick-off, Hank Koebler, IV will be previewing all the NFL teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, division): 11-5, 6-2
Division finish: 2nd NFC East
Offensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 5th, 11th, 10th, 22nd
Defensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 19th, 12th, 17th, 9th

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: LeSean McCoy, 637 yards, 4 TD
Passing: Donovan McNabb, 3,553 yards, 22 TD, 10 INT
Receiving: DeSean Jackson, 1,156 yards, 9 TD; Brent Celek, 971 yards, 8 TD
Tackles: Quintin Mikell, 90 total tackles
Sacks: Trent Cole, 12.5 sacks
Interceptions: Asante Samuel, 9 interceptions

2010 Season Outlook

(* denotes division game)

Key Matchups

September 19 at Detroit: Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch will make this a long day for Kevin Kolb and his inconsistent offensive line, and Kolb will likely get pressured into making a lot of bad passes. The Eagles' secondary had better hope Nate Allen is ready to play like a starter by this point, because the Lions have really revamped their receiving corps the past two years, and the presence of Jahvid Best means that the defense can't ignore the run. Reverses and end-arounds by Desean Jackson may give the Eagles their best chance of winning this game, as last year the Lions' defense displayed a really bad tendency of overpursuing where they thought the play was headed.

October 3 at Philadelphia: It's no exaggeration to say that this game will drastically impact how Donovan MCNabb's career is viewed in the long run. After being traded away from Philadelphia this offseason, McNabb has the chance to show the Eagles how big of a mistake they made. If McNabb has a transcendent performance in this game then his dominance of the Eagles will go down in NFL history similar to Brett Favre's great performances against the Packers last year.

Key Losses

Donovan McNabb, QB; Stacy Andrews, OG; Shawn Andrews, OG; Jeremiah Trotter, LB; Brian Westbrook, RB

Key Returning Players

Quintin Mikell, SS; LeSean McCoy, RB; Kevin Kolb, QB; Michael Vick, QB

Key Draft Picks

Brandon Graham, DE; Nate Allen, FS; Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE

Key Free Agent Signings

Mike Bell, RB; Marlin Jackson, CB

Key Acquisitions via Trade

Reggie Wells, OG; Ernie Sims, LB

Offensive Overview

The Eagles' offensive line is built more for run-blocking than for protecting a quarterback. With the exception of left tackle Jason Peters, every player on the line does a good job of getting their defensive player pushed off of the ball. They don't do a good job of quickly getting to the second level of the defense to keep paving holes for their running backs. However, their talented backfield includes Leonard Weaver, a fullback who averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 70 rushes, as well as the quick but tough LeSean McCoy and former Saints goal-line specialist Mike Bell, so linemen being able to get to the linebackers is a luxury, not a necessity. In pass protection, the Eagles' line isn't as impressive. Left tackle Jason Peters is strong, but played with extremely poor technique last year, which led to him being beaten by defensive ends far more often than he should have been. Starting center Jamaal Jackson is still rehabbing a torn ACL, so last year's starting right guard Nick Cole is playing at center, but he has yet to get comfortable in that position, and he is a major liability in pass-blocking. Both guard spots have been very shaky in pass-blocking this preseason, and left tackle Jason Peters has been very bad. The only consistently good pass-blocker on the Eagles' roster is right tackle Winston Justice.

This team’s receiving corps is definitely a strong point. DeSean Jackson is a super-fast receiver who gets open easily, runs good routes, and catches the ball very well. Wideout Jeremy Maclin, drafted in 2009 from Missouri, is very similar to Jackson, but he brings a bit more size and a lot more physicality. Slot receiver Jason Avant creates matchup problems for defenses because he is good enough to be a number two receiver in most offenses, and very few nickel corners are talented enough to cover him. Tight end Brent Celek benefits greatly from the attention defenses have to pay to Philadelphia’s wide receivers, but he is a potent weapon by himself. The only receiving presence that will be missed is that of running back Brian Westbrook, whose receiving skills out of the backfield were excellent. In fact, back in 2008, the Eagles had a play that they ran a few times very successfully, where they’d motion Westbrook out of the backfield and into the slot while Correll Buckhalter was also in the backfield and teams would key in on covering Westrbook. Then they would run Buckhalter up the middle, and the defense would be completely taken by surprise. While this versatility at running back will be missed, the development of the Eagles’ receiving corps makes up for the loss of Westbrook. Together, Celek and the Eagles’ receivers can hurt defenses from all over the field.

Newly appointed starting quarterback Kevin Kolb has been heralded as a future superstar because of the yardage he amassed in his two starts in lieu of Donovan McNabb. However, those statistics are misleading. The second week he started, he played against the Kansas City Chiefs, who made every quarterback look good last year. Against the Saints, he put up a lot of yards, but the Eagles still got blown out 48-22. The problem is, although he was able to pick up a lot of yards, three drives ended prematurely because he threw an interception, so those yards mean nothing. Kolb isn't very instinctive or savvy in the pocket, so behind the Eagles' struggling offensive line he will be sacked or pressured into making bad plays very frequently. He is more accurate on short passes than departed starter Donovan McNabb, but he lacks the arm strength to stretch the field. In his two starts in 2009, Kolb's longest pass of the year was recorded as a 71-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson against the New Orleans Saints, but a lot of those yards came after the catch. Including the amount of yards that Kolb dropped back, that pass was 40 yards at most, and although the ball traveled pretty well, it looked like it took almost all of his arm strength just to get it that far down the field. Out of 96 pass attempts in 2009, Kolb only completed 8 passes that went for more than 20 yards, and only 3 that were longer than 40. It seems like a complete waste of the big-play potential of Jackson and Maclin to base the offense on a quarterback whose lack of arm strength limits the play-calling to little more than screens, slants, and drags.

At backup quarterback, Michael Vick is the complete opposite of Kolb. He's wildly inaccurate, but he has a cannon for an arm. While he hasn't completely regained the speed that he had in Atlanta, and likely never will because he's 30 now, his running ability this preseason was much better than it was last year, and defenses would be forced to spy him with their fastest linebacker at all times. Even though he is not accurate with his passes, his scrambling breaks down defenses and allows his receivers to sometimes get so wide open that they are the only person near the ball and it doesn't even matter how inaccurate the pass was. While there were always plenty of plays in Atlanta where Vick was oblivious to pressure and got sacked needlessly, there were also plenty of plays where Vick's combination of electric scrambling and ridiculous arm strength led to huge gains on broken plays. Also, the fact that the Eagles' best pass-blocker is right tackle Winston Justice means that a left-handed passer in this offense is much less likely to get hammered from his blind side than a right-handed quarterback. Given the composition of the offensive line and the deep speed of the receivers, the Eagles might be better off settling for an inconsistently explosive offense with Vick as the starter instead of a consistently moribund offense with Kolb as the starter.

Defensive Overview

The Eagles, though already talented along the defensive line, used their top selection in this year’s draft on defensive end Brandon Graham. Graham looks to spend time keeping current starter Juqua Parker fresh. Parker plays well against both the pass and the run, so he should remain the starter even though Graham should get a decent amount of reps. Rookie Daniel Te'o-Nesheim can be instantly inserted into a rotation at defensive end as well. The Eagles have also traded for Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes, who can be a good situational pass-rusher in a 4-3 defense, but that's about all he does very well. On the other side of the line, end Trent Cole is a disruptive force who does a great job of shedding blocks and getting after the ball. Defensive tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson are both extremely solid players, and offensive linemen can't afford to make mistakes against them.

Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley is coming back from an ACL injury that cost him his entire 2009 season, but it's been almost a full year since his surgery, so he should be fully recovered. Without him, the linebackers were very bad last year. This year, they are better, though their tackling is still suspect. While the defensive line does a great job of clogging running holes, on the occasions this preseason that a runner got past the line of scrimmage, he had no problem bouncing off of the linebackers to get to the last level of the defense. While Bradley was much better than the outside linebackers in this regard, he lacks the Patrick Willis–type range that would allow him to play sideline to sideline from the middle linebacker position. Weakside linebacker Ernie Sims was obtained this offseason in a trade with the Detroit Lions, and while he isn't the best in the run game, Eagles coaches felt he offered an upgrade in pass coverage from the linebacker position, and he is an effective blitzer as well. At strong side linebacker, it seems as if Akeem Jordan, a good open-field tackler who struggles to shed blocks, will be starting.

The secondary sorely missed free safety Brian Dawkins last year, and rookie Nate Allen is expected to fill his shoes immediately. If Allen plays well, this will free up strong safety Quintin Mikell to roam around the deep middle part of the field and make plays on the ball. The Eagles' top corner, Asante Samuel, is a gifted player, but he will often break off of his assignment to get in front of where he thinks the quarterback is about to throw the ball. The problem with this style of play is that Samuel sometimes misjudges the quarterback when he does this, and ends up leaving his assigned receiver wide open. Opposite Samuel, Ellis Hobbs is recovering from neck surgery, which will make it tough for him to constantly turn his head so he can keep his eyes on both the ball and the receiver, and Joselio Hanson lacks the physicality to be an effective starting corner. Although some positions, mainly linebacker and No. 2 corner, are lacking in talent, the defense as a whole did a great job this preseason of flying to the ball-carrier and stripping the football.

Special Teams Overview

The Eagles' punting game was one of the best in the league. Sav Rocca is a master of precision punting – he landed 26 punts within the 20-yard line last year, and only four were touchbacks. Despite ranking 25th in average punt distance, the Eagles were an impressive 3rd in average yards allowed per punt return. In kickoff coverage, they were less impressive, coming in 21st in average kickoff return distance allowed despite being 17th in average kickoff distance. They were also unimpressive in kickoff returns, ranking 29th in average yards per return. To fix this, special teams coach Bobby April was hired. One thing that April will not have to fix is the Eagles' punt return game, where Desean Jackson averaged 15.2 yards per return and scored 2 TDs.

Kicker David Akers successfully made a pretty good 32 of his 37 field goal attempts, and 2 of those misses came on kicks of over 50 yards, so accuracy isn't really as much of an issue for Akers as leg power.

Head Coach: Andy Reid

The Eagles' performance this year will do a lot to define Reid's legacy in Philadelphia. One of the lesser-discussed aspects of the Donovan McNabb trade was the fact that McNabb, Kolb, and Vick were all set to become free agents in 2011, and this presented Reid with a huge dilemma. Kolb was drafted to be the Eagles' quarterback of the future three years ago, but McNabb still has a few years of high-quality play left in the tank. There was simply no way Reid could have asked McNabb to be a backup for the Eagles, and if he kept McNabb, he risked losing Kolb in free agency. This is what compelled Reid to add a year to Kolb's contract and send arguably the best quarterback in Eagles history to a 4-12 division rival with what was at the time a terrible offensive line. However, after trading for McNabb the Redskins added 3 new starters on the line, so the joke may be on Reid as Kolb spends significantly more time picking himself up off of the ground than McNabb will.

Top 2011 Free Agents

Stewart Bradley, MLB; Michael Vick, QB; Quintin Mikell, SS

Season Prediction

3rd NFC East

Their defense has some holes, but none that would be a problem if their offense was capable of consistently putting up 20-30 points per game. However, Kevin Kolb lacks arm strength in an offense that is best-suited to attacking deep down the field, and he also lacks the pocket presence to operate well under the pressure he'll be facing due to a porous offensive line. This year likely will be a slow step towards playoff contention at best, and an absolute disappointment at worst. - Hank Koebler, IV

Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.


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