Philadelphia Eagles 2016 Season Preview
The Philadelphia Eagles had the most active offseason of any team in the entire NFL.
After three horrible years of Chip Kelly as coach and GM, that is a good thing. Of course, as anyone who remembers the "Dream Team" fiasco, massive change does not always lead to more wins on the field. On the contrary, I believe the Eagles will actually have less wins this season. But I also don't see that as a bad thing.
The minute GM Howie Roseman traded away veteran players and future draft picks to draft QB Carson Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick, this season should have had only one focus; developing Carson Wentz. Roseman paid lip service to wanting to compete for the division title in a weak NFC East, but the trade of QB Sam Bradford one week before the regular season put those thoughts to bed.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the current Eagles roster and how the team will do this season.
A rookie QB's best friend is usually a strong running game. It remains to be seen how good the Eagles will be at running the ball, since No. 1 RB Ryan Mathews is injury-prone. He's only played 16 games in a season once in his career, but when he does play, he is a very good RB. He has a career average of 4.5 ypc, but if he's not on the field, there will be problems. Darren Sproles is just the receiving back. Kenjon Barner has all of 34 NFL carries. And rookie Wendell Smallwood has been hurt all summer. In short, if (when?) Matthews goes down, things could get ugly.
The Eagles might have the worst WR corps in the entire NFL. Jordan Matthews would be a No. 2 or No. 3 on other teams, but he is the only legitimate WR on the roster. 2015 1st round pick, Nelson Agholor is close to being proclaimed a bust. Josh Huff is a converted RB, who looks like a converted RB trying to play WR. And Dorial Green-Beckham has already been discarded by one franchise for not putting in the necessary work to improve his game or learn the offense. I doubt he'll suddenly change his ways.
The TE position is actually a strength with Zach Ertz as the main receiving threat, Brett Celek as the crafty veteran and Trey Burton as the third TE and special teams ace. If Ertz can improve his blocking, he will be on the field for more snaps and will have the chance to become one of the best TEs in the NFL.
The offensive line is a curious problem for the team this season because of the looming 10-gme PED suspension of RT Lane Johnson. I have no idea why the NFL is taking a month to test his "B sample", but for now, Johnson isn't suspended so he will start at RT. The rest of the line: RG Ron Brooks was a big-ticket free agent who should be a massive upgrade. Center Jason Kelce needs to show that he can still play at a Pro Bowl level, even though he is undersized and can get pushed around a bit. LG is manned by Allen Barbre, who is just a guy. He will move over to RT whenever Johnson's suspension becomes official and either rookie Isaac Seumalo or veteran Steve Wisniewski will step in at LG. And LT will be manned by perennial Pro Bowler, Jason Peters. The problem is that Peters has made his last few Pro Bowls on reputation alone, as his play has slipped considerably in the last few seasons. At 34, Peters looks to be at the end of the line and Father Time is undefeated. Can the Eagles get one more good season out of the future Hall of Famer? We'll see. The line should be better than last year, if for no other reason, than they have more depth. Of course, it will be tested with Johnson's suspension and Peters' age.
What will be the best unit for the Eagles in 2016?
The defense can't help but be better than last year's unit that finished 30th in yards allowed per game, including dead last in rushing yards allow and 27th in points allowed per game.
The switch from Billy Davis' horrible 3-4 defense to a 4-3 will benefit the defensive line more than any other position. It will be especially beneficial to DT Fletcher Cox, who is better suited as an attacking DT than a DE. And he will do a lot of attacking in new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's variation of the Wide-9. Cox and fellow DT Bennie Logan should be able to collapse the pocket on opposing QBs this year. That will help DEs Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham get sacks. Speaking of sacks, Barwin had 26 1/2 over the last three seasons as an OLB, but he played DE early in his career, so he shouldn't have any problem adapting to the switch. The same goes for Curry and Graham who are natural 4-3 DEs. The only problem I foresee with this unit is that once teams start to game plan against the Eagles, they are sure to see plenty of inside runs to counteract their aggressive up the field rushing.
The linebackers are a talented bunch among the starters, but there is almost no depth behind them, and those starters are injury-prone. Strong-side LB Nigel Bradham was brought in because he previously played for Schwartz and he'll be fine. Jordan Hicks mans the middle and he looked great as a rookie, until he got hurt. And he always gets hurt. Mychal Kendricks is the weak-side LB and his once promising career is at a crossroads. Kendricks is talented, but his coaches are beginning to question his toughness and ability to play through minor injuries. If anyone gets hurt, MLB Stephen Tulloch was brought in because of his familiarity with Swartz's defense. Hicks could always slide outside if somebody got hurt, or the coaches tire of Kendricks. The problem I see with this unit is similar to the main problem with the defensive line. Once teams begin to game plan against them, expect to see a ton of screen passes to counteract the pass rush.
The secondary is much improved. Safety Malcolm Jenkins returns as the leader of the defense. He will be joined by free agent signing Rodney McLeod, forming what might be the best safety tandem in the NFL. Nolan Carroll has recovered from his broken ankle to reclaim his starting CB spot and free agent signing Leodis McKelvin will man the other spot. McKelvin is a huge upgrade over Byron Maxwell, who seemed too weighed down by his fat wallet last season. Ron Brooks was brought in to be the nickel corner. Behind this group is a mixture of rookies and special teams guys.
The Eagles special teams were among the best in the NFL last season and figure to be an asset to the team again this year. Dave Fipps returns to run the unit and the Eagles even kept guys like safety Chris Maragos and LB Bryan Braman even though neither one contributes on defense. That's because they are both special teams aces. Sproles made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons as the Eagle punt returner. And Jon Dorenbos is a pretty good long-snapper when he isn't getting Heidi Klum to bend over in s short skirt and hike a football between her legs on American's Got Talent. Caleb Sturgis beat out Cody Parkey as kicker and he's at least a little better than average. Donnie Jones is a consistent punter who excels at dropping the ball inside the 20 yard line. This unit will probably win a game again this season.
Doug Pederson is the head coach nobody else in the entire NFL wanted. A guy with almost no actual NFL coaching experience was plucked from the large shadow of Andy Reid because owner Jeffrey Lurie wanted the polar opposite of Chip Kelly. He also wanted to go back to how things were before the wheels fell off at the end of the Reid era in Philly. Plus, Roseman wanted a puppet who would just go along with whatever he wanted to do. The problem is that Pederson will also be calling the offensive plays after only holding that job in the second half of games last season....and only during the second half of last season. You'll excuse me if I'm worried about a guy who learned from the man with the worst clock-management skills in NFL history (Reid). Hiring Schwartz and retaining Fipp were the smartest things that Pederson did though. Those two should bail out his offense all season long.
I don't think the Eagles will be a good team in 2016, but I honestly don't care. As soon as the Eagles traded up to draft Carson Wentz, this season became all about the development of the future face of the franchise. If Wentz is as good as the Eagles brass and coaches think he is, then it will be worth it. If he isn't, then these coaches and the GM will be gone. But we need to see him play this season in order to find out. That made the trade of Sam Bradford a necessity. It also reduced the team's chances of competing in a weak NFC East.
The offense is going to struggle to score points even if they somehow stay healthy. The receivers just aren't good enough and Wentz is sure to make enough rookie mistakes to cost his team a few games. As I said, it's worth it to see his development.
The defense and special teams will both be the strength of the team. The D will get lots of pressure on the QB and the secondary is vastly improved. We just need to see if they can effectively stop the run in the Wide-9. The special teams should be dominant again this season.
I can't see the Eagles winning more than 5 or 6 games with their schedule. (I told you winning the last game last season was a mistake). But this season shouldn't be measured in wins and losses. It should be measured by the development of Carson Wentz. Be patient Eagles fans. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.