Philadelphia Eagles 2019 Season Preview: Super Bowl or Bust
The last team to win the NFC East title in consecutive years was the 2003-04 Philadelphia Eagles. I guess that means that the Dallas Cowboys won't be winning the division this year. With that little bit of information and the fact that the Washington Redskins and New York Giants are going to be downright horrible this season, it seems that the Eagles are the odds-on favorites to win the NFC East and maybe even more. How will they do it? Let's take a look.
It's cliche to say that the fate of the Philadelphia Eagles rests solely on the health of quarterback Carson Wentz, now that Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is currently the starting QB in Jacksonville. While that may be true, with senior citizen Josh McCown as the new backup QB, the same could be said for every team in the NFL. Yes, Wentz was unable to finish either of the last two seasons, but he did play all 16 games in his rookie season, after breaking his ribs in the preseason. Wentz was the favorite to win the NFL MVP award before he got hurt in 2017 (33 TDs, 7 INTs, 3,296 yards passing in 13 games) and apparently he was playing with a broken bone in his back for much longer than we knew last season. Assuming that Wentz is healthy, he is looking at the best group of skill position players that he has had in his pro career. That should lead to similar numbers to what he posted in 2017, which should put him in the consideration for MVP yet again.
The Eagles running backs were a mess last year after injuries to Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles led to undrafted rookie Josh Adams leading the team in rushing, with a mere 511 yards. Only the Arizona Cardinals had a worse yards per carry average than the Eagles' 3.9 mark last season. That led the team to trade for Jordan Howard and draft Miles Sanders in the second round. While Howard will be more of an early down, between the tackles and short yardage runner for the Eagles, keep in mind that only Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott have rushed for more yards than Howard since he came into the NFL in 2016. Sanders has impressed all through training camp and the preseason and will likely be the lead back before the season is over. Sproles is back to mainly return punts and play on some 3rd downs. Clement will get whatever crumbs are leftover in this RB-by-committee. All things considered, this group is far superior to what the team had last year and should make defenses respect the run again. That matters, even in today's pass-happy NFL.
This is easily the best receiving corps, from top to bottom, that the Philadelphia Eagles have ever had. Alshon Jeffrey is a true No. 1 WR. DeSean Jackson is back to stretch the field and open things up underneath for the other receivers, like Nelson Agholor, who came into his own once he moved into the slot. Jackson might be old, but he doesn't seem to have lost a step. Then there are the Tight Ends. Zach Ertz set the NFL record for receptions in a season by a TE, with 116 last season. He has established himself as the second best TE in the NFL, behind Jason Kelce's little brother, and while he won't have that many catches this season, he is still a reliable target for Wentz. No. 2 TE Dallas Goedert would probably be the starting TE on most teams, so expect the Eagles to use plenty of 2-TE sets this season. Rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside won't catch many passes, but with his size (6-2, 225) he is sure to catch a bunch of touchdowns. What did Buddy Ryan used to say about Chris Carter? Oh yeah. "All he does is catch touchdowns". That would be a fine contribution from the rookie this year.
The Eagles have the best offensive line in the entire NFL. Period. End of discussion. They can pass block. They can run block. They can do it all. LT Jason Peters might be in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, but he's still one of the top LTs in the game. The Eagles even have a good backup plan in case Peters gets hurt in 1st round pick Andre Dillard. LG Isaac Seumalo is strong and improving each year. Center Jason Kelce is the best in the business. His agility and smarts are second to none at the position. RG Brandon Brooks is recovering from an Achilles injury suffered in the playoffs last year, but reports have him ready to start Week 1. If healthy, the former Pro-Bowler is a beast. RT Lane Johnson is also a Pro-Bowler, who is in the prime of his career. They say games are won or lost in the trenches and the Eagles definitely have that area covered.
How do you think the Eagles will do this season?
On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles have a few question marks, but they will definitely be better than last year. Last year the defense was ranked 23rd overall, 7th in run defense (96.9 ypg), 30th in passing defense (269.3 ypg), but only 12th in points allowed (21.8 ppg). That is obviously not good, but injuries to the secondary were the main culprit there. They have quite a few players returning from offseason surgery, but all are due to start Week 1.
The Eagles have one of the best defensive linemen in the game in DT Fletcher Cox, who is recovering from foot surgery. If Cox isn't the same wrecking ball he has always been, the defense could be in trouble. The Eagles signed Malik Jackson in the offseason and brought back a now healthy Tim Jernigan for the other DT spot. This is a massive upgrade from last year and will help offset the loss of DE Chris Long to retirement and the trade of DE Michael Bennett. Without a second pass-rushing DT last year, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had to move his DEs inside on passing downs. That won't be necessary this year, which will help the thin DE group. Brandon Graham was resigned and is a steady force at DE. Derek Barnett is a former 1st round pick, who only played six games last year before shoulder surgery. He needs to take a massive step up in production because the backups are less than inspiring. Vinny Curry is just a guy and youngsters Daeshon Hall, Josh Sweat and Shariff Miller have yet to prove anything in the pros. If this group doesn't get pressure on the QB, the Eagles are in trouble, because Schwartz doesn't like to blitz.
The Eagles allowed always-injured LB Jordan Hicks leave in free agency and only replaced him with Zach Brown. Brown is a dinosaur in today's NFL, with his inability to cover. The good news is that the Eagles use three LBs less than 20% of the time. Unfortunately, their best LB, Nigel Bradham is recovering from offseason surgery on his toe. He says he'll be ready for Week 1, but he didn't play in the preseason or even practice much. Kamu Grugier-Hill has an MCL sprain and will miss the first few weeks of the season. That means more playing time for Nate Gerry, L.J. Fort and undrafted rookie T.J. Edwards. Maybe they should play three LBs 0% of the time.
The Eagles have a lot of young cornerbacks, but with the rash of injuries at that position last year, they all got plenty of experience. They didn't always play well, but they learned and hopefully they'll be better for the experience. Jalen Mills is still on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a foot injury, so he can't play until Week 8, if at all this season. That leaves Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones as the starters on the outside, with Avonte Maddox playing the slot. Darby is coming back from a knee injury last year, but has flashed No. 1 CB talent in the past. Jones was considered the top CB in his draft class three years ago before he got hurt, so the talent is obviously there. He projects as a shut-down CB, if he can finally have a healthy season. Maddox played all over the defense last year and was, frankly, a revelation. Rasul Douglas will get plenty of playing time, as he should, since he led the team in interceptions last season. Assuming they are healthy, this group should be a strength for the defense.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins is the leader of the defense on and off the field. He plays deep, in the box and can cover WRs one-on-one. He has never missed a game in five seasons with the Eagles and played every single defensive snap last season. He is literally, irreplaceable. Rodney McCleod is back from his own knee injury to provide some stability to the other safety spot and Andrew Sendejo is the third safety who will play in nickel and dime packages
Jake Elliott is back at kicker and if he could just consistently hit extra points and chip shot field goals, he would be a Pro Bowler. On the plus side, he is tied for 5th in the NFL with 24 kicks over 40 yards over the last two seasons. Hopefully he gets better with age. Cameron Johnston will handle the punting duties again and has a big leg, with five punts of over 60 yards. Rick Lovato is the long-snapper. Darren Sproles returns as a threat at punt returner. OK, that's enough about the specialists.
Watch How You Shake Jim Schwartz's Hand
A few years ago, I called head coach Doug Pederson the worst coach in the NFL. Hey, I can't be right all the time. Pederson changed his pass-happy ways early in the 2017 season and that led to the team's first ever Lombardi Trophy. He did not have a good year last year, but he gets a pass for the whole Super Bowl parade thing and the fact that the team had so many injuries last season. Well, now the Super Bowl champs are in another town (cheaters) and the Eagles are seemingly healthy. No excuses for Dougie this season. Schwartz is a bit of an unconventional defensive coordinator with his Wide-9 front and the fact that he almost never blitzes, but he seems to make it all work. Just don't shake his hand too firmly.
In all honesty, it's Super Bowl or bust for the Philadelphia Eagles. The team is one of the oldest in the NFL and they are running out of time before Wentz's big contract extension kicks in that will limit the money they will have to spend on the rest of the roster. Look at the Seattle Seahawks for an example of that. This is not to say that the window to win a Super Bowl will close after this season, but this is most likely their best chance to win another Championship.
I believe the Eagles are the best team in the NFL. Sure the Patriots are a dynasty in the AFC, but Tom Brady isn't the same player he was even two years ago. The Chiefs? Let's see Patrick Mahomes actually do it more than just once before we crown them the champs. And there's also the little matter of Andy Reid and his inability to win a big game. Ever. In the NFC, only the New Orleans Saints can legitimately claim to be as good as the Eagles. But if the Saints don't have home-field advantage, they are ordinary. Anybody who thinks Jared Goff and the Rams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders must have missed last year's Super Bowl, where Goff got exposed. The Packers changed their entire coaching staff and there is already noise coming out of Green Bay that Aaron Rodgers isn't on board with the new scheme. The Bears? Please. Two words: Mitchell Trubisky. The Cowboys? See the issues the Bears have at QB and repeat with Dak Prescott.
It certainly won't be easy, but the law of averages says the Eagles can't possibly have as many injuries as they have had in each of the last two seasons. Assuming a moderate amount of good luck with injuries, the Eagles are simply one of the most talented teams in the NFL. Wentz has all the weapons he needs to regain his MVP-level form of two years ago. They rebuilt their running game and their offensive line is the best in the business. The defense has question marks, but if the team plays with a lead, as expected, that enables the defense to pin their ears back and attack opposing offenses. And in spite of what some people thought of him a few years ago, Doug Pederson is a really good football coach.
Put it all together and I'll see you all on Broad Street in Philadelphia during the first week of February for the parade. I wonder what Jason Kelce will wear this time?