For the first time in over a decade, the Philadelphia Eagles enter the NFL season with a new quarterback at the helm and sport a roster flush with young talent. As usual, I have some concerns about this year’s team. You’ll be surprised who was left off the list.
That’s right; I’m not concerned about Kevin Kolb. Not. At. All. If you know me or have previously visited the site, you know I’m a McNabb apologist. However, I’m also a total believer in Kolb. Of course he’s going to struggle at times and make stupid mistakes. That’s what young quarterbacks do (and old ones too if you’ve watched the Eagles). Regardless, I don’t think Kolb’s growing pains will cost the Eagles as much as the potential issues I’ve listed below. (Here’s hoping they’ll all be overcome or avoided.)
- Secondary. Yes, the Eagles enter the 2010 season with an unproven quarterback (only two NFL starts) and my top concern is the defensive secondary. Why? Because the 2009 version of the Eagles defense was the worst I’ve seen since the Mike Mamula days and the secondary was a big reason why. Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel continuously fell victim to the double move and were abused in the final two contests by Dallas. The platoon (Quintin Demps, Macho Harris, Sean Jones) trying to replace Brian Dawkins at free safety offered zero help in coverage (or anywhere else for that matter), and severely crippled the play of former pro-bowler Quintin Mikell. What’s worse, as a collective unit, the secondary tackled about as well as Bobby Taylor. So yes, I’m a little apprehensive. On the other hand, I loved moving the overrated Sheldon Brown, using three draft picks to improve the secondary, and giving rookie Nate Allen every chance to win the starting role at free safety.
- Health. I know, I know. You’re probably thinking; Duh!!!! Normally, I wouldn’t include such an obvious concern, but the Eagles are especially vulnerable at key positions. Middle linebacker is one of them. As we witnessed in 2009, losing Stewart Bradley at middle linebacker would be a crushing blow. While the addition of Ernie Sims added some much needed talent to the linebacking corps, replacing Bradley in the middle would still be impossible. If Bradley goes down again the defense is in deep trouble.
If it’s not too painful for you to think back to the consecutive massacres in Dallas, you’ll recall McNabb scrambling for his life on nearly every down. Part of this was due to Reid’s moronic game plan. The other part was a result of the injury to starting center Jamaal Jackson. Jackson is still recovering from that same knee injury and the depth across the rest of the line is questionable at best. A severe injury to any of the starters could cost Kevin Kolb a limb or two.
The outlook at running back isn’t much better. Behind LeSean McCoy, the depth chart reads; “you’re screwed.” Ok, not really but it does read; Mike Bell (injury prone), Eldra Buckley (situational back), and J.J. Arrington (looking for a home). If McCoy can’t stay healthy, the Eagles just might be out of options. This leads us to my next concern…
- Running Game. Will the Eagles even have a running game? LeSean McCoy is young, so there’s plenty of time to improve, but I’m not convinced he’s an every-down back yet. Even if McCoy is capable, will Reid include a consistent rushing attack in his offense? (History says no.) It’s one thing for Reid to ask an 11-year veteran to sling it 30-40 times per game. To ask the same of a first year starter is flirting with disaster. The Eagles will absolutely need a ground attack this season to aid Kolb’s development and bail him out of a rough outing, which is bound to happen at least once. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that 1. Reid is invested in a running game, and 2. That Reid will even resort to it if Kolb’s play requires it. (Unless something drastically changes or Reid leaves town, I’m just going to copy and paste this section on an annual basis.)
- Experience. Young talent brings explosiveness, enthusiasm, and excitement. Unfortunately, young talent also brings inexperience. Never before in the Reid era have the Eagles entered a season with so much youth at critical positions. It will be interesting to see how the young players respond in big-game situations, especially on offense where Todd Herremans and Jamaal Jackson are the only veteran voices in the huddle. More importantly, who will push the young players through the tough losses when proven veterans like McNabb and Westbrook aren’t around to rally the team?
- Receivers. There’s little doubt that Kevin Kolb is a more accurate passer than Donovan McNabb, but even great accuracy won’t complete passes if your receivers aren’t in the right spots. I’m nit-picking here, but Eagle receivers, especially DeSean Jackson, struggled immensely against the physical cornerbacks of the Dallas Cowboys last season. Both Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are smaller receivers that rely more on speed and quickness than brute force. Because of this, Dallas’ corners were able to disrupt the Eagles’ offense by bumping Maclin and Jackson at the line. Before you call me crazy, remember the Eagles play in the physical NFC East. Dallas is the same team that mauled the Eagles three times last season. New York’s secondary (injured all of 2009) and pass rush will undoubtedly bounce back from an off year, and the Redskins have improved as well. All three will look to accomplish the same thing; bump the Eagle receivers at the line and disrupt their timing with Kolb to allow the defensive line to pressure him into mistakes. Again, it’s not the most critical concern, but for Kolb to survive in the NFC East, he’ll need his receivers to get to the right spots at the right time.
- Pass rush. For what feels like the millionth time, the Eagles are convinced an offseason acquisition (draft/trade/free agency) is the solution at the defensive end position opposite Trent Cole. I love Brandon Graham and it’s hard not to believe he’s the real deal, but I’ve seen this act before. Jerome McDougle never panned out, Victor Abiamiri can’t get healthy, Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse were both disappointments, and after only seven sacks in two years, Chris Clemons is gone. Forgive me for not declaring Graham the left end savior just yet.
Football starts exactly three weeks from tonight. More to come.