This team has loads of talent, but the schedule appears to be tough and there are some young players. That means there will be a couple of bumps in the road. I don’t know if the Eagles will win the division. That depends on how things play out for the other teams. The key here isn’t for the Eagles to win the division or have the #1 seed in the NFC. That stuff is good, but can give you a false positive. As simple as this sounds, the Eagles need to play good football. If they do, the team should win 10-12 games and get into the postseason. At that point, each game becomes its own season. How many people really thought that SF would win a shootout with the Saints?
Offensive MVP: Michael Vick
Kinda obvious, I know. He won’t have Jason Peters blocking for him, but Kelce and Watkins are now experienced and should be improved. DeSean Jackson looks like a different guy this summer. Clay Harbor is playing the best football of his career. The young RBs look very impressive. Vick has lots of help. He just needs to run the show and get the football to the playmakers.
Defensive MVP: DeMeco Ryans
The Eagles lost 8 games in 2011. Here are the rushing yards allowed in those games:
ATL – 138
NYG – 102
SF – 164
BUF – 143
CHI – 164
ARZ – 88
NE – 104
SEA – 174
If Ryans can solidify the middle of the defense and just be a good LB, that will make a big difference. He doesn’t need to be a dominant player or Pro Bowl star. That could happen and it would be great, but it isn’t necessary. Eagles LBs had 2 primary problems in 2011. Too often they got in the wrong gaps (usually do to over-pursuit). They also struggled to shed blocks. Ryans should be good in both areas. He already sheds blocks better than anyone since Stewart Bradley in 2008.
Rookie of the Year: Mychal Kendricks
Was there much of a debate on this? Kendricks is the most talented OLB since…Shawn Barber back in 2002. Kendricks is a tough, disciplined run defender and also a playmaker. He could be a star pretty early on.
Emerging Eagle: Phillip Hunt and Cedric Thornton
Picking Hunt almost feels like cheating since he played so well this summer. He is too good not to mention. I saw some pundit mention Hunt as a candidate for league defensive MVP. That seemed over the top. I do think he can be an impact role player.
I can’t stress enough how impressed I was with Ced Thornton. He had a great summer. He used quickness off the ball to be disruptive. He used strength to push blockers around. The light went on for him in a big way and I think he’s looking to kick some butt this year. There are times when he reminds me of Leon Lett. Now Lett was able to become a dominant defender (I think poor Guy McIntyre still has nightmares about the 1995 playoff game…I know I do). Thornton is way behind that curve. He just wants to be a good contributor in 2012. I don’t know what he’ll amount to, but I really like what I’ve seen this summer. Ced has serious potential.
Eagle most likely to disappoint: Jason Babin
You have to pick someone. Babin was great last year, racking up 18 sacks. He had 6 games with no sacks and 6 with 2 or more. He was very feast or famine. My guess is that this year the feasts go down. Babin can still have 10 or 12 sacks and that’s a good year. Getting to the QB 18 times is rare territory. Simply doesn’t seem like he should able to duplicate that.
I wonder if we’ll see a Freaky Friday type of twist this season. Last year Babin came here with a good reputation, but expectations were reasonable. Nnamdi Asomugha was expected to shut down half the field and just dominate. Instead, Babin was lights out and Nnamdi was disappointing. Heading into 2012 there are plenty of fans still down on Nnamdi. Now Babin is a guy with high expectations. I wonder if this year we’ll see a reversal. Nnamdi will be dominant, Babin will be human.
Biggest Worry: Left Tackle
Losing Jason Peters hurt because he was an elite player. The problem is that there was no full time replacement behind him. King Dunlap is excellent for a game or two. 16? He last started 10 or more games as a Junior at Auburn. Demetress Bell might still get things going, but we sure can’t count on him. Can Dunlap be an effective starter on a regular basis? Can he hold up to the grind of a 16-game season?
Biggest Hidden Worry: Nate Allen
Unlike some, I don’t doubt that Nate can play. He was terrific at USF. He was very good for part of his rookie year. He had some outstanding games in 2011. The challenge for him…stay healthy. Nate has no major issues right now, but hamstring troubles have limited him this summer. I don’t want to make too much of this, but we need Nate to stay on the field and play well in 2012. In some ways, he is the key to the defense. If he takes away big plays and teams are forced to sustain long drives, their chances of success go drastically down. The Eagles defense has a lot of talent. I don’t think anyone is going to regularly march up and down the field. They’ll need big plays, which they got last year. A healthy Allen could take those away. 50-yard plays turn into just 25-yard plays. And 25-yard plays turn into just 15-yard plays. The most underrated part of Brian Dawkins was his ability to pursue and make key tackles downfield. Huge job for the deep Safety. Allen needs to do it in 2012.
Secret Weapons: Damaris Johnson and Bryce Brown
Both rookies fell in the draft due to character concerns. The Eagles were lucky to get them. As of now, it looks like both moves could be considered home runs. Johnson will be the PR and a role player on offense. Brown was so good this summer that he could get some touches. He also showed potential as a STer. The great thing about the rookies is that they are elusive enough to make defenders miss. They also have the burst to separate in tight spaces and create running room. I don’t see either guy as a consistent weapon right now, but think they’ll be role players that stick out a few times during the year. A 15-yard run here. A 25-yard reception there. Those kind of plays can be the difference in a punt and a field goal. It’s even better when those plays come from role players and not always the stars.
New Starter I’m excited to see: Derek Landri
This isn’t just a homer pick. You guys know I love Landri, but anyone who watched the CLE game a couple of weeks back could see how disruptive Landri was. He lived in the backfield. Last year Derek wasn’t around for the first 4 games of the year. He still managed to record 2 sacks and 6 TFLs. He tied for the TFL lead with Cullen Jenkins and Darryl Tapp. Landri played in 300 less snaps than Jenkins. Tapp played the least of all, but as a DE he gets more plays where he’s either unblocked or is going against a RB or TE. The inside guys are going against OL 99 percent of the time. Landri said that Jim Washburn has worked with him on his technique and that he expects to be even better this year. Landri is expected to start and play a lot of snaps. He also has a chip on his shoulder due to 31 teams showing no interest in him during free agency. Derek could have a great season. I’m really excited to see how he takes advantage of this opportunity.
Let’s Talk Red Zone
The RZ defense was historically bad in 2010. It improved to merely awful last year. This is an area where I expect big strides. The secondary should be less confused than last year. Ryans is a good leader and smart veteran in the middle of the LBs. Kendricks has the speed to protect the edge on outside plays. We also have big CBs who are better suited to being physical in the RZ.
As for the offense, it actually made great strides last year within the season. As soon as Brent Celek got mixed in more as a target, things started to click. The biggest point here is to avoid turnovers, some due to sloppy play and some due to utter stupidity.
Thoughts on the schedule
Every season is different. Heck things change from month to month and sometimes week to week. Timing is crucial. Last year the Eagles played Buffalo when Ryan Fitzpatrick was hot and the team was rolling at 3-1. The Bills won. Dallas played them a month later and thrashed them. Same team, but not. Eagles went to Buffalo and got a hot team. Dallas hosted a banged up team with sagging confidence.
Who do you play? Where do you play them? When do you play them?
Can the Eagles win in the postseason?
This really is the million dollar question. I don’t know. The Eagles last playoff win was at the Giants on a cold day in January of 2009 when the defense shut down the running attack and the offense did just enough to win. That was McNabb, Westy, Tra, Runyan, Dawk, and a healthy Disco Stew.
Michael Vick has had playoff success. He is the first opposing QB to win a playoff game at Lambeau field. He was 2-2 with the Falcons, with both losses coming in Philly. He is 0-1 as an Eagle. I have faith that Vick can win in the postseason. Can he win a title? Different story. Gotta see how he plays this year. The guy from 2011 sure couldn’t.
If you want to look for signs of the Eagles potential as a playoff team, focus on close games. The Giants were 5-3 in games decided by a TD or less last year. The 2010 Packers were just 4-6, although to be fair…they didn’t have Aaron Rodgers for 2 of them. The 2009 Saints were 3-2.
The point to focusing on close games is that it shows a team can handle pressure. The playoffs are pressure-packed games. The lead/deficit might be 10 or 14 points, but there is still tremendous pressure. A team must have proven itself in tough situations. The Giants win at NE last year was very impressive. That was the kind of game that got them ready for the playoffs. Even their loss to the Packers showed a lot. They lost, but played well and really pushed the Packers to play a great game.
One thing to keep in mind…the last 3 Super Bowl champs all had at least a 2-game losing streak during the season. Do not hit the panic button. The Saints came in December. The Packers had one in October and December (minus Rodgers). The Giants last year had a 4-game losing streak that started in November and went into early December. They lost 5 of 6 to fall from 6-2 to just 7-7. Super Bowl champs must be tested during the year by some adversity.
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* Don’t be surprised if Dennis Kelly plays more than expected this year.
* Eagles should be much better on KORs. Stanley Havili is a good blocker and Brandon Boykin is a gifted returner.
* It will be interesting to see how Reid uses Alex Henery this year. Will 50-yard FG attempts become normal?
* Will Nick Foles start a game this year? Now that I’m genuinely excited about the backup QB, my guess is that Vick stays healthy the whole year. Jerk.
* Don’t be shocked if Kurt Coleman leads the team in tackles. He was second last year and didn’t start the whole year. Kurt had a good showing this summer.
* I’m guessing DRC leads the team in picks. QBs will test him, plus a lot of offenses naturally go to the right side. Do we push for an extension now or roll the dice and see how he plays this year?
* Who leads in sacks? I’m guessing Trent, but a darkhorse candidate could be Hunt. You can bet they’ll have him on the field in passing situations as much as possible.
* I think we all know the real key to the season is Jon Dorenbos. If he can come up with a trick that makes JPP disappear, I like our chances a lot.
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NFL Gimpy did his season preview for the entire NFL. Check out what he thinks of our beloved Eagles.
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Congrats to Brian Solomon of mcnabborkolb. For those who don’t know, he is a writer for Forbes magazine. Brian just got his first cover story for Forbes, about new Jaguars owner Shahid Khan. Great work.
I’m still trying to become the NFL draft writer for Penthouse, but it hasn’t worked out yet. Someday maybe.