The Eagles went 4-12 last year. I think that was due to injuries and a team that greatly underachieved, for a variety of reasons. I do not think the Eagles had 4-12 talent. I’m sure there are more than a few people who see that differently. They think the team is lacking in talent and needs major changes.
I truly believe that talent on the 32 rosters is much closer than people realize. Coaching and QB play are the 2 biggest critical factors. The Packers went 10-6 in 2010 and won the Super Bowl. The defense was Top 5 in yards and point. The team went 15-1 in 2011. The defense finished 32nd in yards allowed. Dead last. How can you be that awful on defense and go 15-1? Aaron Rodgers.
The Patriots are all over the map with defensive schemes and players. They can look good one week and awful the next. They are highly erratic. But with Bill and Brady as coach and QB, the Pats win every single year.
The 2012 Eagles weren’t saved by coaching and QB play. If anything, those areas made things worse. Andy Reid kept pushing more and more chips to the middle of the table. He was all-in on Michael Vick. The problem is that Vick wasn’t right all year. We could see from the preseason opener that something was wrong. Vick never looked comfortable. Donovan McNabb played his way out of some slumps, often by Reid running a more balanced offense.
For some reason, Reid wouldn’t do this in 2012. He and Marty Mornhinweg looked at a banged up OL and shaky QB and decided that throwing the ball was the way to go. Over and over. Shady had 20 or more carries in 3 of the first 4 games. The Eagles went 3-1. The Steelers and Lions played the run well the next 2 weeks and Reid got away from the run game. That put more pressure on the OL and the QBs. The Eagles went 1-11 after the 3-1 start. This truly was Andy Reid at his worst.
I think bringing in a new head coach, especially someone who prefers a balanced offense, will make a tremendous difference. Andy always talked about putting players in position to succeed, but too often he wouldn’t take his own advice. Reid was as stubborn as he was smart. And that proved to be a major part of his undoing. Kelly is the exact opposite. Kelly would prefer a dynamic ground game, but will do whatever is working. He wants points and yards. He isn’t obsessed with how. He just wants the results.
I’m not delusional. Adding Chip Kelly doesn’t magically make the Eagles a 12-4 team that is going to play lights out. This roster needs work no matter who is in charge. I just think that a coaching change can have a dramatic effect on some players and sometimes we overlook that. 1998 Brian Dawkins and 1999 Brian Dawkins were very different players. Who knows what kind of career Jeremiah Trotter has if Jim Johnson doesn’t get hold of him. Look at Donovan McNabb from 2009 to 2010-11.
It is easy to look at the roster now and poke holes. You’re judging based on how those players performed in a less than optimal environment. Think of Nate Allen vs Jaiquawn Jarrett. Allen looked good as a rookie. Jarrett struggled to shine in the preseason. Jarrett is someone you give up on. Allen is a player that might be saved. He must have good coaching and play in a stable secondary. Putting him alongside a veteran SS might help quite a bit as well. Or the coaches may look at Allen and simply think he’s too far gone and lacks the confidence to be good in the future.
Chip Kelly, his coordinators, and the positional assistants must decide who is worth keeping and who must go. Beyond talent, they must also think about fit. Kelly and Bill Davis seem to prefer taller DL and LBs. What do you do with Brandon Graham? He played well in 2012. Do you try to make it work even though he’s not your optimal guy or do you say forget that. I want my guys.
We’ve seen coaches do it both ways. Dallas ran a 4-3 with undersized players in 2003. Bill Parcells hated it, but left it alone. The D struggled in 2004 so he rebuilt it with bigger guys in a 3-4 starting in 2005. Mike Zimmer ran that Dallas defense in 2003. He now runs the Bengals defense and it features bigger players. He loves speed, but has been successful working with whoever he’s given. Zimmer just coaches.
Kelly and his staff have talked about building around the current players and making the schemes fit them. I’m sure that’s true to a certain extent, but the players must also fit the vision that Kelly and the coaches have.
Let’s take a quick look at the positions.
QB – There is no franchise QB in place. Vick and Foles can be effective QBs. The hope is that Vick will play much better in Kelly’s system (emphasis on run game and not 40 called pass plays) or that Foles will emerge into quality starter. Both are possible. Neither is guaranteed. QB is a mystery spot for the Eagles.
RB – The strength of the team. Shady McCoy is an elite RB. Bryce Brown is a rare size/speed guy. He must quit fumbling, but that’s something that can be fixed. There is no debating his talent. Dion Lewis is talented. Kelly watched Chris Polk run for 280 yards in the 4 games that Polk went up againt UO. I’m sure Chip knows Polk’s potential. Stanley Havili had a good year in 2012 and is another Pac-12 player that Kelly knows. Oregon didn’t use a FB much so Havili might not be in the plans. Might be looking for more of an H-back.
TE – Brent Celek remains a good player. He should be a perfect fit for Kelly’s system. Clay Harbor is the mystery guy. Was he underused by Andy/Marty or did he fail to shine in practice and deserve more use? Derek Carrier could be a player to watch. He might be the H-back Kelly wants. Evan Moore showed potential late in the season. Eagles need another TE added to the mix.
WR – Another strong area. DeSean Jackson had a good year. His numbers weren’t ideal, but Vick and the OL are more to blame for that than DJax. He didn’t have any drops. He was regularly open on plays where Vick was throwing the ball away or checking down. DJax worked the middle of the field more than in recent years. I was impressed. Jeremy Maclin is talented. Toughness is another story. He is a poor blocker and goes down too easily in the open field. A 200-pound WR can’t be doing those things. I’m sure Chip and Bob Bicknell will let Jeremy know what is and isn’t acceptable. Jason Avant looked good with Foles. That was fun to see. Riley Cooper and Damaris Johnson had some very good moments. Better QB play would have helped them.
OL – Big time mystery group. If Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, and Todd Herremans are healthy, this group could be a strength. Evan Mathis is now a sure thing at LG. Dallas Reynolds is a viable backup C. Dennis Kelly showed potential as a RT. Nate Menkin has the athleticism to shine in Kelly’s offense. He’s also a very good run blocker. Danny Watkins is the X-factor. If he works better under Jeff Stoutland, that would make all the difference in the world. I do think Watkins playing in a more balanced offense would help a lot. Watkins is a good run blocker. His pass protection is the primary concern. A young OT must be added to the mix. Question is how the right side plays out. Herremans to RG with Kelly or a rookie at RT? Or Herremans at RT with Watkins or a rookie at RG?
DL – Fletcher Cox is the best player on defense and coming off his rookie season. Cedric Thornton looks like he can be a good player. Brandon Graham played his best football in 2012. Trent Cole played his worst. Is he getting old or was his play greatly affected by the dysfunctional environment? Cullen Jenkins might get cut. He definitely has the talent to be a good role player, especially in a hybrid scheme. Vinny Curry didn’t play much, but the Eagles are still very excited about his future. Jim Washburn just didn’t want to play some of the young guys. Phillip Hunt got caught in that. Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon are the run stuffers. Each has some questions and neither can be thought of as a sure thing. There is some help needed, but this group is still too talented to be called a weakness in my mind.
LB – Solid group, but help is definitely needed. Mychal Kendricks will either be an ILB or WLB this year. I think he’s better suited to those roles than playing SAM. Kendricks flashed as a rookie. I think he could have a breakout year. DeMeco Ryans probably sticks around. He is a good leader and smart veteran player. He can play ILB or MLB. SAM is wide open right now. Jamar Chaney played the role some in 2012, but calling him inconsistent would be generous. Also, he’s not a fit if we do go 3-4/hybrid. He becomes an ILB in that system. Casey Matthews hasn’t done squat. I’m not counting on him for anything, despite the fact he played for Chip at Oregon. Casey must show up on tape. Ryan Rau flashed in the preseason. He might be a good fit at ILB. The Eagles should add a SAM and a solid ILB to push the backups, as well as Ryans.
S – Weak. SS with size is needed. Could take a chance on Allen at FS, but a reasonably high pick is needed to challenge him. Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson, and David Sims are acceptable backups and role players. The problem is that they’re small and it looks like Bill Davis and DBs coach John Lovett prefer bigger DBs. Anderson stays because of his STs acumen. Coleman and Sims better get ready to have the best summer in their lives.
CB – Weak. We still don’t know who’s in and who’s out. Nnamdi better be cut. Overpaid underachiever in 2 years. DRC is a free agent. Curtis Marsh has yet to prove anything. Brandon Hughes has looked good in limited action, but lacks ideal size/speed. There are a slew of CBs on the roster that have some potential, but none of them can be counted on. The Eagles might need 2 starting corners. Nickelback Brandon Boykin is the lone bright spot.
STs – Alex Henery is a good young PK. I’m not sure Matt McBriar will be the P. We’ll see what happens there. Jon Dorenbos is a free agent. I’d like to see him re-signed.
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That’s my take. The OL needs help, but aside from that the offense could be good as is. You always look to add talent where you can. Would be good to add a TE to the mix.
The front seven is mostly okay. You do need a SAM. I think you need a NT. I’m hesitant to buy into Patterson/Dixon as the answer. You do need some depth. The secondary is the gaping hole on the team and should be the offseason priority.
Finding an answer at QB is still on the list, but I don’t think that gets solved this year. We’ll see how that goes.
To me, the real key to this team in 2013 and beyond is Chip Kelly and the coaching staff’s ability to get the most out of the talent that is already here. It is criminal that an offense with Vick, Shady, DJax, Mac, and Celek on the field together had a high of 24 points. OL injuries or not, that is completely unacceptable.
Having a “legitimate” defensive staff and system in place should make a world of difference. Getting rid of the “me” guys is also critical. Babin is out. Washburn is out. Nnamdi needs to go. A defense must play as one. That didn’t happen very often in the past couple of years. Too many separate agendas. That will change under Chip Kelly.
As I’ve said before, I think enough talent is in place for the Eagles to be a winning team in 2013. I don’t anticipate them being legitimate SB contenders. I think that will take a couple of offseasons, as well as Kelly adjusting to life in the NFL.