With only a week into the free agent frenzy backup quarterback, Vince Young, unadvisedly proclaimed the new look roster of the Philadelphia Eagles as a “dream team.” Instantly the team seemed to have all eyes of the NFL world upon them, and for good reason. Over the course of the off-season, the Eagles acquired not only the number one coveted player on the market in cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, but were also able to bring in impressive pro bowl caliber names including defensive end Jason Babin, running back Ronnie Brown, defensive tackler Cullen Jenkins, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, quarterback Vince Young, and wide receiver Steve Smith.
Inevitably attracting attention of all national media markets, the Eagles arguably have become the most targeted team in the NFL, even more so than returning Super Bowl champs the Green Bay Packers. With such hype and promise leading into the season everyone has begun to expect a deep run into the playoffs, ending of course with a Super Bowl appearance. Despite all the pieces seemingly in place there are five key components of the Eagles team that fans need to be looking for.
Explosive, exciting, and controversial he is a game changer and without a doubt the biggest key to the Eagles having a successful season. Coming off what was his best season of his NFL career with a completion percentage of 62.6, 3,000 passing yards, nearly 700 rushing yards, and 30 total touchdowns experts question if he can replicate that type of season again. Tailing off slightly at the end of the year last year coupled with a shaky preseason, questions have arose whether Vick is returning to his old form in Atlanta where he was known for falling back on the run and more importantly poor blitz recognition. On top of all that there is constantly the question of his health which comes along with his play style. Having only played 16 games in his career once, it is always a worry that Vick will again get injured. Clearly the organization understands just how crucial he is after rewarding his play with a 6 year one hundred million dollar contract. Undoubtedly he must be on the field for this team as he is the electric that makes the light bulb shine, without him it would be a long dark season. Being successful in assuring Vick’s health brings about the next key to a fulfilling Eagles season.
The offensive line has had many questions throughout the preseason and is clearly a concern of the coaching staff. With first round draft pick Danny Watkins being expected to start at right gaurd, Todd Herremans being moved from left guard to right tackle to bring some stability to Vick’s blind side, Evan Mathis replacing Herremans at left guard, and the installation of rookie center Jason Kelce this offensive line leaves fans with many questions still demanding answers. It is crucial that the new players can gel quickly with each other to keep Vick off the turf as much as possible. This system, along with Vick’s blitz recognition needs to grow together and acclimate fast.
The third key to the success of the offense and more importantly the Eagles as a whole is the receiving core. Most of the talk this off-season was centered around DeSean Jackson and his lingering contract negotiations. Despite a short holdout, Jackson arrived at camp and has been practicing despite not being paid as a top five receiver would expect. Amidst all the DeSean talk, an arguably more important concern would be third year receiver Jeremy Maclin. Maclin missed a significant amount of time during the off-season due to illness which resulted in him losing what some say was up to fifteen pounds. Although he is back on the field and training hard, there are still concerns as if he will be able to get up to speed in time for week one along with staying healthy in the long run. The acquisition of Steve Smith from the New York Giants will help the Eagles receiving core significantly. Smith will give them another possession type receiver that can run great routes all over the field. Although it has to be understood that he is coming off of micro-fracture surgery. Smith should not be expected to play significant snaps until a month or two into the season.
Despite bringing in two stud cornerbacks and two very good defensive ends, there are still key factors that need to be sorted out on the defensive end, most of them dealing with the linebacker position. Andy Reid has never built his defense to rely heavily on the linebacker position. Reid believes in creating a defense suited to play with a lead and this year will be no different. New defensive coordinator Juan Castillo will look for ways to bolster the linebacker crew consisting of Moise Fokou, Jamar Chaney and rookie Casey Matthews. Although there is a lot of hope that comes with the Matthews name, there is no denying Casey is undersized to be playing in the middle. Matthews is being given large expectations to essentially lead the defense. If the Eagles defense struggles this year it will be against teams with a heavy ground game and big tight ends. Look for this to be a concern that will be addressed throughout the season. This will come with the help of three large backs who have recently joined the Eagles, St Louis’s Steven Jackson, Atlanta’s Michael Turner , and New York’s Ahmad Bradshaw.
Fan’s know all too well you can’t have a conversation about the Eagle’s in the post season without bringing Andy Reid’s coaching into the discussion. Entering his thirteenth year as head coach Reid has amassed an impressive seven Divisional Championships. When it comes to the NFC Championship, Reid hits what seems to be an Achilles heel making only one Super Bowl appearance in those twelve years. Reid has always been known as one of the best game planning coaches in the league, but when it comes to playoff success and in game adjustments his resume falls disappointingly short. Although criticized for his lack of run game year after year, it has to be realized that this explosive offense is meant to score quickly and score often. This simply does not happen by running the ball. Many experts will argue that if Reid can’t get it done with the tools he has this off-season, he may never be able to win the big one. It might be time for the organization to move forward.
Without a doubt, Eagles fans deserve and ought to be optimistic about the upcoming season after the work the team’s front office put in during free agency. At the same time, fans must be realistic that there remains major concerns and holes that players must step up and fill for this team to make the run. A shaky offensive line, inconsistent linebacker play, and one heavy hit on Michael Vick could send this “dream team” into a nightmare of an ending, just ask the Miami Heat.