(author’s note:  this was written prior to week 1.  Prior to the mcnabb cracked/broken ribs.  Prior to the Eagles signing Jeff Garcia and releasing Hank Baskett.  Okay… go ahead, read.)

ahem…

E..A..G..L..E..S… … … EAGLES!

2008 ended like so many seasons over the past decade. With my hands on my head wondering how the Birds lost another NFC Championship. Now I’m staring down the barrel of 2009 and am asked to analyze my squad. The 2009 Philadelphia Eagles.

First lets remind you of 2008:

9-6-1 … yes and ONE… a tie to the Cincinnati Bungles, which I was sure was the end of the season. But thanks to week 17 glorious whomping of those dreaded Dallas Cowboys, and a miracle in Tampa Bay the Eagles escaped the insane odds that that TIE helped cause. They win on the road at Minnesota… and I do the “eagles playoff dance”. They win on the road at the Giants… and I dance the dance again. I and all of Philly is riding high as the Birds head into the NFC Championship. Its a great matchup. Sure it was AT Arizona, but this is the same Arizona team the Eagles “turned the season around” on, on Thanksgiving night… (writers note: I was there… it was cold… but awesome).

Eagles come out flat, and the defense, that carried the team the latter half of the season and through the playoffs looks outmatched by Arizona’s throw it all over the place (actually what its called, I stole Anquan Boldin’s playbook) offense. Oh and Larry FItzgerald looks superhuman… making the Bird’s strong secondary look pedestrian. Its 24-6 at the half. I assume its over. But the second half a different Eagles team shows up. Much like the season it was a tale of 2 halves… Eagles go ahead 25-24 with a juggling Desean Jackson catch… and then I watch in horror as Arizona waltzes down the field. Devouring seconds like Andy Reid at a all you can eat buffet. Final touchdown and 2 point conversion to make it a 7 point lead. McNabb takes the team into Cards territory. Drive sputters. Eagles lose the NFC Championship… again.

That hurt to type.

*deep… cleansing… relaxing… breath*

but here we are. 2009. Looking at this years team I can say that this may be the deepest offense the Eagles have had. They have depth at every position… well, until Tight Ends and O-linemen went down… but still there are solid guys to take those spots. They had a very good offseason. Adding depth to the secondary (Ellis Hobbs). Adding protection for #5 (Peters and the other Andrews). They restructured (but didn’t extend) Donovan’s contract, and a happier quarterback is, hopefully, a productive quarterback. And… well… they signed Michael Vick. (they can’t all be gems). I’m not getting on a soapbox. I’m talking football, and football alone, and I don’t like the move strictly from a football standpoint. McNabb isn’t a guy who deals well when people are clamoring for his job. And the crowd was chanting “We Want Vick” in his first preseason appearance. An appearance that it appeared McNabb cut short as it was HIS final preseason game (he didn’t play the 4th preseason game) … and wasn’t getting into a rhythm with the offense. I am not on the field (surprised?), nor in the huddle… but what I saw looked like an offense out of sorts. And I know Philadelphia and the fan base that if Don has a slow start? When Vick is unchained (okay I promise that is my only dog joke/reference)… there will be instant QB controversy. Sports talk radio. And the vocal VOCAL fans at the Linc will let Andy Reid and Jeffrey Lurie KNOW what they think and who they want.

And I think that could trouble. But I’ll hope for the best, and dive into the team and how good they could be.

Offense:

Starts with the play of #5. As McNabb goes the Eagles go. He’s one of the best in the league. Fans who have said the eagles should get rid of him are ridiculous. 5 NFC Championship games, and 1 Superbowl in 8 years. That’s a helluva a track record a lot of teams would take. Does it suck to get so close and not win it? Yeah. Better that than know you’re squad is done December 1st.

This year he has a lot of weaponry around him.

RB’s: Brian Westbrook is a versatile back who defenses scheme against. In the past, “you stop 36? You stop the Eagles.” I don’t think that’s the case. Too many weapons. If he stays healthy he is one of the best in the game. If he doesn’t?

Lesean McCoy. Rookie out of Pittsburgh. Fast. Good hands, so he can fill in for B-West nicely. Looked very good in the preseason AND played with the #1’s throughout, as Westbrook is coming off surgery… knee or ankle… something leggy. I’m very comfortable with McCoy as, not only, the backup, but a guy who will get significant touches, and will be the future back for the Eagles in the next 2-3 years.

WR’s: Used to be a who’s who of “WHO?!?!” Outside of the T.O. debacle there wasn’t a whole lot in the way of excitement from the Eagles receivers. They signed Kevin Curtis, a fast fast guy with good hands, who in his first year put up great numbers. Got hurt, and didn’t get back until midway last season and didn’t have a great year, but was solid. Look for him to bounce back. They Drafted Desean Jackson. A guy who’s as fast (I’m 90% sure Curtis and Jackson’s 40 time at their respective combines were the same) as Curtis was/is?… and is playmaker. He returned punts for TDs. He lined up all over the field, including in the Eagles version of the Wildcat. He was regularly McNabb’s favorite target. This year they drafted Jeremy Maclin, a guy who’s very similar to Desean in stature, and speed. He’ll return kicks, and play a good amount, since the Eagles love to spread it out and throw.

Adding to the depth are guys like Hank Baskett, Jason Avant, Reggie Brown… but truth be told its possible one or two of those guys would have been cut.

TE’s – they drafted a guy out of Oklahoma State… name escapes me. But he had knee issues in college… and? He tore his ACL at training camp. Luckily one of the stars of the 08 NFC championship game is a young tight end named Brent Celek. Knows the offense. Good hands. Makes big catches.

Offensive LIne: A little injury prone this preseason, but if all in and sufficiently “Gelled” they will be a very good crew. Peters (who they traded for with Buffalo) is a pro bowl caliber player. Again health is an issue. Also they lost two staples and long time eagles Tre Thomas and John Runyan, so I’ll be interested to see how this group functions starting Sunday.

Wildcat CARD – – Michael Vick. Who knows how they’re going to use him. Wildcat? RB? Backup QB? He’s the x-factor. But if they utilize him properly AND manage to keep Donovan secure in his position, he could be valuable. *shrug* … I really don’t know. But if they start 0-2 (and they could) , there could be a shit storm-a-brewing.

Offense Overall: A very good very deep group. Better, on paper, than last year’s squad. Offensive line is younger and more athletic (if they stay healthy). They have a guy who can spell Westbrook and they don’t lose a step. They have lots of toys for Donovan to play with in their “pass first, run maybe” offense. I think they will be a formidable offense, and can do good things. Points should not be a problem.

And with all the questions surrounding the defense? They may need all the points the NFL will allow.

First they don’t resign defensive leader, inspiration in shoulder pads, and possibly the most exhausted man on the field just from his pre game introductions: Brian Dawkins. I “get” that the eagles will let older players go, and even if they have a good year left in them they generally make the right call here. (See: Troy Vincent, Bobby taylor) … but this one hurts. He was the heart and soul of that team for the last decade. Guys wanted to get to the superbowl last season for HIM. Seeing him in a Bronco’s uniform is going to be confusing, and will make me a sad panda. I hope he has a great year, and am counting down the days until he’s back on the Linc, having his number retired, or being honored in some other way, or hell.. COACHING.

Speaking of coaching, the Eagles biggest loss this year came from the passing of long time defensive coordinator/guru/genius/blitz master Jim Johnson. One of, if not THE most feared coordinators in the league. Cuz you may not know where ITS coming from… but you knew it was coming. His replacement was an in house promotion, Sean McDermott. So I’m assuming this will be a version of JJ’s defense. But there are a lot of question marks from the first year coordinator on down.

Defensive line: The only non question mark. Almost everyone’s back. They’re young. Talented. Highlighted by Trent Cole, who is becoming a top line defensive end, and a guy who is constantly pressuring the quarterback. And the tackles: Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley. Two high draft picks finally started to show promise last year. If they build on that and can establish some early dominance (especially against the run) they can be in the same breath as a tandem like the Williams in Minnesota. This group is deep also. Trevor Laws (Golden Domer! – yes I’m also a big ND Irish fan), Victor Abiamiri (Golden Domer!). They can sub in and out. Keep guys fresh, and give the offense fits. I like this group. After the D-line, though? Things get sketchy.

Linebackers: Huge hit in training camp when middle linebacker and defacto leader (since Dawkins left), Stuart Bradley tore his ACL. That SUCKS! He came into his own and had a very good season leading a very young linebacking corps. Who replaces him? Omar Gaither or Joe Mays. Gaither played more outside backer last year. So I’m thinking it will be Mays, but if the defense gets carved up like they did most the preseason, we will see some tweaking, and who knows… possibly a trade. Outside two returning guys, Chris Cocong and Akeem Jordan. Both young, and fairly athletic, but ultimately question marks are ALL OVER this group. I fear we’ll be seeing our secondary in the position to try to tackle. A position no NFL fan wants their corners in… EVER.

Speaking of, lets go to the secondary. I like our Corners. Asante Samuel is a ball hawk and one of the best in the business. Sheldon Brown has pro bowl talent, but is cranky about his contract. Behind them they have new pick up Ellis Hobbs, and returning nickel back Joselio Hanson. A good group. One guy is a shutdown corner, the other starter is close, but I don’t like either’s chances if Brandon Jacobs gets to the third level. So if they can’t stop a runaway freight train wearing a Giants jersey, who will? Gotta be the safeties job. We have two Q’s back there and possibly a Macho-Macho Man. Quintin Mikell is a definite. He will be the starting strong safety, just like last year. Big hitter. Decent in coverage. I like Q-Mike a lot. Across from him, someone’s gonna have unfillable shoes to fill. You get to come in and replace Brian Dawkins… good… luck… with… THAT. The Other “Q”, Quentin Demps has the ego to think he CAN, but does he have the skill and drive? Who knows. He’s in his second year. So he knows the defense. He’s fast as hell (he the kickoff returner). But I’ve seen and heard a couple different things that he isn’t going to start and that a rookie out of Virginia tech is going to get the nod. That rookie, Macho Harris. Had a very good preseason (he had to have, to be in the running for the starting job)… but if Demps is a question mark this guy is question mark, an exclamation mark, and then another question mark. We don’t know what we’re getting. It could be another B-Dawk. But until Sunday I’m not sure who’s starting and I’ve read each guy is starting… the Eagles page lists Demps at the top of their depth chart, but who the hell knows. Safe to say that helps put a question mark over the safety position.

Defense Overall: Potential. They could be potentially great… or potentially awful. New coordinator. Lost 2 on field leaders in Dawkins and Bradley. So you have a new Middle Linebacker, and will have a new Free Safety. They could very well look great one week and absolutely god awful the next. Last year the defense won them a few games. This year I’m expecting them to lose a few.

Team Overall: They are better and deeper offensively, than they were last year. They took a step or 3 backwards defensively. I think they’ll be a playoff team, and I think they can win the division. Lets take a look at the schedule:
1 Sep 13 PHI @ CAR
2 Sep 20 NO @ PHI
3 Sep 27 KC @ PHI
4 Bye
5 Oct 11 TB @ PHI
6 Oct 18 PHI @ OAK

7 Oct 26 PHI @ WAS
8 Nov 01 NYG @ PHI
9 Nov 08 DAL @ PHI
10 Nov 15 PHI @ SD
11 Nov 22 PHI @ CHI
12 Nov 29 WAS @ PHI
13 Dec 06 PHI @ ATL
14 Dec 13 PHI @ NYG
15 Dec 20 SF @ PHI
16 Dec 27 DEN @ PHI
17 Jan 03 PHI @ DAL

They are in a tough division. A division that played pretty even last year. They get to play Denver (Dawkins is back in the Linc!) and San Francisco at home, late in the season… could be very important games. They also have Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Oakland on the schedule.. and I like that a lot! They could totally start 0-2 as both Carolina and New Orleans are good playoff caliber teams. And they could be 3-2 by the end of business week 6. If they are not, at least, 3-2 after week 6? Things are bleak for all playoff aspirations. They haven’t started to play in the division yet, and they had 3 teams that are in some sort of rebuilding state, though with Oakland it is more like how they function year to year.

My best case scenario: 11-5 NFC East Champs.

Worst Case: 8-8 – no playoffs… and hopefully ND gets into a good bowl game.

Till, 2010, I am Sir Scott M. Hayes XIV.

Fly Eagles Fly