By Jesse Hartnett
For all intents and purposes this is supposed to be a down year for the Philadelphia Eagles. New coach, new system, it’s a rebuilding year. No one expects anything out of them. They’re certainly not expected to win many games, right? I mean, Philly is a mess. Howie Roseman leveraged everything for a kid who isn’t even going to suit up this year.
The Birds are an afterthought. The New York Giants are improving under Ben McAdoo while the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys are going to duke it out for the divisional title. Philly isn’t even in the conversation unless we’re talking about dumpster fires. Why are they even going to bother to play this season? They simply cannot compete with all the elite teams in the NFC East. Right?
There’s one problem with that theory. I don’t think guys like Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins got the memo that they aren’t any good. No one told Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson that this season is a lost cause. Jim Schwartz doesn’t know his defense isn’t capable of stopping anybody.
Here’s the biggest problem of all. Sam Bradford absolutely knows that no one expects him to play decent football. He’s heard loud and clear that everyone thinks he’s a washed up bum. He knows this is his last shot at redemption. It’s his last chance to make good on twenty plus years of experience and preparation as a quarterback.
Guess what? Despite popular belief, Sammy Sleeves can play ball. Now he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder where his only option is to shine and win or it’s all over. That’s a dangerous combination. Take a guy with some talent, put his back against the wall and tell him straight up, “We don’t think you can do this.” I’m not a gambling man, but my money is on Bradford.
Doug Pederson is ushering in a brand new era of same old, same old and that’s a good thing. His obvious Andy Reid connection leaves players, staff, and many people around the team feeling optimistic that the apple won’t fall far from the tree. For the handful of players left from Big Red’s regime like Brent Celek and John Dorenbos, it’s a warm calming effect as if the team is finally back to business as usual. During the Reid era, Philadelphia’s business was winning football games and that’s what these men intend to do. No one on this roster, no one on this staff, wants to hear it’s a rebuilding year. This team is here to fight and win football games.
Overlook the Eagles now. Talk about how great Kirk Cousins is. Tell everyone you know that Dez Bryant is a first ballot hall of famer. Get very excited about all the improvements to the Giants secondary. But on Sundays, hide the women and children because the Eagles are coming with everything they’ve got.
What do they actually have? The Eagles have arguably the best defensive line in football. Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan clog up the middle and get after quarterbacks with the best of them. Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin are redefining defensive concepts and creating a new position as hybrid flex end linebacking edge rushers who wreak havoc in the backfield, shut down the screen game, and cause confusion in pass coverage. Jordan Hicks is perhaps the most complete middle linebacker the NFL has seen since Brian Urlacher. Malcolm Jenkins is consistently praised as one of the top safeties in the game while his teammates in the secondary only continue to improve and show tremendous depth.
That’s just on the defensive side of the ball. What can the Eagles do with the rock? Again, it all comes down to Bradford. Will he show and prove or not? He’s got the tools around him.
Philly is solid up front boasting a strong offensive line. With Jason Kelce manning the middle and Jason Peters and Lane Johnson on the bookends, all that was left was to get better at guard. This offseason addressed that in a big way with the addition of Brandon Brooks, Stephen Wisniewski, and rookie Isaac Seumalo. Tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz are definitely a strength of the team and a security blanket for Sam Bradford. Jordan Matthews is primed to have a breakout season, Nelson Agholor has nowhere to go but up, and now that Reuben Randle is around to shoulder some of the load the passing game should be a constant threat.
At running back, we have Ryan Matthews in a similar situation to Bradford. Here’s a guy the NFL has written off. But again, he has all the ability in the world if he can just stay healthy. We know what Darren Sproles can do on sprint runs and catching the ball out of the backfield. The Sproles Train can score from anywhere on the field. Then there are wild cards, Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood. Barner has shown flashes of brilliance in each of the past two pre seasons with long touchdown runs and electrifying kick returns. Smallwood is a rookie from a small school but under the tutelage of Darren Sproles, who he closely emulates in style and stature, he could prove to be an asset sooner than later.
That brings us to the forgotten game within a game, special teams. Dave Fipp has orchestrated the best kick return and kick coverage units in the NFL the past few seasons. The Eagles have had the most returns for touchdowns in the league since Fipp has come on board. There is no sign of letting up. Philly should once again field a top producing special teams unit and that alone can win you a few games in this league.
With the defense and special teams units being the strength and backbone of this team, it’s all up to the offense to perform. That’s where Doug Pederson and his experience as an NFL quarterback comes in. That’s why the Eagles brought in Frank Reich, another guy who has been down on the gridiron calling plays in the huddle.
It’s an exciting time to root for Philly. While the rest of the teams in the division are doing more of the same, the Eagles are flipping the script. There’s no doubt that the Eagles have the roster talent to take the division and make a lot of noise in the NFC.
Look at that. An entire article about the Philadelphia Eagles and not one time did anyone say Carson Wentz. Oops…