Author’s Note: In order to give you, the reader, a better overall understanding of who the Philadelphia Eagles are, I’ve included some info on the 2008 team as well as the offseason. I’ve always felt that one of the best ways to gauge a team’s future is by learning a bit about their past.
Fly, Eagles Fly, on The Road to Victory!
Fight, Eagles, Fight, Score a Touchdown 1-2-3!
Hit 'em low, hit 'em high,
And watch our Eagles fly!
Fly, Eagles fly, On The Road to Victory!
2008 Regular Season Record: 9-6-1
2008 NFC East Record: 2-4
Lost in NFC Championship Game
Notable roster additions
Notable roster losses
So Who Are These Guys?
The Philadelphia Eagles have been one of the most consistently competitive teams of the decade. Having won the NFC East title five times in eight seasons as well as making it to the NFC title game in five of eight seasons. The Eagles have managed only one Super Bowl appearance in that time, a 24-21 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX back in 2004.
The Philly faithful are growing restless as the team searches for its first championship since 1960.
The Regular Season
The Eagles were extremely inconsistent in 2008. One week they would look like an elite team, with blowout wins over the 49ers, Rams, Cardinals and hated Cowboys, as well as hard fought, character building wins over the Giants away and Steelers at home.
Other weeks they would find themselves suffering brutal losses, such as their 36-7 drubbing to the hands of the Ravens, the game in which Donovan McNabb was benched, and a couple of bad losses to the division rival Redskins which helped them finish a lowly 2-4 in the NFC East and 9-6-1 overall.
When looking at the 2008 Eagles by the numbers, it’s hard to figure out how their record ended up as it did. Let’s take a quick look at their stats on offense:
- Total Offense – 350.5 YPG – (9th in NFL)
- Passing – 244.4 YPG – (6th in NFL)
- Rushing – 106.1 YPG – (22nd in NFL)
- Total Points – 416 – (6th in NFL)
- Points Per Game Avg. – 26.0 – (6th in NFL)
Other than the rushing stats, those are some pretty good numbers for a nine win team. Maybe their defense was crap…
- Total YPG Allowed– 274.3 – (3rd in NFL)
- Passing YPG Allowed– 182.1 – (3rd in NFL)
- Rushing YPG Allowed– 92.2 – (4th in NFL)
- Sacks – 48 – (3rd in NFL)
- Total Points Allowed– 289 – (4th in NFL)
- PPG Allowed – 18.1 – (4th in NFL)
- Total INT – 15 – (tied 11th in NFL)
- Total FF – 21 – (7th in NFL) – 14 Recovered
Apparently it was not crap. Those are some very nice defensive stats. I think Broncos fans would love stats half that good on the defensive side of the ball.
The Road to the Playoffs and Beyond
In order for the team to make the playoffs with their 9-6-1 record, they needed help in a big way. They would need Tampa and Chicago to lose to Oakland and Houston, respectively. No chance, right? Well, both lost.
Then, the Eagles had to take care of business and beat a Dallas team which had beaten them earlier in the season on Monday Night Football. Done. A 44-6 stomping of their division rivals was the perfect way to head into the playoffs.
First, they brushed aside the Vikings. In the second round, they never allowed the Giants to get comfortable en route to knocking them off their perch. They then came up against an Arizona team that out of nowhere "figured it out" and sent the Eagles packing.
Another premature finish in Philly.
With many positives to take away from 2008 and an already talented team, the Eagles would have to have a solid offseason to break their bad habit of coming up short when it matters most.
Ever since the departure of Terrell Owens back in 2005, the Eagles have not had a legitimate number one wide receiver. Not so coincidentally, 2005 was also the last time the team was able to make it over the hump and into the Super Bowl.
Naturally, the Philly faithful have been screaming for a new wide out ever since. Surely the front office would appease them and take advantage of at least one of the situations in Cincinnati or Arizona with Chad Johnson and Anquan Boldin respectively, right? Nope.
How about letting arguably the most popular player in Eagles history, albeit one that has lost a step in Brian Dawkins, walk as a free agent along with two of the teams more steady offensive tackles? Check.
What could they possibly do next, back over the Phillies World Series trophy with the team bus?
This team would need to make some serious moves and have one hell of a draft to get to the promise land. Could they pull it off?
The Front Office in Action
The Eagles looked to address their 2008 short yardage pitfalls by signing fullback Leonard Weaver from the Seahawks.
Weaver is a very good run blocker and maybe one of the best pass blockers in the league.
He is also a good rusher, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and is always finding ways to get the extra yardage. Think Tatum Bell…then think of someone who is his complete opposite.
Lastly, he’s an exceptional receiver with very soft hands who cuts up the field after the catch extremely quickly, making himself another weapon out of the backfield for McNabb. This may end up being the most underrated free agency pick up in the league.
Left tackle Jason Peters was brought in via trade from the Buffalo Bills to replace Tra Thomas, who would not be re-signed.
Peters, one of the best young left tackles in the NFL, should rebound from a disappointing 2008 and be a rock on the O-line for years to come, armed with his brand new 6 year, $60M extension.
Stacy Andrews signed from the Bengals to replace long time Eagle and Michael Strahan nemesis Jon Runyan, who was not re-signed. Andrews will play alongside his brother Shawn on right side of one of the NFL’s best O-lines.
The free safety position will have a new starter for the first time in what seems like forever as Sean Jones looks to step into the void left by the departure of Brian Dawkins.
Before I continue on with Jones, I must note that I believe Jones will be starting over Quintin Demps. Some think Demps will be the guy this year but I feel he’s still a year away. While Demps may be the better long term option, he’s just not there yet.
Back to Jones.
Jones, who played strong safety in Cleveland, will move to free safety this year.
He had 83 tackles and four interceptions for Cleveland last season, despite missing four weeks with a knee injury suffered in Week 1. At his introductory press conference, Jones proclaimed that his "knee is 100 percent right now…"
While many may lament the loss of Dawkins, the drop off in production should not be as bad as some may fear. Jones has been one of the more consistent safeties in the NFL, being one of just four players to have intercepted four or more passes in each of the past four years. He ranks third among safeties in interceptions since 2006.
Jones’ athleticism and quickness will allow him to cover passing situations more effectively than Dawkins did last year.
What they will miss, however, is Dawkins’ ferocious hitting and leadership. Known for his tooth-rattling hits, Dawkins always gave opposing receivers something to think about when going across the middle.
What can you say about his leadership? It was second to none in the NFL. Period.
During the draft, the Eagles shocked just about everybody by trading a pair of fifth rounders to the Patriots for cornerback Ellis Hobbs.
Hobbs is one of the best kick returners in the NFL and a solid cornerback. You don’t start for three consecutive years on arguably the NFL’s best team without being good at what you do.
Speaking of the draft, let’s take a look at how it went for the Eagles.
Specific needs were identified by the front office prior to draft day:
Here’s what they did:
1/19/19 - Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
2/21/53 - LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh
5/17/153 - Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida
5/21/157 - Victor Harris, CB, Virginia Tech
5/23/159 - Fenuki Tupou, OT, Oregon
6/21/194- Brandon Gibson, WR, Washington State
7/4/213 - Paul Fanaika, OG, Arizona State
7/21/230 - Moise Fokou, OLB, Maryland
Few can look at this draft as anything but exceptional. Every need was covered, and covered well.
The addition of Maclin to a group of very good, albeit young, wide receivers will solidify this area for years to come. Not to mention the fact that Maclin is a much more complete player than last years second round pick, DeSean Jackson.
Second round pick LeSean McCoy is a back in the mold of Brian Westbrook. As Westbrook gets on in years, now is the perfect time to draft a player who can give him some breaks and ideally keep him a bit healthier than he’s been the past few years.
Also, with their similar styles, McCoy has the chance to learn from one of the best undersized backs in the league and take over as the starter down the road.
Florida TE Cornelius Engram was said by many to be the steal of the draft. Some have said he’s a poor man’s Antonio Gates, whatever that means. Either way, it was a position of need filled.
The Eagles’ remaining picks provided depth at areas of need.
Overall, a great draft. As a team on the up, the Eagles drafted for both the present and the future, which is what elite teams do.
Players like Maclin, McCoy and possibly Ingram have the chance to make an immediate impact, while others will provide much needed depth behind recently acquired players.
Let’s put this all together and see what we get.
Led by the quarterback that many have said gets all the blame when everything goes wrong and not enough credit when it goes right, Donovan McNabb will look to lead the charge behind a vastly improved O-line.
Snaps will be taken from Jamaal Jackson while Todd Herremans and new acquisition Jason Peters have the task of protecting McNabb’s blind side. Brothers Stacy and Shawn Andrews hold down the fort on the right side of the line.
The backfield is led by game changer Brian Westbrook. The Eagles front office says he'll be healthy by the time training camp starts after surgery to clean up some bone spurs on his ankle. His health will be a major factor in the offenses overall play. Always a threat on the run, Westbrook has been fantastic over the years as a receiving back.
As of now, backing him up, in the wake of Corell Buckhalter’s offseason move to the Broncos, will be second round pick out of Pitt, LeSean McCoy. McCoy is a very quick back who should be able to learn a lot from Westbrook and keep him fresh as the year wears on. Lorenzo Booker is also an option here.
Free agent signing Leonard Weaver will block for the pair while also improving the Eagles’ short yardage running game. Kyle Eckel figures to be his primary backup.
Though it may not have a bonafied number one, the Eagles receiving corps is certainly full of depth and potential. Jeremy Maclin joins a group that includes Kevin Curtis, DeSean Jackson, Reggie Brown (still waiting for this guy to turn the corner), Jason Avant and Hank Baskett. These guys will keep opposing secondaries busy, as this may be the quickest group in the NFL.
Brent Celek looks to start the season as the starting tight end. You may remember his name from the NFC championship game when he scored two touchdowns in the Eagles loss to the Cardinals.
Rookie Cornelius Ingram will begin the season as the backup but could get significant looks as the year rolls on. A former quarterback, Ingram is a very athletic and should prove to be a real threat in the red zone.
Andy Reid’s men have had relative success on the offensive side of the ball for years despite the unbalanced nature of the play calling. Much of this has been due, in part, to the various nagging injuries sustained by Brian Westbrook.
The possible emergence of LeSean McCoy and addition of Leonard Weaver should restore more faith in the running game and take some pressure off of McNabb. In McCoy, Philadelphia has someone who can eventually take the reigns as the starter.
This is a team that, barring any major injuries, should be able to put its fair share of points on the board on a consistent basis. Opposing defenses will have their hands full.
Philadelphia’s defense has always been one of their strong points. An attacking and bullying style of play has been its trademark for years. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will take an indefinite leave of absence while he continues cancer treatments. How his absence will affect the unit has yet to be determined but chances are, the Eagles defensive personnel will manage.
The D-line features run stuffing tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson in the middle, sandwiched by a combination of Juqua Parker, Trent Cole, team sack leader Darren Howard, and Victor Abiamari.
This line ranked sixth in the league in fewest rushing yards allowed over the past two seasons. Philly’s line continuously changes throughout the game, keeping their players fresh and the opposition’s O-line guessing. This is an area of strength on a very good defense.
The Eagles linebackers are led by former Nebraska stand out and up and coming star Stewart Bradley. Bradley can always be found around the ball and at 6’4", 255 has impressive size and speed. On a side note, he became the first player in Eagles history to register his first career sack and first career interception in his fist career game. Bradley is very good and will only get better.
Chris Gocong and one of Akeem Jordan/Omar Gaither will sandwich Bradley at strong side and weak side respectively. Gocong has the most experience as a starter with two years, making this a young and inexperienced bunch. They have shown the athleticism and effectiveness, however, to warrant their places as ones to watch for in the NFC for years to come.
The Eagles currently have three very impressive corners in Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Ellis Hobbs. Samuel's 20 interceptions since 2006 rank second among all NFL players and he is the all-time postseason leader in interception touchdowns.
With Brown’s status up in the air due to his contractual issues, Hobbs currently has the inside track on the starting job, opposite Samuel. Either way, it should be a position of strength in the secondary.
Sean Jones and Quintin Demps will battle it out for the now vacant free safety position vacated by Eagles legend Brian Dawkins. Jones looks to have the upper hand based on his previous success and experience, but both should have an impact. This position will assuredly be better on pass coverage than it has been in previous years.
Quintin Mikell should continue his solid play at strong safety and could be one to fill some of the leadership void created by the departure of Dawkins.
While there may be some questions due to the youth and inexperience in certain positions, the Eagles defense will no doubt be athletic and relentless. This is a unit that will be flying all over the field, hitting everything in sight. Dawkins’ leadership will be missed on the field, as well as Jim Johnson’s play calling from the sideline, but the unit as a whole should do well.
The Eagles special teams could have plenty of play on Sportscenter this year with players like DeSean Jackson, Quintin Demps, Ellis Hobbs and Jeremy Maclin. These guys are all touchdowns waiting to happen and should be a big help in field position.
David Akers has been very consistent over the years and should continue to be, despite his age and past injury issues.
Philadelphia’s special teams are in very good shape this year.
Without question, the Eagles underachieved last year. The numbers show that clearly. I would not expect that to happen again. Looking at this team on paper, I see no reason for them not to make it over the hump and back into the Super Bowl.
If anything will get in their way, it will be inexperience or injuries to key players.
Being in the NFC East means playing two games a piece against the Giants, Skins and Cowboys. The Eagles look to have the slightest edge over the Giants and while the Redskins are improving, I don’t see them being quite good enough this year. The Cowboys are like the Houston Rockets of the NFL. Tony Romo is their Tracy McGrady.
Non-divisional games are as follows:
12/20- 49ers 11/22- Bears
12/27- Broncos 12/6- Falcons
At home, the Saints will definitely test the Eagles’ secondary and could be trouble. The Chiefs, Bucs and Niners are all teams the Eagles should be able to handle. The Broncos…well, who knows really? I’d like to think they could compete but I wouldn’t put money on them beating the Eagles on their turf.
Away, the Panthers have the potential to be very tough while the Raiders are the Raiders. San Diego is always tough at home, just ask the Colts. Unfortunately for the Chargers, they have every other NFL team’s secret weapon in head coach Norv Turner. It’s never easy going up against the Bears at Soldier field in November, but the Eagles should have the edge here as well. Lastly, the Falcons will no longer be surprising teams with their improved play. They will play the Eagles tough on their home turf.
I could see 11-5 and a return trip to the Super Bowl. Winning it? That’s a different story.