NFL: Can the Philadephia Eagles Defend Their Title?
The Philadelphia Eagles pulled off a big upset last season, by beating the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl 52. The Patriots, led by Tom Brady, were the favourites going into the game, with the Eagles being led by backup Quarterback Nick Foles. Foles came in to replace the injured Carson Wentz, who suffered a torn ACL in the week 14 matchup against the LA Rams. He led the Eagles all the way to the Super Bowl with impressive displays in week 15 against the Giants, and the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings, where he threw for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns.
So, can the Eagles replicate last year's success? I am going to take a look at their offense and defense, to see what changes have been made this offseason.
There will be a few changes this season for the Philadelphia offense. First of all, Frank Reich, who was the Offensive Coordinator last season, is now the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Whilst Head Coach, Doug Pedersen did the play calling, it’ll be interesting to see if the Eagles offense suffers from this loss. The offense last season was a well-oiled machine, regardless of who was under center. They finished 3rd in the NFL in total yardage per game, 4th in passing yards per game and 4th in rushing yards per game. Reich has been replaced by Mike Groh who has been promoted from his role as Wide Receiver Coach.
Another loss for this offense is Quarterback Coach John DeFilippo, who has left to become the Offensive Coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. Both Wentz and Foles played at a high level throughout last season, and some of this has to be attributed to DeFilippo. He has been replaced in-house by Assistant QB Coach Press Taylor. Can Taylor get the same level of play out of his QBs? It is yet to be seen.
Talking of Quarterbacks, who will be starting the week 1 game against the Falcons? At the moment, all signs point towards Wentz being fully healthy after his knee injury. Although an ACL injury that late in the season means his rehabilitation will continue right up until the start of the season. There is talk that he may have to change his style of play as he won’t have the same mobility as he had last year. We will see how he is moving as the season nears before we pass judgment on that. The Eagles will be hoping that if Wentz is ruled out for week 1, that Nick Foles can continue his high level of play from last season.
The Eagles let back to back Super Bowl winner, LeGarrette Blount walk in Free Agency this offseason. Blount had 173 carries last season at an average of 4.4 YPC. They have brought in Free Agent Matt Jones, and also get Donnel Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood back from injury. Darren Sproles also re-signed with the team on a one year deal to fill that pass-catching role. I expect last season's trade acquisition, Jay Ajayi to see an increased role in the running game. Ajayi received 208 carries in his first season playing for the Eagles after being acquired from the Dolphins. I also expect last year's UDFA Corey Clement to gain a lot more looks after he impressed in his rookie season. I can see the running game being just as efficient as it was last year.
At Wide Receiver, Mike Wallace has been brought in from the Ravens to be the number 2 outside option. He replaces the outgoing Torrey Smith who was traded to the Panthers. More importantly, the team re-signed Alshon Jeffrey to a long-term deal, meaning he will fill the teams WR1 spot for the next 4 years.
Jeffrey scored 9 touchdowns last season, as well as 3 in the postseason. He showed decent rapport with the Quarterbacks, which I expect will improve with another full offseason together. I’d expect Jeffrey to catch closer to 75 passes this year. Nelson Agholor broke out last season after a quiet rookie year. He became one of Carson Wentz’s favourite options, whilst showing he has the ability to break big plays. Zach Ertz is another player who really broke out in 2017.
He was a huge RedZone threat when healthy and will look to be amongst the top Tight Ends come the end of next season. Trey Burton was lost in Free Agency, but he was replaced with second-round draft pick Dallas Goedert. Goedert was one of the best Tight End talents in this year’s draft and will look to push Ertz for more playing time as the season progresses. All in all, I think the passing game will be just as good as it was last season.
On the defensive side, the team has managed to keep hold of the same set of coaches. Last season the Eagles ranked 4th in rushing defense, only allowing an average of 89.7 yards per game. They intercepted the opposing QBs 19 times which ranked joint 4th in the league and only conceded 283 points which ranked them at 5th in the league.
They managed to re-sign star Linebacker Nigel Bradham to a 5-year deal this offseason. Bradham is the leader on this defense and tying him up to a long-term deal is great for the future of this team. The Eagles traded for the experienced Michael Bennett, for a backup WR and a 5th round pick, whilst receiving a 7th round pick in the process.
This was great business as Bennett is a winner who still has gas in the tank despite being age 32. He will help improve a pass rush that recorded 38 sacks last season, with Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham combining for 15. They did lose Vinny Curry to the Bucs and Mychal Kendricks, who has recently signed with the Cleveland Browns. Kendricks recorded 55 tackles last season which ranked 3rd on the team.
Someone is going to have to step up and replace him in the Linebacking corps, especially as they lost Paul Worrilow to a season-ending injury. They brought in LB Corey Nelson from the Broncos, who was little more than a special teams contributor in his time in Denver. They might take a look at some of the veteran Free Agents that are still on the market. Brain Cushing, Navorro Bowman and Karlos Dansby are players that would provide depth in an area of need for the Eagles.
At Cornerback, they did lose Patrick Robinson in Free Agency to the New Orleans Saints. The Eagles will hope last season’s addition, Ronald Darby will be back to play a full season after an ankle injury derailed the start of his 2017. They also have 3 other talented corners behind Darby, as well as 2018 draft pick Avonte Maddox, so the loss of Robinson shouldn’t hit too hard.
I can see the Philadelphia Eagles replicating their form from the previous season. They have managed to keep hold of their key players, whilst getting Carson Wentz back from injury. They have a middling strength of schedule in 2018, that comes in tied 19th in the league. They should finish the season with at least 11 wins, and could possibly match the 13-3 record they managed last season.
With 11 wins they should easily make it into the playoffs. The playoffs will be tough on the NFC side as there are so many good teams capable of putting in a strong playoff run. The Saints, Packers, Vikings, Falcons and Rams will push them all the way, but I can still see the Eagles being there or there about when the Super Bowl rolls into Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium.