Vicktimized: Your 2013 Philadelphia Eagles
Two pre-season games in the bag and here is how things are shaping up:
The Eagles are clearly a run based team based on speed/power/aggression. Now that we have gotten a glimpse of the Chip Kelly Offense, we can see many elements that made the system flourish in college. While many naysayers believed that it was a "gimmick" and would not work in the NFL, it's looking like the complete opposite from the two games we have witnessed so far. It's fast/up tempo/downhill running approach has looked razor sharp with either QB Foles or Vick completing nearly 80% of their passes, and has put both the Patriots and Panthers on their heels defensively. While neither of these defenses are world beaters by any means, the only thing that has stopped the Eagles on most of their drives have been turnovers (most notably, not Vick). While most of the off season talk has been who will be the starting QB for the Eagles, the most improved play has been that of the offensive line.
Drafting T Lane Johnson in the first round shored up two positions (moving T/G Todd Herremans back to his natural position of LG) and giving us one of the most athletic pair of tackles in the entire NFL given Peters return to LT. Center Jason Kelce has also been key in a marked improvement from last years struggles, while LG Evan Mathis is still one of the premier guards in the NFL. Some of the early surprises along the offensive line have been the addition of T/G Allen Barbre (who has been solid at LT so far) and the growth of former 1st round pick G Danny Watkins, who looked like a wasted 1st round selection just last season, continues to ease worries of OL depth that struggled mightily last season. New Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has been outstanding thus far and the techniques he's using has absorbed quickly with our offensive line. While Peter's has yet to play this pre-season, a watchful eye will be on him this Saturday when he makes his nearly 2 year absence felt vs the Jaguars. The information I gathered so far is that it looks as though Peters is completely healthy and has zero limitations from his previous Achilles injuries. Offensive lines take time to gel, but it's looking like the Eagles are not only moving warp speed on offense tempo wise, but also in terms of how the offensive line has learned an entirely new scheme/technique in a short period of time. The line is thriving in a positive direction and should only improve as the season moves forward. While the "big uglies" never get the recognition they deserve, it's looking like the most improved part of this year's Eagles and could prove to be a dominating factor in every game. This makes out for a huge year for the Eagles offensively (even after losing WR Maclin for the season) due to the holes they will provide for our outstanding depth at running back (RB Chris Polk being the major surprise so far) and key at keeping Vick healthy, since most of his injuries have occurred INSIDE the pocket due to poor protection. Keeping things on the offensive side of the ball..
The addition of athletic Tight End's has been a major component of what Kelly wants to do offensively. The athleticism at the position creates mismatches due to their size/speed (Ertz/Harbor/Carrier) as each of them have the ability to not only play the traditional TE role, but also the flexibility to move inside the slot or outside the hash marks like a traditional WR. The new look Eagles offense is looking like a mixture of last year's Patriots with read/option based plays (a la 49ers). Veterans Brent Celek and FB/TE James Casey will provide nice in line blocking/receiving skills from a more traditional TE role, so this gives the Eagles ultimate flexibility in team personnel which will create mismatches for other teams defensively on a consistent basis. Clay Harbor went from being the "odd man out" to looking like a perfect match up nightmare at the WR/Slot position. While we have only seen TE Carrier on a limited basis, he has been impressive and will push for a roster spot the preseason concludes. I believe if the Eagles decide to go "heavy" at an offensive position, it won't be 6 WR's sticking around since Harbor/Carrier/Ertz provide a hybrid WR/TE position, nor will it be 4 running backs since Felix Jones is looking average at best. I can see the Eagles keeping 5 tight ends this season (or 4 if you think of James Casey filling the FB position) mostly due to the lack of depth at the WR position now that Maclin is lost for the year.
Defensively the Eagles looked alarming given the first game vs the Patriots. The linebackers over pursued on numerous plays and the poor tackling looked to be an issue yet again. While the Eagles transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 some struggles are anticipated. But it was looking like a disaster waiting to unfold until the second preseason game showed marked improvement from nearly every facet of the defense. Tackling was much improved, along with better pursuit angles which stiffened up vs the run. Young players such as DE Vinny Curry (who looked like he would never fit the 3-4 scheme as either a OLB or LDE) absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage by adding nearly 20lbs of muscle (279lbs) while losing nothing in the athletic department. He will be a vital part of our DL pass rush along with Fletcher Cox. Cedric Thorton looked lost/overwhelmed in the first preseason game, but had a nice bounce back game vs the Panthers. Rookie DE/DT Damion Square has been a pleasant surprise along with Bennie Logan who might eventually supplant Issac Sopoaga at NT as the year progresses. While the Eagles are still looking to solidify the OLB position opposite Connor Barwin, Cole/Graham should improve with each practice/game and hopefully shore up that position. OLB Chris McCoy looks to be our best coverage linebacker from the outside position, and it's yet to be determined if LB Everett Brown will pan out or if/when Philip Hunt (ACL) is officially placed on IR. ILB Mychal Kendricks looks to make the "leap" and become a dynamic player on defense with his coverage ability and knack for blitzing. While the surprising performance of both ILB Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho help alleviate some of the depth concerns at the position (esp with the loss of ILB Jason Phillips who was supposed to provide depth and excellent special teams ability). Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney have been O.K. at the ILB position so we should be fine headed into the season (baring injury etc).
The Eagles secondary has been completely re-vamped and CB Cary Williams seems to be the player the Eagles believed when they signed him in Free Agency. CB Bradley Fletcher has been in the hip pocket of most of the receivers he's faced, and CB Brandon Boykin is another player who is making a "leap" on defense. The injury to CB Curtis Marsh hand will probably slow him down considerably, and CB Jordan Poyer/Trevard Lindley have looked pedestrian at best. Eddie Whitely has actually played fairly decent when given the opportunity and the safety position has yet to pan out (Allen or Wolff?). Safety Kenny Philips is a valuable asset as a veteran who can make a difference, but his health is ultimately going to decide his fate in the next two games or he's gone. S Colt Anderson looks completely healthy and our best special teams player. Kurt Coleman has gone from one time starter, to almost an after thought. While David Sims really hasn't done much of anything since signed by the Eagles last season. The only sure fire starter is Safety Patrick Chung and he has been by far the most impressive of any of our secondary players. While he won't remind people of Dawkins, he's a marked improvement at the position and a hard hitter/sure tackler.
Some other notes:
-Special Teams has looked excellent in both coverage/kicking/returning. Whatever new special teams coach Dave Fipp is teaching, it's clearly working. K Alex Henery should be a solid option again this season and the P battle continues with Donnie Jones and Brad Wing. Both have their strengths/weakness so it will be interesting to see how the punting situation pans out.
- WR's on the rise include Riley Cooper (while not a burner, his blocking skills work perfectly in the Kelly offensive scheme), Damaris Johnson looks speedy/quick and could be used in a variety of ways (a la Darren Sproles), and WR Greg Salas who has made some highlight reel catches to go with his improved route running ability.
- QB Foles has given Vick a run for the money for the starting QB position. While some will think a trade is a good idea, our best idea will be to keep him as we all know Vick has been injury prone. Plus Foles moved the offense with just as much efficiency (minus the lack of consistent deep ball and fumbling/interception issues). If Barkley can gain more arm strength in the next year, he will only add to our QB "issues" and make it a 3 horse race.
Overall, I am cautiously optimistic thus far, and can't wait till the games count. If most teams use their "vanilla" offense during the preseason, I think we are in for a wild/fun ride when the regular season starts. So far, so good. Is it Sept 9th yet?
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