The Eagles have a new starting QB in Kevin Kolb, new starting running back and a team in which youth will be served ... but don't use the "R" word.
Head coach Andy Reid and the rest of the brass hate when a certain “R” word is used to describe the 2010-11 Philadelphia Eagles. That dreaded word is “rebuilding.” Most Eagles fans are well aware that this edition of young birds with rookie starters in key roles, a new starting quarterback in Kevin Kolb, a new full-time running back in LeSean McCoy and a reworked offensive line, is in rebuilding mode.
Donovan McNabb was a great quarterback, but his time was past, and he will now get to earn his pay in Washington, D.C. for the Redskins. Brian Westbrook was already halfway out the door last year, his body too fragile after taking a pounding the last eight years as a top back in the NFL. He will be playing for San Francisco this season.
The preseason told us next to nothing about this young team, except that rookie defensive end Brandon Graham can play, that Stewart Bradley is back with a vengeance at middle linebacker, that the offensive line is a major question mark and that the team still can’t score in the red zone.
The average age of your 2010-11 Eagles is 25.5 years. That is young. Really young. A young team can be cocky and full of energy and enthusiasm, but that enthusiasm can lead to a great play one moment, a stupid penalty the next. That uncertainty seems to be the core of this team. My gut tells me the defense is decent enough and the offense is talented enough with Kolb, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, running back McCoy and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to keep the team above water for a while, but this feels like an 8-8 team.
The Eagles defense appears to be better than the offense right now. A major boost was the return of a healthy Bradley, who was out last year after a major knee injury. He is hitting everything in sight and with the addition of Ernie Sims, who was freed from the gulag that is Detroit, the Birds have strength up the middle. Akeem Jordan is adequate on the strong side, and Omar Gaither is a solid back up.
On the defensive line, as mentioned, left defensive end Graham looks like the rare rookie who will make an impact on a Reid-coached team. This team wants to pressure the opposing quarterback without blitzing all the time and with Graham on one end and Trent Cole on the right side, they have a good chance of providing that pressure. The rest of the line is solid — Brodrick Bunkley at right tackle and Mike Patterson at left tackle.
The corners and safeties were a weak spot last year and that problem has been addressed somewhat with rookie Nate Allen at free safety. Assante Samuel will make big plays and miss big tackles. Quintin Mikell is solid at strong safety and Ellis Hobbs is still a question mark at the other corner.
We know the Eagles have game-breaking players in McCoy, Jackson and Maclin. The question is, will the offensive line give them and QB Kolb time to do their thing? Trading the unhappy Stacy Andrews should help, and the fact that center Jamaal Jackson is ready to start the season is good news. Todd Herremans at left guard is also a solid contributor, but left tackle Jason Peters earned several stupid penalties in the preseason. Nick Cole is adequate at best at right guard and Winston Justice is OK at right tackle.
If the offensive line does its job, Kolb should have a solid, but not spectacular season. Michael Vick is scary though as the backup if Kolb gets injured.
The Eagles have a great group of receivers, headed by big playmaker Jackson, steady Jason Avant and super second-year man Maclin. Brent Celek ended last season as one of the best tight ends in the game.
On the rare times when the Eagles run, LeSean McCoy should get the job done, again if the offensive line opens up the occasional hole. Mike Bell is OK as the backup and Eldra Buckley does fine on a goal line stand.
The Eagles kickers are excellent with punter Sav Rocca and the amazing David Akers. DeSean Jackson is great at punt returns, but after that the special teams have looked awful in preseason with no reason for us to expect miracles once the season begins, even though coach Bobby April was hired as a miracle worker. Let’s tackle somebody people.
Eagles 2010-11 Schedule
Here is my take on how the schedule plays out: The Eagles lose to Green Bay, beat the Lions and the Jags, then lose to a fired-up and motivated Donovan McNabb for a 2-2 start. They beat San Francisco, lose to Atlanta and beat the Titans. At the bye week that gives them a 4-3 record.
In the second half, they lose to the Colts, beat the Redskins in Washington, beat the Giants at home and beat the Bears on the road for a 7-4 record. In the final five games, they will just get by the Texans at home for an impressive 8-4, but I have them losing the next four games — to the Cowboys and Giants on the road, to Minnesota at home and a second loss to the Cowboys to end the season. That gives them an 8-8 record, and out of the playoffs. They might pick up one more win for a 9-7 record but it is just as likely they slip to 7-9.
Sun. Sept. 12 GREEN BAY PACKERS 4:15pm
Sun. Sept. 19 @ Detroit Lions 1pm
Sun. Sept. 26 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 4:05pm
Sun. Oct. 3 WASHINGTON REDSKINS 4:15pm
Sun. Oct. 10 @ San Francisco 49ers 8:20pm
Sun. Oct. 17 ATLANTA FALCONS 1pm
Sun. Oct. 24 @ Tennessee Titans 1pm
Sun. Oct. 31 Bye Week
Sun. Nov. 7 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 4:15pm
Mon. Nov. 15 @ Washington Redskins 8:30pm
Sun. Nov. 21 N. Y. GIANTS 8:20pm
Sun. Nov. 28 @ Chicago Bears 1pm
Thurs. Dec. 2 HOUSTON TEXANS 8:20pm
Sun. Dec. 12 @ Dallas Cowboys 8:20pm
Sun. Dec. 19 @ N.Y. Giants 1pm
Sun. Dec. 26 MINNESOTA VIKINGS 1pm
Sun. Jan. 2 DALLAS COWBOYS 1pm
The Rest of the “NFC Beast”
While the Eagles have had much success in Andy Reid’s first 11 seasons (including the most wins as a head coach, best winning percentage, most playoff wins, most NFC East titles and five trips to the NFC Championship game), Philly has yet to add to the division’s cache of most Super Bowl titles in the NFL (the Birds’ lone berth under Reid was a loss to New England in 2004).
The NFC East accounts for a quarter of the 44 Super Bowls played thus far, and expert pundits widely consider it among the most competitive divisions in the league based on those 11 Super Bowl wins (Dallas, the defending NFC East champion, has five trophies, and the Giants and Redskins each have three), and again the most loaded this year in terms of cumulative talent of the eight divisions in the NFL.
Of course, the biggest buzz in the division is being generated by Washington (4-12 last year), as the Redskins commandeered not only one of the most successful coaches in NFL history, Mike Shanahan, but also the Eagles’ most successful quarterback ever, Donovan McNabb. That still doesn’t seem to be enough to inspire much hope that the ’Skins will advance up the ladder, as many forecasters (among them Peter King of Sports Illustrated) see them as finishing in the divisional basement again (Washington was 0-6 against NFC East opponents last year). Shanahan has certainly taken measures to see that it doesn’t happen, shaking up the ranks by cutting loose several veteran players and signing 27 free agents (McNabb among them) in an effort to bring Washington back to its glory days. While a proven leader and exceptional athlete, McNabb’s 33 and has been often injured, so he’s sort of surrounded by question marks. His switching sides to a divisional rival will make the Redskins’ visit to Philly on Oct. 3 (and the Eagles’ visit to Washington on Monday Night Football, Nov. 15) two highly anticipated games. McNabb’s two top receivers will be Joey Galloway and Santana Moss, and Clinton Portis is the ’Skins’ main weapon out of the backfield. London Fletcher is a returning Pro Bowl linebacker for Washington.
It’s been 15 years since Dallas (11-5 last year) last won a Super Bowl, but the Cowboys took a step in the right direction last year with a divisional title and their first playoff win in 13 years. Their new stadium will be the site of this year’s Super Bowl XLV, adding to their encouragement to step it up a notch. Quarterback Tony Romo hit Miles Austin with 11 touchdown passes last year, and the ’Boys have two other top-notched receivers in wideout Roy Williams and tight end Jason Witten. Marion Barber rushed for seven TDs last year, and Felix Jones is being touted as the team’s next leading rusher. Dallas is strong defensively with veteran linebackers Keith Brooking and DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Mike Jenkins and nose tackle Jay Ratliff.
The New York Giants had high hopes of returning to the Super Bowl last year (having shocked the New England Patriots for their third trophy in 2008), but after starting off 5-0 they were plagued by injuries and finished 2009 with an 8-8 slate and no playoff appearance. This fall they get back some of the players who missed most or all of last season, the name standing out most prominently being strong safety Kenny Phillips. They also added safeties Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant to their defensive backfields, and will return their most productive defensive end (Justin Tuck, six sacks) and linebacker (Keith Bulluck, three interceptions, 108 tackles) from last year. They have a veteran core of offensive lineman back to protect quarterback Eli Manning, and Manning has some standout targets to aim at in wide receivers Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks, and tight end Kevin Boss. Running back Brandon Jacobs was their most productive ground gainer, averaging a modest 3.7 yards per carry out of the backfield with six touchdowns. The Giants will play the first-ever NFL game in the new Meadowlands Stadium, which they share with the AFC N.Y. Jets, on Sept. 12 against the Carolina Panthers. The following evening (Monday night, Sept. 13), the Jets (who lost a coin flip to the Giants for the right to play the first game there) will host their home opener against the Baltimore Ravens. — Ray Schweibert
Call me crazy, but I expect them to make to the NFC Championship game, win it over the Packers, and lose to the AFC champions, Pittsburgh. I did go there, a Keystone State Super Bowl.
Let’s face it Eagles fans. When it came down to a choice of Tampa Bay, the Giants or Green Bay, you were praying it was not going to be the Packers with their great pass rush, led by likely Defensive Player of the Year Clay Matthews and wily veteran Charles Woodson, coupled with the offensive skills of top quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
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