2013 Philadelphia Eagles Fearless Prediction


Aug 29, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly looks on against the New York Jets during the first half of a preseason game at Metlife Stadium. The Jets won 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

After months of anticipation and suffering through yet another miserable, playoff-less season of Philadelphia sports over the summer, the temperature has started to cool which can only mean that Eagles football is upon us. With the Ravens and Broncos opening the season slate on Thursday night, we can officially put the cap on another preseason and start the week-by-week roller coaster that is the NFL season. Upon his hiring, the buzz that Chip Kelly brought to the Novacare complex and the Eagles organization was unlike anything that has been surrounding the team in half a decade. While Kelly’s first training camp and preseason was anything but uneventful; a credit to the stupidity of Riley Cooper, the brashness of Cary Williams, and an unfortunate injury to Jeremy Maclin, when the opening kickoff takes place at FedexField on Monday night, all of those storylines will be in the rear-view mirror. Instead, the focus will, depending on who gets the ball first, shift to a magnitude of questions. How will Chip Kelly adjust his offense to the NFL game? Can Billy Davis shake his reputation as a failure of a defensive coordinator and put an acceptable unit on the field? Can Michael Vick stay healthy, AND hold on to the football enough for him to be effective? Will the team’s offensive line, now completely healthy with a blue-chip rookie Lane Johnson rounding out the bunch, keep their quarterbacks from getting teed off on? These among any other dozens of topics surround Chip Kelly’s first Eagles team.

As far as the preseason went, there were some things to like, and obviously some things to be concerned about. On the positive end of things the offense looked crisp, and downright dynamic at times. There were times where each offensive group was able to move the ball effectively and score touchdowns. Several of the Eagles bigtime playmakers: LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Bryce Brown (sometimes), and Michael Vick (sometimes) turned in multiple impressive performances. Considering the notion that Chip Kelly hasn’t even showed close to the majority of his playbook, the production seen in the preseason has to be considered a sign of optimism. The starting offensive line, at least in two of the three games they played, looked as if they could be one of the more dominant, athletic groups in the league, and Lane Johnson looks like he could be the best of the three offensive tackles taken in the top 5 of the 2013 Draft.

Something one can usually take a bit more from preseason than most aspects of the game is special teams, and the Eagles were very impressive in that facet of the game. Rarely did they let returners gash them for chunks of yardage leading to field position, and returners such as Damaris Johnson and Brandon Boykin looked as if they could be poised for solid years in that department. Considering Kelly decided to keep players like Casey Matthews, there is clearly an increased emphasis on special teams and, if the Eagles wish to achieve any sort of success, that will be a big part of it.

There were a few bright spots on the defensive side of the ball. Patrick Chung demonstrated a physicality to the safety position that has been noticeably absent for some time now. The Eagles also appeared to have tapped into a very talented, nasty group of defensive linemen who, should they continue to develop and grow, could represent the backbone of this defense moving forward.

Unfortunately, there were far more negatives than positives on that side of the ball. The secondary, once again, appears light years away from being able to shut down any semblance of a passing attack. Not only were opposing offenses able to move the ball downfield at will, but defensive backs did not capitalize on opportunities to force turnovers, a glaring issue that has reared itself the last few seasons. As far as the linebackers go, while Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans appeared as solid as ever, there has to be concerns on the outside, especially with the transition to a 3-4 defense. Connor Barwin is the only one who showed any capability of both rushing the passer, and dropping into coverage from that position. I admire everything Trent Cole has done over his career, but if he does not demonstrate the ability to field his position in all phases of the game, he will most likely be playing his final season with the Birds, same goes for Brandon Graham.

Jun 4, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Cary Williams (26) addresses the media during minicamp at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

To make matters even more interesting, the scuffle that occurred during WR Riley Cooper and CB Cary Williams during Thursday’s practice has once again shifted all eyes toward the Eagles for the wrong reason, and has the better part of the free world pulling against them against the Redskins. While Williams has never shied away from controversy, even prior to his short, albeit already infamous tenure with the Eagles,  the recent confrontation with Cooper has experts assuming a major divide in the Eagles locker room and that Chip Kelly has already lost the team. There are fights involving players on every team in the NFL during the offseason, and, believe it or not, people on the same team don’t HAVE to be friends. That being said, and QB Michael Vick reiterated this sentiment, the issue may be more a lack of respect that some of the younger players on the team are displaying. While Vick says and acts like a team leader, and does it quite well in my opinion, leadership has been missing on this team for quite some time. I would argue that there is more leadership on the offensive line than anywhere else on the roster and, unfortunately, the hogmollies up front don’t always garner the attention of brash young players such as Williams. I really want the Cary Williams signing to work out. Most of the negativity surrounding him this offseason is actually part of what makes him such an intriguing player. Unlike Nnamdi Asomugha, he is not afraid to get in the face of the opposition and plays with an attitude that is necessary in today’s cornerbacks. With that said, should Williams continue to create these sort of issues in the media and with his own teammates, the Eagles might be forced to admit their mistake and cut ties with the offseason signing.

All of that aside, we will not find out anything until the Eagles play a game. Interestingly enough, for a team that finished 4-12 last season, the Eagles have a pretty difficult schedule, all things considering. The other three teams in the NFC East are very similar in make up and it seems like everyone has a different choice for the winner of the division. Each of the three teams was in contention to win the division through at least week 16 and, barring any major injuries, it is expected that the division race will be tight involving at least the Giants, Redskins, and Cowboys.

The Eagles will have to face the teams from the NFC North starting with an early-November matchup in Green Bay. After games with the Cardinals, who many expect to improve off last year’s team that embarrassed the Eagles, and their second matchup with the Redskins, they will have to face the three remaining NFC North teams in consecutive weeks. The Vikings and Packers were playoff teams in 2012, and many expect the Bears to be in the mix for the postseason again. Much like the Eagles, the Lions underachieved a great deal in 2012. However, they still have an impressive collection of talent, and the type of physical, athletic defensive line that can give read-option teams fits.

They do catch a couple of breaks early in the season, as they will face a Von Miller-less Broncos team in week 4 and a Chargers team that is still trying to squeeze a couple of good years out of Phillip Rivers. However, the ‘easy’ part of their schedule includes three games in 10 days, followed by a string of three games on the road.

My expectation of what the Chip Kelly will look like when it is fully unleashed, although to a much lesser extent considering who is playing quarterback, is actually similar to last year’s Redskins. Entering week one against the Saints, in New Orleans, nobody gave Washington any hope of being able to keep pace with Drew Brees and company. Even with RGIII, who no one knew quite how good he was at this point, the Redskins lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball made the thought of them winning in a track meet very unlikely. However, as the Saints were the first team to see the Redskins offense with Robert Griffin III, they had no idea what hit them. Griffin III was fantastic, but there were also players guessing and running themselves out of position nearly every play. With a suspect offensive line and a rookie running back (who turned out to finish 2nd in the league in rushing), the Redskins exposed bad defenses most weeks, and only teams with a specific personnel on defense were able to reel in the dynamic Washington offense.

Aug 29, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick looks on before a pre-season game against the New York Jets at Metlife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I do not think the Eagles will have THAT level of success, mostly because I believe they will turn the ball over more, there are certain things they can utilize to take advantage of bad defenses. If their offensive line is healthy, I believe they will be the best in the league due to the nature of their offense. The entire line is athletic, and Lane Johnson and Jason Peters defy most of the physics of being that big while being able to move that well. Jason Kelce is as fine a center as there is in the league, and Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans could both make pro bowls from the guard position. With LeSean McCoy’s ability to set up blocks and juke defenders, he is the perfect running back for such a line, and his 2011 season, where he finished with 14 runs of 20 or more yards, should be the only necessary indication. Since he was drafted in the 7th round by the Eagles in 2012, Bryce Brown has done nothing but tease fans with talent and frustrated with fumbles. There is no room in the NFL for fumbles. However, with Kelly’s creativity in getting playmakers the ball with a chance to do damage, Brown could prove to be just as dynamic a runner as McCoy and give the Eagles a potentially historic tandem of ballcarriers. Toss an improved Chris Polk into the mix, and the Eagles could have the best trio of running backs in the league.

Moving outside a level, everyone has high expectations for what this team is doing with the tight end position. Brent Celek, while not as impressive as he was a few years ago, is still a player that can stretch the seam and take a hit on passes in traffic. He has shown an unnerving case of the drops in the preseason and training camp. One would hope that Celek, a veteran in the Eagles organization, would bring his game to another level when the games count. No one really knows what James Casey is here for, all I know is that Texans fans always complained that the team did not use the athletic H-back enough and that, if a player has talent and can make plays, Kelly probably has something in mind for how to utilize him that we have not seen yet. Normally, two solid tight ends would be enough, but the player that has most everyone, myself included, excited is rookie Zach Ertz. The 2nd round pick out of Stanford possesses a tantalizing combination of size, speed, and ball skills that if utilized correctly, could end up being the Eagles best mismatch in the passing game. Ertz did not blow the world away in preseason, but he did show flashes of the sort of talent and abilities that Kelly saw while he was at Oregon, when Ertz almost single-handedly ended the Ducks undefeated season, catching 11 balls for 106 yards and a game-tying touchdown in the final drive to force overtime. Stanford would go on to win by a field goal and the impact of Ertz was enough to convince Kelly to draft him 35th overall. As the young man continues to get into the flow of the offense, I expect him to become the go-to target for Michael Vick on several of the seam routes that, up to this point, have been reserved for Celek.

Aug 24, 2013; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) reacts prior to the start of the game at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

They will need production from their tight ends, because at wide receiver, the Eagles are thin depthwise, and small from a size standpoint. From everything that I’ve seen and read, DeSean Jackson is poised to have a big year. I expect there to be wrinkles that we have not yet seen from the Eagles offense that take advantage of DeSean’s speed and shfitiness. Jason Avant continues to show his value on the team, as he is able to reel in some of the misfired Vick passes on a consistent basis, often times in spectacular fashion. It is easy to count on those two, but with the injury to Jeremy Maclin, the question marks after those two are unnerving to say the least. Offseason issues aside, Riley Cooper has shown no indication in his career that he is capable of being anything but a relief receiver. Cooper is tall, so he will continue to get playing time. He will have to earn every second of it though, and should his production slip, or his offseason issues catch up with him, I would not be surprised to see him, much like Williams, be shown the door. Damaris Johnson is a player that, while short in stature, has the sort of skill set that Chip Kelly salivates over. While not the burner that DeSean Jackson is, Johnson may be a bit shiftier and can possess ‘football speed’ that gives him the separation that he needs in the passing game. Johnson had shown a nice rapport with Nick Foles in his appearances last season, and his primary value is in the return game. It would be a welcome surprise to see Vick find a way to involve Johnson a bit more when he is in the game, and try to take some of the attention away from Jackson. Personally, I would have preferred to see the Eagles keep Russell Shepard to Jeff Maehl, but the former Oregon Duck has shown an impressive pair of hands, and is probably quite familiar with most of the routes Kelly plans to implement in his scheme.

Considering how strong the Eagles are on the line and running back position, as well as tight end, I think their offense, when fully unleashed will be extremely entertaining to watch. As long as they hold on to the ball, which I have my doubts about, they should be able to put up large chunks of points as well.

They will certainly have to, considering their defense has shown no ability to keep the opposition from moving the ball at will on them. Unlike offense, it can be difficult for defenses to hide some grand secret during the preseason. Defense is a matter of will and tenacity more so than it is about scheme. Starting from the first drive of the Patriots game, where Stevan Ridley gashed the Birds all the way to the endzone, very little has indicated much of a change from the pathetic display of softness that typified the 2011 and 2012 teams. At times, there was some semblance of a ‘bend, not break’ defense that held the Panthers out of the endzone in their second preseason game. With the points that Kelly’s offense is expected to put up, that would be plenty acceptable, at least in the first year. However, with some of the questionable personnel on the field with the starting unit, it is tough to imagine that good offenses, such as the Redskins in week 1, won’t be able to score at an impressive clip.

Dec 13, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) celebrates a sack during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lincoln Financial Field. The Bengals defeated the Eagles 34-13. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from Isaac Sopoaga, who could end up being the most insignificant signing of the offseason, I actually think the Eagles have a promising group on the defensive line. Fletcher Cox, after some early struggles, looks as if he will adjust nicely to the defensive end position in the 3-4 defense. Between Clifton Geathers, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Damion Square, and even Vinny Curry, the lineman on the Eagles displayed a nose for the ball and an impressive ability to occupy blockers and shed blocks, all necessary qualities for the 3-4 lineman. I mentioned my concerns with the outside linebacker corps. I do not think that both Trent Cole and Brandon Graham will succeed in this new scheme. The Eagles could not turn over the entire defensive unit in one offseason, so they will have to deal with what they have. Barwin is a talented athlete who continues to get better at being a football player. I do think opponents will shift their blocking toward him, at least until someone steps up and can provide pressure from the other end. Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans make a solid tandem of middle linebackers, and I think that Jake Knott will make appearances for this team in more than just special teams. Kendricks could end up being the most important player on the defense. He was often utilized in the blitz game, not only against the run, but the pass, and his ability to pursue is unlike anyone else on the team. He will also be counted on to keep tabs on Robert Griffin III and any other mobile quarterbacks that the Eagles play this season. His responsibilities are as vast as any player on the team, offense or defense.

Nate Allen has one more chance to prove he can be a starting safety in the league. He showed very little in the preseason that he was capable of doing such, but perhaps having a rookie like Earl Wolff breathing down his neck will bring out some sort of competitiveness in Allen. If it doesn’t, don’t be surprised if the rookie from N.C. State takes over at free safety by year’s end. While I think Patrick Chung will be the emotionally leader of the defense, he will also bring a lot of frustration with his aggressiveness. I expect that coaches will have requested that Chung err on the side of aggression, due to the team’s lack of ‘pop’ on the defensive side in recent years. That does not mean fans will be happy when they see Chung chasing down a free runner after being caught cheating up in the box.

Aug 15, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA;Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin (22) warms up before the game against the Carolina Panthers at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

I really expect Brandon Boykin to take a big step this year. Between Boykin, Cox, and Kendricks, 2nd year players could represent the most crucial players for the Eagles future on defense. Boykin is extremely strong, fast, and aware wherever he is on the field. Despite his short stature, he can jump out of the building, and his anticipation in the passing game often allows him the necessary time to make the adjustments on larger targets. If he can haul in some of the interceptions that he has dropped last season and during the preseason, he could become one of the better slot defenders in the NFL. It is on the outside where the real concern is. I’m sure at some time, prior to injuries, Bradley Fletcher was a promising cornerback prospect. He demonstrates awareness on the field and knows how to play the position. I just don’t know if he has what it takes to cover top-2 receivers in the NFL on a consistent basis. He was a cheap option on a team that had to allocate resources evenly. Again, I would like Cary Williams to succeed here. I think he can be a top-2 cornerback and, if he is here long enough, it is helpful to have players with attitude to go head to head with the Dez Bryants, Pierre Garçons, and Hakeem Nicks of the world. Cornerbacks are a much more individual-centric players, so him not being ‘in sync’ with the rest of the team is not detrimental. However, if these flare ups continue, keeping him on the team would be a bad idea.

Not to dwell too much on the specialists, but it seems like the Eagles may be set at punter and kicker for the time being, as Donnie Jones, one of the more unsung acquisitions, and Alex Henery appear to have what it takes to do their jobs in this league. I have high expectations from the special teams units and would be very surprised if either Damaris Johnson or Brandon Boykin does not have at least one return for a touchdown between the pair.

Considering how little we’ve seen of what I expect to be a very complex, aggressive offensive attack, it is tough to put a number on how many games I think the Eagles will win this season. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly less confident than I was after the second preseason game, mostly because the Eagles showed that they have very little depth at positions that it is important to have it. I questioned some of their roster cut downs and felt as if they probably avoided taking the best 53 players available. That being said, when healthy, there are more talented players on this roster than a 4-12 record would indicate for the year prior. A healthy mix of young players and veterans can make what is supposed to be considered a transition year much more interesting. I expect them to be able to expose bad defenses in a big way, but struggle when they face a unit that is considered one of the top groups in the league. I expect the defense to struggle a great deal early and make slight improvements as the year goes on, making a few personnel decisions that could see some veterans on the way out. I actually think that Michael Vick will play at least ten games this season, and Nick Foles will also see some time.

If you were to ask me, today, what I thought the Eagles record would be at the end of the season, my guess would be 7-9. I think they will be similar to last year’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that impressed early before the grind of the 16-game season wore them out a bit and saw them miss out on the playoffs. A few bounces here and there and maybe the Eagles can inject themselves into the playoff conversation. As of now though, from what little I have seen and read about, my guess is the Eagles finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

Aug 24, 2013; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly reacts after a fumbled snap during the second quarter of their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports