The Eagles open the season on Monday night against the Redskins. Before looking to that game specifically, I wanted to refresh our list of keys to the season. The first thing to remember is: This season is a building block, not the finished product. The purpose of this season is not necessarily to win at all costs (which is usually the goal). Here’s my list of goals and points of focus for this season:
- Install and prove the offensive scheme. It’s Chip Kelly’s specialty. I think it’s safe to say that if Chip’s offense doesn’t work, he isn’t going to be here for very long. The offense (especially with Vick) will sputter at times, but overall, Chip, the players, and the FO/Lurie need to come away from this season feeling confident in their offensive philosophy. Expectations are very high, so any significant struggles will likely be accompanied by some very loud external pressure (press/fans). Here, I’ll just say that we should really be judging Kelly’s offense on a curve.
Everyone needs to remember that he’s had just one offseason. This roster (on both sides) is probably far from what Chip really wants. We haven’t discussed it much, but there is the potential for a "square-peg / round-hole" aspect on offense, similar to what we’ve seen on defense, most notably with the Cole/Graham transition. So the offense doesn’t need to be explosive; it just needs to prove that it can reach that level in the near future.
- Identify Defensive Foundation. Everyone’s covered the 3-4 shift in depth, so I don’t have much to add here. The important point is that the Eagles need to start identifying defensive playmakers. The best Eagles teams of the Andy Reid era were actually built on defense (despite the McNabb attention) with guys like Hugh Douglas, Brian Dawkins, and Troy Vincent. More recently, the only defensive player on the team that even approaches that level is Trent Cole. That needs to change.
The defensive roster this year is not very talented (relatively of course). It will get torn apart and repeatedly torched. However, this season will be a success if we can look through the defensive wreckage and see guys like Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks making plays, or at least doing their jobs very well.
Nearly every defense in the NFL has weak spots. The key is that if you have a few "studs", you can use them to mask the holes. The Eagles need to find a few of those "studs". Guys I’m looking at specifically are:
- Cox, obviously. I actually think he’ll have an "underwhelming" year statistically. The key will actually be the play of Sopoaga (or Logan). If neither of those players can make an impact, Cox will probably see a consistent double team. If that’s the case, he’s doing his job, but won’t show up on the stat sheet.
- Kendricks. I've covered him already at EaglesRewind.com, so let me just summarize. We know he's got talent, but consistency (and tackling) is the key. Similar to Cox, he needs the NT position to be decent, otherwise he’ll have a lot of blockers to fight through in the run game.
- Brandon Boykin. Maybe the biggest surprise on the team thus far, Boykin looks like a potential long-term contributor. He’ll play the slot this year. However, keep in mind that Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher aren’t exactly pro bowlers. It wouldn’t surprise me if a suspension or injury presses Boykin into service on the outside.
- Bradley Fletcher. He’s been under the radar for most of the preseason, but I think he could end up being a key piece. He’s never going to be a top-flight CB, but I think he can be a solid #2. Health is the hurdle here. He’s torn the same ACL twice, so I’m skeptical that he’ll stay healthy over the long term. However, he’s just 27 (CBs have longer life-spans than most positions), so if he can stay healthy, it’ll allow the Eagles to spend the next 2-3 offseasons focusing elsewhere.
- Fix the Special Teams. Perhaps a bit strange in light of yesterday’s post, but this is absolutely a key step for this team to take. They don’t need to be great; they just need to be average. It looks like Chip has this as a priority as well, so I’m fairly confident that this goal will be met. Keep an eye on Alex Henery though. Eagles fans were spoiled for a long time by David Akers. Many teams do not have nearly as positive an experience with their kicker. Similar to the rest of the unit, Henery just needs to be average. His kickoffs have looked good in preseason, so I’m optimistic, but let’s see how he does when it gets a little colder.
- Remember how great Shady is. This one isn’t really a goal. It’s just what I’m looking forward to doing. LeSean, in my opinion, is the second best RB in the league. He’s also one of the most entertaining players at any position. That was lost a bit in last year’s debacle. He’ll be THE focal point of the offense. Additionally, the read-option game seems to suit McCoy particularly well. He thrives on space, so the moment of hesitation the read-option creates will likely be VERY good for him. I also expect Chip to find some more creative ways of using him whenever defenses stack the box.
Lastly, I’m hoping to see a few of the dots in this chart (standard deviations) move to the right: