We have to wait just a little bit longer than usual for the 2015 Philadelphia Eagles season to begin. Could it be worth it? The BGN crew discusses.
Let's get right to it. What are you expectations for this team? Are they a Super Bowl contender?
Matt Harkenreader: On paper, absolutely. They have a front seven that should dominate on a weekly basis, a downhill running game that should punish opposing defenses in the fourth quarter, and a secondary that is an improvement on last season's by default. There are no glaring weaknesses on this roster, with their most questionable units (secondary and offensive line) being average at worst. That being said, a LOT has to come together for this team to be playing deep into January, which is pretty much a given when you have as much roster overhaul as the Eagles did. So I'll cheat a little bit here and say that the Eagles look like a Super Bowl contender, but my expectations are tempered. A playoff win would make for a successful season in my book, and anything less would be a failure.
Mark Saltveit: I suspect that the Eagles are a year away from really contending, with all the changes. But I think most people around the NFL recognize that this team is sneaking up on greatness, and could easily be in SB50 if everything falls into place.
Dan Klausner (yes, he's alive): I was pretty down on the Eagles going into Training Camp, to be perfectly honest. I thought they were destined for 8-8 mediocrity, with a 10-6 ceiling. Maybe that would win the division, but they wouldn't be truly competing with Seattle and Green Bay. However, seeing the talent and depth and how well both the offense and defense performed in the preseason, I'm changing my tune. This team seems to have a special vibe about it. As if it's finally "Chip's squad." I expect the offense to be top-5 and the defense to be top-10. If Bradford remains healthy, I think we're clearly the best team in the NFC East, top-3 in the NFC and a legit Super Bowl contender.
Dave: You don't make all the changes the Eagles have and go "well, 9-7 is okay. We'll build on that next year." The Eagles should be a playoff team, they should win the division and they should make it to at least the second round of the playoffs, whether by winning in the first round or by getting a bye. I think it's fair to say they're a Super Bowl contender, but I'm not sure they're quite there yet. But at the very least they should be right behind the contenders.
There's been some big name/money turnover this year, and we've talked about it here and there over the course of the off-season. Now that we've seen a bit of them in the pre-season, what are you looking for from Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell?
Mark: Sam Bradford - don't play scared. Learn Chip's system well enough to know where the opportunities are, including deep throws. He has the talent and supporting cast to be oustanding.
DeMarco Murray - be comfortable with sharing snaps, and just keep on doing you.
Byron Maxwell - grow at your natural rate, don't try to prove you're a top 5/10 CB worth $63M right away.
Dan: Bradford just has to stay healthy. The longer he goes without injury and is able to settle in, the more we'll see him get into a rhythm and really execute the offense the way Chip wants. He's got the decision making, arm and accuracy to take advantage of the favorable matchups that Chip's scheme dictates. Bradford will see the open man and get him the ball. The Eagles ranked 5th in the NFL in pass attempts last season with 621. I imagine Chip wants that number to be closer to the 2013 total of 508 (which ranked 27th) and, thus, for more balance to be achieved between the pass and run game. For context, the most passes Sam Bradford has attempted in a full 16-game season is 354, when he was a rookie in 2010. If he plays all 16 games, I expect that number to be at least 500 (31+ attempts per game). Let's go with 340 completions in 520 attempts (65.4%) for 4000 yards (7.7 YPA), 30 TD, 13 INT. That comes out to a 97.4 QB rating, which would've placed 6th in the NFL in 2014. These numbers are more a function of how much I believe in Chip's offense.
While it's unrealistic to expect Murray to duplicate last season's success -- for various reasons -- I am excited to him in this offense. As a one-cut, downhill runner who is ok taking the 3-4 yard gains to get the offense into manageable situations, he's the ideal for what Chip wants. His carries will be cut by virtue of last season's workload and also because Ryan Mathews has looked really good in the preseason. I see 260 carries for 1250 yards and 10 TDs for Murray and 170 carries for 800 yards and 5 TDs for Mathews.
Byron Maxwell is an easy target for the "bust" label due to the cushy situation he enjoyed during his time playing in Seattle and the monster contract he received in the offseason to be THE GUY in a revamped Eagles secondary. While the risk with such a deal is obviously high and the Eagles were burned by it 4 years ago, I feel the Maxwell experience will be much different and way better. Maxwell has the physical dimensions and playing style the Eagles desire on defense, and he's already been lauded for the leadership role he's taken on in the locker room and on defense. You never heard that about Nnamdi Asomugha, who seemed content resting on his laurels from his time in Oakland and was much more comfortable being a passenger instead of a driver. Even though his bank account is stacked, Maxwell carries himself with the mentality to show everyone he was not simply a product of his star secondary mates in Seattle. He was great in the preseason and looks primed to take on the challenge of matching up with the other team's best wide receiver week in and week out.
Matt: From Bradford, I am mainly looking for three things: above-average accuracy, limited turnovers, and a willingness to push the ball down the field. Those are the only real requirements of a Kelly quarterback - he doesn't need to be Aaron Rodgers. The last one might be the most important of the three, considering that Kelly's offense thrives off big play opportunities generated by the ground game. For Murray, I want to see him average 4.5+ yards per carry and retain freshness throughout the season, even if that means mixing in more Ryan Mathews. And finally, the Eagles corners set the bar really low for Maxwell, so I really just would like to see him avoid getting burnt by Dez Bryant or Odell Beckham Jr. Considering the way this defense forces fumbles, interceptions are gravy at this point.
Dave: All three have had injury histories, so it kind of goes without saying that staying healthy is key. If so, Bradford needs to have something like a 4500 yard, 36-15 TD-INT season to show he's the real deal they think he is. Otherwise they're just treading water at QB, last year Foles and Sanchez went for 4581/27-21 Murray isn't going to get 1800 yards again, but he doesn't need to. I think with a combination of missed time and shared workload, more than 1400 yards is overly optimistic. I pretty much agree with Dan's numbers. Maxwell needs to prove he's worth his contract and finally be the solution at CB the Eagles have been looking for. No more Dez Bryant storming past his man.
Which incumbent players are you looking to step up this year?
Dan: First is Brandon Graham. He chose to stay in the offseason and, after 5 years, is now finally the full-time starter in place of Trent Cole at OLB. He's not going to come off the field. I expect him to be top-10 in the NFL in sacks, which puts him in the 11-12 sack range based on last season's leaderboard. Of course, Graham has set his own personal goal at 32 sacks, which would work out fine.
Secondly is Jordan Matthews, who everyone is pegging to make THE LEAP. With the departure of Jeremy Maclin, Matthews' development becomes paramount to the success of an otherwise unproven Eagles WR corps. If the preseason is any indication, he's a lock to do that and more.
Lastly is Bennie Logan. Fletcher Cox is already All-Pro caliber and can wreak havoc in every which way, while Cedric Thornton has established himself as arguably the best run-stuffing 3-4 DE in the league. Bennie Logan has been the glue in the middle since taking over for Isaac Sopoaga full time at the trade deadline in 2013. He's steadily improved both his body and his game and appears ready to make THE LEAP this season and be mentioned among the top NTs in football. Logan is stout, athletic, long and a nightmare to block inside because of how well he's able to move laterally and stack and shed blockers. Logan is a key cog in the Eagles dominant run defense. He's also just an awesome dude in general. Long live Da King Son.
Matt: There are a lot of choices here - Curry, Ertz, and Smith come to mind - but I have to go with Nolan Carroll II. Again, he won't have to do much to outplay last year's corners, but with question marks surrounding the slot corner job it is absolutely imperative that he not be a dumpster fire. If two out of the three corner positions are sub-par, opposing offenses will have a field day with 11 personnel against this defense. To me, Carroll failing to be a serviceable cornerback is the easiest way for the Eagles to miss out on the Super Bowl this year.
Mark: Vinny Curry is the fascinating one. Can he cover and set the edge? Or will he be a one-note pass-rushing OLB? Lane Johnson could and should take a leap forward in his third year, bringing the MMA fighting style he learned from Jay Glazer's gym to the field. Brandon Graham and Zach Ertz of course. And Malcolm Jenkins could surprise people with teammates in the secondary that don't need him to constantly bail them out.
Dave: These guys pretty much listed everyone I was thinking of. I'm with Matt on Nolan Carroll. He wasn't good enough to start last year but now he is? Highly skeptical of that. If Bennie Logan can continue to progress, and we saw in the preseason that he may, then the line is going to be ridiculous. On offense, I just assume Jordan Matthews is going to have a big year.
Finish these sentences. This season will be a success if _______. This season will be a failure if _________.
Dan: Sam Bradford stays healthy and the defense, particularly the secondary, fulfills its promise. Sam Bradford gets injured and the defense, particularly the secondary, fails to take that necessary step forward.
Mark: Success if: they establish an Oregon-style dominant run game (even if Bradford gets re-injured). As great as Shady was, the team was never able to grind teams down with the run. The 4 headed monster (counting Barner) should really help this team develop its clock-killing, lead-protecting slow tempo game.
Failure if: players openly revolt against Chip's management style, whether it's because he's too brusque, monitors them too much, or makes them wear white socks.
Matt: I'm going to make this more difficult on myself and avoid injury talk altogether. So, this season will be a success if... Sam Bradford posts a season passer rating north of 100. Three things need to occur for this to happen: 1) the offensive line and running game need to hold up, 2) Sam needs to play as-advertised in the preseason on a consistent basis, and 3) the defense needs to play well enough to keep the offense out of tough situations. This is the magic recipe Kelly has concocted for success in the NFL, and if it all goes right Sam will be pushing for MVP honors. On the flip side, the season will be a failure if the offensive lineman don't maintain solid play for a whole season. Before I said Nolan failing could keep the Eagles out of the Super Bowl, but if the offensive line can't help the running game or protect Bradford, Philadelphia will miss out on the playoffs entirely. They've looked good in the preseason, but the regular season is a different animal, Peters will decline eventually, and the guards are untested. If the line falls apart, everything goes with it. But my gut feeling is that won't happen (even if I am biased).
Dave: It will be a success if they at least win a playoff game. I'm not going to get upset in September if you told me they lose in Lambeau or in Seattle in the playoffs, whether it be the second round or NFCCG. But lose to say, whoever wins the NFC South? Bleh.
The season will be a failure if they fail to make the playoffs. Just win baby.