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In promotion of this year's edition, Football Outsiders' Sterling Xie was kind enough to answer some questions for Bleeding Green Nation about the Philadelphia Eagles. Read on for the question and answer exchange.
1) No one really knows what to expect out of Doug Pederson as a head coach. Based on his experience as Kansas City's offensive coordinator, what's your best guess? What should we expect the Eagles' offense to look like?
"It seems pretty clear what Jeffrey Lurie's objective was this offseason: restore the year-to-year consistency of the Andy Reid era as much as possible. I don't think Philadelphia regrets moving on from Reid -- by the end of the 2012 season, it felt like a change was necessary for both sides. But in restoring Reid's old personnel guy (Howie Roseman) and hiring Pederson, who coached under Reid in both Philly and Kansas City, the Eagles seem to want their new organizational philosophy to closely resemble the one they once had.
As for Pederson's system, it might be a bit of a mystery until Carson Wentz actually inherits the quarterback job full-time. Sam Bradford isn't really that much like Alex Smith. Bradford has more arm talent and is better at processing defenses quickly, but Smith is more mobile, durable, and accurate, and he takes better care of the ball. With both Bradford and Wentz, I suspect Pederson will be more inclined to push the ball downfield than he was with Smith, particularly down the seams to Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz. Still, about the only thing that seems clear is that the Eagles will have more time of possession than they've had the past three seasons."
2) The Eagles' defense ranked as high as No. 2 overall in DVOA last season before collapsing down the stretch. Do you think a top 10 finish is possible this season now that Jim Schwartz is defensive coordinator? Top five, even?
"A lot of people are excited about what Schwartz's defense means for Philly, particularly in regards to the front seven. Schwartz's aggressive one-gapping scheme produced lots of results when he was Buffalo's defensive coordinator in 2014. On paper, players like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Vinny Curry fit much better in this scheme than they did in Billy Davis' traditional 3-4 system, which involved more two-gapping than you'll see from most defenses. Given that the front seven is arguably the best part of the Eagles' roster, it's encouraging that Schwartz's system caters to Philly's strength.
However, it might be premature to expect strong results in 2015. For one, Schwartz's defenses haven't fared that well, at least by DVOA. The Bills ranked second in defensive DVOA in 2014, but Schwartz's Lions ranked in the top 10 just once in five seasons. If Philly is going to produce a top-10 defense, the secondary will need to hold up its end of the bargain, particularly the cornerbacks. That was always Detroit's weakness under Schwartz, but it wasn't as pressing a problem in Buffalo. Can Darius Slay be his Stephon Gilmore? Can Leodis McKelvin be his, well, Leodis McKelvin?"
3) Just how good/bad was Sam Bradford last season? Were the Eagles right to try to replace him this offseason or did he deserve one last shot to prove he can be a franchise quarterback?
"While the Eagles' offseason quarterback plan looks impulsive and expensive in hindsight, part of me admires Roseman for going all-in at the game's most important position. Too many teams would have given Bradford the placeholder extension the Eagles handed out this offseason and stopped there. Maybe Wentz busts, and if so, there will be another new regime in short order to undo the mistakes of the current one. Still, I much prefer the idea of going down with a premium prospect you believe in rather than floundering in mediocrity at the hands of a caretaker quarterback.
At this point, there's little reason to believe Bradford is anything more than just that. No, playing in a different system every year (this will be his fifth in seven seasons) hasn't helped his development. Neither have the injuries. Still, Bradford has never really overcome a lot of the limitations he had when he came out of college, nor has he demonstrated the ability to raise his supporting cast. If the NFL league calendar wasn't so flawed -- none of the other major leagues plop their draft in the middle of the offseason and force decisions on veteran free agents to come first -- Bradford probably wouldn't even be in Philly this season."
4) Do you think there's a benefit to the Eagles sitting Carson Wentz as a rookie? Or do you think it's necessary for him to play at some point in 2016? And how do you feel about his long-term potential?
"History hasn't really suggested that sitting or playing a highly drafted rookie quarterback makes a big difference in the long run. Plenty of rookies on bad teams get their teeth kicked in. Some end up like David Carr and Tim Couch, others turn into Peyton Manning or Troy Aikman.
With that in mind, I'm in the camp that believes you should play the rookie right away. It makes the most financial sense. Think of the huge advantage the Seahawks and Colts have had in roster construction recently with Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck playing on highly undervalued rookie deals. In a league with no real middle class of quarterback contracts, a good quarterback on a rookie deal is by far the biggest bargain in the game. The window for winning with that deal is limited, though -- Seattle and Indy are obviously happy to have Wilson and Luck, but from now on, they'll need to work around the massive quarterback contract on their books.
Even in the mediocre NFC East, we know the Eagles aren't likely to make the postseason with Bradford at the helm in 2016. Maybe Wentz doesn't deliver them a 2016 division title either, but it's not as though the supporting cast is completely barren. He's certainly not entering an expansion franchise like Carr or Couch. Wasting a year of a potentially excellent contract at the game's most important position just doesn't make much business sense."
5) Most seem to figure the Eagles can compete in a weak NFC East. Is the division as weak as it's thought to be? Do the Eagles really have a chance? What's the ceiling and floor for Philadelphia this season?
"Our projections certainly aren't high on the NFC East. The Cowboys are the projected winners, but Dallas ranks just 11th in our DVOA forecast. Only the AFC South has a worse projected division winner.
So yes, the window is open for all four teams. After all, who would have picked Washington to win the division last season? Personally, I wouldn't pick the Eagles because 2016 shapes up as a weird purgatory year. They're still undoing all of Chip Kelly's personnel decisions, they're starting a quarterback who knows he's probably leaving after the season, and both sides of the ball are installing new schemes which are essentially the polar opposites of what they ran last season. That's a lot of uncertainty and change. However, given the shaky long-term outlooks of the other three teams, the Eagles can land the biggest win if they maximize Wentz's development and put him on the fast track to becoming a franchise quarterback. That's ultimately more important than squeaking into the postseason via a 9-7 record."