We were supposed to have a kickball game last night. But the other team didn’t show up, so we kind of played a scrimmage. It was quite annoying as my team only plays five games, since like in every season, my team is chosen to ref twice instead of just once like most of the others.
I’ve noticed that kickball nights are kind of like the movie Groundhog Day. Sure, you can change things up a little, like going to one bar instead of another, but in the end, its basically the same night repeated over and over.
The NFL had its season opener last night as the Giants beat the Redskins. While I’m not happy to see the Giants win, its always fun to have the Skins lose, and get to listen to people talk about it on the radio. Besides, I had the Giants in a Survivor pool, so I’ve already advanced!
And now, I bring you my season preview of the Philadelphia Eagles!
1. McNabb is healthy – The Eagles miscalculated by counting on McNabb at the beginning of last season. He was coming off of an injury suffered in November 2006, and did not have a full year to recover. For much of the season he was clearly not at 100% He had limited mobility, and because of that, his entire game seemed to suffer. In hindsight, they probably should have kept backup Jeff Garcia, whose play sparked the run in 2006.
Regardless, McNabb is now a season removed from his knee surgery, and that is the usual benchmark for players regaining their form. He looked good at the end of last season, and looked good in preseason. So there are reasons to believe he may be back to his Pro Bowl level. Is he ever going to be able to run the way he did in the early part of the decade? Probably not. But he also may be a better passer than he was in those days. Of course, considering how many injuries he’s suffered in the past few seasons, people may be holding their breath every time he takes a hit.
2. Special teams should be improved – In last year’s preseason, the Eagles used former Olympic skiier Jeremy Bloom almost exclusively as their kick returner. They ultimately decided that he couldn’t do the job and cut him immediately before the season. In week one, they used two players (Greg Lewis and JR Reed) without any punt return experience. Both players fumbled punts, essentially costing the Eagles the game. In response, they brought in Reno Mahe, who was very good at fair catching the ball, but couldn’t actually return it very well. Therefore, they very rarely had good field position to start drives.
This season, they drafted WR/PR DeSean Jackson and S/KR Quintin Demps to return kicks. And in their preseason game against New England, both returned kicks for touchdowns. While it might not be reasonable to expect many touchdowns, they at least should be able to break off long runs every so often. They’re also hoping kicker David Akers can regain his long distance accuracy. He was once among the best kickers in the league, but couldn’t seem to make a kick over 40 yards last year. Based on his track record, there’s reason to believe that last year was more of a fluke than anything.
3. Defensive turnovers – The Eagles defense was good in 2007, but far from great. While they were generally pretty good at keeping the opposition off the board, they often gave up chunks of yards before getting off the field, and rarely got turnovers.
Some people argue that turnovers are more due to luck than skill, and the number of turnovers a team gets tends to even out over a few seasons. While that may be partially true, the Eagles took steps towards actively improving their turnover numbers. They added premier cornerback Asante Samuel which gives them probably the best cornerback unit in the league. That should allow the Eagles to be more aggressive on blitzes, which should result in more hurried pass attempts, which should result in more interceptions.
Another reason for optimism is that the Eagles used a lot of young defensive players last year, especially at linebacker. With another year experience, its reasonable to expect them to increase the amount of turnovers they collect.
4. Better red zone efficiency – Because they were usually working with a long field, the Eagles had to work hard for all of their points. They would often drive 80 yards downfield, only to have a drive stall in the red zone. A big reason for that red zone ineffeciency was the absence of tight end LJ Smith. Smith had offseason sports hernia surgery, and was either out, or playing injured for much of the year. Because of this, McNabb was missing a key red zone target. Smith should be back completely healthy this season, and combined with an increased role for tall WR Hank Baskett and rookie WR DeSean Jackson, the Eagles should be able to fare better in the red zone.
5. Adding Dan Klecko/Releasing Takeo Spikes – Spikes has had a long, good NFL career as a linebacker. However, every team he has ever been on has been either disappointing, or flat out bad. He didn’t play poorly last year, but he wasn’t a standout either. His trademark seemed to be dropping potential interceptions. On the other hand, Dan Klecko has been on three Super Bowl champions. He looks to add some quality depth to the defensive line.
6. Reid is focused – Last year, Andy Reid was distracted through most of the offseason, as well as parts of the season because his two sons were getting arrested for drug possession and other offenses. While those distractions might not have contributed to any losses directly, there’s no denying that the coach will be better off without them.
Despite my optimistic outlook, I do recognize that there are some reasons for concern this season. Here are a few trouble spots that could keep the team out of the playoffs again:
1. Age on the offensive line – Offensive tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan have been around for a long time. And football is generally not a sport for old men. It’s very possible that either of them may begin to show signs of decline, or they may have to miss some time, and their backups are largely unproven. This could quickly turn the offensive line from a strength to a weakness.
2. Lito Sheppard’s unhappiness – While it was nice to add a star cornerback in Asante Samuel, former starter Lito Sheppard is now a reserve, and is unhappy about it. He’s a good player when healthy, the problem is, he’s been getting hurt way too much. Discontent can spread quickly and hurt a team’s chemistry when they face adversity. It’s something to watch out for.
3. The wide receivers – With Kevin Curtis out for a few weeks with a sports hernia, an already underwhelming group looks even less impressive. They’re counting on rookie DeSean Jackson to become a big time player almost immediately. Based on preseason, he just may be able to do it. The concern about this group may be a bit overdone. The Eagles won a lot of games with the likes of Charles Johnson, James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, and Freddie Mitchell at wide receiver. And those teams didn’t have Brian Westbrook as the primary offensive weapon.
4. Questionable pass rush – The Eagles have a premier pass rushing end in Trent Cole, and then a lot of question marks. While young tackles Mike Patterson and Broderick Bunkley have been good against the run, they haven’t done a great job of getting pressure up the middle. They have some decent rotation players in Darren Howard and Juqua Parker, but those guys aren’t going to draw too much attention. They hope that defensive end Chris Clemons, signed from Oakland in the offseason can provide some pressure, but he was hurt for most of the preseason. If the Eagles don’t get pressure on the QB, even the best secondary will eventually be exposed.
Will the Eagles live up to expectations? We’ll find out on Sunday. They typically haven’t done well in week one under Andy Reid, but in the few occassions where they have, the result is memorable. Really, the Rams at home is a game they need to win.
And finally, since this is Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb’s tenth year, I give you the Top Five Games of the Reid/McNabb Era
5. Eagles 21, Buccaneers 3 – Wild Card Playoffs (12/31/2000) – This was the first playoff game for Reid and McNabb, and they crushed the Bucs, who many people saw as a title contender before the season.
4. Eagles 31, Giants 17 (9/12/2004) – This was the debut of Terrell Owens. While that era might not have ended well, it certainly started off well, as Owens caught three TDs, and the Eagles set the tone for the season by destroying the rival Giants.
3. Eagles 47, Packers 17 (12/6/2004) – This is probably the best I have ever seen an Eagles team play, and might have been their best performance ever. McNabb set a record for consecutive completions in this game, and I believe the Packers are still trying to tackle Brian Westbrook.
2. Eagles 41, Cowboys 14 (9/3/2000) – This was the game that unofficially started the Eagles run of playoff seasons. Playing against the aging, but still thought to be dangerous Cowboys, the Eagles fought dehydration by drinking pickle juice, and Duce Staley ran for 201 yards to send a message that they had arrived.
1. Eagles 27, Falcons 10 (1/24/2005) – While not the greatest performance by the team, it was the most important, as after three straight losses in the NFC Championship game, they finally were victorious. Afterwards, I likened Chad Lewis to Moses, as he had been with the team since the dark 3-13 1998 season, and then caught the TD pass to clinch the game, only to injure himself. Sadly, the Super Bowl did not go as well, but this was still a great moment.