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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The State of Philadelphia Sports: Eagles

Jeff Lurie will probably be making his “State of the Eagles” address at the NovaCare Complex any day now. I thought I’d steal the basic concept, and offer a “State of Philadelphia Sports” post as I dip my toe back into sports blogging to test the waters.

The Eagles are generally the main topic for sports fans in Philly, so I’ll kick things off with the Birds.

At the risk of thwarting my efforts before I start, I have a confession. Shh. Don’t tell anybody, but I’m not an Eagles fan. I survived for 40 years as a fan of the team despite growing up with a dad and two of three brothers being Cowboys fans. My other brother was a quasi Rams fan, and mom just wanted peace. It was a gradual process, but Andy Reid’s tenure did me in, especially when he wasn’t fired after the “Dream Team” debacle. I realized that Lurie was the real problem, and that he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I turned 40 after that season, and I figured every fan should get one chance to hit the reset button. The Steelers were the only team to quiet my Cowboy lovin’ family members, they’d just lost the “Tebow game” so I couldn’t be called a frontrunner, and they were in my home state. So I adopted the Steelers as my team, and haven’t looked back. But I live in the Philadelphia area, and have little choice but to follow the Eagles as a sports fan.

In fact, leaving the nest is why I gave up sports blogging. But if I’m going to attempt local sports blogging again, obviously, the Birds will have to be a topic. I’ll promise readers this much—I won’t be a hater. I’ll give my honest opinion on your beloved Eagles.

I just don’t think the Eagles will ever win a Super Bowl under Lurie. He waffles between wanting to grab headlines and trying to come off as the steady hand guiding a champion. He just has no idea how to do it. Watching him put his guy, Howie Roseman, in the back room to appease Chip Kelly, only to give him back his job a year later after firing the head coach, only solidified my opinion.

I don’t love the hiring of Doug Pedersen. It seems like an obvious attempt by Lurie to right a wrong with Kelly, and dive back into what he deemed the successful Reid era. But Pedersen has so little history as a coach, I think he has to be given a chance.

I thought the Eagles should have given Nick Foles more of a chance. I think Sam Bradford deserves more of an opportunity than he’s being given too. Last year Bradford was coming off back-to-back major knee surgeries, missing a season-and-a-half, and seemed to perform well in the second half of last season. I went through his statistics for the final 8 games that the Eagles played. By my calculations—admittedly an iffy resource—his 68.2% of completions puts him 2nd among quarterbacks for the season behind Drew Brees. His other numbers prorated for 16 games don’t look good in terms of ranking—21st in passing yards, 23rd in TDs (18)—but he missed two games. His 10 touchdowns in the final 8 games of the season seem pretty good, especially since he only played 6 of them. But the 4 interceptions and the injury factor balance that out a bit.

Bradford’s biggest problem should be that no one on the Eagles offensive roster should scare opposing defenses. Jordan Matthews might get defensive coordinators’ attention, but I don’t think he’ll be double-teamed. Zach Ertz? An aging Brent Celek or Darren Sproles? I doubt it. Matthews (997) and Ertz (853, missing one game) were the only two players to approach 1,000 yards receiving even in Kelly’s system, which bloated offensive stats. Granted, that hurts the Bradford case, and they did seem to spread the ball around.

Kelly’s absence makes the defense better by default. Even Andy Reid’s protégé Pederson has to understand that time of possession actually means something in the NFL, especially for your defense, right? But, again, who scares opposing coordinators? Certainly, Fletcher Cox and his 9.5 sacks last season. Connor Barwin with his 7.5 sacks probably does too. Mychal Kendricks likely jumps off the page, and maybe Jordan Hicks and a seemingly revitalized Brandon Graham get attention.

The Eagles were aggressive moving up to get Carson Wentz in the draft, which seems to signal that they think they’re in rebuilding mode—despite the fact that no one uses the “R” word in sports anymore. I think they should have enhanced that process by getting Bradford some better weapons with their first round pick. If they weren’t comfortable with Bradford’s injury history, they should have cut bait and handed the reigns to Wentz. Instead, they created a difficult situation for an inexperienced first year head coach.

Predicting an NFL season is impossible, but their division isn’t great and the rest of the schedule isn’t brutal. The Steelers, Ravens, Packers, Bengals, and Seahawks will be tough. The Browns and probably Falcons at home should be wins. I’m not sure about Chicago and Detroit at home, or Minnesota on the road. I think an 8-8 record would be a stretch.

Overall, I think the Eagles should be rebuilding by grooming Wentz—they made the pick, go with him—and looking for offensive weapons to put around him with Matthews. The offensive line looks good, but that doesn’t help three years from now when it matters. The defense also needs help in the secondary. 

Read Part II here.
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