The OTA's, mini camps, training camp, and the preseason are finally over and the Eagles are ready to kick off the real season Sunday in Carolina. And after following the Eagles throughout all of the offseason camps and games, I still have no clue what to expect when this team takes the field on Sunday. I have never been this clueless as to how the Eagles will perform on the field this season.
On offense, there was finally some turnover on the offensive line this offseason. With Tra Thomas and John Runyan off the team, at least for now in Runyan's case, the Eagles wasted no time taking care of the offensive line by signing Stacy Andrews, and trading for Jason Peters, both solid offensive tackles. It also appeared like they would be getting all-pro Shawn Andrews back, and so the offensive line looked good. Only problem is Jason Peters was one of the worst players in the preseason, Stacy Andrews couldn't make it more than a few series at a time without coming out of the game, Todd Herremans got injured, and Shawn Andrews seems more interested in making stupid videos on youtube than playing football. Honestly at this point it seems like to me that Shawn Andrews is more interested in stealing money from the Eagles than playing. I understand that back injuries are serious, and can start to flare up at any time and take a while to heal, but Andrews is a guy you just can't take seriously at all. The Eagles will open up with Herremans and Shawn Andrews not playing, and question marks as to how Stacy Andrews and Peters will perform.
At the running back position, the Eagles are solid, but Brian Westbrook has yet to play a preseason game, and as recently as yesterday was not able to practice. Not practicing is most likely a precaution for Westbrook at this point, but Westbrook has still never played all 16 games in a season, and is only getting older and more injury prone as his career goes on. The Eagles obviously need a healthy Westbrook to have success this season.
The questions continue on the defensive side of the football. The Eagles last season were the #1 overall defense in the NFC. I believe that to be a good team, the Eagles have to have a great defense. Not even just a good defense; this defense needs to be in the top 10 in the NFL for the Eagles to be successful. At the end of last season, you had Brian Dawkins at free safety, Stewart Bradley at middle linebacker, and Jim Johnson at defensive coordinator. You can't get much better than that at those 3 areas. Now you have Macho Harris at free safety, Omar Gaither at middle linebacker, and Sean McDermott at defensive coordinator. Harris may turn out to be a beast, but has never played an NFL game, and is replacing one of the best players in Eagles history. That is a downgrade right now. Omar Gaither actually was the Eagles starting middle linebacker, and then was replaced by Bradley because Bradley was better. Gaither moved to the outside, and lost his job there as well. Bradley to Gaither is also a downgrade. Jim Johnson as we know unfortunately passed away this offseason, and I believe that Sean McDermott was the correct replacement, and will become one of the best defensive coordinators in the game, just like Johnson. But right now, this will be McDermott's first game as a defensive coordinator, and until he gets some experience, that is a downgrade at that spot as well. Free safety and middle linebacker are the 2 most important positions on the field for making sure everyone knows their assignments, and they are natural leadership positions.
The Eagles have a lot of skill on their team, just a lot of questions as well. It's not as if I expect bad things out of the guys like Jason Peters, Stacy Andrews, and Macho Harris when they are on the field, I am just saying that we have not seen a lot of these guys play in a meaningful game yet, and do not know how they will perform once the games matter.
It's not enough for the Eagles just to be good. We have been good recently, and that is nothing new for us. 10-6 and a first round playoff loss is not good enough for this team, especially when Joe Banner says before the season that the Eagles have the best roster in the NFL. If he believes this, and the Eagles do not get to the Super Bowl, it sounds like it is on Andy Reid's hands for not being able to get the best roster in the NFL to the Super Bowl.
Donovan McNabb has to be very good for the Eagles to be successful. Westbrook, McCoy, and Weaver have to be very good in the backfield. The Eagles really need DeSean Jackson to continue to progress and become the #1 receiver on this team, and a legit pro-bowl caliber player. On defense, the Eagles will need to continue to get solid play from Trent Cole, Broderick Bunkley, Mike Patterson, Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown, and Quntin Mikell. The NFC is wide open this year, and the Eagles are capable of getting to the Super Bowl.
As far as Week 1 goes, the Eagles travel to Carolina to play the Panthers. The Panthers were 8-0 at home last year in the regular season until they lost at home in the playoffs. Winston Justice will be making his 2nd career start at right tackle in place of the injured Shawn Andrews. Hopefully his 2nd start works out a little bit better than his first. It won't be easy though as Carolina likes to move Julius Peppers around the line and line him up at both defensive end positions to get the best matchups. The Panthers also feature one of the best offensive lines in football, and the best rushing attacks. The Panthers offensive line features Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah, 2 of the best tackles in the game. They run block well and they pass block well. The Panthers will run the ball with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart who looks like he will be playing in this game after not practicing recently. The Panthers like to run, and then set up the play action pass with the run. Just when you bring 8 in the box to stop the run, the Panthers will go play action, and have one of the best receivers in the league in Steve Smith to pick apart the secondary.
This should be one of the better games of the opening weekend slate of games, and when looking at the Eagles schedule, this is an extremely important game to win. When you are looking at an Eagles team that could finish anywhere from 7-9 to 12-4, you have to win this game against another good NFC team, and get off to a solid 1-0 start.