Team: Philadelphia Eagles
Record: 9 – 6 - 1 Home: 6 - 2 Away 3 – 4 - 1 Division: 2 – 4
Coaching Staff – B+
This has not been Andy Reid's best coaching effort, yet it is consistent with his seasons since their 2004 Super Bowl appearance. His detractors use these mediocre past four seasons as proof that the game has passed him by. His supporters contend that his record is good enough to continue with the club. It is difficult to justify firing a coach who gets his team to the playoffs. (But not impossible. The Browns might have wanted to fire Romeo Crennel last year, but making the playoffs rendered it inappropriate.) Reid's handling of all football operations needs to be re-evaluated. It is an awesome job to handle the team on the field as well as the pro and scouting operations. Recent questionable drafts, failure to enter the 2007 season with the return game buttoned up, and starting the 2008 season without a legitimate fullback, gives one pause regarding his ability to function at a high level.
Philadelphia has been getting a lot of credit for promoting coaches to responsible positions with other organizations. It is important to remember that most of those have been from the defensive coaching staff, not Andy's strong suit and something that Jim Johnson does very well.
Defense has carried this team and Jim Johnson's contribution to that side of the ball is legendary. At age 67, maybe time has passed Jim Johnson in regard to a potential head coaching position, but all I can say is that there are a bunch of head coaches, coordinators and would be head coaches that learned the game from this defensive guru.
Remember the name Mark Whipple Eagles fans. In his first year with the club, the former Steelers quarterback coach is in my opinion one of the rising stars in professional football.
Offensive Line – C
The offensive line is fortunate to have had veteran tackles Tra Thomas (11 seasons) and Jon Runyan (13 seasons) play so well, so long into the season. They are the mainstays; Thomas, on the left side as the pass protector and Runyon, on the right, is a running play roadgrader. The line took a terrific hit when it lost Shawn Andrews at right guard at the beginning of the season. Max Jean-Gilles, who replaced Andrews, went on IR with a late season injury. Jean-Gilles's replacement, Nick Cole has played better than Jean-Gilles and has given notice he will compete for a starting spot next season. Todd Herremans at left guard has had a fine year and might even be a consideration to play left tackle should Tra Thomas not return next year. Center Jamaal Jackson has had to compensate for not playing along side Andrews, and has, at times, labored.
Other than the right guard, the line has stayed together all year. It is a line that is set up to pass protect, but seems to perform extremely well when the running game is consistently called upon, which is not usually part of the game plan. Their contribution to the short yardage failure has much to do with management's lack of commitment to the run game, witness the aforementioned tight end and fullback delinquencies. The backups are untested save for Winston Justice and Chris Patrick have shown little in their brief professional playing careers.
The Shawn Andrews situation bears watching. The Eagles are not saying much, but there is a chance that we have seen the last of the pro bowl guard.
Wide Receivers / Tight End – B- / C-
All six wide receivers, Kevin Curtis (33), Reggie Brown (18), Jason Avant (32), DeSean Jackson (62), Hank Baskett (33), and Greg Lewis, get chances, often because of particular skills, or, as in the case of Curtis and Brown, injuries caused time to be missed. Because the Eagles "spread it around," they don't seem to have a go-to wideout. It was felt that Jackson, originally drafted as a return specialist, might be the guy. He has tailed off in the late-season, probably because of his lack of requisite size for the load they were asking him to assume, or the long season has taken its toll.
Tight end LJ Smith, their franchise player, has disappointed. As a blocker, he is naught and is often MIA, usually attributed to injuries of some sort. Although athletic, he drops too many balls; yet he can get deep when his game is on. He has not enhanced his free agency marketability this season, something he needed to do. Brent Celek, in his second year, has had some good moments, but his blocking needs refinement. Matt Schobel is a veteran backup who has often been a game day inactive.
Running Backs – A-
Going into the season without a legitimate fullback was also a blot on Coach Reid's record. The team's saving grace in the running game is Brian Westbrook, one of the best running backs the franchise has ever had. Most people are aware of his crafty running, some are mindful of his receiving ability, but fewer still know of his blocking skills, especially on blitz pick up. He is the complete NFL back. Correll Buckhalter is a competent replacement, who sometimes works with Westbrook in multi-back sets. Lorenzo Booker, a pickup from Miami in a trade for a draft pick, has been a major disappointment, and virtually a non-factor.
Dan Klecko, a former defensive lineman, is the fullback of choice in an off-again, on-again experiment that began in the preseason. Kyle Eckel, a late season addition off the street has provided some support. Save for Westbrook, the grade would be a C for the backs. With Westbrook, even fighting through injuries, and in spite of a lack of commitment to it, the grade is an A-. Westbrook is THAT good.
Quarterback – B-
Donovan McNabb, opined at a recent press conference, that he has had a great year, or words to that effect. In truth, he has not. His being yanked at halftime of the Baltimore game was a message that he was on a short leash. Since then, save for a dreadful performance against the Redskins in a significantly important game, he has performed well, but not exceptional. I'll say this about Donovan, I've never seen him better or focused then he was as he was in the Eagles 44 to 6 trouncing of the Dallas Cowboys.
Defensive Line – A
The defensive line, for the most part, is small, but quick. Teams that pound the ball consistently sometimes have success moving them off the line-of-scrimmage, but this team is geared to stop the pass, which they do well. There is depth at both tackle and end. The inside guys, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, and Trevor Laws, the team's first picks in ‘05, 06, and ‘08 respectively, have justified the confidence placed in them as they rotate effectively throughout the game. Darren Howard has elevated his play this season and is having an impact, swinging between tackle and end. Juqua Parker, Trent Cole, Chris Clemons, and Victor Abiamiri (nicked throughout the season), perform their roles admirably in Johnson's complex defensive schemes. Clemons, after a slow start, due to injury, has become a force in the late season surge.
Linebackers – A-
Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley, and Akeem Jordan are young, quick, and fast. Coach Johnson will make changes as necessary. Jordan replaced Omar Gaither about midseason as the starter when Gaither's play was determined to be spotty. This line of defense has stayed healthy as they enter the playoffs, so its depth has not really been tested. Not a bad group when one considers its' youth and relative inexperience.
Secondary – B+
The secondary, going into the season, figured to be one of the deepest in the league, especially at corner with Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel being supported by one-time-starter Lito Sheppard in the nickel. Sheppard, it was figured, would want to perform well to enhance the possibility that some team might offer a trade for him. The performance did not happen, and Johnson has elevated Joselio Hanson into the nickel slot. Sheppard needs solid play in the playoffs -- if he gets chances. Quintin Mikell as quietly established himself as a solid strong safety, and is, arguably, one of their better defensive players. Brian Dawkins continues to play big when the game is on the line. Rookie Quintin Demps, backing up Dawkins, has shown well when called upon although is not highly combative . Sean Considine is in my opinion ordinary. The Lito Sheppard situation keeps me from grading this unit an A
Special Teams – B
David Akers kickoffs (hang time and depth) leave something to be desired, while the teams kick coverage was good. I liked Quentin Demps a great deal as a kick return man. Early in the season I thought Sav Rocca was pretty special, but I now question his overall consistency Punt coverage was again good but far from exceptional. On returns DeSean Jackson at times looked shaky tracking and securing the football. I also felt he showed too much lateral action that loses yardage and subjects team to blocking penalties. Needs to be coached to see it and go, your playing the Giants and Colts and not San Jose State and Idaho. David Akers is not longer a long range threat, but is a consistent, accurate short to medium range kicker. I'm a little concerned with the three blocked attempts and, two returned for touchdowns. Long snapper Jon Dorenbos looked very solid (good accuracy, good times).
Injury Factor – Shawn Andrews has not played all season and his replacement Max Jean-Gilles was placed on IR late in the season.
Team Offensive MVP – Since no one offense player has consistently dominated, Donovan is the likely team MVP based primarily on his play down the stretch (winning four of his last five starts). I have never seen him better or focused then he was as he was in the Eagles 44 to 6 trouncing of the Dallas Cowboys.
Team Defensive MVP – Brodrick Bunkley
Top Rookie – DeSean Jackson
Top Free Agent – Asante Samuel
Team Strength – Defensive front, secondary, offensive tackles
Team Weakness – Interior offensive line, fullback
Final Word – This team's 2008 team has been described as both dysfunctional and wondrous. That they even made the playoffs is incredible, except when one assess teams that are "in" and those that have not. It has been "that" type of year. In the end, If the Eagles come with their A game, the have a chance of beating almost any club in the league, but they just better hope that the Giants don't come with theirs.