With the devastating Sixers loss still fresh on our minds, let’s turn our attention to something more positive, shall we? Like the fact that the Eagles have a Super Bowl-caliber roster heading into 2019.
On the offensive side of the ball, Howie Roseman has filled every hole this offseason. He was able to add two running backs to their subpar rotation with Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders, he solidified the offensive line by drafting Andre Dillard in the first-round and bringing Steffen Wisniewski back for depth, and he added someone who can stretch the field with DeSean Jackson.
I’ve written on this before, but there really is no excuse that this offense can’t be top-3 in the league. Carson Wentz is the x-factor, if he comes out and plays up to his potential, this team will be putting up 35 points per game.
The defensive side of the ball isn’t as sound as the offense is, but there’s no reason Jim Schwartz’s unit can’t be a top tier group this year.
The Birds’ Achilles heal on defense last season was their inability to force takeaways. They were much better at it in the ladder half of the year, recording 10 turnovers over the last six games of the season.
They’ll need to sustain that type of production all season in 2019, there’s no question about that. Forcing turnovers was a huge factor during their Super Bowl season in 2017. Their turnover differential that season was +11, good for fourth in the league. Last year, it was -6, good for 25th. That’s a night and day difference, and it was evident throughout the 2018 season.
Although Howie didn’t add any notable pieces to the defensive back group, the return of Rodney McCleod and Ronald Darby should help, as well as the development of their young corners; Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox and Sidney Jones. Not to mention Cre’Von Leblanc, who I believe secured his spot at the nickel position with his stellar play during the second half of last year and in the postseason.
But typically, especially in today’s NFL, a team’s pass coverage is dependent on their ability to get to the passer. The Eagles have one of the best front-sevens in football, and although they traded away their best edge rusher from last season in Michael Bennett, Howie was able to mitigate that loss a bit with the Vinny Curry and Malik Jackson signings.
Chris Long coming back would help the pass rushing rotation, but it’s not like he’s bringing 8-10 sacks with him. He’s a nice piece to have, but it won’t make or break the defense if he opts for retirement.
Although, I still believe it would be Howie’s best interest to go out and bring in another pass rusher if Long does hang up the cleats. Curry is a solid end, but he’s really there to play on first and second down, he’ll rarely be in during passing situations. A couple guys to keep an eye on in the free agency pool are Andre Branch and Kony Ealy.
Branch didn’t have a great season last year, but in a reduced role as a situational pass rusher, he certainly can have an impact on this team. As for Ealy, he’s bounced around the league ever since he had his breakout campaign with the Carolina Panthers during their Super Bowl appearance. He has tremendous upside, and inserting him into a situational role could rejuvenate his once promising career.
Brandon Graham should have a better season this year since he’s coming in fully healthy. He missed the first four weeks of last season and it took him a few games to get going. At his best, he’s one of the top all-around ends in the league. With a full offseason and training camp he should have a bounce back year in 2019.
And we can’t forget about Derek Barnett, who many believed was poised to have a break out season a year ago until he suffered a season ending injury after only six games. In my estimation, Barnett has the best pure pass rushing ability of the entire group. If he remains healthy for the entire year in 2019, I expect anywhere from 8-10 sacks out of him.
To me, there’s three elements that go into every championship team; a franchise QB, a great coach and a great offensive and defensive line. Wentz is a franchise QB, he just needs to stay healthy. His health is really the only thing holding him back. Doug Pederson has proved his worth as a coach, if you need me to tell you why then I’m not sure why you’re even reading this article. And they’re pretty much set on both sides of the line, barring any major injuries.
The pieces are there, the Birds just need to make it happen. If Doug Pederson truly meant “this is the new norm” when he was standing on the Art Museum steps after the Super Bowl parade, then he and the rest of the team need to back it up with another deep playoff run this year.