Our voyage through the NFC East continues with a stop in the City of Brotherly Love, as the Philadelphia Eagles gear up for another Super Bowl run. 2018 was an odd bit of business for the Eagles, who after winning their first Super Bowl Championship, endured what can only be described as a hangover, needing a fierce rally over the final few weeks of the campaign just to return to the Playoffs. For the second straight season, their young Franchise Quarterback, Carson Wentz, is coming off a season-ending injury, though this time around, there is no Plan B at the position, as Philly allowed Super Bowl LII hero, Nick Foles, to leave in Free Agency. However, his exit coincides with a wealth of new faces on both sides of the football, as Doug Pederson’s charges appear to have reloaded on Defense, while surrounding Wentz with a number of brand-new weapons. So with their hangover behind them, what can we expect from the retooled Eagles in 2019? Read on to find out…
In Wentz we Trust?
Now, more than ever, Carson Wentz (69.6%, 3,704 YDS, 6.65 NY/A, 21 TD, 7 INT, 64.9 QBR) is the Franchise Quarterback for the Eagles. This is a big deal for a number of reasons for the Fourth-Year Signal-Caller, who has seen his team march into the Playoffs without him in each of the previous two seasons, famously lifting the club’s first Lombardi Trophy while he was sidelined with a torn ACL back in early 2018. However, Foles is gone, plying his trade for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Wentz is now playing on a new four-year extension worth a whopping $128 Million, $107.9 Million guaranteed. All things considered, it was a no-brainer to lock up the 26-Year Old, who prior to his ACL Injury in 2017 was perhaps the frontrunner for the league’s MVP Award, but the injury risk that this long-term investment represents cannot be understated. Last season, Philadelphia shut him down with a nagging back injury, partly because they didn’t want to risk him over the final quarter of the Regular Season, and more importantly, they were on the outside looking when it came to the Postseason. That context aside, this is a gamble that they needed to make; Foles potential is sky-high, and this team’s struggles early last season went well beyond his return from injury. Offensively, the Eagles ran the ball far less than they did in 2017, going from Third in the league in rushing (132.2 Y/G) to Twenty-Eighth (98.1 Y/G) in a year’s time. The Defense also struggled mightily to boot, ranking Twenty-Third in Total Yards Allowed (366.2 Y/G), particularly against the Pass, where they were statistically the third-worst unit in the NFL, conceding 269.3 Yards through the air. Much of Philadelphia’s success was attributed to the fact that they helped popularize the blueprint of surrounding a good, young Quarterback with premium veteran talent, but with so much of their Salary Cap attributed to Wentz, it will become all the more difficult to make sure that he is flush with playmakers on both sides of the football, particularly later down the road.
The Eagles: Reloaded (Part One)
In addition to extending the aforementioned Wentz, General Manager, Howie Roseman, went to work fixing what broke in the previous season, namely the Rushing Attack. With their Backfield decimated by injuries, Philadelphia was aggressive in adding talent, acquiring Jordan Howard (250 CAR, 935 YDS, 3.7 Y/C, 9 TD) from the Chicago Bears for a conditional 2020 Draft Pick (which could either a 5th or 6th Round Pick based on his performance). It was a small price to pay for the former Pro-Bowler, who fell out of favor in Chicago, and at least for now will essentially be a one-year rental for the Eagles this season. Howard averaged 71.7 Yards per Game over three seasons with the Bears, and given the similarities in offensive systems, his should make for a seamless transition to the Backfield. The Offensive Line was also addressed early in the Draft, with arguably the field’s best Pass-Protector, Andre Dillard the prize out of Washington State. With Jason Peters now 38-Years Old, it was imperative that Philly find a long-term answer on the blindside to keep Wentz upright. Granted, Dillard certainly needs to get stronger, but nonetheless shows rare balance and quick feet for the position. Of course, the Receiving Corps was bolstered too, with the return of former Eagle, DeSean Jackson (41 REC, 774 YDS, 18.9 Y/R, 4 TD) via trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even at the age of Thirty-Three, Jackson remains one of the most potent deep threats in the league, and should easily bring a vertical dimension to the passing attack that was sorely lacking last season. If 2018 was any indication, he should have plenty left in the tank after leading the league in Yards per Reception for the third time in five years.
The Eagles: Reloaded (Part Two)
Roseman didn’t just augment the offensive side of the football, for the aggressive General Manager did a good deal to reinforce the Defense as well. And it’s a good thing he did, for Philadelphia’s defensive collapse in 2018 was a huge reason that they’re bid to successfully defend their Super Bowl crown ended prematurely. As we stated earlier, the Eagles pretty poor defensively, thanks in large part to a Secondary that was absolutely decimated by injuries during the latter half of the campaign. Seriously, Doug Pederson was signing Defensive Backs off the streets at one point, with nine different Cornerbacks alone receiving a Start. A return to health should do the trick for a unit that despite defending the third-most passes in the league (39.1 A/G), managed to hold their own with a respectable Twenty-Two Passing Touchdowns allowed (8th Overall) and 6.4 Net Yards per Attempt permitted (6.4). Starters Jalen Mills (8 GS, 42 TKL, 1 TFL, 0 INT, 9 PD) and Ronald Darby (9 GS, 43 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 12 PD) each saw their season come crashing to an end, though both should be ready by the time things kick off in just over a month. Of course, a great way to help your Secondary out is by getting to the Quarterback, and by all means, the Eagles should be doing plenty of that in 2019. Led by All-Pro Defensive Tackle, Fletcher Cox (46 TKL, 12 TFL, 34 QBH, 10.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PD), the Defense accumulated Forty-Four Sacks last season, along with Eighty-Six Tackles for Loss, and 123 Quarterback Hits. The Line should benefit from the continued improvement of Third-Year Defensive End, Derek Barnett (16 TKL, 5 TFL, 11 QBH, 2.5 SK), who limited to just Six Games, and the addition of former Pro-Bowl Tackle, Malik Jackson (32 TKL, 7 TFL, 12 QBH, 3.5 SK, 1 PD), who was acquired via Free Agency from the Jaguars. If the Secondary returns to health and the Defensive Line gets back to battering Quarterbacks, the Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz will once again be able to employ the aggressive Blitz Packages that were so successful during their run to Super Bowl glory two years ago.
2019 Forecast: 10-6
Call it a Super Bowl Hangover or Banquet Circuit, but no matter how you slice it, the Eagles appeared to be a little to full of themselves in 2018. Then again, could you really blame them after winning the first Super Bowl Championship in Franchise History? With the need to congratulate themselves out of their system, we’re expecting Philadelphia to return hungry in 2019, particularly after reloading on both sides of the football, coupled with the healthy return of Carson Wentz. Despite proving they can indeed win without him, this is simply a different team when their young, Franchise Quarterback is healthy and making plays from the Pocket. With an augmented Supporting Cast, and the security of having the job all to himself, look for this kid to return to the form that branded him the frontrunner for MVP two years ago. If he manages to return to that level, and the Defense (particularly the Secondary) can avoid serious injury, then there is no reason to believe that the Eagles won’t be in contention to come out of the NFC and reach Super Bowl LIV come February.