10 Reasons To Be Optimistic About 2011 Eagles: A Season Preview

10 Reasons To Be Optimistic About 2011 Eagles: A Season Preview

Any goodwill from an action-packed offseason is gone. Everywhere you turn, somebody is assailing the offensive line, the linebackers, the coaching staff, the front office, the quarterback. Excitement still lurks beneath the skepticism, but a lot of outward enthusiasm washed away after one dismal preseason performance against the reigning AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Now many observers are anticipating the Birds will stumble out of the gate.

It's funny how quickly attitudes can change, and the triviality of some of the events that cause these shifts in perception. Rather than attempt to convince fans everything will be okay, and sweep some legitimate concerns under the rug, we wanted to take a different approach this year. With only a few days left until kickoff, why should you get excited for this season? Why should you believe in this team?

I usually hate this kind of list, so it's not ordered... other than to spread the interesting parts throughout the post.

Kurt Coleman
2009 was not a banner year at free safety for the Eagles. The defense failed to replace Brian Dawkins' production or leadership or ability or competence through Quintin Demps or Sean Jones. That void in their secondary prompted the front office to draft three safeties in the last two years, using two second round picks and a seventh rounder.

Who would have thought last year's seven might be the most promising of them all?

While Nate Allen continues his recovery, and Jaiquawn Jarrett suffers from a steeper-than-normal learning curve, Coleman is beginning to get comfortable in a starting role. A first team All-American at Ohio State, Coleman slid in the draft due to his size and athleticism, or lack thereof. What he lacks in those areas, he is making up for with the other traits that made him a collegiate standout: intelligence, leadership, and the combination of hard-hitting and sound tackling.

Time will tell how far those will take Coleman, but he has already shown a knack for flying to the ball. In three starts (one post-season) last season, Coleman had 19 tackles and in interception, and he's followed it up with a strong preseason, making 11 stops against Pittsburgh in Week 2. It's a small sample size, we know, but Coleman isn't going to get outsmarted or out-fundamentaled on a football field. On the contrary, he's going to solidify the back end of the secondary.

Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb
Anybody who isn't confident in the Birds, raise your hand. Are they not at least in a better position to succeed than Donovan McNabb or Kevin Kolb?

Nothing against either quarterback, but it would be difficult to watch them do well while the Eagles floundered. And while both McNabb and Kolb are now with clubs who could compete for a playoff spot, there aren't too many people out there ready to label the Vikings or Cardinals championship contenders.

Riley Cooper
Call me crazy, but I think a bigger potential problem area than people are letting on could be the wide receivers. Jeremy Maclin and newly acquired Steve Smith only started practicing recently, and DeSean Jackson tends to disappear for games at a time. We might see all of their numbers take a step back this season, to varying degrees.

Which is why the emergence of Cooper could be vital to the efficiency of the offense. He was already getting more opportunities down the stretch last season, and he got plenty of reps with the ones this summer, starting in all four of their preseason games. And even though it wasn't the result any of us would have chosen, it says something that Vick was confident enough to go to him with the game on the line in last year's Wild Card loss against Green Bay. Cooper is also the biggest receiver in the group, which may help in the red zone, especially if Maclin is slow to recover his strength.

We're not ready to predict a breakout season for last year's fifth rounder, but he figures to play an important role in the offense this season, which might open up some windows for the rest of the wide receivers.

The New York Giants
You almost have to feel a little bad for the Giants. They spend the last two years rebuilding their defense, surrounding their solid core of Osi Umenyiora, Johnathan Goff, and Terrell Thomas with big money free agent signings such Antrel Rolle, and using early draft picks in the likes of CB Prince Amukamara and DT Marvin Austin. Half of those guys are already done for the season, and a couple of others will miss an extended amount of time.

The Gmen were clearly assembling a unit they hoped would contain the explosive Eagles offense, but times are tough in the Meadowlands. They've lost six straight to Philly already, including last season's deflating miracle, and the defense should be as lean as ever. What was shaping up to be the top competition in the NFC East appears to have fallen back into the pack after being decimated by injuries, which should make the Eagles' road to securing the division and its playoff spot a lot easier.

Daniel Te'o-Nesheim
We hate to make a point at the expense of a young man whose only fault may very well be he was drafted too high, but when the Eagles waived Te'o-Nesheim on cutdown day, one year after selecting him in the third round, it was as important a gesture there is. Rather than cling to a project the franchise was invested, the front office gave his roster spot to CFL star Philip Hunt, who shined during the preseason. In other words, the organization was willing to admit a wrong in order to keep the better player.

Of course, that's exactly what they should always do, but sometimes front office politics get in the way. You want to give a kid every chance to succeed before you give up and part ways, and even then, a little part of you probably still sees something there. The Eagles instead made the decision to put the best product on the field, even if it means they wasted one of their precious draft picks.

DTN's career may not be over--he went unclaimed, and landed on the Birds' practice squad--and of course, it would be best for everybody if it suddenly clicks for him. The organization says they are going for it though, and in this case, their actions matched their word.

Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha
Last year, opposing quarterbacks targeted Asante Samuel 35 times, and Nnamdi Asomugha 31 times, the lowest totals of any two starting cornerbacks in the league. Asomugha didn't put up gaudy numbers, merely shut down his side of the field, while Samuel made offenses pay with seven picks and held receivers to an unbelievable 3.2 yards per attempt.

Everybody knows these
guys are really, really good, but we're not sure people realize yet how good that is? The Samuel-Asomugha combo makes last season's Darrelle Revis-Antonio Cromartie duo look pedestrian by comparison. Quarterbacks simply aren't interested in throwing the ball at either of these two, which could become problematic, because now the defense is taking away both perimeters. That's going to create a lot more chances for nickel corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is a dangerous playmaker in his own right, not to mention an improved pass rush.

Of course, the middle of the defense is largely untested, and offenses will undoubtedly attempt to exploit this area of the field. It's a lot harder when the defense knows where the ball is going though, so unless Samuel or Asomugha rapidly decline, anticipate this being one of the top pass defenses in the league in any measure.

Vince Young
The Eagles may begin this season with a questionable offensive line protecting their 100-million dollar man, but they did opt for a warranty that covers the offense in case their equipment breaks.

No way Young is as far along as Vick, who had a full season to digest the offense before ever seeing serious action, but VY did impress during the preseason. He completed 32-of-48 passes for 330 yards and a touchdown, and carried for another score, although he did turn it over twice. Still, he was effective until hurting his hamstring in the final preseason game, and with his winning track record, there is reason to be confident the offense will manage should he be pressed into a game situation this year.

Bobby April
All of the spotlight has been on either Jim Washburn and Howard Mudd as the brilliant, veteran coaches who were brought in to whip this team into shape, while the only attention that has been paid to the special teams has been focused on rookie kickers Alex Henery and Chad Henry. April, oddly, has become a forgotten man.

Prior to his joining the Eagles last season, the Bills routinely had one of the top special teams units in the league, the credit belonging to April. He came in with the reputation as the top special teams coach in the league, and by the end of last season, the change was starting to pay dividends.

In his second season, the unit should be better than ever. They have a wealth of promising young talent to mold on the coverage units, and it might be a group that's capable of taking points off the board, as they already blocked two field goals this summer.

April can't kick the ball for either of the rookies, but it would be a surprise if the unit as a whole regressed this year. In fact, if the kicking game comes together, this will be one of the team's most underrated strengths.

LeSean McCoy

When analysts talk about the Birds' offense, it's usually Vick first, then DeSean, and possibly even Maclin before they finally get around to McCoy. Maybe that's a symptom of the coaches' de-prioritizing the running game, or maybe the other guys are flashier. McCoy might be just as important as any of them though, and if you thought last year was a breakout season for Shady, there's a lot more where that came from.

McCoy has filled Brian Westbrook's old role so suitably, we'll probably stop calling similar backs "Westbrooks" soon and start calling them "McCoys." Last season, Shady averaged 5.2 yards per carry en route to his first 1,000 yard season, hauled in 78 passes, and scored nine total touchdowns. He was one of the top dual threats in the league, and this was only the beginning.

McCoy is a Pro Bowl back in the making, all he needs is more chances. It's hard to envision he could be any more involved in the passing game--though there was an awful lot of checking down versus Cleveland a couple weeks ago--but as he becomes more dominant carrying the pill, and the offensive line continues adjusting, his role in the offense could be more important than ever.

Not unlike in the old days, the Eagles' offense won't go through the wide receivers or tight ends. The offense will go through the McCoy position, and the real McCoy will go to his Pro Bowl.

The thing about intangibles is they can exist, and they can also mean nothing. Resilience won't score any points this year. It won't make an offensive lineman block DeMarcus Ware any better. It won't help a linebacker tackle Brandon Jacobs. When we look at the film, we will not be able to measure resilience.

But this team has it. Whether it's Mike Patterson playing through a brain condition, Jeremy Maclin hanging tough through an off-season where he battled a serious unknown illness, Steve Smith coming back from microfracture surgery much faster than his own team's doctors thought possible, or Mike Vick and everything he has been through, there are fighters everywhere you look on this roster. Their resilience was on full display last season when they came back from a 21-point fourth quarter deficit in a division rival's building to win in regulation, and made the playoffs in a year where few observers even gave them a chance.

The one thing you can't do is quit on this group; not when they are down in the fourth quarter, not if this season gets off to a slow start, not after a bad loss to a worse team, not even if it looks like they are in danger of making the playoffs. The Super Bowl Champion Packers needed to win in Week 17 to secure the sixth and final playoff spot. Maybe the Birds will falter early, maybe not, but there is a lot more to like about this team right now than there is to fear.

Kickoff is Sunday at 1 p.m. What about this team has you optimistic for the 2011 season?

FIlm Review: What led to Eagles' poor run defense against Washington?

FIlm Review: What led to Eagles' poor run defense against Washington?

The Eagles have vowed to get better. 

They desperately don't want to have a performance from their run defense like the one against Washington, when they gave up 230 yards on the ground. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said the run defense is "a pride thing" and the guys responsible for the performance, Jim Schwartz included, say things will get better. The defensive coordinator cited bad angles as a reason there were so many missed tackles on Sunday afternoon. 

In all, the Eagles missed 10 tackles and gave up 156 yards after contact — both more than they had given up in the first four games of the season. 

Washington's rushing yards came in some big chunks. Here's a look at some of the key running plays from Sunday as we try to figure out what went wrong: 

This is a key 3rd-and-7 from the Washington 13-yard line. On this drive, Washington ends up scoring a touchdown to go up 14-0, but it doesn't happen without this key third down conversion. 

The Eagles collapse the pocket and force Kirk Cousins to his left. That's exactly what Schwartz said he wants, to force the quarterback to his non-throwing side. Everything at this point is working out perfectly. 

Here's the angle that's really troublesome. At this point, Nigel Bradham (circled in green) has Cousins in his sights, while Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham (farther behind) are in pursuit. Curry and Graham seem to let up in their pursuit when it looks like Cousins will go out of bounds. But he doesn't. 

Schwartz talked about bad angles, and this is the perfect example from Bradham. He overshoots it and when Cousins makes his cut back inside, all of Bradham's momentum is heading toward the sideline. Curry ends up making the tackle but tackles Cousins forward for a big first down. 

This next play was just a little counter draw that ended up going for a huge 45-yard gain. Rob Kelley takes the handoff, which looks to be going right. The entire Eagles' linebacking group bites hard. Still, right end Connor Barwin is free and has a chance to make the play. 

He doesn't. Just a missed tackle. 

Kelley finds some open field. Rodney McLeod is the next guy to beat and Kelley simply turns him around. You'll see Mychal Kendricks enter the frame. Kendricks showed great recovery speed to get back in the play and has a chance to finally bring the running back down. 

Nope. Can't do it. Eventually, McLeod recovers to bring him down. 

This last play ended the game on Sunday. The Eagles punted the ball away with the hope that their defense would stop Washington and give them the ball back. Instead, Matt Jones broke off a 57-yard run on 3rd-and-7. 

Jordan Hicks over pursues, probably thinking the run was going wide. But he loses his gap and Jones is off to the races. 

Once Jones gets past the first down, it doesn't really matter that it was a 57-yard run. It could have been an 8-yarder and the game was over. 

So what did we learn? 

Well, Schwartz was right. Angles absolutely killed the Eagles on Sunday. But when they have a guy wrapped up, they need to bring him down. Sure, that's not Earth-shattering, but they couldn't do it on Sunday and it led to a loss. 

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

The Sixers struggled to carve a clear role for Jahlil Okafor last season as he and Nerlens Noel split time out of position in the frontcourt. Brett Brown has a more clear picture of how to utilize Okafor in his second year, highlighted by goals and a shift to the bench. 

Okafor has been sidelined from preseason action because of his right knee. He underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in March and aggravated it during the final training camp scrimmage. 

Okafor said he felt “pretty sore” after scrimmaging Monday, his first since camp, and he was better after going through individualized training and work in the water on Tuesday. This setback has forced him to exercise patience. 

“I know I told you guys I wasn’t frustrated a few weeks ago, but at this point it has been frustrating because I’ve been doing all the right stuff and I want to see me back out there sooner,” Okafor said after practice Thursday. “But I can’t rush my body, I can’t rush my health. ... I would love to have the opportunity to be there for opening night and play in front of our fans. Right now it’s looking like that’s probable."

The Sixers plan to use Okafor in a reserve role to start the season. Okafor expects to be on a 12- to 15-minute restriction, similar to Joel Embiid, when he is cleared to play. 

“I think about it all the time, but I talk to him. We’ve talked about this for months,” Brown said of Okafor's coming off the bench. “It’s not anything that is going to surprise anybody. He’s been fantastic. ... I talked with Jahlil about a lot of things and that could be, to start the year it will be, a scenario.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, started 48 of his 53 games last season. He is approaching this year with realistic expectations given his restrictions and is not concerned about being out of the starting five. 

“I’ll be fine,” Okafor said. “That won’t be a tough adjustment for me. I came off the bench a couple of times last year.”

Brown’s focus is not necessarily on how Okafor starts the game, but how he finishes. He would like Okafor and Embiid to be able to play together at the end of games to give the team a fourth-quarter boost.

“If it ends up you’ve got Jahlil coming off the bench and he’s going against backup five men, you think you probably have an advantage there,” Brown said. “If he does anything, he scores the ball, he scores buckets, he gets points. You can see how that can be a really nice role for him and for us.”

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game. Brown, though, is focusing on his defensive improvements. The Sixers are looking to play an uptempo system in which they will need Okafor to hustle on defense each possession. Okafor slimmed down and added muscle this summer to prepare for the season. 

“He has to be elite in two areas to me,” Brown said. “Transition defense first — A-plus-plus-plus, get back. If you’re tired, if you’ve got to conserve energy, it’s not that way. It’s running back on offense. We have to get him back on defense.

“Then he has to be better skilled, better drilled by me, [a] high level of accountability with pick-and-roll defense. ... You can go over to defensive rebounding (as) a close third, but those two things happen the most.”

Okafor expects to be more effective on the defensive end after getting adjusted to it as a rookie. 

“(I want) to be smarter on defense, knowing where to be,” Okafor said. “My first year playing in the NBA, it was just a lot going on. Everybody was so fast.” 

Brown sees a focused 20-year-old who is more disciplined and ready to embrace whatever role he is given this season. 

“I can’t wait to coach him this year," Brown said. "I think he’s going to come back and have a great year. His body tells me that, his attitude tells me that. He’s in a good place personally."