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.

Resilience
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?

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is making his second straight start after Saturday's 10-8 win.

Alfaro, the Phillies' top catching prospect, has gone 0 for 11 with a walk in his three career starts, all coming in the last two weeks since he was called up. Alfaro was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last July and is 1 for 13 with a walk in five games. 

The 23-year-old will catch Jake Thompson in a game that means a lot more to the Mets (1:10/CSN).

Giving Alfaro playing time allows Phillies fans the chance to get a glimpse of the future. Roman Quinn has received plentiful playing time after was called up in the mid-September and Alfaro, like Quinn, is trying to leave an impression on the Phillies' brass before spring training.

Quinn is not in the lineup on Sunday as Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche man the corner outfield spots. Freddy Galvis moved up to second in the lineup after staying in the bottom half of the lineup in recent games.

Ryan Howard will bat fifth, playing likely his final game at Citi Field with the Phillies. While he has batted just .203 in 52 career games at Citi Field, he alos has 11 home runs there after smashing 12 homers at Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous stadium.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Robert Gsellman and the Mets.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Aaron Altherr, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies (70-85) at Mets (82-73)
1:10 p.m. on CSN

After two rough losses for the Phillies and their pitching staff, the offense picked them up and came through with a 10-8 win. 22-year-old Jake Thompson takes the hill this afternoon while Robert Gsellman starts a crucial game for the Mets.

Here are five things to watch on Sunday.

1. All the pressure on New York, Gsellman
The Mets remain 0.5 games up on the final National League playoff spot. 

While their pitching staff was falling apart at the seams going into (and during) this series, the one saving grace for New York was its soft schedule, facing the Phillies seven times in its last 10. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals have to deal with the MLB best Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants end the year vs. the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

However, a loss on Saturday (thanks in part to Noah Syndergaard getting scratched with strep throat) puts the Mets in a precarious position. They're tied in the loss column with the Cards and Giants while fighting for one of two playoff spots and their rotation most closely resembles their Triple A team from Opening Day. 

Gsellman is one of those pitchers who started the year never having tasted the major leagues. In fact, he started the year in Double A. His first career start came at Citi Field last month against the Phillies and resulted in his first career loss after he allowed four runs in six innings. 

He's been better since that start, carrying a 3.13 ERA into Sunday. The 23-year-old righty will likely start vs. the Phillies again next weekend, meaning the Mets' season rides in part on a rookie with just 31 2/3 innings in the majors. 

2. Young man on a roll
While Gsellman lost his last start, Thompson has won his last two starts. The young righty is on a hot streak as his season nears an end.

Thompson's ERA has goe down in each of his last five starts, a stat made less impressive by the fact that he began that run with a 9.78 ERA. He has gone at least five innings in his last eight starts and has shown glimpses of why he was such a valued prospects.

In September, Thompson is 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA over four starts. He's still allowed 33 baserunners in 23 1/3 innings during that span, but it's been much better than his lackluster August.

While Thompson is in line to start next weekend against the Mets as well, today could be his final start of the season. He has already set a career-high in innings and the Phillies may not want to extend him one more start.

3. What to look for in the season's final week
Including Sunday, the Phillies have just seven games left in their season. They're eliminated from playoff contention, but there's still plenty to watch as the Phils take on Braves and Mets.

Ryan Howard's final fairwell: With his five-year, $125 million deal coming to a close this year, Howard is almost certainly playing his final games in Philadelphia next week. He'll get plenty of starts and may even face the Mets' Bartolo Colon, who he's smacked three home runs off of in his career.

Playing spoiler: As mentioned above, the Mets have everything on the line both today and next weekend in Philadelphia. There are few better ways to end a postseason-less season than knocking a rival out of playoff contention.

More looks at the kids: Roman Quinn's emergence over the last two weeks has been fun to watch and Jorge Alfaro may get more chances in the last seven games. Beyond them, Thompson, Tommy Joseph and others close out a nice first season. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Maikel Franco has looked more like his 2015 self over the last few weeks. He's batting .310 in September with three home runs, matching his August total. His 15 RBI this month are his most in a month other than July. 

Mets: Asdrubal Cabrera has been on fire this month as well. After battting .405 in August, he's batting .333 and has five home runs, including the walk-off homer on Thursday. He's slugging .628 this month after putting up a .786 slugging percentage in August. 

5. This and that
• In Gsellman's August start vs. the Phillies, he only allowed one run while he was in the game. However, he left the bases loaded in the 7th with no outs before A.J. Ellis knocked in the decisive two-run double to give the Phils a lead they would not relinquish.

• Six different Phillies batters had hits off Gsellman, including Jimmy Paredes who went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. 

• Despite pitching injuries, the Mets have the eighth-best team ERA in September with a 3.64 average. The Phillies are 15th in baseball with a 4.10 ERA this month.

• The Phillies are 6-9 against the Mets this year. They're already ensured of a better finish than last year's 5-14 mark vs. New York.

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