Like many fans I’m sure, this is the most excited I can remember being for a preseason game EVER. Some might say 2004, the year Terrell Owens arrived and the Eagles had already punched their ticket for the Super Bowl in March. It could have been ’99, Andy Reid’s and Donovan McNabb’s first year in Philadelphia. Maybe there was some other much-ballyhooed exhibition game from decades ago that escapes me or I’m simply not familiar with.
Tonight is going to be very tough to beat in my humble opinion. It’s not just the first game of a new era in Eagles history. It’s a head coach billed as a genius, a revolutionary, bringing an offense, concepts, and philosophies to the NFL that perhaps have all been implemented to some degree before, but never combined into one package, or their application this advanced in some cases. That is the likely impossible standard Chip Kelly is being asked to live up to, and we’re going to get our first glimpse into what’s true and what’s myth tonight.
Ordinarily I’d probably push out some generic “Who to Watch” column for a preseason opener, but the reality is that’s everybody and everything. There’s no one person or aspect you should key on, maybe with exception to the quarterbacks. Go in to your viewing experience with an open mind and let something jump out at you. Trust me, it won’t take long.
Then the fun stuff happens. We’ll finally have some tape of Chip’s Eagles, not to mention guys will finally be hitting, tackling, and all-around going 100%. Afterwards we’ll be able to go back and do some more in-depth player evaluations and examine the offensive and defensive schemes – really looking forward to this the most.
In the meantime, let’s kill a few minutes here and look at a few big stories floating around the Birds ahead of tonight’s game.
I doubt it. Many people still seem stuck in the Joe Banner/Andy Reid days, a leadership that would be hesitant to confirm or deny their quarterbacks even existed. We watched as they intimated Donovan McNabb was not going to be traded, and then he was gone. We listened when it was announced Kevin Kolb was still the starter, only to learn the next day it would be Michael Vick.
We can be distrustful of our leaders in general, but we really have no reason to be with Chip. He’s leveled with us 100% of the way as best I can tell, so if he says he hasn’t made a decision about the quarterbacks, and wants so badly for us to believe it that he’ll alternate starts and series these next two weeks, I see no reason not to.
Frankly, if he did have someone in mind, what he is doing would be a terrible strategy, no? If he knows, let that person get most of the reps already. When Chip says he needs to see Vick and Nick Foles in games before he can pick one, and all the evidence points to the premise that the open competition is ongoing, I feel compelled to take him on his word.
Is the Birds’ secondary historically bad?
I don’t see why there is an expectation it would be any worse than last year. Nnamdi Asomugha was a flat bust, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie only played when he wanted to – which was not at all once it was obvious things were going south. And the safeties had practically unreal responsibilities in Jim Washburn’s/Juan Castillo’s/Todd Bowles’ scheme, sort of first responders if you will against the opposing team’s ground attack.
Provided guys stay healthy, there is no reason why some combination of Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Brandon Boykin won’t be an improvement over last year’s corners, who I don’t need to remind you were terrible. They may not have the resumes of an Asomugha or DRC – Pro Bowlers and high draft picks – but they are all out there to play football. Nothing is being handed to these three. There is no complacency. That alone should make them better.
Simplifying things for the safeties will go a long way toward helping that unit as well. I’m not sure how much of an improvement free agents Patrick Chung (consistency) or Kenny Phillips (injury) will be over what was here, but one would think allowing the Nate Allens and Kurt Colemans to play a more conventional style will make either one look more competent. I mean, Brian Dawkins probably couldn’t have thrived in the last system.
Do I think the Eagles have a quality secondary? Eh, that certainly remains to be seen, and a lot of that will be reliant to some degree on how effective the front seven is at pressuring the quarterback. However, I wouldn’t anticipate the defensive backfield getting worse.
Will the Eagles be worse this year than last?
Anything is possible, but that won’t be easy. Derek from Iggles Blog wrote a thoughtful piece on why the club could actually take a step back in Chip Kelly’s first season, invoking Jimmy Johnson’s debut for the Cowboys in which Big D finished 1-15. To be honest, he really had me going there for a little while.
Again, we can’t rule that out completely, but the landscape in the NFL was also far different 25 years ago than it is today. There wasn’t as much parity in 1989. It would take years for an organization to build a competitive program, and once they reached that level, they were probably there to stay for awhile. That period in pro football history was dominated by a select few – the San Francisco 49ers, the New York Giants, the Washington Redskins, the Denver Broncos, the Buffalo Bills, and ultimately the Cowboys.
Due to free agency and the salary cap however, it’s almost unusual for one franchise to sustain that kind of success. The flip side to that is it’s far easier to crawl out from the cellar as well. Every year there is an average of six new entrants in the playoffs. That may not be the Birds in 2013, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room for upward mobility.
The Eagles may have gone 4-12 last season – which by the way, it’s really difficult to sink any lower – but that was with three major injuries to their offensive line, a defense that quit halfway into the year, a bunch of malcontents poisoning the locker room, and a head coach whose message was growing stale. That team had some holes, too, and admittedly not all of them were able to be filled in one offseason. There was quite a bit of talent on that team though, much of it still here today.
I suppose we’ll see. As the saying goes, that’s why they play the games. And, yes, I do tend to err on the side of optimism. For at least one day though, I feel every person who follows the Eagles should have some reason to be optimistic. Tonight is like running down the steps on Christmas morning and tearing the wrapping paper off the biggest present under the tree. Who knows how soon the shine will wear off your new toy, but it’s still shiny and new today.