Five Reasons the Eagles Might Be Successful in 2013

Five Reasons the Eagles Might Be Successful in 2013

For the first time since Chip Kelly came to Philadelphia, we were provided an actual glimpse into what the Eagles will be like under a new head coach on Monday. It will be a few months yet before we can get a read on what direction the team is heading – and as long as we’re being honest, probably longer – but excitement seems to be on the rise.

Expectations on the other hand, well… not quite so much.

We’re only a handful of practices deep, not to mention a few short months removed from a 4-12 campaign, so I suppose it’s only natural. That said, a lot of people might be underselling the Birds already at this juncture. I don’t mean to suggest they are a legitimate contender or anything like that at the moment, but somewhere in the broad spectrum of 6 to 10 wins is a possibility in the season ahead.

10 wins? Yes, I have been told that sounds steep. Frankly it’s not a prediction, which I would not even attempt to make before knowing who the starting quarterback is going to be at the very least.

There are several reasons to believe the Eagles might be heading for a nice rebound season of sorts under Kelly – despite the uncertainty under center. With the squad in the news a bunch over the past 24 hours, here are my strongest five.

1. Improved offensive line

Some might say the Eagles’ season was over before it ever began in 2012. When left tackle Jason Peters went down with a ruptured Achilles that March, the club lost arguably the most dominant offensive lineman in the NFL. Center Jason Kelce followed suit with a torn ACL in Week 2, and right tackle Todd Herremans completed the trifecta with a broken foot around the midway point.

Good news: two of the three were full participants at OTAs on Monday. Peters is back where he belongs, anchoring the left side of the line. Herremans was in his new home at right guard – no worries, he played well there (albeit on the left side) for the better part of six seasons.

Kelce was only a limited participant, although he is expected to be a full go for training camp. Evan Mathis recently underwent a cleanup procedure on his knee and was absent, but should also be ready by July.

Just having those four players healthy alone would have been an upgrade over last season, and that doesn’t even include rookie Lane Johnson. The fourth-overall pick was getting his feet wet with the second stringers at practice, however he figures as the opening day starter at right tackle come September.

Regardless of which quarterback is at the helm, that person stands a far better chance behind this group than they did the likes of Demetress Bell, King Dunlap, Dallas Reynolds, Danny Watkins, etc.

2. Unpredictable schemes

We think we have some inkling as to what the Eagles might look like under Chip. By now we’re all familiar on some level with the spread offense/read option his offenses ran at Oregon. We know defensive coordinator Billy Davis has experience with hybrid defenses that utilize aspects of both the 4-3 and 3-4 alignments.

What we don’t know – and more importantly, what the rest of the league does not know yet – is precisely how all of these different philosophies will be incorporated into the Eagles.

For at least the first few weeks of the season, perhaps longer, Chip Kelly will hold the element of surprise against his opponents. Heck, it’s entirely possible we may not even have an official announcement about who the quarterback is until the weeks leading up to the first game of the season.

Do opposing defenses prepare for the read option similar to what Kelly used at Oregon, or should they ready themselves for elements of the west coast attack that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is versed in? And how are Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and Robert Griffin going to react to the varying fronts Davis will throw at them when those passers have had a general idea as to where exactly the Birds’ pass rush was coming from over the past two seasons?

Add the anticipated no-huddle offense into the equation, and Kelly should have the opposing sidelines on their toes. The advantages might be slight – might not – and the coaching staff won’t necessarily reinvent the game, but after 14 years of Andy Reid, any deviation from the norm should have an impact.

3. Culture change

Speaking of Andy, as good of a run he had, there is no denying how completely the wheels fell of over the last two seasons. It began at the very top with an alleged power struggle. How much of that was with former club president Joe Banner is unclear, but Reid and general manager Howie Roseman almost certainly did not see eye to eye on some players.

That dysfunction trickled down to the coaching staff, particularly on the defense end beginning when Reid promoted offensive line coach Juan Castillo to coordinator. The hire was intently scrutinized, and Castillo was undermined at every turn – directly by Jim Washburn, indirectly through the presence of Todd Bowles, and a bit of both by some players – until he was fired six weeks into his second season on the job.

Then there were those very players, guys Reid himself brought in. Whether it was Nnamdi Asomugha, Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie, or Jason Babin, several of the franchise’s biggest additions over the last two seasons came from losing organizations and brought attitudes with them to boot.

Turning over a new leaf was just what this franchise needed. A fresh start with a different coaching staff can only be a positive for the remaining players. Bringing in free agents such as Connor Barwin, Cary Williams, Patrick Chung, Kenny Phillips, and Isaac Sopoaga from winning programs should affect change on the mindset in the locker room. Add a smart, impressionable draft class into the mix, and this is suddenly a very different organization.

4. Usual playoff turnover

12 clubs earn a berth into the NFL playoffs. History portends that roughly half of the past season’s entrants will not return next January.

Since 1996 between five and seven new qualifiers have emerged in all but three postseasons. One year – 2008 – there was actually eight. So in 15 of the last 17 seasons there have been at least five substitutes in the tournament, and on average it’s roughly half the field.

Those factoids are far from some kind of assurance the Eagles will land a spot after the dust settles in ‘13, but they certainly don’t hurt Philly’s chances, either. The NFL is unpredictable, so although inter-conference opponents such as the 49ers, Falcons, and Packers appear to be locks in May, a lot can change between now and December.

And even though the Eagles finished 4-12 last season, having one of the worst records in the league doesn’t necessarily preclude them from making the jump. The Colts, Vikings, and Redskins all finished with five wins or less in ‘11, and each followed up with widely unexpected runs in ‘12.

Playoff turnover is the norm in pro football. There will very likely be a minimum of two, and possibly as many as three or four new challengers in the NFC next season. With everything going on at the NovaCare Complex these days, why can’t one of them be the Birds?

5. The talent is there

Nobody is suggesting this team as currently constructed is Super Bowl bound. This may have been mentioned once or twice before, but we can’t even be sure who the quarterback is.

The Eagles have three talented quarterbacks though. They have an All-Pro running back, a Pro-Bowl wide receiver (maybe two), along with a healthy group of prospects and veterans on offense. The defense is more a work in progress, but there is some flexibility in terms of scheme, plus a fair mix of young players from recent drafts and quality free agent competition from this offseason.

While they only won four games last season, does that tell the whole story of the current Eagles? How many games were lost before the opening kickoff without a competitive O-line, or because some folks in the organization just weren’t buying in? How hard is it to believe with a little shake-up some of these players can produce more, or what they were before everything apart?

The Birds could win six games this upcoming season, they could win 10 – let’s be real, that’s just about every team in the NFL. But if all went well, they could win 10.

Just a little something to tide you over until training camp.

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors certainly looked ready to trade some more blows with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come June.

The two-time reigning MVP hit five 3-pointers and had 20 points while matching his season best with 11 assists in Golden State's 126-91 rout of the defending champs Monday.

Klay Thompson scored 26 points with five 3s, and Curry made four steals. Draymond Green produced his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists while matching his career best with five blocks -- and had another dustup with King James in the process.

James had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds, and he and Green became the talk once more as their relationship turned even more testy.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks for the Warriors in a much-hyped matchup merely weeks after Golden State lost 109-108 in Cleveland on Christmas (see full recap).

Thomas explodes for 17 in fourth quarter to lift Celtics over Hornets
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas' 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He's been putting up big final quarters of late -- scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight -- all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period (see full recap).

Wizards remain hot with win over Trail Blazers
WASHINGTON  -- Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Washington Wizards took a page from the Portland Trail Blazers' playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

The Wizards, who rely less on the 3-pointer than almost any NBA team, were 13 of 23 from beyond the arc in their 12th consecutive home victory. The 3-pointer-heavy Trail Blazers shot 8 of 26 on 3-point attempts.

After Washington coach Scott Brooks called Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as good as any backcourt in the league, Beal and John Wall outplayed them. Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

The Wizards have won four of their last five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored 34 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Washington Capitals' nine-game winning streak with a wild 8-7 victory Monday night that included nine second-period goals.

Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with two assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray got the win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.

The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after 40 minutes.

Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period deluge (see full recap).

Eichel scores twice to give Sabres' 4-1 win over Stars
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday.

Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into the first period. Ennis returned after missing 30 games with a groin injury that required surgery.

Jake McCabe also had a goal and Robin Lehner made 31 saves after missing the past three games with an illness.

The Sabres snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Stars for the first time in four matchups.

Radek Faksa scored for the Stars in the opener of a three-game road trip. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots. Dallas has lost two in a row and six of eight (see full recap).

Bishop anchors Lightning to 2-1 win over Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a six-game road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

Ben Bishop made an early mistake that led to Kyle Clifford's goal for the Kings, but bounced back to make 31 saves in his second start back from a three-week absence with a lower-body injury.

Tyler Johnson scored in the first period for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in seven games.

Peter Budaj stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

Both teams played without stars due to illness. Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed his first game since Nov. 20, and All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman missed his first game of the season for Tampa Bay (see full recap).