- The Eagles are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, but a weakened offensive line and a shaky secondary could prove costly this season.
The 2019 NFL season is just weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he analyzes the Philadelphia Eagles, who finished 9-7 and second in the NFC East last year.
Carson Wentz re-enters MVP discussions. Wentz last season did not drop from his 2017 MVP-caliber campaign as steeply as many believe. His completion percentage rose from 60.2 to 69.9, and his yards per game increased by 26. What decreased were the explosive downfield plays. Philly lacked speed at wide receiver and Wentz was a little more willing to take the easy underneath throws. Though that’s positive for his big-picture growth, the arrival of DeSean Jackson rekindles the inner downfield playmaker in Wentz, who is one of football’s best, particularly from within the pocket. Jackson not only poses a deep threat himself, but he opens up the rest of the field, aiding Philly’s masterfully designed two- and three-receiver route combinations, which can be unstoppable against zone coverage.
O-line problems intrude. Two years ago, the Eagles challenged the Cowboys for claim to the best front five in football. Now, durability concerns plague 37-year-old left tackle Jason Peters, who missed 20 percent of the snaps in 2018. (His eventual replacement, first-round rookie Andre Dillard, figures to need a year to develop.) Left guard has always been a weak spot. Now, perhaps so is right guard, as mobile 335-pounder Brandon Brooks is coming off a January Achilles tear. Outside of Brooks, Lane Johnson is football’s most gifted right tackle (he borderline dominated J.J. Watt in Week 16 last year), but his mechanics don’t always match his talent, and his performance can waver.
Sidney Jones becomes the defense’s most significant player. Not to be confused with most valuable player, which is still thundering defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. But the third-year corner can solve a lot of problems, as he looks promising in the slot (a position he was not necessarily projected to play as a second-rounder out of Washington) and is an insurance policy left corner should Avonte Maddox—and especially Jalen Mills—remains susceptible to double moves.
Derek Barnett pushes Jones for “most significant player” title. This defense is still built on its four-man pass rush, which allows the secondary to be aggressive. Replacing Michael Bennett with Malik Jackson is a notable downgrade, and Chris Long’s retirement compromised some depth. This rush depends on Barnett recapturing the surge he showed at right defensive end before his 2018 season-ending shoulder injury last October.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s a deep, talented roster, but it all rides on the trenches. Philly’s loaded offense can be derailed by a weakened O-line, and its shaky secondary can be exposed if the pass rush doesn’t produce.
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