Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Philadelphia Eagles: Four Questions

1. Who will replace Andy Reid in Philadelphia?
The team fired Reid, who had been the head coach of the Eagles since the 1999 season, following back-to-back disappointing sub-.500 finishes. Under Reid's watch, the Eagles won the NFC East six times, played in five NFC Championship games and reached one Super Bowl. His career record of 130-93-1 was the best in franchise history, and was the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL.
Reid wasn't able to harness the team's potential the past two seasons, but these past two seasons shouldn't diminish what he'd accomplished the previous twelve seasons. Replacing Reid won't be easy, but the team has already looked into Oregon head coach Chip Kelly (who has since decided to stay with the school), Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator (and brother of former NFL head coach and current Monday Night Football color commentator Jon Gruden) Jay Gruden.
Whoever ends up taking the job will have to decide what to do with the quarterback situation, as incumbent Michael Vick's contract has only $3 million in guaranteed money out of his $15 million 2013 salary, meaning he could be allowed to walk at a relatively low cost. Rookie Nic Foles showed some promise when given an opportunity late in the season, but still has room to improve. That decision, along with what to do with other big contract players, will likely come down to whether their new head coach decides to rebuild or reload.

2. Is Nick Foles the answer at quarterback?
After Michael Vick's struggles during the 2011 season, the team decided to spend a 2012 3rd-round pick on Arizona quarterback Nick Foles. Vick struggled with turnovers again in 2012, but it was due to a concussion that Foles got his first taste of regular season NFL action. After taking the reigns from Vick, Foles completed 60.7% of his passes for 1,699 yards, with six touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Foles is capable of making all the throws, and has shown good touch on his passes as well. His mobility is lacking, but can offset that with good pocket presence, as he has prototypical size for a traditional drop-back passer (6'6", 243). Foles also must realize throwing windows in the NFL will be tighter than in college, so his decision-making will also need to improve, though that usually comes with more experience. While Foles will be learning a new offense whenever a new head coach is named, he will probably need more experience under center, as he primarily ran out of the shotgun with both the Eagles and in college at Arizona.
I think that Vick's contract situation makes it likely that Foles enters the 2013 starting quarterback for Philadelphia, with the only caveat being if the team drafts West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith should he fall to #4 or the team makes a run at someone like Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco should he hit the open market.

3. How will Philadelphia address their offensive line woes?
The offensive line was one of the Eagles' biggest problems this season, particularly in pass protection, as they allowed a total of 48 sacks (28th in the league). The team clearly missed Jason Peters, who didn't play in 2012 after tearing his Achilles' heel during the offseason. Free agent addition Demetress Bell also battled the injury bug and struggled protecting the edge. Left guard Evan Mathis continued his solid play, but right guard Danny Watkins struggled enough that he was replaced by Jake Scott (who will be a free agent) at mid-season.
If the Eagles are looking to strengthen themselves at right guard, Alabama guard Chance Warmack is a mammoth man who does a great job run-blocking, and is an underrated athlete with solid footwork. Warmack will likely be available at #4.
In 2013, Bell will likely slide to right tackle with Peters returning, which should help the team in keep their quarterbacks upright.  The Eagles will also likely improve at the pivot with the return of Jason Kelce, who was lost early in the season to ACL and MCL tears in his knee, though be sure to keep an eye on his recovery.

3. Will the new head coach properly utilize the running game?
Under former head coach Andy Reid, Philadelphia leaned more heavily on their passing games than any other team besides the Saints and Patriots. The difference between those teams is that while New Orleans and New England haven't had a great running back, the Eagles have one of the better runners in the NFL in LeSean McCoy.
Since being drafted in 2009 out of Pittsburgh, McCoy has proven to be one of the better pass-catchers in the league from the running back position, and has had no fewer than 40 receptions and 308 receiving yards in any season. The team still has a bevy of other weapons on offense at their disposal, including receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, as well as tight end Brent Celek. Philadelphia also has a spell back in 2012 6th round pick Bryce Brown, who struggled with ball security but provided the team with a spark in McCoy's absence.
Regardless of who becomes the new head coach, they will likely try to find a better run/pass balance, and having a healthy McCoy in the backfield (along with Brown), should make the decision easier, especially with the potential for a second-year quarterback to be under center.

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