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2010 Philadelphia Eagles Preview

August 26, 2010

New Crop Kolb Under Center for Young, Talented Birds
Last year: 11-5, 8th in TABRankings

For a franchise that frequently got rid of veterans before their twilight, the switch from QB Donovan McNabb to Kevin Kolb was only matter of time after Kolb was drafted in 2007. After three seasons, Kolb finally had the keys handed to him. It ended an era of unprecedented success for the Eagles franchise. In McNabb’s 11 seasons, he made five NFC Championship Games. Philadelphia had so much success with several different talented clubs, but the common factor was always under center.

Before the Eagles start thinking about the prospects of the Kevin Kolb era, they and the quarterback will have to lay down the foundation this season. It may be tough for a fan base that saw its team contend almost yearly for the past decade, but this season isn’t about a deep playoff run. Sure, that would be pleasant, but Philadelphia needs to focus on what Kolb can do for the team down the road. No matter he will be, the change at quarterback alone could mean the offense takes a dip in production in 2010.

But with this being a preview for 2010, the question becomes what Kolb can do in his first season as the full-time quarterback. That is a complete unknown, but the Aaron Rodgers model says Kolb can succeed if the team around him puts him in good position to win. Given the teams the Eagles have had for at least a decade, they can’t be counted out in the NFC playoff hunt.

FRANCHISE BREAKER? QB Kevin Kolb: This is so obvious, it seems dumb. Many teams haven’t been able to Kevin Kolb (photo rights to NFL.com)recover after a longtime starting quarterback retired or went into free agency or was traded to another team. Even if Kolb has shown all the talent in the world, the Eagles have to fear that possibility, because they don’t have the sample size to show the talent will pan out to effective play on the field. Take a look at some of new guys on the block after replacing legends:

Team Legend New QB Record
1997 Bills Jim Kelly Todd Collins 6-10
1999 Broncos Jon Elway Brian Griese 6-10
1999 49ers Steve Young Jeff Garcia 4-12
2000 Dolphins Dan Marino Jay Fielder 11-5*
2001 Cowboys Troy Aikman Four QBs 5-11
2001 Patriots Drew Bledsoe Tom Brady 11-5**
2003 Jaguars Mark Brunell Byron Leftwich 5-11
2006 Titans Steve McNair Kerry Collins/Vince Young 8-8
2008 Packers Brett Favre Aaron Rodgers 6-10

*-playoffs; **-Super Bowl

First, it’s important to note that this Eagles team is built much like the 2000 Dolphins or 2008 Packers, the two teams that improved. From a team standpoint, the former showed the best-case scenario, and the latter showed the worst-case scenario. However, it’s obvious that Rodgers looked much better in 2008 than Fieldler looked in 2000. Fieldler was a competent quarterback for the most part in his Dolphins career, but he couldn’t prevent the Dolphins from running RB Ricky Williams in 2002 and ’03 and eventually crumbling by 2004. Of course, it’s only year one right now. At this point, it’s the experimenting stage of the Kolb Era.

HELPING THE NEW MAIN MAN: Kolb won’t make or break the Eagles’ 2010 season. Instead, it’ll be the offensive line continuity and skill position explosiveness that determine whether Philly loses double-digit games or makes a return trip to the playoffs.

The offensive line had lots of talent last year, but lacked any semblance of continuity. Problems from that came to fruition in two key losses to Dallas in Week 17 and the Wild Card round. It should be better this year, even with C Jamaal Jackson trying to battle back from injury. OLT Jason Peters, LG Todd Harremans and ORT Winston Justice now have considerable experience together, so the Eagles can afford to have Nick Cole at center until Jackson’s return allows Cole to move to right guard.

The skill players didn’t have problems last year, but there is an outside concern how the Eagles can get their talented guys going with a new starting quarterback. At the least, this offense should be explosive. WR DeSean Jackson won’t have eight touchdowns of 50+ yards, but he should at least be able to provide half of the big plays he made last year. Jackson only needs more consistency to become an elite player, but that likely won’t come this year. Instead, TE Brent Celek will be the more consistent receiving force. Celek doesn’t block well, but is one of the top safety blankets in the league, and that’s a point Kolb can focus on in the early parts of the season. However, RB LeSean McCoy will be the man who can best help Kolb in his first season.

FRANCHISE MAKER? RB LeSean McCoy: Given Head Coach Andy Reid’s ways, Kolb will have to pass a lot in his LeSean McCoy (photo rights to NFL.com)first season. However, if McCoy can play like former star Brian Westbrook, Kolb won’t have to force into tough passes. Like Westbrook, McCoy is quick and shifty with admirable receiving ability. That makes him extremely valuable in Reid’s version of the West Coast Offense, where dump off passes in the flat sometime work like handoffs. Now that McCoy has one season under his belt and the starting spot in hand, the man known as “Shady” could become Kolb’s right man for a capable offense in 2010.

UNDER THE RADAR, C Jamaal Jackson: Before the major knee injury he suffered at the end season of last season, Jamaal Jackson (photo rights to NFL.com)Jackson was becoming one of the top centers in the game. He’s neither a liability in pass-blocking nor run-blocking, and he was the most stable force on the line. When he returns to the lineup, the offensive line will be immediately a few steps better. As for Jackson, if he can regain his pre-injury form, he could become a top five center in this league. That may be exactly what the Eagles need this year to make the playoffs.

BIRDS’ DEFENSIVE BITE: Despite a very impressive 11-5 record and the third-most sacks in the NFL last year, the Eagles defense had a pretty bleak season. The red zone defense struggled the most, which led to Philly allowing 27 passing touchdowns last year. Seeing the red zone “D” should improve, but it’s unknown what will happen after that.

The linebacker corps should be much improved, with the addition of OLB Ernie Sims and return of MLB Stewart Bradley from a season-long injury in 2009. Meanwhile, the defensive line could use a boost from rookie DE Brandon Graham. Graham will allow Juqua Parker, the lone liability against the run on the defensive line, to be the pass-rush specialist. Parker had eight sacks last year and at least five in each of his last four seasons, so he would very much appreciate more room to make negative plays.

However, the prospects in the secondary don’t look nearly as promising. The Eagles made another move to get rid of pricy veteran players by trading CB Sheldon Brown to the Browns. That leaves Asante Samuel, who gambles too much for comfort, and the shoddy Ellis Hobbs as the starting cornerbacks. The pass defense will be a problem again, unless the defensive line steps up in the pass rush. That’s where DE Trent Cole truly shines.

ELITE PLAYER, DE Trent Cole: Though Cole rarely gets the headlines, he truly is one of the best players in the Trent Cole (photo right to NFL.com)game. While already being one of the most reliable 4-3 ends against the run, his biggest strength is the pass rush. Cole had 12.5 sacks last year, which is the second time he’s done that in his last three seasons. Through five seasons and 69 starts, Cole has 47 sacks. The most impressive thing is how he’s all this through constant double teaming. It’s unknown if Graham can free up some pressure for Cole, but it’s certain that Cole will help Graham because Cole has already done that with Parker. Cole has it made a long way from the fifth round in the 2005 draft, and he’s now in the prime of his career. The NFC East will have to continue to live the nightmare of trying to stop this all-around force.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Like most great franchises, the Eagles have made great moves while preparing to make big changes. The offense is loaded with impressive and dangerous players at the skill positives, including the unmentioned Michael Vick. The front seven and offensive line has been improved in recent seasons, as well. Heck, the special teams received a boost this offseason when the team hired Bobby April to be the unit coordinator. April will keep a strong special teams unit near the top of the league.

For Kevin Kolb, his biggest focus needs to be limiting poor throws. He will inevitably face some sort of pressure, especially when facing the defending NFC East Champions from Dallas. When that pressure comes, Kolb can’t rush his throws into coverage or hang onto to the ball too long when a sack or turnover looms.

Success against the weaker pass defenses will come. Kolb will be happy to face weak secondaries like Detroit, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Tennessee, Chicago, Houston and Minnesota. Only two or three of those teams have dangerous pass rushes, so it’s possible Kolb has a strong first season statistically. The safest bet for 2010 is that the passing game drops in production, but not enough to make the Eagles an NFC East retread. Philly will still contend for a playoff appearance, but this team isn’t the Super Bowl contender it was last year. PROJECTION: 2nd in NFC East


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