It’s game week!
After one of the most unique offseasons in NFL history, the Eagles will play a football game in six days when they head south to face the Washington Football Team at FedExField.
Here are the 10 biggest questions facing the Eagles as they get ready for Week 1:
1. What’s going on with the O-line?
The Eagles’ offensive line was one of its biggest strengths just a few months ago. But then they lost Brandon Brooks for the season. Then they lost Andre Dillard for the season. Even though they brought back Jason Peters, he doesn’t want to move from right guard to left tackle until he gets a pay bump. And on top of all that, Lane Johnson missed most of training camp with an injury.
This was the Eagles’ projected offensive line a few months ago: Andre Dillard, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson
And this was their line on the last day of training camp: Matt Pryor, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Jason Peters, Jordan Mailata
Even if the Eagles sign Cordy Glenn and the starting line is able to hold up there are also serious questions about the Eagles’ depth on the OL. For the last several years, Halapoulivaati Vaitai was one of the most important members of the team as a backup tackle and guard, but he’s now in Detroit. Pryor was supposed to be that utility backup but now he’s already in the starting lineup. Their backups, right now, have combined for a total of three NFL snaps and they’re all from Nate Herbig.
2. Is the receiver position fixed?
The Eagles biggest position of weakness coming out of the 2019 season was wide receiver and the Eagles tried to fix that, but it’s fair to wonder if they did enough. Sure they made a draft-day trade to bring in Marquise Goodwin but he opted out of the 2020 season.
In the draft, they took Jalen Reagor in the 1st round and then John Hightower and Quez Watkins in later rounds.
You can certainly argue the Eagles should have signed a veteran receiver in free agency, especially after prices dropped. But they used their money on other positions before those prices dropped and were then left without one.
On paper, this group of receivers isn’t bad. They have a healthy DeSean Jackson to go along with Reagor, Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Hightower and Watkins. And if Alshon Jeffery comes back and contributes, it’s basically like a bonus.
But a lot of these guys are far from sure thing. Can DeSean stay healthy? Will Alshon really be able to help? When Reagor gets back from his shoulder injury, how good will he be? Have we already seen Ward’s ceiling? Is JJAW going to bounce back from a horrible rookie season? Are the two late-round rookies really going to contribute?
Last season, Carson Wentz became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 without a receiver going over 500. The Eagles desperately need that to not happen again.
3. Will this new-look secondary be an improvement?
Here’s a look at the Eagles’ starting secondary in Week 1 of 2019:
CB: Ronald Darby
CB: Rasul Douglas
NCB: Avonte Maddox
S: Malcolm Jenkins
S: Rodney McLeod
Here’s a look at the Eagles’ starting secondary as they go into Week 1 this year:
CB: Darius Slay
CB: Avonte Maddox
NCB: Nickell Robey-Coleman
S: Jalen Mills
S: Rodney McLeod
That’s quite a change year over year. McLeod is the only member of the secondary left in his original spot. And on top of that, the Eagles also have a new defensive backs coach. Cory Undlin took the DC job in Detroit and the Eagles hired Marquand Manuel to replace him.
The loss of Jenkins is a huge one. Over the last six years, Jenkins barely left the field, played multiple spots and was a leader. Mills is replacing him in that role and early returns are good. But this is a big change.
On a more positive note, the trade to bring in Slay from the Lions was one of their biggest offseason adds. The Eagles hope Slay will be their first elite corner since Asante Samuel nearly a decade ago. And Robey-Coleman is a really good nickel CB.
4. Do they have enough fastballs on defense?
I’m digging into the old Jim Johnson dictionary for the term “fastballs,” which basically just means pass rushers. The Eagles have the same top four they had last year: Derek Barnett, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat. I thought they could have really used another big-time pass rusher to add to the group but they didn’t draft one until the 7th round (Casey Toohill).
That position doesn’t have its future figured out. Barnett is in the final year of his rookie contract and Graham is over 30. Unless Sweat takes a big step in 2020 and becomes a starting-caliber player, the Eagles might need to revamp that position next offseason.
5. Will Carson Wentz take another step?
Wentz ended up having a really impressive season in 2019, especially considering that his entire group of receivers got hurt. But with better weapons in 2020, he’ll need to be better.
And let’s also not forget about some of the additions to the Eagles’ coaching staff, namely Rich Scangarello. This offseason, the Eagles brought in Scangarello, who comes from the Kyle Shanahan offense and brings schematic elements that should really help Wentz.
After the 2019 season, the Eagles took a closer look at Wentz’s success and were ready to admit that the franchise quarterback is at his best when they get him moving in and out of the pocket and throwing on the run. It’s one of the main reasons they wanted to bring in Scangarello. The changes to Doug Pederson’s offense ought to help Wentz quite a bit.
6. Are injuries going to be a problem again?
Remember when we thought the Eagles overcame a lot of injuries in 2017 to win that Super Bowl? How naive we were. Because in the last two seasons, the Eagles have been completely snake-bitten by injury.
And despite all the changes they’ve made to their medical and training staff, the Eagles ended up having a ton of injuries during training camp and that was after they already lost their Pro Bowl right guard in the offseason.
The Eagles have a chance to repeat as NFC East champions, but if they suffer the same kind of injuries this year that they’ve had in recent years, it’s going to be really tough.
7. Will these linebackers live up to potential?
Nigel Bradham is gone. Kamu Grugier-Hill is gone. Jatavis Brown retired.
And the Eagles are left with an incredibly young group of linebackers heading into this season. Their top three ‘backers are Nate Gerry, T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley. Then they have a couple rookies who might mix in and a former CFL star in Alex Singleton.
Gerry and Riley are both incredibly athletic and Edwards makes up for a lack of pure athleticism with impressive instincts. This group has potential, but they are really unproven.
8. Is Miles Sanders going to be a Pro Bowler?
During training camp, Sanders was banged up a little bit but he’s expected to be ready for the opener and the Eagles are going to rely on him heavily this season. Under Doug Pederson, the Eagles have utilized a running back-by-committee approach but that could change this year. Sure, Boston Scott and Corey Clement will play, but Sanders is the bell cow.
Even though he got off to a slow start in his rookie season, Sanders ended up breaking the Eagles’ rookie record for scrimmage yards with 1,327. And remember, he didn’t even really take over that role as a starter until Jordan Howard went down.
It’s not completely unreasonable to think Sanders could go for over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in Year 2. In fact, that’s the kind of production the Eagles are expecting from him.
9. Will older players continue to play at a high level?
The Eagles have eight players who are 30 or older and they are relying heavily on those guys this season:
Jason Peters: 38
DeSean Jackson: 33
Jason Kelce: 32
Brandon Graham: 32
Vinny Curry: 32
Rodney McLeod: 30
Lane Johnson: 30
Malik Jackson: 30
Football players break down with age. Some can outrun that decline for a while and others can’t. The Eagles began the process of getting younger this offseason when they drafted 10 players, but some of those guys won’t help them in 2020.
10. How will COVID-19 affect the season?
This is a question that every team in the NFL is wondering about. The Eagles had a few players on the COVID-19 list and head coach Doug Pederson also tested positive. So at least they’ve gone through some contingency plans.
But many NFL teams have preached to their guys that the team who handles this virus best will be in the best position to be successful.