Eagles

Examining the critical issue for each NFC East team

Examining the critical issue for each NFC East team

You could make a strong case from head to toe, the NFC East is the best division in the NFL. Some may argue the NFC South, but in these parts, we are locked in on the division the Eagles call home. So let’s dive deep into the No. 1 issue for each team entering the 2017 season.

Eagles: Pass rush
We begin, naturally, with the Eagles. As has been Howie Roseman’s style since his return from exile, it was an extremely busy offseason for his club. Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Ronald Darby were added to the team that went 7-9 last season. All are major upgrades from what inhabited those positions last year. 

So while I fully expect Carson Wentz and the Birds' offense to be much improved, the key to the season lies with the men up front on defense. Pass rush is the name of the game if the Eagles want to reach their first postseason since 2013. Jim Schwartz's unit was tied for 16th in the NFL in sacks – and middle of the pack isn't going to cut it again this year. A strong pass rush cures a lot of ills, specifically a secondary that, despite the addition of Darby, has major questions at cornerback. 

The NFC East is loaded with talent at receiver, not to mention the Eagles' out-of-division foes. Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan will be a force inside, but the Eagles' defensive ends need to get to the QB. If that group, including rookie Derek Barnett – the best natural pass rusher of the lot – delivers, the Eagles are a playoff team.

Cowboys: Elliott's suspension
The Cowboys have a lot of talent on offense, but Ezekiel Elliott is the straw that stirs Jerry Jones' Johnny Walker Blue. A judge blocked Elliott's six-game suspension Friday that will set the stage for the battle to play out in court. If Elliott ends up on the wrong end of a final verdict and has to miss games, what is the trickle-down effect on the rest of that offense? Dak Prescott was great in his rookie year, but he attempted only 459 passes. Compare that to Wentz's 607, and you see the impact the NFL’s leading rusher had on the entire unit. Prescott had a 23/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year. An ineffective run game could cause him to throw more and increase the odds of a turnover. 

Giants: Running game
Much like the Cowboys, the Giants' return to the postseason could hinge on their running game. New York spent lavishly and wisely on defense heading into last season and it paid off in a big way. But the Giants ranked 29th in rushing. Can Paul Perkins or rookie Wayne Gallman become a consistent force? And perhaps the bigger issue is can their offensive line open up the holes? Eli Manning is now 36, and despite excellent weapons to throw to, a balance will be the key for Old Man Eli.

Redskins: New-look wideouts
To the Birds' opponent Sunday, the Redskins. They lost two productive receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. No one in the NovaCare Complex is shedding any tears over their departures (see story). Now in their place for the Redskins is a much bigger and stronger pairing in Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson. The question is can Pryor, the converted quarterback who burst onto the scene last year in Cleveland and signed a surprisingly low one-year deal, deliver in his new surroundings? And what kind of leap can Doctson, who played in just two games his rookie year because of an Achilles injury, make now that he’s a starter?  

Week 1 prediction: The Eagles beat the Redskins, 24-22, in a game that will come down to the final possession.           

Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Defensive line

Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Defensive line

As we get near the start of the Eagles’ 2018 training camp, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the key position battles to watch this summer. 

Today we’ll look at the defensive line. 

Names to know

Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, Destiny Vaeao

What to watch

The only guy we don’t really need to waste time talking about is Cox. He’s really good and he’s going to need to be a big part of the team. OK, enough about Fletch. 

There are a lot of moving pieces here. It starts with a couple of injuries. Jernigan is still recovering from offseason back surgery and is probably a candidate to begin the season on the Non-football Injury list. And Graham is also recovering from surgery to help heal a high ankle sprain he had late last season and played through in the playoffs. As long as Graham is healthy by the start of the season, he’s going to start at defensive end. That means we know two starters for the season opener. 

The team added Bennett through a trade and added Ngata through free agency. The Eagles also cut Vinny Curry and let Beau Allen walk. Still, this is a very strong unit, perhaps even stronger than it was a year ago. 

Long contemplated retirement but came back and Barnett should improve as he enters Year 2. They, at the very least, make this unit incredibly deep. Even more, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said he wants Barnett to push for a starting gig this year. Last year, Barnett was a rotational player and was often a pass-rushing specialist. 

There are a few ways the starting lineup might work out and it’s really dependent on Jernigan’s health and Bennett’s comfort in the defense. The Eagles have options with Bennett because of his ability to play end and tackle. If the Eagles really see Ngata as a rotational player unable to start until Jernigan returns, perhaps Bennett slides inside. That might give the Eagles a chance to get their four best on the field: Graham, Cox, Bennett and Barnett. Not a bad idea, unless they think Bennett is a liability in the run game, where Ngata would obviously be a better fit. The Eagles also have Vaeao, but even though he’s well-liked by coaches, can’t imagine he’d start over Ngata. 

Either way, the Eagles are going to continue to rotate. So beyond fighting for starting gigs, this is about fighting for playing time and snaps. There are limited numbers to go around. 

Prediction

Graham is healthy for the season opener but Jernigan is not and starts the season on NFI. I think Graham, Cox, Ngata and Bennett begin the season as starters, but Bennett and Graham spend plenty of time inside on passing downs. Eventually, don’t be surprised to see Barnett’s playing time increase to the point where he’s a starter. 

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Nick Foles delivers powerful speech after winning Best Championship Performance award at ESPYS

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Nick Foles delivers powerful speech after winning Best Championship Performance award at ESPYS

A year ago at this time, Nick Foles was preparing for a season on the bench as he just tried to stick around the NFL after falling back in love with the game.

He has a little higher profile now.

While Foles is preparing to possibly head back to the bench in favor of Carson Wentz, he is now the reigning Super Bowl MVP and added another trophy to his case on Wednesday night, when he was given the Best Championship Performance award at the ESPYS.

During his acceptance speech, Foles thanked a bunch of folks, used the word “y’all” more than enough times to remind everyone he’s from Texas and spoke candidly about the incredibly unique path his career has taken.

Here is Foles accepting the award from comedian (and Jim Schwartz’s former college teammate … seriously) Jim Gaffigan.

No, an ESPY is no Super Bowl MVP, but it’s a pretty nice honor and Foles is certainly deserving after leading the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl. Just a reminder, Foles completed 65 percent of his passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl LII.

Here’s his full speech from Wednesday night at the ESPYS:

I’m honored to be in front of all y’all. I never planned a speech. I quite frankly never expected to win this award or to even be in this moment. I just want to thank the good Lord for giving me the ability to play the game I love. You know, thank my wife Tori, she’s gone through her own battles the last five years. You’ve always been an inspiration. A lot of my family is here, so thank y’all for always supporting me.

It’s been a crazy career. If any of y’all know my career path, it doesn’t make sense. But you know, I’m here right now. My teammates, coaches, you know what, we faced so much adversity this year, we have an amazing team. It’s so much fun to go to work in that locker room every single day. I couldn’t have done it without y’all. We see what happened. We won the first Super Bowl in Philadelphia history, so we’ve got a special group of guys.

And then to the Philadelphia fans. Y’all get a (bad) rap everywhere, but the passion, y’all bring it every single day. So thank y’all. And finally, there’s a lot of kids watching this and it’s kind of been the theme. There are going to be people who doubt you. Don’t listen to them. What matters is what’s in here (taps on chest) and the people who love you and support you. Go out there every day and be bold. Thank you.

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