Philadelphia Eagles 2016 Season Preview

WENTZ BABY
Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

After a 2015 season filled with disappointment and frustration, leading to now San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly getting fired, the Philadelphia Eagles are looking for a fresh start with Doug Pederson as their new head coach. Chip Kelly’s reign did not go as well as owner Jeffrey Lurie would have liked, and because of that, Lurie hired former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson to the head coach position. With an offseason and preseason consumed by major headlines, from trading up in the draft to select quarterback Carson Wentz, to dealing Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings nine days before the start of the regular season, the Eagles have their guy at quarterback they believe in, and are looking to make what was looking like a rebuilding year in 2016 into a possible playoff berth.

Offseason Moves

The Eagles made the most out of the offseason this year. Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman started off by hiring Doug Pederson as the head coach, and bringing in Jim Schwartz to be the team’s new defensive coordinator. After taking care of key coaching personnel, the Eagles extended the contracts of tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, offensive tackle Lane Johnson, defensive end Vinny Curry, safety Malcolm Jenkins, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, and former quarterback Sam Bradford. The offseason shuffle began when the Eagles traded DeMarco Murray to the Tennessee Titans, Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell to the Miami Dolphins, and Mark Sanchez to the Denver Broncos. Roseman and Pederson then made the biggest splash of the offseason by trading up to the second overall pick in the draft with the Cleveland Browns to select North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. The Eagles future was now clear, but Roseman and Pederson were still adamant that Sam Bradford would be the team’s starting quarterback in the near-future.

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (Yong Kim/Philly.com)
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (Yong Kim/Philly.com)

Wentz is the Guy

It looked like the Eagles were going to stick to their plan and start Sam Bradford week one against the Cleveland Browns. Wentz fractured his rib during the Eagles first preseason game, and missed the remainder of the preseason. Without any in-game reps, Wentz was sure to be sidelined behind Bradford and backup Chase Daniel, who was signed to a three-year deal back in March. On Friday, shocking Eagles fans and the NFL, Sam Bradford was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a first-round pick in 2017 and a fourth-round pick in 2018. This trade meant Eagles fans were going to see Carson Wentz sooner than they thought, but what was even more surprising than the trade itself was that Wentz is now lined up to start week one if he’s fully healthy. Many assumed that once Bradford was, Chase Daniel would start until Pederson and the Eagles believed Wentz was ready to play. In his press conference on Friday where he announced the Bradford trade, Howie Roseman explained that the plan was not to trade Bradford.

“This was not our blueprint. This was not part of the plan,” Roseman said. “But as we sit [here], we have to be flexible and we have to be able to take advantage of opportunities.”

Roseman described the Bradford trade as an opportunity “that we [Eagles] had to take advantage of.” Wentz has progressed substantially in practice even without seeing game action for the majority of the preseason. It appears Wentz will be fully healed by Sunday’s season-opener. The Eagles are Wentz’s team now.

The Rest of the Eagles Offense

Wentz is certainly being thrown right into the fire. The Eagles have no-depth at the receiver and offensive line positions. With Lane Johnson’s 10-game suspension looming, Wentz will have a thin and unstable offensive line protecting him. The Eagles receiving core won’t be helping Wentz’s cause either. Jordan Matthews missed the entire preseason after injuring his knee during training camp, but when healthy, he’s clearly the Eagles number one wide-out. The Eagles are taking a flier on Dorial Green-Beckham after trading offensive lineman Dennis Kelly to the Titans to acquire the second-year receiver. Josh Huff and last year’s first-round pick Nelson Agholor had less than memorable preseasons, and must increase their production to provide Wentz with more targets to throw to.

Tight end and running back are the sharp areas of the Eagles offense. Last year in Kansas City, Doug Pederson ran his passing attack through tight end Travis Kelce. With Zach Ertz on the verge of having a break-out season, and Brent Celek and Trey Burton adding to the tight end depth, Pederson will be able to do what he did last year in Kansas City in Philadelphia this year. Ertz is critical to the Eagles success. In his final four games of 2015, Ertz caught 35 passes for 450 yards and a touchdown. With an offense that favors tight ends, expect Ertz to have Pro Bowl calibar season in 2016.

At running back, the Eagles have an explosive committee with different skill sets in Ryan MathewsDarren SprolesKenjon Barner, and fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood. To ease the pressure off of Wentz, Pederson will be utilizing his four running backs in different ways, both on offense and special teams.

Jim Schwartz’s Defense

Anchored by Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox, the Eagles defense will be the high point of this year’s team. Schwartz does not blitz as much as other defensive coordinators around the league do with his wide-nine scheme, but that doesn’t matter in this instance because of the explosive Eagles defensive line. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Bennie Logan, and Connor Barwin can get after the quarterback, and will ease the pressure off of a thin linebacking core and secondary still getting use to playing with each other.

Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Eagles currently have only five linebackers on their final 53-man roster. For Sunday’s opener, Nigel BradhamJordan Hicks, and Mychal Kendricks will be the three linebackers starting, backed by only Stephen Tulloch and Kamu Grugier-Hill. This is definitely the weak spot of the Eagles defense. If the defensive line ever struggles, the back-end of the Eagles front seven will be exposed.

The secondary isn’t as much of a concern for the Eagles as it has been the past few seasons. In the offseason, Schwartz brought in safety Rodney McLeod and corners Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks, along with drafting Jalen Mills out of LSU. Veterans Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll mix well with the newly acquired and drafted members of the Eagles secondary, as Pederson and Schwartz hope opposing offenses have more difficulty passing against the Eagles defense this year as opposed to previous seasons.

Season Prediction 

Week 1 – vs. Cleveland Browns: W
Week 2 – @ Chicago Bears: L
Week 3 – vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: L
Week 4 – BYE
Week 5 – @ Detroit Lions: W
Week 6 – @ Washington Redskins: L
Week 7 – vs. Minnesota Vikings: L
Week 8 – @ Dallas Cowboys: L
Week 9 – @ New York Giants: W
Week 10 – vs. Atlanta Falcons: W
Week 11 – @ Seattle Seahawks: L
Week 12 – vs. Green Bay Packers: L
Week 13 – @ Cincinnati Bengals: L
Week 14 – vs. Washington Redskins: W
Week 15 – @ Baltimore Ravens: L
Week 16 – vs. New York Giants: W
Week 17 – vs. Dallas Cowboys: L

Projected Record: 6-10

This year, despite being in a weak division and Tony Romo likely to miss at least six games for the Cowboys, the Eagles simply aren’t good enough to compete for a playoff spot (yet). They have no-depth at wide receiver, offensive line, or linebacker, and this is Doug Pederson’s first year as an NFL head coach. Pederson is going to make in-game mistakes. Much like Wentz, Pederson will have to get use to being a head coach in the NFL. Make no mistake about it, the Eagles are in a hopeful spot for future success. But this year is about Carson Wentz’s development as an NFL quarterback, and Doug Pederson acclimating to the top spot in the coaching hierarchy. Eagles fans should expect the 2016 season to be filled with road bumps and bright moments along the way.