Friday, September 2, 2011

NFL Season Preview - Ten Questions About The Eagles

Over the next few days, we will be doing a look at the upcoming 2011 NFL season.  Today we begin the preview by discussing and examining ten questions surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles, since they are our favorite team here at Lattanzi Land.  Feedback in the comment thread is welcome, as always.  Enjoy! -- J.L.

1) How much will the lockout affect everyone (not just the Eagles)?

This is sort of the great unknown - and yet it is sort of a known as well.  It was generally understood when the lockout (and the Lattanzi Land Moratorium) ended, the adjustment period would end up spilling into the season itself.  Free agency would be a madhouse; new players trying to learn offenses and defensive alignments would be short on time, and draftees would finally get to work with coaches.  Conditioning has also suffered, with more 'little' injuries (strains and the like) occurring.  The only ones who seemed upset that the lockout ended were the veterans who wanted to see training camp get wiped out so their jobs would be guaranteed without any sort of young competition.  

2) Do the Eagles believe the Hype?

Vince Young had been somewhat misquoted on the whole 'Dream Team' business, but in our 24/7 media universe, it is the norm, for good or ill.  The answer is officially they do not believe the hype.  No doubt we will continue to hear all the right things about going to work every day and playing hard to win games.  I can't help but think that some of these players on the Eagles do buy into it.  The issue will be forced if they start the season in an exceptionally slow manner (.500 or less in the first four games), and the hammer will be dropped with all the schadenfreude the media and rival fan bases can muster.  For the sake of all Eagles fans, I hope they are confident, but not getting completely sucked into all the media-driven emotivism.  Just remember, Eagles - the media builds up, and the media rips down.

After the jump, we will have more questions...

3) How does Michael Vick respond to his new deal?

I promise, I was not going to avoid this topic after Vick signed a deal that was originally reported to be for six years and one-hundred million dollars (of course, NFL contracts are rarely what they are reported to be).  I am not a huge fan of this deal, but let's see how it goes.  The real question is whether or not Vick will become complacent now that he has gotten his second "$100 million" deal.  I would hope that his motivation would be winning, but as with most of us (Mel Gibson excepted), we are not mind-readers.  

4) What about DeSean Jackson?

D-Jax held out for some time after the lockout ended, but with a potential $30,000 per day fine when he is making about $600,000.  I will never cry over someone making that much, but a daily five percent fine is pretty hefty for anyone.  He wants a new deal, but it looks like he will have to earn it, given that money is going to be ever tighter now with the shrunken salary cap ($120 million).  He is the most 'explosive' player in the NFL, but has been known to be a bit of an airhead on the field.  Nevertheless, I am sure that after the season, he will be taken care of in some manner by the Eagles.

5) How will the coaching be different this season?

On offense, what we have all seen and known is exactly what we are going to get - Andy Reid calls the plays with Marty Mornhinweg's input.  On second and ten after a first down incompletion, they will call for a run up the middle, and there will always be more passing than running.  Complaining about the supposed 'lack of balance' is a completely futile exercise and always has been.  Might as well learn to love it.  The real interesting thing to watch is how Juan Castillo calls the defense.  A former offensive line coach, many people scratched their heads when he was brought over to the defensive side after Sean McDermott was let go following the debacle against Green Bay last January.  

6) How good will the defensive backfield be?

I was pretty surprised when the Eagles went out and got both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (trade with Arizona) and Nnamdi Asomuagh (free agent) to go along with Asante Samuel for the secondary.  They have three quality shutdown defensive backs now, although I was convinced for some time that Asante Samuel would be traded.  I had hoped that they would toy with the idea of playing a 3-3-5 alignment and dare teams to run against them.  Even without that, if the Eagles can get a good pass rush, then the secondary will be scary-good.

7) What is the backup quarterback situation?

Until last night, I actually was fairly confident about the backup situation - but Vince Young pulled a hamstring and Mike Kafka is what we have left after trading Kevin Kolb to Arizona. Let's be honest - Michael Vick is a fairly fragile player, given the way he takes off when he senses danger, and how poor his blitz recognition is.  A good hit may knock him out for two or three weeks (or longer), and having a good backup is important.  Andy Reid knows this, having watched what Jeff Garcia did in 2006, as opposed to the Mike McMahon era (2005).  I guess the Eagles coaching staff and front office put a high premium on the power of prayer, so Vick doesn't get hurt while Young and Kafka only play in extensive garbage time.

8) What about the team's health?

Aside from Vick and Young mentioned just above, the two stories of health over the summer concerned Jeremy Maclin and Mike Patterson.  Maclin had a 'mystery illness' that some thought might be cancer, but it turned out to be nothing of that sort.  Patterson suffered a seizure during the early days of training camp, but has played himself back into shape in an impressive fashion.  The Eagles will need both guys to be healthy in order to have success, but we know that nothing is guaranteed in football, given its violent ways and unpredictable events.  

9) How does the rest of the division and conference look?

There is no doubt that the Packers are still the team to beat in the NFC; they have looked good so far and as the defending champs, they get the benefit of the doubt.  The other team to fear in the conference is most likely New Orleans.  As for the division, Dallas and New York will always be competitive while the Redskins will most likely cause fits for the Eagles even as they swoon to another 6-10 season.  As always, though, this is why they play the games.

10) Is this *the* year for the Eagles?

In short, I hope so.  The long answer is that I have no idea.  Do I think the window is closing? Not by a long shot, and yet, there is a certain fear about this season with so many variables and unknowns.  Teams can get hot, bad luck can befall a team, and bad injuries can be inflicted.  Winning the Super Bowl takes a combination of getting hot and avoiding the other two things.  So much has to go right, but the odds are never in a team's favor.  Even getting to the playoffs reduces a team's shot of winning it all to about 10%.  I (and the rest of the fanbase) want them to win it so badly, but at heart I am a realist and am prepared to have my heart broken once again even as I pray with all my might that they hoist the Lombardi Trophy in early February. 

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