We continue our team-by-team off-season look at the NFL with the ...
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2007 record: 8-8 (336-300)
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 9.1-6.9
All-time franchise record: 479-524-25 (.478)
Playoff record: 17-17 (.500)
Last five seasons: 49-31 (.613)
Best game of 2007: 56-21 win at home over Detroit (Week 3). The Eagles began the season 0-2. Then they broke out the ugly yellow-and-blue throwback unis and appeared to right the ship with a resounding destruction of a Lions team that, at the time, looked like a potential playoff contender. The Eagles surrendered 446 passing yards, but otherwise appeared to do everything right: Donovan McNabb silenced the critics for at least one week with 381 passing yards and 4 TD tosses, while the defense registered nine sacks. Brian Westbrook picked up 221 yards from scrimmage on just 19 touches and scored 3 TDs. But it was all an illusion. The Eagles couldn't get in the end zone the following week, during a 16-3 loss at Giants Stadium to the eventual champs. Philly would be held to fewer than 20 points in 10 of 16 games last year. They accounted for 17 percent of all their points scored in 2007 (56 of 336) in that one single glorious day against Detroit.
Strength: Rush defense. Even in a down year, the Eagles were a respectable 9th overall in scoring D and 10th in total D. The 2007 Eagles ranked 7th in rush defense (95.8 YPG) and 7th in rushing YPA (3.80) – and that is particularly encouraging considering their two young DTs (Mike Patterson, 24, Brodrick Bunkley, 24) and MLB (Omar Gaither, 23)
Weakness: Defensive playmaking. Despite being third in rushes of 10+ yards and 6th in passes of 25+, the Eagles were near the bottom of the league in producing Big Plays on our Index, with just 38 all season. The problem? They only forced 19 turnovers, one of the worst figures in the league and certainly part of the motivation for signing INT monster Asante Samuel.
Most underrated player: DE Trent Cole. He had a breakout year in 2007, with 12.5 sacks and an appearance in the Pro Bowl. But it may take another season before he becomes more of a household name around the NFL. He was also proved a formidable two-way defensive player, with 70 total tackles on top of the sack totals (one official Eagles bio lists him with 103 total tackles ... apparently evidence of the reason why this most basic of defensive measures, tackles, remains an unofficial NFL statistic).
Unit on the rise: Defensive Hogs. Cole and Patterson give the Eagles are pair of productive young (both are in their fourth year) studs on the defensive line. The young linebacking corps was fairly productive last year, led by second-year middle linebacker Gaither, who paced the team with 102 tackles and made former team leader Jeremiah Trotter – a 2007 free-agent casualty – a distant memory in the Not For Long League. They also signed DE Chris Cole away from the Raiders, who boasted a career-high 8.0 sacks last year. Meanwhile, the signing of CB Samuel, one of the top free agents this year, should give the front seven that all-important extra half-second to get to the quarterback in 2008. The Eagles feel so good about the future of their young defense that in the past few days alone they've released a pair of high-profile veterans: LB Takeo Spikes and DE Jevon Kearse.
: The Samuel signing has made big headlines, as did the release of veterans Spikes and Kearse. Tight end L.J. Smith was franchised back in February, while several free agents who played with the Eagles last year remain unsigned, including role players CB William James and DL Kimo von Oelhoffen.
Youth/experience: The Eagles have made a shift to youth without sacrificing quality play on the field; 15 of their starters last year had five seasons or fewer of experience. Many key veterans, meanwhile, are Pro Bowlers: McNabb, Samuel, T Jon Runyan, T Tra Thomas, S Brian Dawkins, K David Akers.
2007 Draft grade: D. The Eagles had no first-round pick, but did have four picks in the 2nd- and 3rd-rounds – none of which made an impact. Philly's entire 2007 draft class combined for 13 rushing attempts for 14 yards and 1 TD; 16 catches for 178 yards and 1 TD; and, on defense, 21 tackles and 1 sack. Only the selection of tight end Brent Celek in the fifth round out of Cincinnati (16 catches, 178 yards, 1 TD) kept the Eagles from a perfect F for their 2007 draft class.
2008 Draft power: 1st (19), 2nd (50), 3rd (81), 4th (112), 5th (147), 5th (150, from Cincinnati), 6th (178), 7th (217).
General Draft strategies: The Eagles had great drafts in 2005 and 2006, adding Cole, Patterson, Gaither, Bunkley and LB Chris Gocong to the defense. Their whiff in 2007 was way out of character for a team that has drafted stars in almost every draft over the last decade. But they have yet to find those one or two offensive weapons to take the heat off of Westbrook and McNabb – especially at WR, where they've drafted an endless collection of washouts, many of them in the first three rounds. The only threat they've had was Terrell Owens, who is gleefully doing his thing for rival Dallas. The Eagles certainly don't need to sell out to get these players; they simply need to find some complementary performers for a team that was solid but wholly unspectacular in 2007.
Coaching: The Andy Reid years have been among the most successful in franchise history – certainly the best during the Super Bowl Era. Compare Reid's 88-56 (.611) regular-season record and 8-6 (.571) postseason mark to the 54-47 (.535) and 3-4 (.429) of Dick Vermeil, the only other coach to lead the organization to a Super Bowl. Reid's Eagles have consistently been competitive, have played the free-agent market and salary cap as well as anybody and, even during a down season last year, were fairly efficient and competitive in most areas. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, meanwhile, routinely fields one of the league's top units: the Eagles have ranked in the Top 10 in scoring defense in six of the nine years since Reid-Johnson took over the team in 1999. Still, with Reid's problems in his family and the short memories of Philly fans, another so-so year could mean the end of the era.
Overview: The Eagles were the closest team to a sure thing in the NFC this decade, with 11 wins or more every year from 2000 to 2004. The last three seasons have not been as promising – 6-10 in 2005, a mild 10-6 rebound in 2006 and then last year's 8-8 dance with mediocrity and boredom. They might have been a bit better than their record last year, considering six tough NFC East games and 9.1 expected wins, but consistency on offense and a step forward from good to great on defense will be necessary to get Philly back to the top of the NFC. This could be something of a legacy year for Reid, McNabb & Company.