Philadelphia Eagles 2009: A Final Recap
As the Eagles ponder their future and wonder how a team that blew them out twice in six days got blown out themselves, here is look back at the 2009 season with at least one eye on 2010. Right now, the Eagles look like a perennial playoff team, but nothing more. They are good enough to find 10 to 11 wins on their schedule, but appear to be miles away from getting back to the Super Bowl. So what do they do? Let’s first look at what they have done.
5 Things That Went Right
The Draft: It’s been forever, since the Eagles got the kind of an immediate impact from a draft that they got from this year’s class. It is obvious to all however, that with Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, the offense looks very promising for the future. First-round pick Maclin started at wide receiver and gave the team a viable second option to DeSean Jackson. There are even those who feel over time, Maclin may develop into the more consistent threat. The running back McCoy hit the “rookie wall’’ at the end of the season, but showed enough through the first half of the season-plus to set the team record for rookie rushing yards. Linebacker Moises Fokou and safety Victor Harris – two later picks -- both started games on defense and some feel Fokou has a future. If nothing else, he will be an excellent special teams player.
Brent Celek’s Breakout Year: I’ll be the first to admit, I wanted the Eagles to add a tight end last off-season. I wanted to trade for Tony Gonzalez, or draft Brandon Pettigrew, and while both of those players turned out just fine for Atlanta and Detroit, the Eagles were right to stick with Brent Celek. The third-year player from Cincinnati had an excellent season and showed that his big game against Arizona in the 2008 NFC Championship Game wasn’t a fluke. He led the team in receptions, was able to get valuable yards after the catch and looks to have a bright future. Along with wide receiver, tight end can not be checked off the team’s wish list.
DeSean Jackson: In just his second year, Jackson is going to the Pro Bowl as both a wide receiver and a return man. His eight touchdowns of 50 yards, or more, this season matched the NFL record and his explosiveness is something the team lacked for years. His slight build and small statue is always going to be a drawback, but thus far he has avoided the monster hit that could end his season, and he’s also been able to get away from press coverage better than most receivers his size. He was quiet in the losses to Dallas, but a lot of that had to do with the quarterback and the offensive line.
David Akers’ Bounce Back: Admit it you were at least a little concerned going into the season about Akers. I know I was. But when you look around the league and watch easy field goal attempt after easy field goal attempt missed each week and a lot in critical situations, Andy Reid should get on his knees every night and be thankful for Akers. This year he is going back to the Pro Bowl as the best kicker in the NFC and deservedly so. If there is another thing the team does not have to worry about this off-season, it’s the kicker.
Trent Cole’s Pass Rush: Trent Cole emerged a few years ago as a legitimate pass rusher, with the skills to get to the quarterback and bring him down. But when word gets out on a player, it’s up to the player to adjust and get better. Cole did just that. He’s doubled teamed by most opponents and at least chipped by those who don’t double, and he still gets his sacks. What’s been even more impressive about the one-time fifth-round pick from Cincinnati (the Eagles should draft more Bearcats) is that he has also become pretty good against the run, something a lot of the pure pass rushers can’t say.
5 Things That Went Wrong
Stewart Bradley’s ACL: When the middle linebacker went down in something called Flight Night at Lincoln Financial Field, the defense never really fully recovered. Part of the blame has to go to the personnel staff who never really addressed the issue – I mean Jeremiah Trotter called them – and the coaching staff, which wasted almost all of training camp telling us Joe Mays was the answer. Bradley’s absence caused the linebacking situation to be in a state of flux all season and eventually the weakness of a defense that wasn’t very strong.
The Andrews Brothers: During the spring minicamps, Reid dreamed of an offensive line that would have Sean and Stacy Andrews on the right side, protecting Donovan McNabb and opening holes for the running game. It never happened. Sean never made it past the first day of training camp when his surgically-repaired back acted up again and he spent his second straight season out for the season. Stacy, coming off a torn ACL suffered in December of 2008, looked like a medical miracle when he was in the opening-day lineup. Then his knee began to bother him and by the end of the season he was inactive. The bottom line was that Reid’s dream offensive line turned into his worst nightmare.
Brian Dawkins: It was mistake for numerous reasons to let one of the greatest players in Eagles history walk away as a free agent. The biggest of which was the team had no one to replace him. This was eerily similar to when the Eagles, under different management, let Reggie White walk and tried to sell us on the likes of Leonard Renfro and a washed-up Tim Harris. The Eagles used three different players at free safety this season – Quintin Demps, Victor Harris and Sean Jones – none of whom got the job done. Demps and Harris just do not appear to have the football IQ to play the position and Jones is a good backup.
The Left Defensive End: As good as Cole was this season, and he’s heading back to the Pro Bowl, imagine how good he would be if he had help on the other end. The Eagles have tried and tried to come up with an answer on the left side and always seem to revert back to Juqua Parker, who plays hard, has some pass rush but is best suited to be a No. 3 rotation player. Victor Abiamiri, a high second-round pick, is a year away from being labeled a bust. Chris Clemons, a high-priced free agent signing after one good year in Oakland, has already earned that title. And one-time third-round pick Bryan Smith, one of Tom Heckert’s prizes, was cut and is out of football. Maybe Heckert can bring him to Cleveland.
The Offensive Balance: I’m not of those who yell and scream that Reid passes the ball too much. Actually, I’m all for passing the ball; I think in this NFL it’s the only way to win. However, while this year’s offensive had amazing big-play capabilities and was as explosive as it’s ever been, it didn’t have staying power. Part of the problem may have been the play of a less-than-stellar offensive line, but the Eagles did not drive the ball all that well offensively. They were built on big plays. While that’s fun and exciting, it’s not the recipe for success, especially in the playoffs and even more so when your defense is suspect.
5 Questions for the Off season
Who is the 2010 quarterback? –Before anything else is done, although getting a new special teams coach seemed to be on the top of the list – Donovan McNabb’s future with the team must be decided. It’s pretty simple, either he stays and gets an extension, or he’s traded and the Eagles move on with Kevin Kolb, or perhaps Michael Vick. That’s right Michael Vick. Back to McNabb, there may be a division in the organization whether to stick with the proven commodity and try to get better everywhere else, mostly on defense, or to let him go and start anew. Whatever they decide is going to be very interesting, And, if it’s to let him go, it will be real fun to see how he does somewhere else compared to how the Eagles do with him
Is Brian Westbrook finished? – One of the top three backs in Eagles history suffered through a dismal 2009 season thanks to knee and ankle injuries in the summer, and two concussions in the span of a month during the season. McCoy is ready to take over as the featured back and with a $7 million contract next year Westbrook is too expensive to have a back-up/role player. If he is willing to take a pay cut, the team might think about it. But it’s probably best to move on and get another younger player in to spell McCoy.
Will Sheldon Brown be happy? – It’s been written here before and we’ll write it again, the team should do the right thing and give Sheldon Brown a new contract or at the very least a raise on his current one. The guy had another very good season, played every game despite a rash of injuries that would have sidelined 90 percent of players in the league and never said a word once the season started. It’s hard to fathom Brown being satisfied for another year, and if the team decides to trade him they are not going to get true value. Oh, by the way the last unhappy player they traded, Lito Sheppard, is playing in another championship game.
What should the team draft? – Defense (end), defense (safety), defense (linebacker), defense (another safety), defense (tackle), defense (cornerback), punter and defense (another linebacker). But you know Reid will fit in an offensive lineman somewhere in the mix.
Will there be a salary cap in 2010? – It doesn’t look like it, but deals of a new CBA’s magnitude seem to get done in the 11th hour. If there is not, it changes everything. Some of the Eagles free agents will not be free agents and some of the players they seek in free agency will not be available, either. That could lead to more trades. The Eagles have extra draft picks for ammunition and enough holes for them to fill on defense.
Mark Eckel can be contacted at email@example.com