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The Philadelphia Eagles are Good, not Great

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V FOR VICTORY WITH BILLY VARGUSBilly V

The NFL season is finally here, and Eagles fans are hoping this will be the year their dreams get realized. After all, the Eagles’ front office showed their desire to win by spending big bucks to sign multiple impact free agents this off-season. During the free agent frenzy, people (most notably QB Vince Young) called the Eagles  the "Dream Team. 
 
Ownership wants to win, but they have a blind allegiance to their coach, and he has a blind spot of his own.  We all know that as an offensive play-caller, Andy Reid wants to throw and doesn't care for running the ball, and he mistakenly presumes the opponent is going to do the same.   
 
The result is that everyone the Eagles signed on the defensive side of the ball will help their pass defense while doing nothing to improve their ability to stop the run. They already had a top cornerback, Asante Samuel, and added two more.  They had a premier pass rusher in Trent Cole, and they added two more. But at linebacker, they had no premier players, and they added none. The linebackers they do have are small, and likely to get moved around by teams with big offensive lines and big running backs.  And to top it all off, they also added a defensive line coach who wants to play his ends extra wide to give them better pass rush lanes, and that'll mean the linebackers will be even more exposed against the run.
 
Of course, commentators everywhere keep making pronouncements that "the NFL is a passing league now," which makes it sound as though the inability to stop the run is inconsequential. But a breakdown of the numbers shows that is simply not true. Last year, NFL teams ran the ball about 45% of the time (.446) while passing about 55% (.554). Would anyone in their right mind just let the other team have its way 45% of the time?
 
There are four teams in the AFC that apparently didn't know "the NFL is a passing league", because they actually ran the ball more than they threw it last year: Jacksonville, Kansas City, Oakland and the New York Jets.  That Jets team will be in town to face the Eagles in what could prove to be a critical late-season matchup on December 18th. The Eagles will also face some power-running teams early in the season, most notably the Atlanta Falcons  in Week Two. The Falcons also failed to realize that "the NFL is a passing league,” as they led the NFC in rushing attempts, with just under 500 for the season. Their power back, Michael Turner, is listed at 247 pounds, which means he's bigger than any linebacker on the Eagles roster.  Will Danny Watkins fulfill expectations on the offensive line? Photo: AP

You would've thought that the ineffectiveness of so many 230 pound linebackers of the past, such as Matt McCoy, Keith Adams, and more recently Will Witherspoon and Akeem Jordan would've taught the Eagles that their affinity for small, quick LB's instead of big strong ones is not a good idea.

On opening day, the Eagles will have to stop Steven Jackson, who weighs in at 236 pounds, although age and injuries are catching up to him. Rams' coach Steve Spagnuolo, is a former assistant to Reid, but unlike the one-track minded Eagles coach, Spags will keep coming back to the run if he sees it's working.  

Reid, on the other hand, will stop his own running game; If it's not working early, he'll abandon it and start throwing every down.  If it is working well, he figures he's got the defense set up for the pass, and he'll start throwing every down.

Those Rams, by the way, have long had problems of their own when it comes to stopping the run. Last year, they gave up an average of 4.5 yards per running play, 5th worst in the NFC.  Meanwhile, their pass defense was 3rd best in the NFC. All of which would seem to add up to wanting to run the ball against them, but Reid probably won't really try to exploit that.

On the other hand, the fact that the Eagles are so stocked with pass defenders and pass rushers while lacking at linebacker would seem to scream out to opposing coaches to avoid possible sacks and interceptions as much as possible and chew up yardage on the ground.  

Then there's also the Eagles' other glaring weakness--the offensive line. Hard to see how a coach who played o-line himself didn't make it a priority to do something to improve that unit.

Despite all of that, I still see the Eagles winning 10 games this season. They will be good enough to win a division that has gone downhill fast; Dallas stinks, Washington really stinks, and the New York Giants have suffered a slew of injuries. But in the playoffs, when matched against the teams that have balance and play with power, the Eagles will come up short again.  

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Billy Vargus is an Emmy Award Winner for Best Sports Anchor for 2008 and 2009. (Mid-Atlantic region, covering all of Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.) Bill has been a TV sports anchor in the Philadelphia area for 18 years with the last 12 coming at Fox 29. He’s also had stops at Channel 10, Channel 12, plus at other television markets around the country.He has also served as the pre-game host for all Seventy-Sixers games in the past and also has acted in films, TV shows and commercials.

Billy V can be contacted at billv@philly2philly.com

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