1. If I had to build a team over the next 10 years, I’d want Carson Wentz (three years younger than a banged-up Andrew Luck) at quarterback. Like Luck, and Ben Roethlisberger, Wentz has that rare ability to extend a play without breaking down its structure. Though he did it too much early last season, Wentz is willing to deliver in the face of pressure and take the hit. We’ll see him extend plays more in 2017. Last year, the Eagles just wanted their rookie QB to get completions. They featured a lot of quick-strike throws, which Wentz, when he was comfortable, handled aptly. With an expanded understanding of the NFL game and Doug Pederson’s offense, an upgraded wide receiving corps and more trust in his offensive line, Wentz will approach top 10 QB status before long.
2. There’s no need for skepticism about how free agent pickup Alshon Jeffery will fit in the Eagles’ offense, which is structured around misdirection concepts, quick underneath throws and the occasional downfield route combination. Jeffery’s role was already carved out for Dorial Green-Beckham last season. Jeffery, who has Green-Beckham’s unique combination of size and speed, will fill it much better. Defenses should be on high alert for Dig routes, which Jeffery will run in conjunction with Go routes by speedy free-agent pickup Torrey Smith.
3. Speaking of Smith, he’s a bit of a one trick pony, with straight-line speed but little else. That’s why, after signing the former Raven/49er, the Eagles still felt it was necessary to draft Mack Hollins in the fourth round. Don’t be surprised if, before the season ends, Hollins and Smith share time as the No. 2.
4. When it’s clicking, Philly’s rushing attack, schematically, is one of the most diverse in the NFL. You see a great mix of zone- and man-blocking concepts out of various formations. And as far as the actual ballcarriers go, LeGarrette Blount now gives the ground game a power dimension that Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles couldn’t provide—and he converted on third/fourth-down-and-short 13 out of 19 times for the Patriots last season. The Eagles as a team ranked 25th in this department.
5. Four things to know about Philly’s O-line: 1) Right tackle Lane Johnson is critical. When he’s in, Wentz is a much more comfortable QB. 2) Left tackle Jason Peters is declining athletically, but the team believes he can gut-out at least one more quality season. 3) Mobile center Jason Kelce is great in space but lacks the strength to battle in traffic. Defenses will play more fronts with a nose tackle against this team. 4) Third-rounder Isaac Seumalo is a great fit at left guard. Athleticism at guard is important in this scheme, and Seumalo has it in spades.
6.When defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz plays two safeties deep, the Eagles are almost always in zone. When he plays one safety deep, it’s almost always man-to-man. But with changes at cornerback (Ronald Darby acquired from Buffalo, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas drafted in Rounds 2 and 3, Patrick Robinson signed in free agency and Ron Brooks back healthy), will that change?
7.Philly’s defensive line depth is fantastic. Veteran free-agent pickup Chris Long can be a first- and second-down defensive end, allowing first-round rookie Derek Barnett to focus solely on situational pass rushing in Year 1. Ex-Raven Timmy Jernigan provides another interior gap-shooting presence alongside Fletcher Cox. And Cox can actually line up at defensive end sometimes, while listed defensive ends Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry (both excellent pass rushers) can slide to defensive tackle. There’s a lot of depth and versatility up front.
8. One negative up front: the loss of defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who signed with Kansas City. Raw strength and lateral agility make Logan one of the NFL’s best run defenders. Last season, in games he was healthy, the Eagles allowed 90.7 yards rushing. In games Logan wasn’t healthy, they allowed 141.
9. Malcolm Jenkins kneeled for the national anthem last year and has been outspoken on a variety of issues. And he’s perfect proof that the NFL doesn’t care if a player does this, just as long as he’s good on the field. And Jenkins is. Besides being a fundamentally sound safety who can play deep or in the box, Jenkins is also an adequate slot corner. The only slot receivers whom he can’t outplay are the shifty guys like Cole Beasley and Jamison Crowder. (Which is why you can expect the Eagles to put Ron Brooks or Patrick Robinson in the slot this year.) Wherever he aligns, Jenkins shines.
10.One thing this defense must be ready for are trap runs. That’s where an offensive lineman immediately works up to a linebacker, setting up his defensive lineman to be blocked unexpectedly by a different down-blocking offensive lineman. The Eagles see a lot of trap runs because this counters the gap-shooting tactics that Schwartz teaches his D-line.
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