The Eagles followed up their 2017 Super Bowl with a tale of two seasons. For the first half of the year, the Philadelphia Eagles looked disjointed and out of sync. Carson Wentz did not resemble the MVP form he flashed in ‘17, injuries to the secondary mounted, and the happy thoughts of the franchise’s 1st Super Bowl seemed to have a hangover effect on the team as a whole. An embarrassing 48-7 loss to the Saints in Week 11 dropped the Birds to 4-6 and a Week 14 OT loss to the Cowboys facilitated the shut down of Wentz. The season seemed lost.
Enter Philly’s favorite Napoleon Dynamite look alike. The Nick Foles magic struck again in South Philadelphia as the Eagles found their mojo for a late season push to make the playoffs and came within a dropped Alshon Jeffery red zone pass of possibly returning to the NFC Championship game.
Things will certainly look a bit different on the Eagles sideline this season as good olde Nick Foles has moved on to Jacksonville. Yet Howie Roseman has made a number of roster moves to retool the talent in an effort to make another postseason push. Has this team regained the hunger which seemed lacking early last season? Does the defensive line still have enough talent to provide the push they did in key moments in the past? Most importantly what’s the health status of Carson Wentz moving forward? The answers to these questions will likely determine whether the 2019 Eagles are a true Super Bowl threat or merely a good team on the fringes of playoff contention.
Super Bowl Odds: +1400
Odds to win the NFC: +650
Odds to win the NFC East: +100
Season Win Total: 9.5 (O -175 / U +155)
(Lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
(Personal NFL model lines based on expected starting Week 1 lineup as of June 10, 2019)
|Week||Opponent||CG Tech. Line||Expected Wins||NFL Model Line||Expected Wins|
|2||@ Atlanta (Sunday Night)||+1.5||.47||+1.5||.47|
|4||@ Green Bay (Thursday Night)||+2.5||.45||+4.5||.33|
|7||@ Dallas (Sunday Night)||+3||.41||+1.5||.47|
|12||Seattle (Sunday Night)||-3.5||.64||-6||.71|
|14||NY Giants (Monday Night)||-9||.81||-5.5||.69|
|17||@ NY Giants||-4.5 (est)||.67||-4.5||.67|
Expected Wins (CG Technologies): 9.85
Expected Wins (Personal NFL Model): 9.63
Eagles GM Howie Roseman was wheeling and dealing again this offseason in an effort to free up cap space and remake the roster for another Super Bowl run. The Birds spent the lead up to free agency by reworking or resigning the contracts of a number of current veteran players including DE Brandon Graham, C Jason Kelce, G Issac Seumalo, and T Jason Peters.
When free agency opened the Eagles got out of the gate early by signing Jacksonville DT Malik Jackson and speedy WR DeSean Jackson for his 2nd go around with the team. The front office promptly followed that up by shipping disgruntled DE and 2018 team sack leader Micheal Bennett to the Patriots for a 5th round pick. Depth was provided by signing/resigning free agents: CB Ronald Darby, S Andrew Sendego, DE Vinny Curry, and DT Timmy Jernigan to 1 year “prove it” type contracts. Additionally LB Zach Brown was signed to replace oft-injured Jordan Hicks. Roseman then wrapped up a whirlwind March by trading for Bears RB Jordan Howard to provide some stability in the backfield as they opted to not resign Darren Sproles and Jay Ajayi. Howard will likely fill the early down and red zone roll of LeGarrette Blount from two years ago.
Perhaps the most significant move of the offseason just occurred last week as the Eagles inked Carson Wentz to a new deal that extended him through the 2024 season. The signing explains a lot of the salary reshuffling which occurred prior to the opening of free agency and allowed the Eagles to jump the Cowboys and Rams in signing their franchise quarterbacks. It signals the team’s commitment and confidence in Wentz moving forward despite his recent injuries and provides the team with a handle on their quarterback cap hit for the next 6 years.
The Eagles left the 2019 draft with just 5 drafted players however the first 3 of those 5 picks were in the top 60 selections and all 3 were on the offensive side of the ball.
With their 1st round pick, the Eagles moved up a couple of spots (most likely to jump the Texans) in order to select T Andre Dillard 22nd overall. Dillard was highly rated out of Washington State and the selection makes a lot of sense for Philly. He will be groomed as Jason Peters eventual replacement and given Peters’ injury history it’s more likely than not Dillard will see some time this year.
In the second round, the Birds chose two skill position players in Penn State RB Miles Sanders and Stanford WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Both players will likely see a fair amount of playing time this season. Sanders will pair with Jordan Howard in the backfield and adds a pass-catching dynamic lacking in Howard’s game. The speed at which he proves himself in pass blocking situations will determine how often he sees the field early on. Arcega-Whiteside, projects as a backup this season however it looks as though he will initially be utilized in the red zone. His 14 senior year TDs and his ability to come up with 50/50 balls has drawn many comparisons to Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery who he could potentially replace in the near future.
The Philly offense was not nearly as dynamic as it was in 2017. The Eagles were at or below the league average in many offensive statistical categories including Offensive Point Scored, Yards per Offensive Play, Turn Overs, Rushing Yards per Attempt, and Offensive DVOA. Multiple factors such as the loss of OC Frank Reich, the (too?) quick return of Carson Wentz from reconstructive knee surgery, and the aforementioned Super Bowl hangover all likely impacted the Philly offensive decline. In response, GM Howie Roseman has thrown a lot of resources and attention to this side of the field and will hope to see an improved offensive product in 2019.
Despite the fact that Wentz looked uncharacteristically shaky at times last year, his numbers actually stack up relatively well considering doctors suggest it takes a full year for his knee injury to completely recover. His grade according to PFF was 79.4 (14th) and Football Outsiders metrics placed him in the upper middle class of quarterbacks in many categories such as Defensive-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (14th), DVOA (12th) and, QBR (13th). Certainly, this is below the level of play we saw from Wentz in ‘17 and not what the Eagles expected of him as the 2nd overall pick but, somewhat understandable considering the circumstances. Analytics guru Warren Sharp, however, painted a more rosy picture of Wentz as he noted that his 102.2 quarterback rating and 69.6% completion percentage were the higher of any 3rd-year quarterback ever. The recent contract extension and release of Nick Foles would suggest the Eagles front office agrees with Mr. Sharp. I too expect a return to form this upcoming season.
Roseman provided Wentz with a host of weapons this season by bolstering the offensive skill position talent. Adding WR DeSean Jackson provides a deep field threat that was lacking last year and improves upon speedster Torrey Smith from 2017’s Super Bowl squad. Pairing Jackson with Pro Bowl TE Zach Ertz and 2018 2nd round TE Dallas Goedert in 12 personnel should provide headaches and difficult choices for opposing offensive coordinators and safeties alike this year. The additions of RBs Jordan Howard and rookie Miles Sanders, as well as the return of WRs Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor on the outside, should make this skill position unit the best of Wentz’s young career. They currently rank 9th overall in this metric according to my NFL model.
No major changes to report along the offensive line for the Birds. This is one of the more solid, veteran groups in the league and is a top 5 unit according to the model. It should be noted that the Eagles released G Stefen Wisniewski in the offseason and made Isaac Seumalo the full-time starter at the position. Additionally, rookie 1st round pick T Andre Dillard will likely start the season backing up starters Lane Johnson and Jason Peters.
While still a slightly above average unit overall, the defense of the Philadelphia Eagles slipped a bit from the previous year in some important statistical categories:
|Points Allowed||295 (4th)||348 (12th)|
|Yards Per Play||5.0 (8th)||5.8 (23rd)|
|Take Aways||31 (4th)||17 (25th)|
|Sacks||38 (15th)||44 (8th)|
|Defensive DVOA||-12.3% (5th)||0.0% (15th)|
Some of the blame can certainly be directed at injuries, especially in the defensive secondary. According to Football Outsiders, the 2019 Eagles secondary had the 5th most Average Defensive Secondary Games Lost (40.9) ever! This was well ahead of the league average of 18.1 and largely due to the season-ending injuries of S Rodney McLeod (Week 3), CB Jalen Mills (Week 9), and CB Ronald Darby (Week 10) which represents 60% of the secondary that started Super Bowl 52. The loss of DE Derek Barnett in Week 7 didn’t help either however as a unit they were ranked 15th in Defensive DVOA after Week 8 and ended of the season in the same spot – after the injuries started piling up.
That being said, a healthier defense in 2019 should lead to some positive regression for this unit overall. The line is again the strength of the defense as DC Jim Schwartz relies on pressure from a 4 man rush and blitzes very little. The line is lead by elite DT Fletcher Cox and DE Brandon Graham. Cox is a four-time Pro-Bowler and 1st team All-Pro last season. Both linemen were ranked within the top 10 at their position according to Pro Football Focus. A healthy Derek Barnett and DT Timmy Jernigan along with the additions former Pro-Bowl DT Malik Jackson from Jacksonville and former Eagle DE Vinny Curry from Tampa Bay round out the line. This core will be asked to put consistent pressure on quarterbacks for the defense to be effective and will be asked to do so without 2018 sack leader DE Micheal Bennett (9.5) and veteran DE Chris Long who retired in the offseason. Like most teams, Eagles play a majority of 2 LB defensive formations and the pairing of newly signed LB Zach Brown (89.2 PFF grade) with veteran LB Nigel Bradham round out the inappropriately named “Front 7”. This unit ranks 8th overall according to the NFL model.
Outside of veteran leader S Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles secondary looks to be a patchwork of a handful of interchangeable players until specific roles are ironed out in the preseason. They currently have 9 defensive backs or safeties on the roster who played at least 300 snaps last season (plus veteran S Rodney McLeod). Jenkins aside, no one in this group would be considered an elite to high-quality player however there is a mix of veteran, replacement level, and young up-side talent. Currently the starting secondary projects as Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, and Rasul Douglas at corner and Jenkins and McLeon at safety which is good enough for 18th in the model rankings.
Notes & Nuggets
Keep an eye on 2018 7th round draft pick Jordan Mailata. He’s a noteworthy name as he was an Australian rugby player who had never played a down of football in his life when drafted as an offensive tackle. He didn’t play a down last year but earned rave reviews for making tremendous strides. It will be interesting to see what the Birds do with Mailata if he continues to improve and shows ability in the preseason being that they drafted Jason Peters’ replacement in April. Could he end up as a depth swing tackle or used in a trade to earn interest on that 7th round deposit last year.
Also of note along the offensive line is starting guard, Brandon Brooks. Brooks has been a very solid lineman for the Eagles since signing as a free agent from the Texans in 2016 (10th in PFF Guard grades – 72.2). Brooks ruptured his Achilles in the Eagles postseason game with the Saints and it is unknown if he will be ready to start the season on time.
From the roster moves of the past couple months, it appears as though Howie Roseman and the Eagles are going all in to make another run at a ring again in 2019. It’s tough to argue against the moves which have clearly upgraded the offense as well as the belief amongst those close to the team that Carson Wentz is set for a bounce-back season. The questions regarding the strength of the defensive line remain unanswered but we can at a minimum expect the defense as a whole to be a solid unit.
With a talented roster, a veteran coaching staff, and a schedule that currently has them favored in there final 9 games, the pick has to be over 9.5 wins no? Well…sort of. Assuming a healthy Carson Wentz for a full season the answer is a confident yes however that is the big unknown and ultimately the deciding factor here when laying -175 to the over. With “Well Endowed” Nick now in Jacksonville, if Carson Wentz fails to deliver a full 16 games as the starter this becomes a much dicier proposition. Therefore I will hesitantly lean over here due to the way the schedule sets up as it is more likely to see Wentz behind center early on in the more difficult portion of the year. If he does go down at some point the hope is that good coaching and a veteran locker room can help squeak out the remaining couple wins necessary against the less talented teams on the schedule and put them at 10 wins for the year.