1. The Cowboys. The Cowboys are still the team with the fewest holes in the NFC East. They have Pro Bowlers all over the field and a new, physical attitude supplied by Jason Garrett and new DC Rob Ryan. They will win the division. They have only lost to the Eagles once in the last five meetings, and it was by 3 points last season with Jon Kitna under center. The Eagles, for all their talent at corner, have safeties and linebackers that are inexperienced in pass coverage and sure to struggle against a team that goes four deep at tight end with tailbacks Jones and Murray catching passes out of the backfield.
2. The Redskins. Speaking of safeties and linebackers in coverage, these players will have matchup difficulty against two of the best tight ends in the game – Chris Cooley and Fred Davis. The Eagles also allowed 49 sacks last year. They’ve added new veterans but nobody elite. For all the justified spotlight that has been on the new Eagles defensive line – featuring Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins -, the Redskins added OLB Ryan Kerrigan, DE Stephen Bowen, DT Jarvis Jenkins and DT Barry Cofield to join DE Brian Orakpo as pass rushing mavens. I’m not saying the Redskins will finish ahead of the Eagles but they will take at least one game from them and physically have them limping toward their next opponents.
3. Vince Young will play and that’s probably not a good thing. This team has a lot of divas and celebrities now – Asomugha not being one of them. We saw how Andy Reid’s lack of developing strong leaders – Dawkins being about the only one – helped contribute to Terrell Owens departure in 2005. To that point, the Eagles had fought to Championship Games with their defense and McNabb yet their offense was never harder to stop than with Owens. After his deactivation, they failed to make the Championship Game that season and the two after it. Vince Young has had difficulty being a leader on this level, but what is far worse is his ability to perform well against good defenses for long stretches.
He puts up good stats but, when you look more closely at the numbers, you see how he can light up bad defenses but really struggle against the elite ones. In 2009, he piled up great stats against the Jaguars, Bills, Texans, Rams and Dolphins but had 3 total touchdowns, 3 INT, and under 50% comp. in two games vs. the Chargers and Colts. In 2010, he beat the postseason-free Giants and 3 teams with non-winning records but check out his stats against the Chargers and Steelers. He’s 1-5 when attempting at least 36 passes.
Young may be a decent back-up option on teams that don’t have injury-prone quarterbacks or other issues. Vick rarely makes it 16 games, so Vince Young will see the field and that will be bad for the Eagles.
4. They have inexperience at the last line of defense. Jaiquawn Jarrett and Nate Allen have a total of 13 regular season starts put together, none in the playoffs. Allen is certainly a good player – 2 sacks, 3 INT, 8 passes defensed, a forced fumble – but probably not in his prime yet. That’s one thing I look for in a Championship team, great players in the peak or twilight of their greatness. The Eagles allowed 31 TD passes in the regular season last year, despite facing just three of the top 12 quarterbacks in TDs thrown, a total of four times (allowing 27, 31, 17, and 17 points in 3 wins and 1 loss). They also plan on starting rookie MLB Casey Matthews.
5. They are not built for December offensively. Sure, their main reason for being beat by the Vikings last year was Vick getting hurt but this team has maybe a handful of big targets who don’t rely heavily on speed. Brent Celek, Donald Lee, and Jason Avant are physical presences that could help them if the field conditions and weather eliminate the deep game.
The Packers are the best team in the NFC. That hasn’t changed. The Eagles will not have homefield if they get to the playoffs and a third meeting with the Cowboys could be their undoing. I like a lot of the moves the Eagles made but they need a more effective back-up QB and will be vulnerable with all those rookies and the first-year defensive coordinator. This team of egos will rely mostly on the big plays in good weather and on good playing surfaces. They aren’t ready for the storm.
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