What was the Eagles' biggest weakness in 2009 that limited them from advancing past the first round of the NFC playoffs?
That's the question Doug Farrar examined in a recent Yahoo Sports article.
His conclusion was that the linebacker play really killed the Eagles. If you ask me, there are really only two possible answers: the linebacker play or the secondary play.
Farrar does a good job explaining specifically how the LBs hurt the Birds, referencing the 73-yard run by Felix Jones in the wild-card round loss to the Cowboys. Interesting stat to consider: In 2008, when the Eagles blitzed on a run play, they allowed a league-low 3.7 yards per carry. But in 2009, that number jumped to 6.4 yards per carry, ninth-worst in the NFL.
Obviously, Sean McDermott tried just about everything in 2009 after Stewart Bradley's season ended during training camp. We've discussed the different personnel groups at length here, and clearly, none of them worked. But Farrar believes that a healthy Bradley and the addition of Ernie Sims from Detroit could be enough to solve the Eagles' problems:
With Bradley back in the fold, and talented young linebacker Ernie Sims(notes) brought over from Detroit to play the weak side, the Eagles should be in better shape when it comes to their intermediate defense. Sims always put up high tackle totals with the Lions when he was healthy, and while his coverage abilities have been questioned, it was difficult to know how talented any defender was in the Matt Millen era. With major changes on offense (in addition to Donovan McNabb’s departure, the Eagles also severed ties with running back Brian Westbrook(notes)), the Eagles could rely more on their defense than in recent years, and more consistent linebacker play is the key to improvement.
It'll be interesting to see what kind of competition there is at linebacker during training camp. After the draft, I thought that two of the three spots would be up for grabs, but now I'm not so sure.
Bradley's got the middle locked down as long as he's healthy, and he'll pretty much always be on the field.
During OTAs, it was Ernie Sims manning the weak side. I thought Akeem Jordan would get a shot to win that job, and he still might, but during spring practices, Sims was the guy. Andy Reid and McDermott may have just wanted to get Sims more reps since he's new to the system and Jordan's been here for three seasons.
And on the strong-side, it's tough to figure out who could really push Moise Fokou for the starting job. I know many of you are down on Fokou after he piled up 73 penalty yards as a rookie (most on the Eagles' defense), but considering the circumstances, he deserves a chance to prove himself. Remember, Fokou was a seventh-round pick who worked to get on the roster and eventually found himself in a starting role. He admitted to me during OTAs that he was just kind of running around trying to figure things out last season. If anyone can benefit from an offseason of practices and more time in the system, it should be Fokou.
* Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports ranks the Eagles' defensive line 15th in the NFL:
Welcome to the Eastern version of the Bengals line, although it’s very likely the Eagles could leapfrog the Cincy bunch and other teams this season. The Eagles have a bunch of lunch-pail guys who don’t seem like much when you look at them individually. End Trent Cole, who is the best of the bunch, is undersized and seemingly not explosive. Tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson aren’t overwhelming. The combo of Darryl Tapp and Juqua Parker on the other side doesn’t make the toes tingle with excitement. But when you put them altogether, they’re really a pretty good group. No stars, but nobody you can sleep on either.
* NFL.com's Steve Wyche warns readers not to sleep on the Eagles just because they changed quarterbacks this offseason:
To not bore you with the mundane, one matter has been consistently trumpeted over the past few weeks by a lot of NFL folks -- mainly players and former players or coaches: The Philadelphia Eagles could surprise a lot of people. Most people feel the Eagles will be good depending on new full-time starting quarterback Kevin Kolb. If he struggles under the pressure of stepping in for longtime fixture Donovan McNabb, then things could fall apart. The majority of opinions I've heard are that coach Andy Reid and president Joe Banner wouldn't have traded McNabb to Washington if they didn't think Kolb could handle things -- and handle them well.
* Remember that Bobby Taylor comeback report last week? Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News thinks the Cowboys could be one of the teams that should at least consider taking a look at the former Eagles CB.
* Adam Caplan of FoxSports.com says Brandon Graham's arm length was what caused some NFL teams to have a second-round grade on him:
The top question surrounding Graham seemed to be whether he was better off playing in the 3-4 or 4-3. Graham, who dominated Senior Bowl practices, rocketed up draft boards after that week. However, a source said at least at few teams didn’t have a first-round grade on him because of his shorter than ideal arm length. Philadelphia has decent depth at both end spots, but the talented rookie figures to be high in the rotation right away.