A scout's Eagle eye
CAN THE EAGLES win with Michael Vick at quarterback? Do they have enough offensive-line depth? Is DeSean Jackson the only wide receiver who can stretch a defense?
Can their defensive line hold the point of attack? Can Trent Cole and Brandon Graham make the adjustment from hand-on-the-ground defensive ends to outside linebackers? How much of a liability is their secondary going to be?
An NFL scout answers these and many other questions as he breaks down the Eagles for the Daily News:
"Any quarterback can look pretty good if they've got time. But as soon as these guys feel pressure, none of them look like they can make a big play under pressure. None of them. Not Vick, not Foles, not Barkley. That's when they gag. That's when Foles throws an interception in the end zone. That's when Vick resorts to his old habits and tries to make something out of nothing and ends up turning the ball over.
"Most big games come down to 6-8 throws. In the red zone. Third down. Under pressure. That's what separates the good ones from everybody else. Quite frankly, I'm not confident with any of those guys in those situations.
"If Vick gets good protection and gets off to a good start, maybe he can be OK. But he's always going to struggle when somebody's right in his face. At this point in his career, he is what he is. He's never going to get a clean picture of what he's looking at. The spacing Chip uses in his spread offense is going to help Mike. There will be some games where he'll get on a roll, both running and throwing, and you'll say, 'Wow.' But you just can't count on him doing that every week."
"This is one of their real strengths. McCoy is one of the three or four best backs in the league, in my opinion. Dances a little too much, which results in more 1- and 2-yard losses than you'd like out of a guy as talented as him. But there isn't a better back in the league at bouncing a play outside when there's nothing there for him inside.
"Kelly's offense is tailor-made for him. If he stays healthy this season and his line stays relatively healthy, with those inside and outside zone runs, he could rush for 1,500 yards easy. I think Chip also is going to line him up wide a lot and take advantage of mismatches in the passing game with him.
"They've got depth here with Brown and Polk. Brown is a unique talent. There just aren't many guys in the league with his size who can run as fast as he can. If you let him get to the outside, he's tough to catch. He's got surprisingly good hands for somebody with so little college experience. The fumbles could be a problem. He's got to learn how to protect the football better, particularly since he's a guy who doesn't go down easily, which gives tacklers extra opportunities to strip him. And his blocking leaves a lot to be desired. But he can be special.
"Polk is a nice third back. He doesn't have Brown's speed, but has better vision, which he needs because he's mainly a between-the-tackles guy. Because of his history of shoulder injuries, I'm not sure he'd ever be able to give you a lot of carries. He'd wear down. But I think he can be effective for them in a limited role."
"Losing Maclin was a big blow. He wasn't the vertical threat DeSean was, but you could count on him to catch 65 balls for you every year. You could count on him in the red zone.
"From what I saw of DeSean in the preseason, it looks like he's interested in playing football again, which is good. And Kelly will find ways to maximize his talent. He'll catch at least 3-4 balls a game on bubble screens. But the problem is, outside of DeSean, who else is a threat? I saw the Jacksonville game. They played a single-high safety against the Eagles the whole game. That's what teams are going to do against them until they prove they can throw the ball deep and sting them. You're going to see those safeties cheat up, which is going to blur things a little bit.
" Cooper has some size, but he can't run. He can't get off the line of scrimmage. He's a glorified blocker out there. Damaris Johnson is OK at the line of scrimmage on bubble screens and things like that. But he's so small. Vick and Foles aren't going to be able to find him down the field.
" Avant is solid, but he's not going to separate from many people. He has great hands and uses his body well. The quarterbacks trust him. But he's strictly a possession guy. He's not going to threaten any safeties down the field."
" Ertz is going to be a very good player. He runs good routes. He has good hands. I don't know what kind of toughness he has. We'll find that out soon enough.
" Celek doesn't run that well anymore. He's a tough guy who can catch the ball over the middle. But he's a declining player. He's a better blocker than people give him credit for being. If you want to go to a strong-side running attack, he's a guy who can seal the edge. He double-teams well with tackles and he's not bad when you want to leave him in as a pass-protector. But the days of him getting a lot of yardage after the catch and being a really dominant player in the middle of the field, I just don't see that because he just doesn't run that well anymore.
"The X-factor for them is, what is James Casey? I don't see a role for him right now. They signed him before the draft because they were looking for a move tight end and somebody who could do a lot of things, whether it's blocking or sealing the edge or wheel type of routes like he ran in Houston. But once they drafted Ertz, it kind of de-emphasized Casey. Because Ertz is going to be on the field before Casey. And I don't know how many times they're going to put three tight ends out there together."
"This group can be really good. If their offense is going to be effective this season, it has to be good. Peters looks like he's recovered from the Achilles'. He looks like he can carry his weight and is in shape. Healthy, he's the best left tackle in the league. Mathis is solid and dependable. Kelce is a good, smart player. He occasionally gets overmatched by bigger nose tackles and does need a little help sometimes. But he's a pretty good leverage player.
" Herremans didn't have a very good preseason from what I saw. He's got to play better. When I watched him, he didn't have great movement. Some of that may be the knee that was bothering him. Lane Johnson can be a really, really good player.
"This unit is very athletic. They can move the line of scrimmage. They can knock people off the ball. They're capable of doing a lot of things up front. "And literally, that's the whole key to this offense. If they can do their job and dominate up front, it allows Kelly to get five guys out in routes and spreads the field a little more and makes things better for the quarterback, makes things better for the running backs.
"The one big problem is they don't have any depth. They have no backup linemen. If they lose one of those guys up front - and it's not very often that all five of your starters manage to play 16 games - they're going to be in trouble. They don't have one backup you could put in a game right now without there being a huge dropoff. That includes Barbre. And that includes Kelly when they get him back."
"I didn't see Sopoaga make a play the entire preseason. He didn't look anything like the player he was in San Francisco. Maybe he's just saving it all for the season, I don't know. But he looks like a guy who doesn't have much left.
"And I don't know if they have anybody else that can play that position. They've been using Bennie Logan there. But he's not really big or strong enough to play the nose. He's just average inside at best if he has to play there. He's much better outside.
"They need a nose tackle that can stay on his feet. Otherwise, when they play teams that play a zone scheme up front like the Redskins, they're going to get cut on the backside every time and there will be huge lanes to run through.
"Fletcher Cox obviously has talent and size. But his transition from the 4-3 isn't easy for a guy like that. He has to move from the left side to the right. He's two-gapping. Last year, he was a 1-gap player, rushing the passer and getting upfield. They played to his strengths. Now he's being asked to hold the point . It's not easy for him and it's not easy for Thornton either. Neither of them are great at 2-gapping and holding the point.
" Geathers is a big guy, but 6-8 ends get cut a lot. And if you can't protect your legs, you're in trouble. Because once teams see that, they're going to cut you all the time. Vinny Curry isn't very good against the run. When he flashed in the preseason it was as a pass-rusher. Maybe there's a place for him as a nickel rusher. But he'd be a better fit with a 4-3 team."
"Outside of Connor Barwin, they don't have one outside 'backer that can play the position. Cole didn't play well last year, and you wonder the same thing about him as you do about Celek. Is he a declining player?
"And the whole switch from a hand-on-the-ground guy to a linebacker, I know there are a lot of rush linebackers who don't drop into coverage much. But let's see how teams game-plan him and how they get him into space and how good he is out there. If they're going to put him in space by formation, then what do you do and how does he handle it?
" Graham is a guy who can come off the edge and collapse the pocket. But in the preseason, I didn't see him do anything that a true outside linebacker , where you have to walk out and cover the slot. You've got to do that sometimes. If he's out there, I think he's a real liability."
" Kendricks is going to be a very good player in this league. He's their best blitzer, and he's good at it. If you want to send a fifth player , he's a good guy to do it. The problem is, he's also their best cover guy. So you also need him on the back. You want him on screens. You want him covering the tight ends down the seam.
"The problem is you can't do a lot of those things with Ryans. Because he's not a good blitzer and he's not a good cover guy. He has intelligence. He's a fiery guy. He does play the game passionately. But he's not really a playmaker. He didn't knock the ball loose one time last year. He had one interception and didn't get his hands on another ball. He's not a guy who has great range. But there's nobody else there right now ready to take his place.
"I like Knott. He was a good pickup for them after the draft. Not the fastest guy in the world, but makes up for his lack of real burst with good eyes and understanding his position and being an intelligent guy."
"They're better than what they had last year, but they haven't gotten their hands on a lot of footballs this summer. Even when they've been right there , they haven't been able to defend the pass very well. They think Williams is a guy who can match up with a No. 1 receiver when they feel they need to do that. Personally, I think that might be an overly optimistic view.
" Fletcher has some talent, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy most of his career. He was durable this summer, but you're always going to be holding your breath with him.
" Boykin is a solid nickel. He reminds me a lot of the guy they had there before him . He's got good foot-speed and quickness. He's just not a big guy or a long guy. But he's very competitive and generally, a smart player.
"He could play outside in a pinch. But with so many big wideouts now, you'd rather not have a guy his size outside if you don't have to.
"After that, they don't have much. Their lack of depth would scare the hell out of me if I was Kelly. They gave Poyer a good look this summer, but he just doesn't have good speed. If you don't have long speed, eventually you're going to get exposed out there. I suspect he'll eventually end up at safety, which probably is where he belongs. Hughes is a good special teams player, so there's some value there. But he's not going to help you much at corner."
" Chung can cover. He's a tenacious player. But like Fletcher, he's never shown the ability to stay healthy. So you worry about that.
" Allen has some talent and experience, but he takes bad angles. He's not a good tackler. He's not durable. They just need a lot of help there right now.
" Wolff might be a pretty good player someday. But right now, he doesn't see the whole field. You can't put him out there for long stretches. He'll get killed.
"Colt Anderson probably is their best all-around player, but he just doesn't have the range that you can really trust against an elite player. He can't play in space. But you love the way he attacks the line of scrimmage. He's great in run fits. And he's a great special teams player.
" Coleman, you love his aggressiveness and attitude. But he's not a very smart player. He'll hit anything that moves, but he's not big enough."
On Twitter: @Pdomo