Positional storylines: How do you follow the best Super Bowl run ever?

On February 4, 2018, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. They beat the New England Patriots 41-33 in one of the greatest games ever played, doing so with backup quarterback Nick Foles at the helm. Several records were set during Super Bowl LII, including most yards gained in an NFL game by both teams combined (1,151 in total), the fewest punts from both teams in a Super Bowl (only 1), and the most points scored in a Super Bowl by the losing team (33). Culminating in the first NFL championship since 1960 and first ever Super Bowl win, the 2017-2018 Super Bowl run will go down as one of the best and most memorable runs in league history.

The question the team asks itself is one that is on the minds of many fans these days…how do you follow THAT?

How do you follow a 13-3 regular season with a +162 Points For/Points Against differential (good for 1st in the league, alongside the inferior New England Patriots who also finished the season at 13-3 and +162)?

How do you follow a 38-7 thrashing of a Vikings team that was, until then, widely considered the best defense in the league?

How do you follow this sequence??:

FOLES: “You want Philly Philly?”
*dramatic pause, knowing look, head nod*
PEDERSON: “Yea, let’s do it”

 

This is uncharted territory for all of us. While I can’t predict exactly what lies ahead, here are some educated guesses on some of the storylines that will drive the Eagles – for better, or worse – this season at each position:

QB: Carson Wentz, the Comeback Kid….or Nick Foles, Football Rocky?
Front and center this season will be the dynamic between QB Nick Foles, who led the Eagles to their first ever Super Bowl win, and QB Carson Wentz, who very well could have won MVP last season had he not gone down against the Rams in Week 14. Wentz is widely considered the more talented player and the future of the franchise. However, if he isn’t able to start the season and Foles is able to sustain the incredible success he had in the playoffs, Doug Pederson might find himself in a bit of a bind when deciding how to eventually shift the team back into Wentz’s hands. On the flip side, if Wentz struggles early on, how will the team and city respond knowing they have a Super Bowl MVP from just one season ago sitting on the bench? I would be more worried about this, but given the collective strength of character and leadership of Pederson, Wentz, and Foles, I’m confident they’ll be able to navigate the challenges of the QB position this season.

RB: Ajayi, Clement, and the Return of Darren Sproles

The Eagles lost their leading rusher in the jay ajayideparture of LeGarrette Blount but will arguably be even stronger, providing the lion’s share of the rushing attempts to Jay Ajayiwho averaged a very productive5.8 yards/carry on 70 attempts after being traded to the Eagles last season. At 25 years old, look for a breakout season from Ajayi. Corey Clement also came on strong as a change of pace from the bruising Ajayi/Blount and looks to continue to be a great 2nd option. Perhaps most exciting, though, is the return of Darren Sproles. At age 35 and coming back from both a torn ACL and a fractured right arm, the 5’6″ speedster adds another dimension to Pederson’s offense.

WR/TE: Jeffery, Ertz, Agholor, and…?
A huge storyline from last season was the improvement of WR Nelson Agholor. After a lackluster 2016, Agholor was a key piece of the passing attack in 2017, dropping less balls and leading the team in yards-after-the-catch. TE Zach Ertz (Pro Bowl) and WR Alshon Jeffery had great seasons as well and the trio of Jeffery, Ertz, and Agholor combined for 25 of the Eagles’ 38 receiving TDs (9, 8 , and 8, respectively). After losing TE Trey Burton (5 TDs in 2017) to a lucrative deal with the Chicago Bears and WR Torrey Smith (2 TDs), the Eagles look to 2nd round pick TE Dallas Goedert and WR Mike Wallace to pick up the slack. Look for RBs Clement and Sproles to contribute as threats in the passing game as well.

OL: Our Boys are Back in Town
While C Jason Kelce holds the lasting image and final word for our 2017-2018 Eagles offensive line, the whole unit was one of the best in league last year and should return at full-strength. Most importantly, veteran and locker room leader LT Jason Peters will be back in the fold, hungry for a title he missed out on, taking the place of Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who provided solid depth in his absence. Pro Bowlers RG Brandon Brooks and RT Lane Johnson return as well, ready to crack some skulls. LG Stefen Wisniewski had an ankle injury in the Super Bowl, but should be back to full strength by the start of training camp. LG Chance Warmack will continue to provide depth for the unit as well.

DL: The Rich get Richer
One of the biggest reasons the Eagles won the Super Bowl last year was their killer defensive front. Between the return of Super Bowl heroes Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett and consistent stalwarts Fletcher Cox (Pro Bowl), Chris Long, and Timmy Jernigan, the Eagles were already poised for success. Now add in longtime greats Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata, and this front is absolutely stacked. While new Tampa Bay Buccaneers Vinny Curry and Beau Allen will be missed, the Eagles will continue to dominate on the defensive front.

LB: The return of Jordan Hicks, the loss of Mychal Kendricks, the steadiness of Nigel Bradham
Linebacker is one of the only positions of concern for the Eagles entering this season, as Jordan Hicks hasn’t been the most reliable in terms of health, and the team is missing key contributor Mychal Kendricks. However, Nigel Bradham should continue to be a force, and if Hicks can stay healthy, this unit should be fine. Adding the quick Corey Nelson should help, but one injury to this unit could cause some real trouble for the Eagles’ defense.

DB: Malcolm Jenkins looks to lead a talented, competitive group
Pro Bowl strong safety and Philadelphia socialite Malcolm Jenkins and free safety Rodney McLeod provide a reliable backbone for an interesting group of corners: Jalen Mills struggled at times during the season but performed well in the playoffs, Ronald Darby will be in a contract year, and Sidney Jones is looking to prove himself after missing most of last year with an Achilles injury. The Eagles also drafted Avonte Maddox and will have Rasul Douglas vying for time. I’m intrigued to see how this group shakes out in training camp and the early stages of the season, as each player has some ups and down.

Special Teams: The Loss of Donnie Jones
While the Eagles will be thrilled to have Darren Sproles returning kicks again, losing longtime punter Donnie Jones presents an odd challenge for an otherwise strong special teams unit. Currently, the punter looks to be Australian footballer Cameron Johnston. While the Eagles have expressed confidence in Johnston, he will have a beloved boot to fill in Jones.

“Hungry dogs run faster”
The hunger of otherwise key contributors who were in some ways “left out” of last season’s ultimate Super Bowl run (Wentz, Peters, Hicks, Sproles, etc.) is what I will be watching closely as a key indicator of where the team heads this season. As Jason Kelce so eloquently and bombastically put it, “Hungry dogs run faster”  – and hunger will need to be the focus of the Eagles as they look to defend the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl win.