We talk about the Eagles all the time and think we know what the season outlook is, but the truth is we don’t have a clue. In 2017 who thought the Eagles were Super Bowl contenders? Almost nobody. Last season who thought the Eagles would stumble into the playoffs at 9-7? Absolutely nobody.
In fact, they were hailed as the most talented, deepest roster in the NFL and were considered favorites to win the title. But then reality happened and they ended with a 9-7 record and a wildcard weekend loss. Most seasons could go either way, and that parody is what makes football so fun.
Last time I wrote I gave you a list of 6 reasons everything could go wrong in 2020 and incurred some wrath from the readers. Today we get to the good news and talk about 6 reasons the Eagles could be world beaters in 2020!
Reasons for Optimism in 2020
Head Coach/QB combo
Who is the most important person on a football team? You could answer Head Coach or quarterback and I wouldn’t argue with you. The good news for the Eagles is they have top guys at both spots. I would argue that Doug Pederson is a top 3 coach in the NFL and Carson Wentz is a top 5-8 QB. With that combination of talent at the 2 most important spots, you can get to the playoffs even if a lot of things go wrong along the way.
If we zoom in specifically on the NFC East, the Eagles are the only team to return their head coach in 2020. With a shortened and mostly virtual off-season, that is a huge advantage for the Eagles and should lead to the first repeat NFC East champion since the Eagles won 4 straight from 2001-2004.
Infusion of Speed
The Eagles offense was slow last year. It was incredibly boring to watch. All you had to do was flip on a Ravens or Chiefs game to see that the Eagles offense had a major speed problem. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles ranked 9th in the NFL in time of possession per drive and 16th in the NFL in yards per drive.
Translation? The Eagles required more time to move fewer yards than most teams because their offense lacked big play ability. The Eagles ranked in the bottom third of the league in passing plays of 25+ yards. This off-season the Eagles made it a priority to rectify that problem by focusing on athleticism in the draft.
When you look at the wide receiver group specifically, the unit that was the biggest problem last season, you see how this focus changed the philosophy of the group. If you remove Alshon (who is starting the year on the PUP list and may never even play this season) and look at JJAW, DJax, Ward, and the 3 rookies then the average Eagles WR is 5’11”, 194 pounds and runs a 4.41 40. That is a striking departure from last year’s group. All 6 of those guys will make the team, but whoever does should bring a big play potential that Carson Wentz has only had for 1 game in his entire career.
I think everybody was shocked when the Eagles made Javon Hargrave their priority free agent this off-season. The Eagles already have Fletcher Cox and they shelled out big money for Malik Jackson last off-season.
A cursory look at Hargrave’s stats is likely to leave you unimpressed, but when you turn on the film you see a highly disruptive player that could wreak havoc on opposing backfields. Hargrave played as a nose tackle in the Steelers 3-4 defense, a deployment that led to him almost always being double-teamed. When he wasn’t double-teamed he was a force for the Steelers pass rush. He will present a major problem for opposing offensive lines when playing next to Fletcher Cox because you simply can’t double team them both. The Eagles have struggled to generate pass rushing off of the edge the last 2 seasons. That may still be an issue in 2020, but interior pressure should more than make up for it.
When is the last time the Eagles had a good #1 cornerback? Asante Samuel? For far too long they have struggled to field a competent secondary. Darius Slay will step on the field and immediately upgrade the back end of the defense. He is a player who is used to following #1 WRs and erasing them from games. Are there concerns about his age or tackling? Sure, but this is an optimism article so who cares? Slay should bring the ability to take #1 receivers out of the game and make whoever ends up winning the CB2’s job life a little bit easier.
Regression to mean with injuries
The Eagles have had terrible injury luck. It’s not just an excuse, it’s a verifiable fact. According to Football Outsider’s adjusted games lost metric, the Eagles were the 21st most injured team in the NFL in 2019 and the most injured team in 2018. Overall, they have been the 4th most injured team in the league in the 2 year period with only the Jets, Redskins, and Jaguars incurring worse injury luck. That makes it even more impressive that the Eagles have made the playoffs in both of those seasons while the other 3 teams are sub .500 in that time.
Maybe it is the medical staff’s fault, maybe it is a product of having an older roster, or maybe it is just simply bad luck. We may never know the exact cause. What we do know is that extreme statistics often return to the mean and that makes the Eagles primed for better injury luck in 2020.
Though he started the year slow, Miles Sanders really picked up steam in the later weeks, especially after an injury to Jordan Howard forced him into more action. On a team that was severely lacking offensive playmakers, Sanders answered the bell. He showed off his dynamic ability running inside, outside, and catching passes out of the backfield become a true weapon for Carson Wentz.
Miles Sanders ended the season in offensive rookie of the year discussions and is one of only four rookies in history with 750 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards, and over 4.4 yards per carry. He was the only NFL player in 2019 with 4 rushes and 4 catches of at least 30 yards. Sanders did it all in 2019 and now has another year of experience under his belt. The future is extremely bright for Sanders, one of the biggest breakout stars across the entire NFL in 2020.
Who are the overrated and underrated players on the Philadelphia Eagles?