The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we remain in NFC East to visit the Philadelphia Eagles — a team nobody’s sure what to expect from under rookie head coach Doug Pederson.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Philadelphia Eagles 2016 Preview
Head Coach: Doug Pederson (first season)
Key arrivals: OG Brandon Brooks, FS Rodney McCleod, QB Chase Daniel, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Ron Brooks
Key departures: LB Kiko Alonso, CB Byron Maxwell, DE Cedric Thornton
1. What will the offense look like under Doug Pederson?
Long gone are the days of hurry-up and frenetic pace. Long gone are the health shake lineups and getting rid of one’s best players. It’s a new regime in Philly these days under rookie head coach Pederson, who brings an offensive mindset to the club that is slightly different than what we saw under Chip Kelly.
One thing that should remain a focus is the running game. And it will be interesting to see if Pederson utilizes veteran Darren Sproles in a similar manner in which he did with Jamaal Charles the past couple of seasons in Kansas City.
Behind Sproles is oft-injured Ryan Mathews (currently on NFI list, injured again), Kenjon Barner and fifth-round rookie Wendell Smallwood.
This means we’re likely to see plenty of creativity to get the running game going, and that the Eagles will likely do plenty of short throws that act like running plays to compensate for the lack of a workhorse.
The next phase of the offense, namely the passing attack, will be particularly interesting to track. Pederson helped Alex Smith make the most out of his pedestrian arm, and the Chiefs featured some personnel not too dissimilar to what we’ll see in Philadelphia.
This leads us well into the next question.
2. Will Sam Bradford put in a full season of work?
If Bradford can stay healthy this year without suffering any injuries, then Philadelphia has a chance to put up excellent numbers through the air and feature a balanced offense.
Talent has never been an issue for Bradford, who possesses underrated arm strength and who actually started coming on strong last year in the second half for Kelly.
Unfortunately, the kid has missed 33 games (including the entire 2014 season) due to knee injuries.
If Bradford isn’t able to finish the season, then it’s going to be up to journeyman backup Chase Daniel, who is capable but not flashy, or rookie Carson Wentz.
3. How good can the defense be under Jim Schwartz?
What should excite Eagles fans more than the offense is the potential for Philly’s defense to not only be good but entertaining as well.
Schwartz is a proponent of an attacking 4-3 defensive scheme that typically produces excellent pass-rushing numbers. He utilized this to perfection in Buffalo during the 2014 season, when the Bills ranked No. 4 in total defense and scoring defense while racking up 54 sacks to lead the NFL.
In particular, we expect the likes of Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, and Connor Barwin to excel in this defense with lots of pressure up front. This pressure should allow Philadelphia’s defensive backs the opportunity to create more turnovers than they did last year.
Though things always play out differently on the field than they do on paper, the Eagles look to feature a dynamic defensive front that will wreak havoc in 2016.
Jalen Mills, cornerback
It’s rare to ponder a seventh-round rookie as a potential breakout player, but it’s not a tough argument to make for Mills.
He was already turning heads in June and was playing ahead of veteran Eric Rowe, breaking up passes and looking like a natural on the outside. Heck, it took him until the seventh day of training camp to have a bad day of practice — a rare occurrence for a rookie.
Showing up with a head full of green, Mills has already earned the nickname “Green Goblin.”
Blessed with ideal size to thrive as a press corner on the outside, it appears Mills is going to be a tremendous steal for the Eagles.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
With a strong defense and rushing attack, Sam Bradford won’t need to be perfect to win games. He came on strong last year and is healthier now than he has been since joining the Eagles.
The NFC East is, as usual, up for grabs this year, and the Eagles might not need a 10-win campaign to win the division.
Plus, perhaps Pederson is just what the organization needs to rebound from what was a bitter final season under Kelly last year.
REASON TO DOUBT
Between the roster turnover that happened the past couple of seasons and the fact that we’re dealing with a rookie head coach, an entirely new staff, and an unstable quarterback situation, it’s hard to envision a winning season.
A lot of things have to go right in order for the Eagles this year. Expectations should be tempered, therefore, for a team that is probably another year or two away from playoff contention.
Prediction: 7-9, tied for third place in NFC East