Kapadia: For the first time in awhile, we really have to define what we mean by success. The days of “Super Bowl or bust” are over – for now, that is.
Instead, this year is about building the foundation of a program that the Eagles hope will eventually bring them a Lombardi Trophy. I think Kelly will be successful in establishing that, specifically on offense.
Everyone I talked to this offseason – Kelly’s former players, his opponents, his peers – seemed to agree that he is a special offensive mind. If the preseason is any indication, the Eagles will have a lot of similarities to his Oregon squads. But Kelly’s challenge will come when defenses figure out answers. That’s when he’ll have to prove he has the “figure-it-out” quality that is crucial for success in the NFL. The ability to adjust, tweak and tinker when something’s not working.
With an offensive line that could be a top-five unit if it fulfills its potential, an outstanding group of running backs led by LeSean McCoy, an elite vertical threat in DeSean Jackson and an excellent group of tight ends, we should be able to tell pretty soon how Kelly’s offensive expertise will translate. Even if the defense is a mess, if Kelly gets the offense going and the Eagles improve on special teams, fans will be left with a positive feeling that 2013 is leading to something bigger in the coming years.
McManus: Long-term I believe the answer is yes. Insiders I have talked to have been very impressed with the infrastructure Kelly is building; how he is able to connect all phases of the operation and get them flowing in a common direction. Kelly has both sides of the brain working: He has the big-picture vision and the attention to detail required to push the plan forward on a day-to-day basis.
Is it possible his plan will not work? Certainly, especially if he doesn’t collect the talent necessary to execute it.
We need to remind ourselves that this team is very much under construction. This season could be a struggle. But ultimately I believe the Kelly Experiment will work.
Q: Who will be the team’s breakout player?
Kapadia: I’m going with Mychal Kendricks. The second-year linebacker has a versatile skill set and should make a sizable leap.
He’s the Eagles’ best cover linebacker, something that is crucial with so many offenses having athletic tight ends capable of exploiting mismatches. And Kendricks should get plenty of opportunities to rush the passer in this scheme. Look for him to make plenty of stops behind the line of scrimmage and be the biggest playmaker on this defense.
McManus: I like Sheil’s choice but to be different I’ll go Damaris Johnson. Jeremy Maclin mentioned him from the very beginning as a player whose skills are perfect for this system. We’ll trust that the veteran receiver knows what he is talking about. Johnson’s biggest contributions could come on special teams as a kick and punt returner. He needs to protect the ball better and make better decisions at times, but overall he looked pretty explosive in the return game this preseason.
Q: How many games will Michael Vick start?
Kapadia: I’ll go with 13. As we’ve pointed out before, the bulk of Vick’s previous injuries have come while he’s standing in the pocket, so I’m not as worried as most about the zone-read leading to him getting hurt.
But Vick still has that aura of invincibility where he feels like he can extend every play and escape every defender. The preseason provided no evidence that he will slide or get out of harm’s way. And even though the scheme will help, it’s difficult to predict he’ll get through the entire season healthy.
By the way, showcasing Nick Foles in a two- or three-game audition would not be the worst thing for this franchise. If he plays well, all of a sudden you have a nice little trade chip in the offseason if you choose to go that route.
McManus: Same ballpark. I’ll say 12. I am a little more concerned than you, Mr. Kapadia, about Vick running the read-option. I think opposing defenses are really going to bang around quarterbacks running the read-option this year to try and deter offensive coordinators from dialing those plays up. Not sure that bodes well for the 33-year-old Vick.
Foles will get a chance this season at some point, you would imagine. Curious to see what he does with a second audition.
Q: What is your one bold prediction on offense?
Kapadia: DeSean Jackson will have a career year. Right now, the standard is 2009. Jackson had 62 catches for 1,156 yards and nine receiving touchdowns that year.
I’m not sure if Jackson will get in the end zone more in 2013, but I think he’ll set career highs in catches and receiving yards. Kelly is no dummy. His offense will be based on getting the ball in his playmakers’ hands, and that means plenty of touches for Jackson.
Defenses will often be forced to bring a safety up, because if they don’t, Kelly will run the ball all day long. That should mean more opportunities for Jackson to do what he does best: get deep.
McManus: Todd Herremans will have a down year.
The veteran guard was dealing with some knee inflammation this preseason and didn’t look like himself against Jacksonville. Perhaps that is unfairly shaping my opinion.
I look at the foot injury he sustained against the Saints last November (dislocated bone, tendon tears, multiple fractures) and wonder if he can be 100 percent right less than a year later. What’s more, I think about this: Can we really expect Herremans, Jason Peters and Jason Kelce — all coming off major injuries — to each snap back to full form and go through the season unscathed?
The Eagles will certainly be blessed if that’s the case.
Q: What is your bold prediction on defense?
Kapadia: I was first going to predict that the Eagles would give up more passing touchdowns than last year, but then quickly decided that didn’t really qualify as bold.
I’m not sure this does either, but since I’m in a half-glass-full kind of mood, I’ll go with it: Fletcher Cox will make the Pro Bowl.
The Eagles are moving towards a 3-4. We’ll find out Monday night how far they’ve gotten, but I can’t see Cox being asked to two-gap all game long. He showed plenty of signs last year that he can be a dynamic playmaker. Cox’s athleticism shows up on the field – both against the run and the pass.
He’ll build on his rookie performance and earn a trip to Honolulu… or Miami… or wherever the Pro Bowl is. There is still a Pro Bowl, right?
McManus: Pain. I predict pain.
Aside from that, I’ll say that Trent Cole has a bigger 2013 than most anticipate. He had a down year last season, we understand that. He averaged 11 sacks/per season the three years before that, however, and is only 30 years old. People act like he is ancient. Scheme fit is a concern, yes, but the guess here is Billy Davis runs a 4-3 under and uses Cole in a “Predator” role where he will line up on the weak side and be asked to rush the passer 90-plus percent of the time. He can handle that.
Q: What will the Eagles’ final record be?
Kapadia: I’m going with 7-9. As I stated above, I have faith in the offense, and that’s even if the Eagles get only average quarterback play.
The X-factor, as has become custom around these parts, is Vick. If he looks like a dynamic playmaker in Kelly’s offense, takes care of the ball and stays healthy, this could turn into a really fascinating season.
It’s tough to come up with a best-case scenario on defense. The move from a Wide-9 4-3 to a two-gap 3-4 is pretty much as dramatic as it gets in the front-seven. The names in the secondary are different, but the results could ultimately end up being the same.
There is some talent – Cox, Kendricks, Brandon Boykin, DeMeco Ryans, Connor Barwin - but it’s difficult to project guys like Trent Cole and Brandon Graham as good fits in the new scheme. If Davis successfully adjusts the scheme to his personnel, maybe he’ll surprise and turn this into a competent group. But I need to see it to believe it.
McManus: Would love to be different, but that’s how I see it as well: 7-9.
I expect the offense to be pretty good and I think the defense will have issues. This team will stay competitive but ultimately will show too many flaws.
If Sheil and I are right and Vick only plays 12 or 13 games, roughly a quarter of the season may be played without the starting quarterback. Maybe Foles performs, maybe he doesn’t. There’s too much instability at that position to project more than 7-8 wins for this team.
The first year under Kelly is really about establishing a foundation. Don’t think they’ll be ready to push for a divisional crown just yet.
Q: What’s your Super Bowl prediction?
Kapadia: I’ll go Packers-Patriots. I know they have some questions on the offensive line and on defense, but even with those issues last year, the Packers were two wins away from the Super Bowl. With an improved run game, I don’t see anyone in the NFC stopping Aaron Rodgers and their offense.
Can’t say an AFC team really stands out. The Broncos should be in the mix. I’m not ready to rule the Ravens out despite all their offseason changes. But I’ll go with the Patriots. With 11 wins or more in six of the last seasons, they’re pretty much a lock to be in the mix. The defense concerns me, but they have one of the best offensive lines in football, and Tom Brady showed no signs of slowing down when he was in town.
Final score at MetLife Stadium: Packers 34, Patriots 31.
McManus: Look at you going with a final score! I’ll tell you what, if that turns out to be the final I’ll write all your Wake-Up Calls for two weeks.
I’ll say Seahawks-Broncos.
Was I influenced by Peyton Manning‘s seven-touchdown performance in the opener? Damn right. Ridiculous the weapons that man has at his disposal right now. What is he going to do to this poor Eagles’ secondary in a few weeks? Scary. Seattle is kind of a trendy pick, I get it, but I’m a believer in Russell Wilson and I think the team is just stacked.
Should I take a stab at a final score?
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