No matter how disappointing Saturday’s 26-24 loss to New Orleans might have been, there is absolutely no denying the fact that the 2013 Eagles were successful, exciting and fun to watch. As much as it will pain fans to see the Saints travel to Seattle Saturday, they will look back on this season fondly — once the grief subsides.
The NFC East champions were a juggernaut in the second half of the season, winning seven of their last eight. They found a quarterback around whom they can build, received an historic performance from LeSean McCoy and learned that good health — particularly on the offensive line — can be pretty valuable as the season goes on.
Now comes the real work. Despite posting a 10-6 record, the Birds were a highly imperfect team and enter the off-season with considerable work to do if they want to have playoff success in 2014. Failure to improve could lead to the type of collapse that occurred in Houston, where the Texans went from division champs to the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Here, by position group, is an Eagles postseason breakdown of what’s needed to allow the team to become a true Super Bowl contender.
Quarterbacks: Counting the game with New Orleans, Nick Foles finished the season with 29 TDs, two picks and a 64.6% completion rate. Those are outstanding numbers and demonstrate that Foles is indeed this team’s QB going into 2014. He must get better at avoiding sacks on third down, but that will be part of his natural maturation.
The backup situation requires attention. Michael Vick has said he expects to be starting next year, and while he was an exemplary teammate in 2013, he won’t be happy here as a reserve next year. And there is no way Matt Barkley is ready to be a concussion away from the starter’s spot. The Birds must find a veteran capable of running Chip Kelly’s offense.
Level of Need (on a 1-to-10 scale): 7
Running Backs: If Bryce Brown and Chris Polk are so talented, how come neither saw the field against New Orleans? The Saints had three backs carry the ball against the Eagles — and main man Pierre Thomas wasn’t even activated. Kelly must decide whether Brown and Polk can be full-time contributors, and if they can’t, he must pick up a back capable of carrying the ball in key situations as a change-up to McCoy or in case of an injury.
Oh, and the Eagles have to get a fullback. End the failed James Casey jack-of-all-trades experiment and sign someone who can create some room on short-yardage plays. That’s an imperative.
Level of Need: 6
Wide Receivers: In the final three games of 2013 (including the playoff loss), DeSean Jackson caught 10 passes for 110 yards. That isn’t the stuff of a full-fledged No. 1 receiver. Jackson had a good year, but he is inconsistent and can be controlled by other teams. Yes, that opens up opportunities for others, but the Eagles’ receiving corps was extremely thin in 2013.
A healthy Jeremy Maclin will help the team’s passing attack, but the Eagles need a larger target with the athletic ability to go over rival defensive backs and get the ball. Riley Cooper is a solid No. 3 receiver, and with his rebuilt ACL, Maclin is likely to be that type of player, too. The Eagles need someone to be a monster just about every game.
As for the tight ends, it would be smart to look for someone who could take Brent Celek’s place in a season or two. Celek caught just 32 passes in 2013, with no more than four in a game and had six contests with one or no catches.
Level of Need: 8
Offensive Line: The Eagles put two members of their starting quintet — tackle Jason Peters and guard Evan Mathis — on the NFL’s All-Pro first team, and center Jason Kelce had a fine season. Rookie Lane Johnson showed plenty of potential at tackle, and veteran Todd Herremans was solid in his move back to guard. There is no need to find a starter here, but some quality depth would be nice to find.
Level of Need: 3
Defensive Line: The emergence of rookie nose man Bennie Logan was a big positive for the Eagles up front. He and Fletcher Cox are young potential stalwarts on the three-man unit, while Cedric Thornton proved to be a productive end. But this group lacks the kind of fire-breather capable of blasting through a gap and disrupting opposing run games. The Birds’ front three isn’t the most imposing in the league, but on a defense that needs help, it isn’t the area of biggest need, either. It would be great to find a classic 3-4 run stuffer in the middle rounds of the draft, but that’s not a necessity right now.
Level of Need: 3
Linebackers: The stars of a 3-4 are the outside linebackers, and the Eagles need to find one capable of being a lights-out pass rusher and a sideline-to-sideline force against the run. Trent Cole and his eight sacks and versatile Connor Barwin had good seasons, but neither is a Pro Bowl outside linebacker type.
As for the inside men, DeMeco Ryans is a fine leader and highly productive force against the run, but he is a liability in pass coverage. Mychal Kendricks has plenty of potential and needs only to play more consistently to become a force.
Level of Need: 8
Secondary: The safety situation, even if Earl Wolff is healthy, must be upgraded. Nate Allen wasn’t awful this year, but he isn’t good enough at strong safety, and Patrick Chung can’t be on the roster in 2014. It’s okay to roll with Wolff at the free spot, but the strong position has to be upgraded.
Though Eagles’ defensive coordinator Bill Davis doesn’t use dime coverage (six D-backs), adding another corner wouldn’t be such a bad idea. The triumvirate of Cary Williams, Brandon Boykin and Bradley Fletcher is pretty good, but the fact remains that opponents completed 60.9% of their throws against the Birds in 2013, and even when they were schemed to stop the pass, the Eagles still allowed Drew Brees to throw for 250 yards and complete 67% of his throws in the playoff.
Level of Need: 9
Special Teams: It’s time to find a new kicker. Alex Henery’s kickoffs are too short, and his wayward 48-yarder against New Orleans was painful to watch. It’s also time to find someone who can shake loose on kick and punt returns, because that was a big issue in 2013.
Level of Need: 8
• Don’t get too excited about the Phillies’ 25-year, $2.5 billion TV contract. Comcast didn’t get where it is today by making deals that aren’t to its advantage. An average of $100 million per is a lot of money now, but in 10-15 years, it won’t be. And that 25% stake in Comcast SportsNet may be nice for the owners’ pockets, but don’t expect to see that dough show up in the form of increased salaries. The Phils can crow about how the new deal will provide help in the payroll department, but it won’t matter at all without a long-term plan for success, instead of an oldies tour.