Q from @Flyerspaul: Top receiver after DeSean… Riley Cooper or Jason Avant?
On the depth chart, it will be Riley Cooper. Jason Avant doesn’t have the skill-set to be a bonafide No. 2 receiver; he is a slot receiver in this league and a good one. The Eagles would never have kept Cooper if they didn’t expect him to start, and they need a taller, slower receiver to counter DeSean on the opposite side. He will start come Week 1.
On the stat sheet, however, I have a feeling that Damaris Johnson will have the bigger year. He’s already establishing himself as the starting punt returner, and he’s been burning defensive backs left and right in camp. He’s a perfect fit for Kelly’s up-tempo style, whether it’s running bubble screens (he averaged nearly 6 yards after catch per reception last season) or the deep go-routes.
Q from @HisStankness: What are your predictions for the defense this season?
The short answer: this defense is going to be okay. They won’t be the most solid defense in the league, but they won’t be as poor as the 31-point outburst by New England suggested.
The long answer: they have to improve in certain areas, but they will succeed from the get-go in others. You can see that the strengths of this team’s front seven is rushing the passer; guys like Vinny Curry, Fletcher Cox, Damion Square, Jake Knott, and Chris McCoy were extremely successful when rushing the passer against New England, getting 3 sacks and 10 hits on the quarterback. The Patriots, likewise, had only 3 hits on the Eagles’ QBs. This defense will be scary on obvious passing downs or on 5- to 7-step drops because of how prolific its pass rush is.
On the other hand, the front seven really struggled to stop the run, especially up the middle. Part of that is transitioning to the 3-4, where inside linebackers have to engage and then shed blocks more than they had to in the 4-3. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks struggled mightily with that last week, but I expect them to get better as the season goes along. The run defense up the middle will never go away completely as an issue, but don’t expect it to be as glaring throughout the season especially once the safeties start learning how to play the run more effectively.
Now, the secondary: the cornerbacks, in all honesty, looked pretty good. Brandon Boykin, Bradley Fletcher, Eddie Whitley, Curtis Marsh, and Brandon Hughes all looked pretty good in 1-on-1 coverage. The communication with the safeties, however, was a completely different story. Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman looked lost at times, which is why Earl Wolff and Patrick Chung have been getting most of the first-team reps as of late. The biggest qualm I had with this unit was playing off of receivers; they gave wideouts 5 or 6-yard cushions which led to easy completions across the middle.
The linebackers, especially Kendricks and Barwin, were very solid overall in coverage; they just need to work on being able to recognize routes earlier so that they don’t lose that initial step. On the TD pass in the end zone that Kendricks was covering, his positioning and hand “thrust” were perfect, he was just 1/2 a step late and the ball was thrown perfectly.
Overall, I expect this unit to be in the middle of the pack, giving up 20-23 points per game. They’ll create some big plays, especially with the pass rush, but opposing teams will pick up yardage through the air and on the ground. It’s all about the red zone, limiting points, which is the real wild card this season.
Q from @Chase_Barrett98: Which will be more successful, the running game or passing game?
How successful the passing offense is will be predicated upon how successfully we run the ball. Still, I say the running attack.
Chip Kelly is the exact opposite of Andy Reid in that he sets up the passing game through the run game. LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, and Chris Polk will get their touches, and they will get their share of first downs. They won’t be as efficient (Yards Per Carry) as before, but the prowess of the run game will be evident. The read-option will lead to a bunch of big runs up the middle, as will Kelly’s wide playbook of off-tackles, dives, tosses, etc.
The passing game will be a work in progress; I sense that turnovers won’t be erased completely, and not having a veteran guy like Jeremy Maclin will certainly hurt Michael Vick/Nick Foles. I still think that the team’s strong running attack will open up deep routes for DeSean and Damaris, so expect the Eagles to hit the Jaccpot (see what I did there?) every so often. The passing game just won’t have the consistency that comes with a Chip Kelly rushing attack.
Q from @SonOf_AGod: Who do you think is really going to step up and show out to lead us to a championship this year?
Winning a championship is something that I do not see this team doing in 2013-2014, unfortunately; the defense isn’t good enough to beat teams like San Francisco, Seattle, Green Bay, and Atlanta as currently constructed.
When it comes to “stepping up,” however, I have two candidates in mind: tight end Zach Ertz and 3-tech defensive end Vinny Curry. Ertz is a pass-first end who had a standout career at Stanford, and the Eagles used their second-round pick on him for a reason. He’s going to surpass Brent Celek and catch 40-50 balls for 700 yards this season.
Vinny Curry had a solid 2nd-half last season once the wide-nine was scrapped and he actually got an opportunity to play 60% of the snaps. Last week against New England, he wreaked havoc, getting .5 sacks and hitting the quarterback twice. He’s been average in camp, but when the game matters, I expect him to a premier pass rusher for this team.