Post originally appeared on Pro Sports Notes
May 9, 2018
Image: NFL News Desk via Flickr
New Challenges For The Eagles Within The NFC East
Posted on May 9, 2018
What Are New Challenges Coming For The Eagles?
The Philadelphia Eagles are the reigning Super Bowl champions. What does that mean for the team going into offseason workouts, minicamps and the regular season? It means that every other team in the NFL is looking at the Eagles roster, coaching staff, and film thinking about how they can be better than the current Super Bowl champions. Although all NFL teams are going to be taking a look at the Eagles, there are three teams in particular that will take extra time to thoroughly scout. Those teams are the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants, and the Washington Redskins. The division rivals know that in order to have a shot at Super Bowl LIII, they have to get through Philadelphia. These teams drafted and made moves in free agency to compete with the Eagles. This means there are new challenges that the Eagles will face in 2018.
A Recap Of The Champs’ Moves
So far, the Eagles have added some free agent veterans including TE Richard Rogers, LB Corey Nelson, DT Haloti Ngata, WR Mike Wallace, LB Paul Worrilow, WR Markus Wheaton, and QB Joe Callahan. They also traded for DE Michael Bennett. In the draft, the Eagles added some solid talent with TE Dallas Goedert, CB Avonte Maddox, DE Josh Sweat, OT Matt Pryor, and OT Jordan Mailata.
In the offseason the World Champions have addressed the two holes in the TE position left by releasing Brent Celek and losing Trey Burton. The Eagles also have TE Billy Brown who the team thinks extremely highly of. Another spot where adding some depth was considered necessary was at the linebacker position. The Birds locked up Nigel Bradham as well as added two veterans at the position, solidifying the defense. The team also added some depth to the offensive line which was a necessity as well.
Ultimately the Eagles had an extremely productive draft and free agency period. The core members of the Super Bowl-winning team are still in green and white and will have the entire offseason to continue to grow and improve. However, there will be new challenges faced in the NFC East this year.
The 3-13 New York Giants
Last year the New York Giants appeared as an offensive powerhouse with Eli Manning under center and the hands of Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Brandon Marshall in the open field. Injuries plagued the talented receiver core. Therefore, without a run game and some questionable coaching, the Giants finished with the second-worst record in the NFL in 2017.
At the beginning of the offseason, the Giants most notably signed OT Nate Solder, RB Jonathan Stewart, and CB William Gay. They also traded away Pro Bowl DE Jason Pierre-Paul.
A New Look For The Giants
With the second pick in the draft, the Giants chose an offensive beast, RB Saquon Barkley. Barkley is a player that is going to be effective immediately. New offensive-minded head coach Pat Shurmur will find the best ways to ensure that Barkley has a big impact during his rookie season. However, the Giants offensive line needs some serious work if their run game is going to be effective. The O-line was ranked #26 by Pro Football Focus in 2017. They began to address the offensive line by signing veteran tackle Nate Solder, as well as drafting University of Texas at El Paso guard, Will Hernandez. However, there will need to be an emphasis placed on the discipline of this line if the Giants want to be successful on the ground.
If the Eagles are going to sweep the Giants for the second year, their defense needs to sustain the high level of play that won them their first Superbowl. Barkley can be lethal in the run and passing game. Also, it was the Giants wide receivers who hurt the Eagles in their first matchup in the 2017 season. Beckham Jr. has been showing off his hard work this offseason via Instagram. A healthy OBJ and Shepard combined with Barkley could pose problems. With the Giants new-look offense and the Eagles dominant defense, this will continue to be an exciting matchup that will create new challenges for the Birds.
The Redskins, Now Led By Alex Smith
Free agency had barely been open when the Redskins traded CB Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs for QB Alex Smith. Apparently, the Redskins did not have much faith in Kirk Cousins to lead the team, but they believe Smith is the answer. Washington had another average year in 2017, finishing with a 7-9 record. The rushing defense was the worst in the NFL, letting up an average of 134.1 yards per game. The pass defense was better, ranking 9th among all teams in average yards allowed. They also let up an average of 24.2 points per game. In both matchups with the Eagles, the Redskins gave up 30 points or more.
What Will The Redskins Look Like In 2018?
This offseason, Washington added defensive free agents like CB Orlando Scandrick and LB Pernell McPhee to address the struggling defense. For the same reason, they drafted Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne in the first round. The Redskins needed another guy that can rush the passer and help assist in the run defense game. They got just that in Payne. To go along with a sputtering defense, the Redskins offense was not much better. They ranked 28th in rushing yards, 12th in passing yards, and 16th in points and total yards per game. To address these woes, the Redskins signed former Seattle Seahawk, WR Paul Richardson Jr.
The Redskins run game may come with some potential bad blood. Leading up to the draft, all signs pointed to the Eagles taking LSU running back Derrius Guice at #32 or trading around to pick him in the early second round. It then came out that Guice had gotten into a screaming match with Eagles representatives at the combine, and there were too many issues to get through. Washington ended up taking Guice in the second round. On the field, this is a great pick for the Redskins as Guice is a hard downhill runner. However, it is undetermined if he will be a problem off the field.
An effective runner would cause some new challenges for Philadelphia in a matchup against Washington. However, we saw that some of the most effective runners were no match for the top-ranked Philly run defense. The biggest challenge for the Eagles will be Alex Smith. Although the defense played a decent game against Smith in their matchup with the Chiefs in 2017, Smith made some excellent plays and ultimately came out with the victory. It will be interesting to see the former Chief twice per year.
The Same Ol’ Dallas Cowboys…Minus Dez
The 2017 season was a fun one when it came to playing the Cowboys. With all of the hype surrounding the Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott battle, it was euphoric watching the Eagles blowout the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. The absence of Ezekiel Elliot exposed Dak Prescott. Similarly, their defense was no match for Wentz and the rest of the Eagles’ offensive weapons. The Cowboys were relatively quiet in free agency this year, adding some weapons for Prescott (after losing Dez Bryant) like WR Allen Hurns, and trying to beef up the defense.
Will The Cowboys Be A Contender This Year?
As long as Elliott behaves off the field, he will continue to be an offensive powerhouse. There are no spots that the Cowboys are “weak” necessarily, but there can always be some depth added on the roster. The Cowboys also had an extremely strong draft this year.
In the first round, they selected Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch. They lost Anthony Hitchens in free agency, and with the constant injuries to Sean Lee, Vander Esch could prove a useful asset to the Cowboys defense. In the second round, they drafted offensive lineman Connor Williams from Texas. Williams was one of the top-rated offensive linemen in the draft class, considered to be first-round talent. The Cowboys already have an extremely strong offensive line that is now getting another asset.
When it comes to the NFC East battle, the Cowboys and Eagles will be the top two contenders with Wentz and Prescott leading their respective teams. There might not be many new challenges the Eagles will face when playing the Cowboys, but they will certainly be a competitor that continues to fuel the rivalry. Prescott will continue to improve, and the Cowboys will continue to add weapons to help.
The Outcome Of The NFC East in 2018-19
The NFC East will remain one of the most competitive divisions in professional football. It will always be a hard fought battle between all four teams. In the last 15 seasons, 14 of them have had a team completing a worst-to-first. This means the last place team won the division the following year. The Eagles are poised for another dominant year, however, they have the biggest target on their backs. There will be new challenges the Eagles will face including the Giants new run game, a stronger Redskins defense and a new quarterback, and the continuous improvement of the Cowboys offense.
Only time will tell if the Eagles picks and moves will keep them on top of the NFC East, or if the new challenges will be too great to overcome.
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