As the lead up to training camp begins, we’re going to preview the opponents of the 2018 New York Giants schedule. We’ll look at how 2017 played out and what 2018 might look like to get everyone ready for the season to come.
We move on through the NFC East. Next up is the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
2017 in review
Record: 13-3, first NFC East
Expected W-L (Pythagorean Expectation): 11.8-4.2
DVOA rankings: fifth overall, eighth offense, fifth defense, 16th special teams
We all know how the 2017 Eagles season ended. The Eagles were one of the top teams all season and finished the year as the Super Bowl champion. Philadelphia had a balanced attack with top-10 units on both offense and defense. Quarterback Carson Wentz improved his play from his rookie season and continued to improve as the regular season progressed until a torn ACL in Week 14 ended his season. Nick Foles stepped in to questionable results in the regular season, but the coaching staff figured out a game plan that would play to Foles’s strengths throughout the playoffs. The Eagles return a significant portion of the 2017 team and will be one of the favorites heading into the 2018 season.
2 (49) Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
4 (125) Avonte Maddox, CB, Pittsburgh
4 (130) Josh Sweat, EDGE, Florida State
6 (206) Matt Pryor, OT, TCU
7 (233) Jordan Mailata, OL
Vinny Curry, Trey Burton, LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson, Torrey Smith, Beau Allen, Mychal Kendricks
Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Mike Wallace, Paul Worrilow
The Eagles did have some losses, but at just about every point they added someone with at least equal talent. Michael Bennett will take the place of Vinny Curry. Second-round pick Dallas Goedert replaces Trey Burton. Haloti Ngata takes Beau Allen’s place in the rotation. Mike Wallace will be Torrey Smith at half the price. The biggest question in the free agency swap will be who will replace Patrick Robinson as the slot corner. Even there the Eagles will get a significant jump in playing time from Sidney Jones, who missed most of his rookie season with an Achilles injury suffered at his Pro Day. A cornerback trio of Jones, Ronald Darby, and Jalen Mills is one plenty of teams would like the ability to put out on the field.
No team has worked the trade market better over the past few seasons than the Eagles. It’s a strategy I believe is still the NFL’s biggest market inefficiency even as more teams caught on this offseason. Philadelphia’s biggest trade of the offseason was the one that acquired Michael Bennett and a seventh-round pick from the Seattle Seahawks for a fifth-round pick and wide receiver Marcus Johnson. Bennett will turn 33 years old in November, but is still a more than productive pass rusher. Last season he led the Seahawks in pressures per Sports Info Solutions charting and had the 15th-most in the league. He was also occasionally Seattle’s only hope for pressure on an inconsistent and injured defensive line. Bennett accounted for 23.2 percent of Seattle’s pass pressures, which was the 14th-highest pressure share in the league last season. He won’t be asked to be the top rusher on a deep Eagles line, so his productivity could be preserved with a lesser workload. It’s a gamble well worth a fifth-round pick and moves like this have been how the Eagles built a roster that was able to sustain success even without the starting quarterback.
What the Eagles arguably do better than any other team in the league is put their players in a position to succeed. Jim Schwartz has been able to fit multiple pieces into his aggressive defense that paid off in a unit that allowed a score on the second-fewest amount of opposing drives and ended those drives with a turnover at the fourth-highest rate. Then there’s head coach Doug Pederson, who added in plays from the North Dakota State playbook to help Carson Wentz and went full RPO to give Nick Foles more options and defined reads in the playoffs. If you have access to NFL Game Pass, watch his Film Session. It’s fantastic. His openness and commitment to aggressiveness and adjustments have made him one of the best head coaches in the league.
Numbers to know
13.33 percent: The Eagles were a team that relied on a rotation of defensive pressure. No team had their fourth-most productive pass rusher have a higher percentage of the team’s overall pressure than Philadelphia at 13.33 percent.
59 percent: Overall the Eagles had a 56 percent pass rate on offense, which was the 24th-highest rate in the league (league average was 58 percent). But when the game was within one score, Philadelphia threw the ball 59 percent of the time, the 10th-highest rate in the league, when the league average drops to 57 percent.
25.7 percent: Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, no quarterback was more aggressive throwing into tight windows last season than Carson Wentz, on 25.7 percent of his pass attempts.
2.4: Jay Ajayi’s yards per carry with the Eagles was 5.8 on 70 attempts, 2.4 YPC higher than his 3.4 rate on 138 carries with Miami Dolphins before he was traded.
Brandon Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation answered a few questions about the 2018 Eagles season.
Q: The Eagles were one of five teams to have four players with at least 20 pass pressure per Sports Info Solutions. Is it expected there will continue to be that type of productive rotation or could players like Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett take more of a lead role?
A: According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles led the NFL in pressures generated and it wasn’t close. That production certainly didn’t come from just one or two players. Here’s how the Eagles split their playing time at defensive end last season:
Brandon Graham - 64.6%
Vinny Curry - 56.1%
Chris Long - 48.1%
Derek Barnett - 41.1%
Steven Means - 5.1%
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes to rotate the team’s defensive linemen because he feels like it allows his players to always go full force instead of having to worry about conserving their energy. I fully expect the Eagles to employ a similar strategy in 2018, especially since most of their personnel is the same. The key difference is that three-time Pro Bowler Michael Bennett is likely replacing Curry’s role.
One cause for concern is that Graham is recovering from offseason ankle surgery. It’s unclear exactly when he’ll be ready to return. In addition to having Graham line up at defensive end, the Eagles also have him rush the quarterback as an interior defensive lineman. Graham was lined up over a guard, for example, before strip-sacking Tom Brady to help the Eagles win Super Bowl LII.
As for Barnett, there’s reason to believe he’ll take a step forward in Year 2. The 2017 first-round pick had an encouraging rookie season. He only turned 22 last week so the future is bright for him.
Q: Is there any concern for the continued development of Carson Wentz with the loss of both Frank Reich and John DeFilippo or is this so much Doug Pederson’s offense those losses will be offset?
A: It’s a fair question. Reich and Flip were valuable contributors to the Eagles’ success. They ultimately didn’t call plays — Doug Pederson does that — so at least that won’t be changing. But they did have important roles in preparing for game day. Flip’s specialty was the red zone. Reich’s job was to filter information from the positional coaches and present it to Pederson.
As far as Wentz goes, the guy was playing at an MVP level last year. He threw more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions than the guy who actually ended up winning MVP … despite playing in 3.25 fewer games than Brady did. There’s not much concern that he’s going to remain a very good player. Losing Reich and Flip doesn’t take away Wentz’s incredible combination of intelligence, athleticism, and toughness. The bigger concern is regarding Wentz recovering from his ACL injury and then staying healthy.
Q: What is the most underrated aspect of this team heading into 2018?
A: The first thing that comes to mind is how this Eagles team might be uniquely qualified to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The Eagles won a championship last despite missing their MVP caliber quarterback (Carson Wentz), their Hall of Fame left tackle (Jason Peters), one of their most dynamic weapons (Darren Sproles), their young stud middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks), and their special teams captain (Chris Maragos). These guys, who happen to be the team’s biggest leaders, are champing at the bit to get back to the Super Bowl so that they can be on the field this time around. Hard to imagine this team is going to be complacent.
Q: If you had to pick a regular season record, what would it be?
I had the Eagles going 12-4 when I did my record prediction back in April. I think that’s their ceiling while their floor is around 10-6.
We’ve seen that Wentz, when healthy, has the potential to be one of the best (if not THE best) players in the league. We’ve seen that Doug Pederson deserves to be in the conversation when it comes to the league’s top coaches. We’ve seen that the Eagles can dominate in the trenches. All of this leads me to believe they have the makings of being a really good team once again in 2018.