I am glad I waited until the Eagles played their third preseason game before posting my official team preview. While I never had any doubts about the Birds ability to score points in Chip Kelly's fast-paced, up-tempo system, I was unimpressed with the defensive effort against both Chicago and New England in their first two preseason games. After watching Philly's D shutdown Pittsburgh on Thursday night, I feel somewhat better heading into the regular season opener against Jacksonville in two weeks.
The Eagles' defense made some solid strides last year in a new system under coordinator Billy Davis; however they were still ranked 29th in the NFL in total yards allowed and dead last in the league at stopping the pass. The Bears and the Patriots both moved the ball through the air with relative ease in those first two games no matter which quarterback was in the game. Both teams proved to be a good test for the revamped Philly secondary, but I am not handing out any passing grades given how they played. Pittsburgh is not nearly the threat passing the ball as the first two teams they played, but the Birds did a great job at forcing Big Ben into some bad throws, which in turn, kept the Steelers off the scoreboard when the first teamers were on the field.
Just like an offense that relies on a set system to put points on the board, Davis's defense needs to develop a system that adds more pressure up front to take pressure off the secondary. It really does not come down to personnel as most people would think. It comes down to everyone doing their job on every play of the game. You may not fully buy into this next statement, but the Eagles do have enough talent to be one of the best defenses in the league. To get to that level it will need to play with much better consistency from week to week.
There have been some wholesale changes in the Eagles' defense since last season so it may take some time for things to gel, but if this team can continue to improve against the pass while enhancing its already solid play at stopping the run, it could mean the difference between another 10-win season and the 12 or 13 wins it will take to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Just for the record, my official pick for how many games the Eagles will win this season is 11 with the final one coming in Week 17 on the road against the Giants to clinch the NFC East Division title. The loss would drop the Giants to 9-7 on the year, which could be enough for a wildcard spot in the playoffs. I have Washington coming in third at 7-9 and Dallas will take a step backwards this season to 6-10.
Back in early July I posted my complete team preview for the Eagles on Cappers Picks so it might be a bit dated, but please check out the link below when you get a chance.
Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl XLIX Betting Lines & 2014 NFL Preview