Philadelphia Eagles 2020 Season Preview
2019 or 2018? A somewhat frustrating season in Philadelphia looked a lot similar to the one the year before – inconsistency and injury problems yet still 9 wins and football in January. Not many would have predicted the tough sledding that the last couple of years have brought to Lincoln Financial Field. Yet despite not living up to expectations since their fairytale Super Bowl win, Philly fans have some optimism to cling on to based on last year.
After remaining close to .500 throughout the first half of the season The Eagles took a nosedive in late November, losing three games in a row. That put them in a hole, but in the underwhelming NFC East four division wins to round out the year saw them clinch the East and head to the playoffs for the third straight year.
This turnaround coincided with a significant movement towards youth; The Eagles had the third oldest roster in 2019, but as injuries built up we saw unheralded names such as Greg Ward & Boston Scott come to the fore and re-energise the offense. Carson Wentz had some question marks hanging over him after two injury-riddled campaigns, but showed he can play clutch football until a rather cheap hit from Jadaveon Clowney brought his postseason to an early end.
9-7 with no playoff win is not the barometer for success, particularly in the city of brotherly love. And Howie Roseman & Doug Pederson have made some significant moves this offseason to address the shortcomings.
Howie isn’t afraid to make bold moves in order to add talent to his roster. We saw this in action when he sent a third round pick to Detroit for pro bowl cornerback Darius Slay. Roseman also swung a trade that saw Marqise Goodwin come in from San Francisco for a swap of sixth rounders, showing he’s lost none of his talent for wheeling and dealing.
Free agency was a lot calmer, with former Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave the sole big-name pickup. He helps fill the void left by Timmy Jernigan and Vinny Curry on that defensive line. A somewhat under-the-radar signing that looks to be good business is the acquisition of slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman, a defensive back with ball skills that has made big plays wherever he’s been.
But it was the NFL Draft where this front office raised some eyebrows. In the first round Roseman passed on the highly touted Justin Jefferson in favour of Jalen Reagor, a diminutive pass catcher from TCU. They followed that up on day two by drafting quarterback Jalen Hurts from Oklahoma. Hurts was a fan favourite in the draft community with his dual-threat game but with Carson Wentz firmly entrenched as the starter, was this a luxury the Eagles could have done without?
Philly selected ten players in total in April, adding more speed to the receiving corps and valuable depth to their offensive line. With aging roster pieces like Nelson Agholor, Josh McCown, Darren Sproles and Malcolm Jenkins all leaving, the dedication to getting this roster younger was evident.
This time last year many wondered if Carson Wentz was a problem. He had struggled to stay on the field, saw his backup guide his team to a Lombardi trophy, and there were rumblings of a personality clash with him and other teammates.
Last season we saw a Carson Wentz who fought tooth and nail for his team and coach. If anything, he was let down by the talent around him. With renewed confidence in their quarterback, many Eagles fans are wondering why the move for Jalen Hurts?
Well firstly, Wentz hasn’t been able to stay on the field, and Josh McCown was no Nick Foles circa 2017. Philadelphia cannot afford the drop-off he goes down again. Furthermore, Hurts brings the potential to diversify the playbook and keep defenses on their toes. We know Doug Pederson likes to dive into his bag of tricks – what better way to do that then offer a different problem with the dangerous Hurts, either under center or lined up elsewhere?
Going with Reagor over Jefferson shocked some, but it shows a significant migration to a speed oriented aerial attack. A receiving corps of Raegor, DeSean Jackson, John Hightower, Quez Watkins and Marqise Goodwin (opted out of 2020) gives them five pass catchers with sub 4.3 forty speed. Hamstrung by the lack of explosion, they weren’t accepting that same problem for their offense again.
If the passing game doesn’t excite you, then the running game should. Miles Sanders was a star as a rookie, and looks to be even more involved with this offense in 2020. With Jason Peters moving inside to guard and Andre Dillard now firmly on the blind side of the line, expect this to be a much more balanced and effective offense.
With a notable absence of splash moves on defense, perhaps the best win for The Eagles on this side of the ball was retaining Jim Schwartz as co-ordinator. The former Lions head coach has maintained a consistently good unit during his time in Philadelphia, and the lack of interest from other teams was pleasantly surprising.
As some of the young talents such as Davonte Maddox have managed to survive despite being thrown in at the deep end the last two years, it seems consistency is the way forward on defense. Adding Slay and Robey-Coleman to this secondary may not mitigate the loss of veteran leader Jenkins but it does have the feel of a feisty group.
Linebacker, as it has been on and off for some time for The Eagles, is on paper a concern. With the inexperienced TJ Edwards and Duke Riley set to start, a number of bodies have been brought in. Jatavis Brown flashed during his time with the Chargers but may be overstretched as a starter, whilst rookies Shaun Bradley and Davion Taylor will vie for reps. Don’t be surprised to see K’Von Wallace, the safety out of Clemson, take snaps as a linebacker – he’s a hard-hitting hybrid who relishes contact.
Up front the Eagles still have the same formidable look about them, with Hargrave joining mainstays Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. With 6.5 sacks last year, many expect Derek Barnett to truly break out as he enters his fourth season in the league. With Vinny Curry gone the onus will be on Barnett to continue his progression and live up to the hype surrounding him when he came out of Tennessee.
It’s a two-horse race for supremacy in the NFC East – it’s that simple. And whilst I have faith that we will see a more durable, dynamic and rejuvenated Philadelphia Eagles in 2020, it’s hard to not look over to The Cowboys and admire the roster they have built.
There should be confidence that Doug Pederson will integrate Jalen Hurts delicately and effectively into this offense, without upsetting the rhythm of the team or the feelings of Carson Wentz. Wentz himself has the motivation to take advantage of this remodeled offense and have a year comparable to his early 2017 form. It feels a little like a fresh start for this unit, and Eagles fans will be itching to see if it can compete with the one Jerry has built in Dallas.
The defense also stands to be better too, and a lack of big-play moments in 2019 means that there is potential for a big jump this year. Barnett is the real x-factor, but also that sneaky secondary will be a thorn in the side for all of the other NFC East quarterbacks. Despite all the focus on offense, it is the D that will likely shape the destiny of 2020 for The Eagles.
All the other teams in Philly’s division have a new head coach come week 1. Usually that would be enough to give The Eagles the edge, but Mike McCarthy is experienced enough to negate that factor. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the division decided between these two teams in week 16. The Eagles are a lock to make the playoffs, but tiebreakers see them second in the East.
Philadelphia Eagles 2020 Record Prediction:
10-6 (2nd in the NFC East)
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