Eagles Believe Pieces are in Place to Revive Offense
If Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie is expecting the team he has owned for the past 23 years to make a playoff appearance this season, he's not letting anyone know.
"Oh, I think so much happens in a given season that you can never say that," the Eagles owner said in a impromptu media session on Thursday afternoon.
"I mean, I've never in 23 years, even coming off all those multiple NFC Championship games, and NFC East titles and all that, I've never come and said, ‘We're obviously a playoff team.’ It just doesn't work that way in the NFL."
But expectations, realistic or not, from the fans are no different from previous seasons in Philadelphia - a Super Bowl.
The organization is one of 13 NFL teams that have yet to hoist the Lombardi trophy. Their journey begins in Washington, against a team that has beaten them five straight times, and while Eagles head coach Doug Pederson stopped short in saying this is a must-win, he knows the importance of getting out of the gate on a positive note.
"I think they're all must wins, quite honestly," Pederson explained. "I think the opener is a very important game. It kind of can set the tempo for the rest of the season, and it’s the first part of the year. I talk to our guys about starting fast; that goes without question, how we start the season."
"Every one's big. Every game is big. We do treat it one week at a time, obviously. This is no different. It just happens to be our opener on the road; we know we didn't play well last year on the road. And it is a division opponent. So it's a great test for our ball club. Find out where we're at."
There are legit reasons to believe the Eagles’ offense can regain its swagger this season, after suffering though a tough 2016 with inconsistent play from the wide receivers, their rookie quarterback and a banged-up offensive line.
There are many factors fueling that belief - but the single biggest one would be the free agent addition of receiver Alshon Jeffery. Having a guy like Jeffery could prove to be the biggest change from last season.
"I think when you game plan each week, you have to identify your play-makers," explained Pederson. "Because I know if I look at it and I'm a defensive coordinator, who are their play-makers on offense? You say, ‘Okay, here are the three or four guys they're trying to get the ball to.’ So as you game plan, yeah, there are specific plays."
"Listen, by no means are we saying, ‘Carson, you have to throw it to him.’ He might be primary, but let's read the defense, let's read the coverage, and you might have to go somewhere else. We can always come back to those plays."
"But that's what we do when we game plan, and have certain guys in mind on certain plays."
Deep threat Torrey Smith is another change to the offense, giving the Eagles something they have lacked since losing DeSean Jackson after the 2013 season, adding another critical dimension to the Eagles’ passing game that they have lacked.
“I think it can definitely be a big part of the offense," Pederson admitted after the Eagles preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. "I think a guy like Torrey Smith, who can run like that, is going to open up some things. I think that is just a big part of the offense that we are going to see expanded on a little more.”
Dual threat running back Wendell Smallwood should add another dimension to the Eagles offense, tight end Zach Ertz may finally realize the immense potential the Eagles saw when they picked him in the second round (35nd overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Stanford, and the five guys along the offensive line could end up being the biggest asset to the skill position players.
"Okay, the expectation this year is that we have improved the team," Lurie explained.
"Who knows how the season's going to go in terms of injuries, whether chemistry comes together. Every season's a marathon. It's not determined until you really look back on it and what happened and how successful were you."
"But I think I love the blueprint we have. I think that we are headed in a terrific direction."
As a rookie in 2016, Carson Wentz threw 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, but the Eagles owner is counting on his franchise quarterback to take a big step forward not only this year, but in the coming years.
"My expectation with Carson is he'll be better in Year Two than Year One; he’ll significantly be better in Year Three than Year Two; and he’ll be significantly better in Year Four than Year Three," Lurie predicted.
There are still question marks along the line, but tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are two of the best in the business, but the rest of the line does have some questions.
Jason Kelce is still small for a center, and second-year man Isaac Seumalo is an unknown at left guard. But if Howie Roseman is right, and the team strength is up front on the offensive line and the protection holds up this season, the Eagles might end up back in the playoffs.
"Yeah, you know, we like offensive linemen," Roseman said on Saturday. "There's no question about it. We feel really good about our eight. We think we have eight starters on the offensive line."