A lot of the talk this off-season has been about how deep this Eagles roster is. In ESPN’s post-draft power rankings, the Eagles are currently listed at 10th overall with a 66.5% chance of making the playoffs.

While I think they should be higher, it shows the Eagles are expected to be among the best teams in the NFL. With this thought in mind, let’s say, come January, the Eagles ended up having a disappointing season and missed the playoffs. What possible reasons could there be for this happening? What could derail the Eagles season? Looking at the team with this mindset, I came to 3 possible reasons they might disappoint the fans this season (aside from the obvious factor of the health of Carson Wentz): depth along the defensive line, talent/health in the secondary, and health along the offensive line.

Defensive Line Depth

It is no secret that Jim Schwartz loves having depth at the defensive line position. His philosophy is to have as many “fastballs” as possible to keep everybody fresh. This was an issue at defensive tackle in 2018, as star DT Fletcher Cox was consistently double teamed because the Eagles did not have anybody else that offenses had to worry about. This led to Fletcher playing more snaps than Schwartz would have liked, and the defense struggled when he left the field.

The Eagles did add more pieces at DT in this coming season in Malik Jackson and bringing back a healthy Timmy Jernigan, but they lost two key players at defensive end. Chris Long retired and Michael Bennett was traded to the Patriots. Bennett was the Eagles second most productive defensive lineman last year with 9 sacks (2nd on the team to Fletcher Cox). In the past, Schwartz liked having a 4 man defensive end rotation, but this year the Eagles will only have 3 DEs they can rely on, and 2 of them have their risks.

Brandon Graham, who was just re-signed for 3 years, can be relied on, but the other two are Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry. Barnett started the 2018 season playing well, but a shoulder injury ended his season after week 7. He will need to stay healthy this year and prove that he is a starting caliber DE. Aside from Wentz, The Eagles probably have the most riding on the development of Barnett when you consider his age, position, and draft capital spent on him. The Eagles also brought back Vinny Curry on a one year deal. Curry, who signed a 1 year deal in Tampa Bay last offseason after spending the first 6 years of his career in Philly, struggled mightily this past season.

In 2017 the Eagles had the number 1 ranked defensive line in the NFL, but that number dropped to 6 in 2018. Obviously, 6 is still very good, but in order for the Eagles to reach their lofty goals in 2019, they will need that unit to be top 3 again.

Secondary Issues

The Eagles starting spots in the secondary last year were Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby at outside cornerback, Sidney Jones in the slot, and Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod at safety. As of right now, 3 of these players have been unable to participate in off-season activities due to injuries. Both Darby and McLeod tore their ACL, while Mills hurt his foot. The Eagles have been so cagey about Mills’ health that he very well might not have a foot anymore, but to the credit of Darby and McLeod both expect to be ready by week 1. Jones is healthy now, but he struggled with hamstring injuries the entire season and as a result, did not play well down the stretch.

The funny thing is the Eagles defense actually played better once Darby and Mills went down. Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox started on the outside with Cre’Von LeBlanc in the slot. I personally am not a fan of Darby’s game, as detailed here in a previous article I wrote, since he is allergic to tackling and not good enough in coverage to offset that. I understand why they made the move, especially with Mills’ health in question, but I would have preferred to leave Douglas and Maddox on the outside with Jones and LeBlanc battling it out for slot position.

Heading into training camp, it is uncertain how two of the starting spots will shake out for the secondary. A healthy Darby can be penciled in as the starter at left CB, as he re-signed with the Eagles after being a free agent to end the year, but the other two are up for grabs. My guess is that Maddox plays the slot while Douglas starts opposite Darby. This leaves Jones and LeBlanc as the backups, with Mills still nursing his might-not-have-a-foot-anymore injury.

Either way, the Eagles have good depth at the position, but they all come with risks. McLeod, Darby, and Mills are all coming back from injury. Douglas is still unproven, going into his third year with his best stretch of play coming at the end of last season. Jones needs to prove he can stay on the field, while LeBlanc was a journeyman up until the Eagles signed him mid-season last year. LeBlanc was an undrafted free agent in 2016 and bounced around the NFL in his first couple seasons. The Eagles are his 4th team, so while he did play well at the end of the year, history suggests he might not be able to sustain that success. Even Jenkins, who has been a godsend ever since he signed with the Eagles in 2014, is getting up there in age and is unhappy with his current contract.

Offensive Line Health

In 2017 many analysts considered the Eagles to have the best offensive line in the NFL. The unit shined brightest in the playoffs especially, as Nick Foles was barely touched during this 3 game run. So, heading into 2018 with the same 5 starters, the Eagles should have had similar success along the O-line. Instead, they were only ranked 19th according to Football Outsiders. The reason for this low of a ranking? Injuries.

Jason Peters started every game but did not play as well as we are accustomed to seeing as he missed time in most games with different nagging injuries. Center Jason Kelce did not miss any games but played through 3 serious injuries- a broken foot, a grade 3 MCL sprain, and a torn ligament in his elbow. Credit to him for playing through the pain, but he was clearly limited in some games because of these injuries. Right tackle Lane Johnson only missed one game with a sprained MCL, but he was also limited with that injury and a high ankle sprain he suffered at the beginning of the season. Pro-bowl right guard Brandon Brooks has been an iron man since he signed with the Eagles in 2016, but he tore his Achilles in the playoff loss against the Saints and is uncertain if he will return for the start of the season. Even starting left guard Isaac Seumalo missed 3 games to end the season with a strained pectoral muscle.

If you add all that up, that is all 5 starters who are either currently injured or had injuries in 2018. I know the old adage in the NFL is that everybody is hurt, but that is more injuries than most teams are able to cope with. As I said before the Eagles do have good depth at the position, but no team can recover from these types of injuries.

It is no secret that the Eagles need to keep Wentz healthy in order to have a successful season and that all starts up front. This is what I think is the Eagles biggest Achilles heel, over the other two.

Featured Photo: YONG KIM / Philly Inquirer
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