Sunday, July 31, 2011
Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl Plans Brighten Under Nnamdi Asomugha
It has been since 1960 since the City of Brotherly Love won a NFL title. Lives of many Eagles fan have come and gone since Hall of Famers Chuck Bednarik and Jim Taylor crashed to the turf in the Eagles 17-13 championship victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Bednarik, the greatest defensive player in Eagles history, laid on top of the Packers fullback seven yards short of the end zone as time expired. It was the only time Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi lost a postseason game with the Packers.
Hard times soon befell the franchise after that win. They were generally in the basement of their division yearly until Dick Vermeil arrived in 1976. The Eagles had had just one winning season from 1961 up until that point.
After a few years of molding his team with the players he wanted, Vermeil led Philadelphia to Super Bowl XV. Though the Eagles lost that game, and Vermeil soon retired due to exhaustion and burn-out, a winning culture was reborn with the Eagles.
Since then, the Eagles have mostly fielded competitive teams. "Gang Green" was a famous defense led by Hall of Famer Reggie White in the 1980's. Yet the teams of that day could not quite reach the title game.
One of the biggest moments in Eagles history came in 1994, where Jeffrey Lurie bought the team for $195 million. Lurie had the team worth over a billion dollars by 2007 due to his excellent leadership.
One of Lurie's best characteristics is how he lets his team speak for him, instead of seeking the limelight like so many other NFL owners do. He is not afraid to take chances on players with shaky pasts, yet these players do not seem to get in trouble once they sign a contract with the Eagles.
I had the pleasure of seeing Lurie in action firsthand before the 2009 season. I had written an article lamenting the exclusion of Eagles legend Al Wistert from the Eagles Honor Roll. Lurie's office contacted me, asked me for Wistert's facts, then had him inducted into the Honor Roll in just six months.
Not only was I happy for the then-88-year old Wistert, who I had interviewed, but I saw an owner with real love for his team and the history it has.
To put things in better perspective, Norm Braman was the man who created the Eagles Honor Roll. The former Eagles owner from 1985 - 1994 had even written a letter to the Pro Football Hall of Fame calling for Wistert's induction. Yet even Braman failed to induct the first Eagle to ever have his jersey retired, let alone the fact Wistert invented stand-up blocking in the NFL.
Lurie has helmed an Eagles franchise that has seemingly been on the brink of a title almost every year since he bought the team. He is obviously loyal, sticking with head coach Andy Reid since 1999. Joe Banner has been the president of the Eagles since 1995. Howie Roseman, now the general manager, has been with Philadelphia since 2000, replacing Tom Heckert. Heckert held the position from 2001 to 2009.
These men help Lurie bring in better talent than many teams in the NFL. Players who helped the Eagles win the NFL East six times since 2001. Philadelphia reached Super Bowl XXXIX in 2004, but lost 24-21.
Lurie has always had his eye on a title and this season will be a prime example of that. Philadelphia has been quiet since the players strike ended in words, but enormous in actions.
After quickly signing their draft picks, along with a slew of undrafted free agent rookies, the team fleeced the Arizona Cardinals in a trade. They dealt promising quarterback Kevin Kolb, who was destined to be a backup this year, for Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick next year.
They then replaced Kolb with two-time Pro Bowler Vince Young. While Kolb has an upside, he is just one year younger than Young and has a losing record as a starter. Young, who will backup Michael Vick this year, has won 30 of his 47 starts in the NFL.
If that wasn't enough, Philadelphia surprised everyone a few by signing Nnamdi Asomugha to a contract when most "experts" expected the Dallas Cowboys or New York Jets to do so.
Asomugha was perhaps the best player to hit the free agent market in the last decade. He now gets to pair up with Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback, which does not bode well for the rest of the league.
Asante Samuel is four-time Pro Bowler entering his prime. Unlike Rodgers-Cromartie, he is not entering the last year of his contract. It seems highly unlikely the Eagles will retain all three Pro Bowl cornerbacks this season, so Samuel should command a good return in a trade.
With an explosive offense that just got better by signing speedy wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins and veteran tight end Donald Lee, the team showed in 2010 it can pile up points in a hurry. Yet the one remaining Eagles weakness has dogged Reid most of his time in Philadelphia.
For all the skilled players Reid has led, the Eagles seem annually weak in the trenches on both sides of the football. Undersized defensive linemen that can be run on, and offensive linemen who can't seem to get that extra push on short-yardage plays.
Eagles fans have often gone crazy seeing a passing play called on a 3rd or 4th and one, but that was all Philadelphia could do with the personnel they had. What makes this more baffling is that Reid has coached the offensive line as an assistant in the past, and he even played along the offensive line while in college.
While Trent Cole is a force as a pass rusher along the defensive line, the rest of the group is an assortment of guys who can be run on. Philadelphia brought back Jason Babin, who played with them in 2009, to try to help out.
Babin was a bit of a journeyman since being drafted in 2004. Yet he had his finest year in 2010 after collecting 12.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl nod for the Tennessee Titans. He came to Philadelphia after former Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn took a job with the Eagles earlier this year. Washburn is one of the most respected defensive line coaches in the NFL.
Linebacker could use some bodies as well, so the Eagles drafted three of them and signed another off the undrafted free agent pool. These guys are expected to help the defensive line have opponents seeing the ghost of late great Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.
When opponents are forced to pass, they will have a difficult time finding a man to throw to not wearing an Eagles jersey. Juan Castillo is the teams new defensive coordinator, but has been with the team since 1995 coaching the offensive line and tight ends, as well as being an offensive assistant.
The Eagles will dial up the blitz and send seven or eight guys at the opposing quarterback because of their excellent secondary. Philadelphia fans hope the impact of these blitzes are as effective as the times that Johnson or Buddy Ryan drew them up in the past.
The Eagles 2011 schedule is no cake walk, which is typical in the tough NFC East, but they will face many teams that rely on the pass to generate offense. The month of November may be an interesting time for the team.
After hosting the Chicago Bears on Monday night, they will face Kolb in Arizona before going to New York and facing their long-time rival Giants. They then host a New England Patriots team most pundits expect to be very good this year. How Philadelphia comes out of that month could dictate the rest of their story in the 2011 season.
The joke amongst many other football fans is that the Eagles battle cry was "Wait until next year!" With the aggressive and sound leadership of Lurie and Reid, the 2011 season just may be that year where the Eagles put a trophy on their mantle next to that 1960 title.