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Lawlor: 2018 Eagles Must Be Better Than Super Bowl Team

Posted Mar 26, 2018

Winning the Super Bowl was great, but one downside is that it put a big target on the Eagles.

Thirty-one other teams are going to be doing everything they can to get to the Eagles' level. Just look around the NFC. You see the Vikings, Saints, and Rams all making aggressive moves so they can challenge the Eagles this year.

Howie Roseman and his staff aren't resting on their laurels. There is no standing still. The Eagles are also doing what they can to get better.

The biggest move wasn't adding a new face, but rather keeping linebacker Nigel Bradham. With Jordan Hicks out with an injury, Bradham took over the middle of the Eagles' defense last year. He was a run-stuffer, but also very good in coverage. He did whatever the team asked of him and did it well.

The only real complaint you could have with Bradham is that he dropped too many interceptions. He had chances for a handful of picks that torturously fell to the ground. The Eagles play a lot of nickel and dime defense. Bradham was the one linebacker on the field in both packages. His versatility is a big help as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz designs the game plan each week. Schwartz knows Bradham will help the Eagles control the middle of the field.

Linebacker was a trouble spot for the team in the past. That's changed in recent years and that trend should continue. The Eagles added linebacker Corey Nelson on a one-year deal. He was a backup for the Broncos and wanted more playing time. The Eagles are going to have him compete with Mychal Kendricks for the weakside linebacker spot. Nelson has terrific cover skills and is a solid athlete. This gives the team more depth and versatility in the middle of the defense.

Nelson will also play a prominent role on special teams. Doug Pederson mentioned wanting to upgrade that area so adding a young, athletic player like Nelson makes sense. He should help with the coverage and return units.

If Hicks comes back from his injury, the Eagles would be loaded at linebacker. Hicks has been an impact player. Bradham has been outstanding for the Eagles and deserved Pro Bowl consideration last year. Kendricks played his best football in 2017. Nelson is a good fit for this scheme and is in the prime of his career. The team also has Nathan Gerry, who they think highly of, and Kamu Grugier-Hill, the special teams star. That is a really strong set of linebackers.

The Eagles traded for defensive lineman Michael Bennett to improve the pass rush. Bennett is listed as a defensive end, but plays inside in passing situations and is an outstanding interior rusher. He is too quick for guards to consistently block.

One vulnerability the defense had last season was quarterbacks who got rid of the ball quickly. Bennett can help in that situation because of his ability to get pressure up the middle. He had 8.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss last year in Seattle so he knows how.

The Eagles brought in Haloti Ngata to replace Beau Allen as the No. 3 defensive tackle. Ngata has been a Pro Bowl player in the past. He's older now and being used in a rotation should help him. Ngata is a massive man at 6-4, 340 pounds. He is powerful and an excellent run defender. He's not going to rack up a bunch of sacks but can push the pocket.

This defensive line has a chance to be special. The linemen are talented and versatile. They play with a lot of attitude, which means something in the trenches. Third downs should not be fun for opposing quarterbacks.

One interesting takeaway from listening to the new additions speak is that players around the league saw the Eagles winning and having fun. Other teams have won but had dysfunctional environments. Pederson and his players gave off a vibe that we haven't seen in the NFL with recent Super Bowl winners.

Receiver Mike Wallace signed with the Eagles because he wanted a chance to be on a title contender and he also wanted to play with Carson Wentz. Wallace will compete to take the spot of Torrey Smith, whom the Eagles traded to Carolina.

Wallace has elite speed. He will stretch defenses, allowing Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Zach Ertz to work short and intermediate routes. As crazy as it sounds, the Eagles' passing attack could actually be better than last year.

Roseman pulled off an interesting trade when he dealt Smith for cornerback Daryl Worley from the Panthers. That move saved the Eagles money and added a talented player to the secondary.

Worley has good size, but he's not just a press corner. I think he is a smart, instinctive cover guy who excels at playing off receivers and then breaking on the ball. Jalen Mills does a great job of that. Worley can hit and tackle. The Eagles now have outstanding depth at cornerback. They haven't had a group this deep since 2003.

It always hurts to lose players like Brent Celek, Vinny Curry, and Beau Allen who the Eagles drafted and developed. Guys like LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson, and Smith all came here in free agency and helped the team win big. You hate to see them go. That's the frustrating part of the business of football.

The Eagles still have some holes to fill and moves to make, but the depth on the defense is outstanding and the pass rush should be improved. The offense is loaded with talent. Roseman and his staff will keep adding pieces over the next few months. They know the Eagles have to be ready to get everybody's best shot each and every week.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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