FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Do you think you know the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles as the final week of the preseason continues and the sight of the regular season is really not very far away? Have you seen enough through two preseason games and heard plenty from two joint practice sessions with the Patriots and one with the Jets to think you have the "pulse" of this football team? Maybe you do, and that's great. Maybe you think it's going to be a few weeks into the regular season before we have a true feel. I've been here every step of the way. We're in the Land of the New York Jets (with a sprinkling of Eagles fans, and I heard enough "E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES" chants Tuesday to send chills up my spine and, yeah, I'm feeling a little bit giddy.
The preseason finale is on Friday and the roster has to be at 53 on Tuesday at 4 p.m. There is a ton of work to be done. The team is thinking only about RIGHT NOW. I get it. That's the way it should be. For me, I'm feeling fan-ish. I'll take the leap here and offer some "Until Proven Otherwise, This Is What I Think About The 2021 Eagles …" and, please, take this for what it's worth. It's fun. It's football. It's looking ahead from a personal perspective.
Call this something like "I hold these truths to be self-evident …" with some understanding that there is some fun mixed in here. Let's go …
The offense can adapt based on the opposition
This is still a work in progress, as is everything, as the offense evolves, but one thing is certain: The Eagles look great along the line of scrimmage. With Lane Johnson back at right tackle and Brandon Brooks at right guard, the Eagles have their formidable right side of the line together again. Jason Kelce is still at the top of his game at center. Isaac Seumalo is the one nobody talks about at left guard, but he's solid and in position to have a very strong season. Jordan Mailata is a beast at left tackle and has swallowed up every pass rusher he's seen. Andre Dillard is back on the field and he had a strong Tuesday against the Jets. The Eagles have depth behind the starters. So, the theory here is, if the offensive line is as good as the Eagles believe it will be, they can be versatile and multiple on offense.
It's fair to say that the Eagles haven't displayed a clear-cut identity offensively, and that's certainly by design. Head coach Nick Sirianni has his plan and he's putting it in place. He has weapons all over the field now that he's gained a full appreciation of what his players can do. If he wants to lean on the run, the Eagles have the firepower to do so. The passing game has a lot of threats. Quarterback Jalen Hurts continues to improve his game and approach things the right way – day by day, steadfastly, maturely.
There is a whole lot of work to do, but that's expected. If you can't wait to see how it all looks on September 12, you aren't alone. There are a lot of intriguing pieces here that give the Eagles some options and Sirianni fully intends to exploit those options.
Young receivers grow up together
It was one of the questions many on the outside asked prior to Training Camp: Will the Eagles add a veteran wide receiver to the mix? They didn't because they wanted a young group to push each other and grow together and gain chemistry in a very organic way. That's exactly what is happening. The trio of DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins has stepped up and up and up in the summer. Greg Ward is doing what Greg Ward does – catching everything that comes his way. The rest of the wide receiver room is battling for roster spots. It's great and spirited competition, just as the Eagles hoped to see.
Are they all the way there now? No, not yet. It's a process. And you can trust it. Because the coaches are all over these young guys to detail their work and to attack every day. That's what the receiving corps is doing.
Fletcher Cox has a dominating season
The man has made six straight Pro Bowls, so I'm not going out on a limb here. But Cox has had a strong, strong summer. He is motivated to overwhelm everyone and that has been the case when he has been on the field. Cox is part of an Eagles' strong point – the defensive line. He has been absolutely unblockable, and if the Eagles can give him a few more reps of rest – and they plan to do that – he's going to stay fresh and dominant. Cox leads a terrific front that the Eagles can use in a variety of ways. Multiplicity is critical here and with the idea that defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon can move one piece here and another piece there, hey, that's going to cause headaches for offensive blocking schemes.
The LB corps emerges
Alex Singleton showed last year that he is around the football and is going to make tackles and play with great effort and heart. Adding Eric Wilson could be a key to helping this defense come together as he's shown a knack for the football throughout the summer. They've jelled well together in this defense. The Eagles want to develop more depth – they were high on second-year man Davion Taylor's development until he was injured – as players like T..J. Edwards and Shaun Bradley make strides – so that's something to keep an eye on, but let's be real here: The Eagles are going to have one or two linebackers on the field the vast majority of the games they play. That's the NFL. Teams play nickel and dime personnel 70 to 80 percent of the time. Singleton, Wilson, and Edwards are the leaders of a group that is improving here.
Takeaways become a staple of the defense
The 2020 Eagles had all of eight interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. Those are numbers Gannon doesn't even want to think about in 2021. He's all about taking the football away. It's a mentality the defense has and it's a practice they are employing every day on the field. With an aggressive front four that should be among the league's best and a secondary that has been solidified by the addition of cornerback Steven Nelson, the Eagles are primed to vastly improve those numbers. Watch the numbers every week and jot down the significance: The more the Eagles win the turnover battle, the more games they're going to win.
Jake Elliott and kicking game win hidden yardage battle
Healthy now after missing last week's preseason game with an ankle injury, Jake Elliott is in a groove. The operation with long snapper Rick Lovato and holder Arryn Siposs has been on point this summer and, well, the kicking game is in good, er, feet. Siposs has been excellent as a holder and a punter. The coverage units are swarming. The return game was a weakness last season, no doubt about it, but now the Eagles have some options and they expect Reagor to be electric in the punt return game. Hidden yardage, along with turnover ratio, are two of Sirianni's key stats. The Eagles have emphasized both areas, understanding the difference they can make in winning games.
The Eagles are going to have a lot of guys in QB's face
They are going to come from everywhere in this defense. It's not going to be just Fletcher Cox or Brandon Graham or Josh Sweat. The Eagles have depth in pass-rush talent, and it's going to be fun to watch offenses try to figure out from where the pressure is coming. Off the edge? Sure, the Eagles can bring it. Inside heat? Oh, for sure. The goal is to collapse the pocket and the Eagles have, well, pocket collapsers. There may not be a single guy who hits double digits, but after watching this defensive line this summer, the Eagles have the pieces to generate some H-E-A-T. Good, old-fashioned Eagles defense.
The NFC East is wide open and the Eagles will be in the thick of things
Think how crazy this is: There has been no repeat winner in the NFC East since 2003-2004. Just when you think you have the division figured out … In a 17-game season – the Eagles get the Jets as the extra game, remember – anything can happen. Yes, the front end of the schedule is a tough one. But why not the Eagles? Feel good about this team, one that has the best combination of any team in the NFC East at the line of scrimmage. The coaching staff is creating a special chemistry with the players, and the confidence is evident. You aren't seeing it on the scoreboard in the two preseason games, but that's not the point of the preseason. The Eagles are evaluating their roster, player by player. That is the goal of the preseason. Mark my words here: The Eagles are going to be right there in the division. It's going to be a fun December and early January.
The Rookie Class gets off to a strong start
You're going to see a lot of the 2021 Eagles Draft Class. Smith is one of the go-to receivers in the offense. Milton Williams is playing up and down the defensive line and figures to get a lot of reps in a deep rotation. Kenny Gainwell is the smooooooth one as a running back who can be displaced anywhere in the offense. Cornerback Zech McPhearson is in the right spot as a fourth cornerback developing his game every day. The promise is very obvious for now and for the future of this draft class, and the Eagles are going to see some benefits early and throughout the season ahead.
Eagles single-season records will fall
We've got 17 games, right? What single-season records fall? Cody Parkey's 150 points scored in 2014? The 4,039 passing yards from Carson Wentz in 2019? His 33 touchdowns from 2017? How about LeSean McCoy's 1,607 rushing yards? All are catchable numbers, don't you agree? Something has to give here as the regular season expands to 17 games and we see new records established. They are made to be broken so, why not? Anything is possible when you believe good things are ahead.