When the players get into action on the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex next week and the X's and O's of the offseason come to life, the Eagles will begin to answer the pressing question on everyone's lips: What is going to be different this year? How will the Eagles succeed in 2016?
They'll do it as the NFL works: By playing to their strengths and by maximizing the best matchups on the field on a weekly basis.
"This league is about putting your players in the most advantageous positions and getting them matched against defensive players that you think you can beat on that play," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "It's a strategy, a chess game. It's really one of the things I enjoy the most about the job. We spend a lot of time putting together a game plan that we think takes into account what we do best and how we best match up against a defense. Then it's a matter of going out and executing and anticipating what the defense is going to do and making adjustments."
Sounds reasonable, for sure. Play to your strengths? There's a lot we don't know about this team – and until the pads go on and we see the schemes in full flight, that's just going to be the way it is – but we can at least take a stab at, based on what we know of the roster and the approaches taken on both sides of the ball, what the Eagles' strengths are going to be.
1. Give The Offensive Line A Chance To Win
They have an excellent coach in Jeff Stoutland. Left tackle Jason Peters has had a tremendous offseason and was on the field every day in the spring at practice, looking very much like the best of Jason Peters. Brandon Brooks was a top target in free agency and he gives the right guard position a commanding presence. Left guard Allen Barbre and center Jason Kelce have another season together to continue their chemistry and play with a high level of confidence in a scheme that will feature more power football and a more "conventional" approach. Right tackle Lane Johnson, already a young and talented player, has the benefit of Brooks at his side and that will help Johnson immeasurably.
The offensive line, a position the Eagles knew they needed to improve after the 2015 struggles, should be a source of strength this season. And the coaching staff will utilize the athleticism of Johnson and Peters on the edges and run the football behind Brooks and expect a very high level of performance from the group together.
2. Put QB Sam Bradford In His Comfort Zone
Sam Bradford does a lot of things very well and the Eagles will take his strengths and incorporate them into the passing game. There is going to be no question, for example, of Bradford taking off and running on zone-read plays. He's going to get the football out of his hands quickly, spread it around and give his receivers some catch-and-run opportunities. Bradford is going to throw the ball down the field, of course, but the bread-and-butter of the passing attack is going to be higher-percentage throws that take advantage of the matchups the Eagles want to attack.
Expect more Darren Sproles in the passing game. Expect the receivers to rotate a lot to stay fresh. There's going to be more motion in the formations and the Eagles will allow Bradford to audible and change things as he sees fit.
The idea is to get him into a rhythm early and go from there, to complete a high percentage of his passes and to minimize mistakes and giveaways.
3. Utilize The Depth At Tight End And Personnel Groupings
In Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Trey Burton the Eagles have talent, depth and versatility at the tight end position and they're going to use all three players heavily in the offense.
Remember how we waited for Chip Kelly to use multiple tight end sets and at times replicate the success New England had doing that? Never happened. Well, not much anyway. It's going to happen in this offense. Ertz is a big, strong target who runs extremely well. How does a defense cover him? With a smaller safety or a slower linebacker? Celek isn't a burner, but he's a box-out pass catcher who can be a dangerous threat in the red zone. Burton can line up all over the formation and run past defenses and he has excellent hands and is good with the football in them.
The Eagles are going to mix and match their personnel - two tight ends at the same time? Yes, sir. Three at a time? Maybe, depending on how the coaching staff sees the matchups.
4. Tee Off Behind The Defensive Line
Isn't everyone excited to see what the Jim Schwartz defense brings every week? Pressure, chaos, speed, nastiness and a lot of quarterbacks who know that they aren't going to have much time to step up and throw the football.
The strength of this defense is at the line of scrimmage. Fletcher Cox is going to command extra attention inside. He's a dominating player. He's going to open lanes up for the rest of his mates. Bennie Logan will benefit inside and Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham are going to be in a lot of one-on-one situations off the edges.
For the defense to win, it has to come at the line of scrimmage. And the Eagles are well suited there for success.
5. Take Control With The Safety Tandem
Maybe one of the more underrated free agent signings in the league was the addition of Rodney McLeod, who gives the Eagles what they think is a special pairing with Malcolm Jenkins in the deep secondary. If those two jell as expected, the Eagles will have safeties with range in coverage and who support the run with physical, sure tackling. It's been a long time since the defense boasted that kind of twosome.
And with high-level play at safety, the Eagles can do a lot of things with their coverages and they can match up so much more effectively against tight ends and receivers.
6. Win Field Position On Special Teams
Nobody really talks too much about Dave Fipp's special teams, but everyone in the league knows the Eagles have one of the top units with a hustling, selfless group in coverage and the veteran steadiness of Donnie Jones punting and with the game-breaking Sproles in the punt return game.
It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out in the kickoff game this year – the thinking here is that there are going to be a lot more returns this year than in recent seasons with the new rule that a touchback moves to the 25-yard line – but the Eagles have a strong kickoff candidate in Josh Huff and the brilliance of Fipp overseeing the group. The looming question is who wins the placekicking job – either Cody Parkey or Jake Elliott – but the Eagles think they have two high-quality kickers from which to choose.
Special teams, then, are most definitely a strength that the Eagles will look to rally around this season.